A Short Story: The Heart of Sidney Chest

Sidney Chest sits erect in his custom made Ermenegildo Zegna suit made by Mr. Kelly at La Rukico Tailors, joking that the blue dress shirt he has on is his least favorite but it was the only clean one he had left in his lambskin overnight bag. He has, after all, stayed over an extra night in the city of Patch Falls to help guide his company’s handling of those Sidney Chest refers to as my TBI people. TBI meaning traumatic brain injury, injuries sustained from a blow to the head, falls, assaults, car accidents, bicycle accidents and so on. Sidney Chest owns and runs a company that provides supportive services, or so they are called, to men and women who live with brain injuries so they might continue to live in the community rather than in institutions. Their injuries have robbed them of their peoplehood in the eyes of many, including the hazel eyes of Sidney Chest, who feigns caring about those poor TBI people who are viewed by Chest and his ilk as a plethora of cottage industries – profit makers.

Leaning back in his leather desk chair, Sydney Chest makes a mental note to have the chair cleaned. It was given to him by his wife Alice on their fifth wedding anniversary. "So what is the issue here with Allen Small?"

"He’s not happy with his staff. Says they talk to him like he’s a child." These words come in bored tones from Sally Stipple, a rather rotund woman with two strands of thick black beads around her neck and matching earrings. Her lips are large, pasty and pointless, like two dollops of silly putty hastily applied. She wears no make-up save for bright red lipstick. She wears a nose ring. She is 44 years old, looks 60, is divorced, no children, and, is a former nursing administrator. She sees the TBI people for what she knows they were. Needy, often misguided beings who are, if not entirely absent any purpose in life, entirely absent any real future in life. These people, though they aren’t really people any more, at least not completely, are stuck in place, damn lucky to get the services they are getting, and would do themselves a bit of justice, yes they would, if they’d just learn to show a little gratitude. They are forever complaining they are being talked too like they are children when they ought to be glad people are talking to them at all.

Sally Stipple runs a tight ship and Sidney Chest likes her for it and will go on liking her for it as long as Sally Stipple’s dictatorial streak keeps the billing up to speed which keeps the money coming in. In Sydney Chest’s world, Sally Stipple is what health care is all about, at least the health care his company is about if he has anything to say about it thank you very much. the company he boisterously calls the best of its kind in Patch Falls and the surrounding area.

Sydney Chest keeps the stress on billing by crying poverty (he’s actually very wealthy) at all times. He knows it was important to instill in his employees the fear-producing belief that the company is always one billing cycle away from total collapse, that if it wasn’t for his willingness to infuse the company’s coffers with his own personal money and the money of his darling wife Alice for that matter, the entire operation would collapse into a pile of dust and be swept away by the day’s first breeze.

His feigned poverty  underscores the hideously misguided belief that his is a generous heart when he deigns to take a survivor of brain injury out for breakfast or lunch and feigns listening with genuine interest and concern, sending the survivor back into the day program that, like many other programs of its kind, proves there is such a thing as community-based warehousing. Sadly, if there is naiveté or perpetual hunger in the heart of the survivor, quite a few, not all mind you, find themselves blinded by the wondrous portions of food just consumed, thanks to the beneficent Mr. Chest, and  Mr. Chest’s willingness to even order him or her a coffee to go. They return to the confines of the day program and talk about how kind Mr. Chest is, not realizing, at least in the moment, that the heart of a cadaver has more warmth than the organ that beats greed in the bosom of Sydney Chest.

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