all ladies, thank you.”
When the door closed the room began to move again. Any conversation was done in whispers. A few women cried. I did not follow them to get my breakfast. I slipped out and headed to work. What else could I do? Stay in my bed and cry all day? I couldn’t face it, though I kept running the words through my head. Surely Julia was just in the next building, somewhere in the hospital. It was a hospital after all! Couldn’t they save her?
The morning was cold and damp. The lawn, as always, was empty and well kept. The place had once been a public hospital and emergency room, but now the parking lot was mostly empty. No one really came or went. Those who were already here stayed here. The road was always empty too. No one lived out in the country anymore. They grouped together in the city, like bugs around a light, or at places like Michael’s Gate. It seemed like everyone was either very old or very young these days, either in the city or in the hospital.
I held my hand to the scanner inside the door. It beeped loudly, too loudly – a long, drawn out error message. I looked around nervously. My name flashed on the screen and I walked to Miss Marie’s room. I had to keep my mind busy. There was no way I could process the events of the morning. I couldn’t even begin to feel the things that filled up in my chest like tumors. I found the doctor inside. He was checking the machinery, and didn’t look at me when I came in.
“You gave us quite a scare.” He said to Miss Marie, his voice glowing, like a favorite son. “We haven’t had something like that happen in a long time! I think everything’s under control now.
Her room was bigger than my past patients’, but fairly similar. Still there was an extra bed, just in case of overflow, all set up with IV and port and all the other machines. There were tall, clear glass vases full of flowers on the window. I wondered if Julia died here, maybe passing out on the floor, and the thought made my body ache from my chest to my spine. I put a smile on my face and picked up Miss Marie’s food tray.
She smiled at me, a tiny woman with the faintest cloud of white hair. I could see the veins under her thin skin. “I feel so much better today.” She said.
“That’s wonderful.” I answered.
And life went on. I fell into my new routine. My workload was much lighter with only one patient, but life seemed to wear me down faster without Julia. I felt tired and depressed. I developed her cough, as if I missed the sound of it. I lost track of time. I no longer dreamt of a life beyond Michael’s Gate. For my short breaks I drank coffee in the Nurse’s room, alone, and thought nothing at all. A new Medical Assistant came, Jessie, to fill Julia’s bed. She seemed so young, I tried to help her where I could. She told us about her son, his father dead in the War. What choice did she have? The little money she sent home might even get him through school. She came up to me one afternoon, during my break.
“Jane? I thought you might want to know. Mr. Stevens is checking out today. I thought you might want to say good bye.”
“Oh. Thank you.” I said, forced a smile, and walked past her.
I found him standing by the door, a box of his belongings in his hands, reading the plaques beside the door.
“Mr. Stevens.” I called out and he turned to smile at me. “I am so sad to see you go.”
He scoffed. “I bet you are.”
I held my smile. “I can understand why you’d want to leave. Everyone was so shocked by Julia’s death.”
“Oh I’m not shocked by death.” He said, smiling a little. “I fought in the War, you know, before my uncle made his fortune and I came home to work with him. No, death is just the thing that happens at the end of life.”
“Well you’re a lot tougher than me.” I felt a frown pull at the edge of my practices smile, but the smile remained
“Death doesn’t do a thing to you, Miss Jane. Life. Life is what wears you
Ann Stewart, Stephanie Nash