Nausea pulses, a wave of jittering gray dots. The crash came so quick. But every stall’s filled; men stand three lines deep before the available urinals. Lemony disinfectant melds with ammonia piss and makes me almost gag. I lean over the sink, blast the faucet, wait for the place to clear but the door keeps opening.
Screw this. It’s too busy. I don’t have time to wait. I hurry out, resume my journey towards pre-op. Pale light filters through the atrium. Snow from last night’s squall dusts the glass of the domed ceiling. The fountain gurgles. Two kids toss coins, each penny dropping with a melodious ping. Making wishes no doubt: help my daddy get better, let my mommy bring home a baby brother, fix Grammy’s broken heart. If I had time and pennies to waste, what would I wish for?
Bette from ICU calls my name, snaps me from my daze. She waves, a tight curl of her hands, rubber clogs squeaking on linoleum. The smile plastering my face feels lopsided and too large, like it’s pulling my cheeks to heaven. I walk carefully but no one else seems to mind the wavering floor.
I stop before the Chapel. The hospital roar fades, replaced by airless silence. A lone woman kneels before Mary and Jesus, blond hair streaming down her back. For a moment I swear it’s Phoebe, but it’s not, it can’t be, Phoebe’s prepping anesthesia. I should be with her, but I’m in no shape to thread IV lines into veins.
Out of habit I genuflect before collapsing into the pew. My fingers tremble in the white jacket pocket under the ‘Kevin Sullivan, MD’ embroidered in black over my heart, searching for the packet I fished out of Mrs. O’s trash can. The foil crinkles.
The lady’s head lifts. I freeze. Her reddened eyes stare back at me. She doesn’t look like Phoebe at all; ersatz blond with sucked-in cheeks from too many face lifts. A lot of women look like this in Baltimore, the moneyed ones; I know their sort too well. I smile a quivery smile of sympathy and will her to turn back to the altar. She resumes her entreaties.
Say a prayer for me, baby - I need all the help I can get. I squeeze the patch between my fingers. Three drops, shiny and viscous, ooze into my palm like liquid crystals. Remorse pricks me, and disgust that I’ve come to this again, but then I greedily lick my hand and suck the foil. The initial alcohol taste turns sweet. Calm gilds my mouth and throat, spreads to my chest, my fingers, my world. The door opens, the blonde mourner’s soul floats in her wake. I surrender to the velvet-lined bench and the world cradles me.
Nothing else is more pure.
An excerpt from PURE, a novel currently under construction. Hope you enjoyed.