Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Final Assignments

“You ladies have a good evening,” Marcia said as she slid her ID badge through the time clock.

                Everyone waited until the elevator doors closed her and the number bar on top of the elevator showed that she was off the floor.

                “Okay, who do you have?”

                Sarah looked back and forth between her co-workers like a Tuesday night poker player.  The rules were simple.  Each person picked three names.  The players could not have the same name entered, so nine names were entered in the contest.  Ten points for each correct name.  In case of a points tie, then it was order picked, and time they went. 

                “Wait, money first,” Kim said.

                “We’re all good for it,” Sarah said.

                “It’s a bet.  You don’t bet in Vegas unless you put the money down first.”

                “You can’t play this game in Vegas,” Gina said

                They all laughed.  The game was called Full Moon Lottery.  None of them remembered who came up with the idea, or when they started the game.  But it had been a long time, at least three years.  Three years of full moons, and the rare blue moon, that month with two full moons.

                “What’s it tonight?”

                “Twenty,” Kim said.

                “We haven’t had a winner in months,” Sarah said.

                The best they all could remember, Gina had won every game earlier in the year, but there had not been a winner for the past three months.  Sarah walked over to the wall calendar from one of the drug companies and flipped back to April, found the date, and saw a small “G” in the corner.

                “Yep, she won it back in April.”

                Sarah took out her list.  She had Harris in 403, Parker in 410, and Jablowski in 401.

                “Damn,” Kim said.  “I had Parker and Jablowski.”

                “Sorry, that’s the benefit of going first,” Sarah said.  She had won the dice roll earlier in the evening.

                Kim looked at her list and crossed through two names, sneaking a peak at Gina.  Gina was at the end of the table organizing her clinical notes for the evening.  Kim read her list: Butler in 411, Gooch in 412, and Bechtel in 414.

                “Ooh, the east hall.  You know something the rest of us need to know?”

                Kim looked at her.  “It’s called back ground work.  Why do you think I was thirty minutes early for work tonight?”

                They both looked at Gina, waiting for her to give her names. 

                Gina finished filling out her daily worksheets.  She squared the papers and pushed them over on the table.  She knew what she was doing, making them wait for her picks for the night.  She was the oldest of the women, nearly forty but she had been a nurse only five years, picking the profession after her ex-husband ran off with their son’s first grade teacher.   What she lacked in experience, she made up in hard work and paying attention to her patients.  She slipped the index card from her pocket.

                Whyte in 420.  Lovell in 422.  Rodgers in 424.

                Sarah and Kim looked at each other.  They were already worried that they might have been outplayed.  Gina had taken the end of the hall all week, a few more patients to care for, a little more work, but she had gotten to know her patients better than rotating with a different group every couple of nights.  They took their three lists, the sixty dollars, and slipped them together in an envelope and went to work.  The pool, if someone won it, was two hundred forty dollars.

                The unit had thirty patients, and in the past, they would have had four nurses and three aides.  But new management had come in and cuts were made and they were down to three nurses and two aides.  At first the work seemed harder, but after a while, they were used to it.  The patients were mostly stable, transferred from other parts of the hospital for their chronic problems, not ready to go home, but too well for the acute side of the house.  The medical interns and students were not allowed on the floor so it kept the orders and tests to a minimum.  They got to know their patients, care for their needs, and who knew, even win the lottery.

                Lottery nights were crazy.  One of the rules was that you could not take care of your own pick.  Not that anyone would ever do anything to influence the game, but they just thought it was more appropriate.  That meant that they had to switch patients, and carts, and to make everything look right on paper, even let someone else sign off on their meds.  They drew the line at narcotics; they always gave and signed for the patients’ narcotics.  No game was worth losing your license for.

                It was a few minutes before midnight when a “Dr. Green”, the code for the resuscitation team after a cardiac arrest, was paged to the   cardiac ward.  Kim waited an appropriate amount of time and then called down stairs.

                “Did they make it?”  She listened for a few moments and hung up.  The other women waited for the answer.  She shook her head no as she put the receiver down.

                Deaths come in threes, every nurse knows that.  And full moon nights are the hardest nights, the emergency room is busier, patients crash, and they die.  Everyone said it was an old wives’ tale, or maybe an old nurse’s tale, but ask any nurse who has worked nights and they’ll tell you strange things happen with full moons.  Some nurses avoid nights with a full moon just because of the stress.  The three nurses on 4 West embraced it.  And made a game of it.

                “Means there will only be two more,” Kim said.  “One of us needs to win tonight.”

                “That means a death up here.  Are you up for it?” Gina said.

                “Makes the night go faster,” Sarah said as she pushed her medicine cart down the hall.

                It was five thirty and the floor was quiet.  A faint glow of the sun could be seen in the horizon out of the nurses’ station window.  They had just found out that there was a death in the intensive care unit, a ninety year old woman who had broken her hip.  They did not try to revive her.

                “Another night without a winner,” Sarah said.  “I could have really used that money.  I’ve got a vacation coming next month.”

                Gina barely heard the rest of the story.  She walked down to check on one of her patients.  She looked over her shoulder and slipped into Maggie Rodgers’s room.  The old woman was awake, staring at the ceiling.  Her breathing was deep and there was a rattle in her chest.  She had cancer and was waiting for a place in the new hospice house in town.

                “How are you feeling Mrs. Rodgers?”  Gina’s touch was light, but reassuring to the woman. 

She turned her head and smiled slightly.  “I’m ready.  I’m at peace.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Gina said.  She slipped the syringe from her pocket and slid the needle under the thin wrinkled skin and into the fat, what there was left of it.  She slowly pushed the clear fluid into her.  Her usual dose was two milligrams, Gina gave her ten.  “I think this will help you.”

“Thank you,” she said, her voice trailing off as she fell asleep.

It was a few minutes before seven when they made their final rounds.  They each walked around, checking on their patients one last time before the day staff arrived.  Sarah walked out the room, her face slightly pale.

“Kim.  Gina.  We have a winner!”

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Buried Treasure Flash Fiction Friday Entry

Buried Treasure

They all lay on their stomachs, close to the cellar door.

            “What do we do now?” Jimmy said, his voice low, but cracking at the end.

            Billy stared at him.  “We open the door, stupid.  That’s why we’re here.”

            “But what if he hears us?”

            The “he” was Mr. Wilson, who owned the house.

            “He’s at work,” Noah said.  He flipped open the small spiral bound pad.  “Left for work at seven thirty four this morning.”  He flipped the pad closed.  Noah was ten, like all of the boys, and wanted to be a policeman.  He had noticed that policeman wrote their information on small spiral notebooks, and he made sure that he always had one with him.

            “We’re going in,” Billy said.

            The back yard of the Wilson property was shielded from the neighbors by a high fence and trees.  There was a chance that someone could see them, but it was small.  Billy stood and tried to lift the door, but it was heavy.

            “I need some help here.”

            The other boys stood and grabbed various parts of the door.  Billy was on the other side of the door, pulling on the handle.  Noah was at the base, and Jimmy had the tie rope in his hands.

            “On three.  One, two, three, PULL!”

            They all grunted as the heavy, green wooden door loosened slightly and then started to lift up.

            “Keep pulling,” he groaned.

            They nearly drowned out the sounds of the rusted, screeching hinges of the door.  It continued to lift and Jimmy nearly lost his balance as the edge of the door rushed up towards him.  He leaned back, and then shoved at the door as it passed him.  The two other boys continued to lift until the door pointed skyward.  It hovered for an instant, and then fell open, the wood making a thud as it hit the ground.

            “What a stink,” Jimmy said. 

            Standing at the top of the opening, he was the first too catch the strong odor from the basement.  It smelled wet, and heavy, and a little sweet.  Jimmy fanned his hand in front of his nose.

            Noah turned and coughed.  “Smells like something dead down there,” he said.

            “How do you know?” Billy said.

            “I know what something dead smells like.”

            “Do not.”

            “Do too.”

            “It’s just wet down there,” Billy said.

“My dog found a dead raccoon at the park.  Smelled just like that.”    Noah took out his notebook and looked at his watch.  He wrote the time in the book and tried to describe the smell.

            “Maybe he killed something.  Like Mrs. Wilson,” Jimmy said.

            Noah looked at his notes.  “He doesn’t have a wife.”

            “Everybody has a wife.  Our fathers have wives.  All my uncles have wives.  So maybe he killed her and buried her in the cellar,” Jimmy said.

            “He didn’t kill anything,” Billy said.  He didn’t think that Mr. Wilson would kill something and then leave it in his cellar, but he was not a hundred percent sure.  “Well, you go first then.”  

            “I’m not going first.”

            “This was all your idea.”        

            It had been Jimmy’s  idea.  The Wilson house was the oldest one in town.  During a history project he discovered that in 1935 a bank had been robbed of nine thousand dollars and the bank robber Lee Williams had escaped to the Wilson house.    He was seriously wounded in a shoot out with the police.  The money was never found.  Billy thought the money was still in the house.

            “Well, it was my idea, but I’m not going in first.”

            “Chicken. “

“Am not.”

“Too chicken to go in a dark room.”

“That smells like something really dead,” Noah added.  He wrote in his notebook.

“Give me the flash light.  And when I find the money, it’ll be all mine,” Jimmy said.

“No, we’re splitting it,” Billy said.

Noah looked up from his note book.  “Yeah, that was the deal.”

“But I found it and if I go in first, then it’s mine,” Jimmy said.

            “Wuss, I’ll go first,” Billy said.  “Gimmeee the light.”

            The beam of light cut through the darkness but illuminated little at the end of the stairs.  Billy turned and started walking down the stairs backwards, holding onto the small rail.  The stairs creaked as he stepped, it sounded like someone yelling “e-e-e-e-e-e”.    He stopped for a moment, shifted his feet, the stair groaned.  He was trying to stall for a moment, get his courage up.  The air in the cellar was cool and it rushed past him, making goose bumps on his arms.

            “Keep going,” Jimmy said.

            “I will.  I will.”

            His foot landed on the floor and he turned, sending the light beam in a broad arc around the room.  It was staring into the bottom of the ocean.  Darkness loomed all around him.

            “What do you see?” Noah asked, pen in hand, ready to record his response.


            Billy reached the end of the stairs, carefully extending his left foot to the ground.  He nervously stomped it twice to make sure that it was solid.  It was.  He stepped down with the other foot and took a few nervous steps away from the stairs.  He was now away from the light from the open door and was in the dark with only the small flash light to light the way.

            “What now?” Noah asked, poking his head into the stairwell.

            “It’s just dark.”

            “No dead bodies?”

            Billy froze, suddenly remembering the bad smell and the talk of something dead in the cellar.  He sniffed the air, raising his nose like a rabbit trying to get the scent of a predator.  The air was cool, damp, stale.  And there it was again, the smell of something dead.  He shivered.

            “N-N-N-Nothing,” he said, but his voice lacked conviction. 

            “Is there a light down there?” Jimmy asked.

            “Come and find one,” Billy said.

            “You’re already down there, and you’ve got the light.”

            “Here, I’ll shine it on the stairs.”

            Jimmy saw the light swing and illuminate the stairs.  He had to make a decision.  Billy was already down in the cellar, but he had found out about the robbery and tracked it to Mr. Wilson’s house.  It was his idea for them to be in his yard on the first day of their summer vacation.  He did not want Billy to be the one that found the money and take all of the credit.

            “I’m coming down.”

            He turned and faced toward Noah and started walking down the stairs.  There was not a hand rail, so he touched the door jam and the stairs as he descended into the cellar.  The wood stairs creaked and moaned and as he put his left foot down the board sagged and he lost his balance.  He started to fall backwards, swinging his arms in the air wildly like a log roller, trying to get his balance, but he fell to the ground and landed on his butt.

            “You okay?” Billy asked.

            “Yeah.  It was only the last step.”

            He walked toward Billy and the light.  Billy swung it around the room, looking for a light switch or a pull chain.  They saw the door at the end of the room and a set of stairs, probably into the house.  It looked like there was a light switch near the stairs.

            “Over there,” Billy said, dancing the light against the wall.

            Jimmy started walking to the wall and the light beam went from white to yellow to off.  Both of the boys were suddenly in the dark.

            “Hey, stop messing around.”

            “I didn’t do it.  Battery must have died.”  Billy smacked the flashlight against his hand like he had seen his father do when the flashlight stopped working.  There was a brief flash and then no light.  “Walk over to the light switch and turn it on.”

            Jimmy knew roughly where the wall had been.  He stuck his hands out in front of him as he shuffled his feet toward the wall.

            Noah stepped down the first three stairs and yelled “The police are here.  They’re in the drive way.”

            Jimmy turned suddenly and his feet hit something on the ground and he fell down onto the long mass.  He felt it.  It was hard and wrapped in plastic.  He wanted to run, but he felt the object, a round ball at one end, a tube or log, and then two poles at the end of the log. 

            “Dead body,” he yelled, crawling on his hands and knees and then standing and running toward the light at the stairs.


            “T-T-T-There,” Jimmy said, as he ran past Billy.  He ran up the stairs. 

            Billy followed him and the three of the boys lifted the heavy door and it slammed shut.  They started to walk away from the door.

            “Not so fast.  Where are you boys going?”

            They turned and saw Officer Jackson standing at the entrance to the cellar.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Starting Over

Starting Over
My contribution to Flash Fiction Friday for June 8, 2012.  From the novel "Getting Off", by Lawrence Block, writing as Jill Jamison.
                I looked at him.  He looked back, his Red Sox ball cap slightly off center, the bill with a hard crease in it and a dark stain on the underside where he gripped it to adjust it.  He smiled, or tried to, a subtle lift of his lip to go with the “okay”, an audiovisual presentation to get me to agree with him.  He was cute, too cute, and that was the problem.  The azure blue eyes, the half smile, the askew cap.  I was supposed to agree, no argument, and let him make the decisions again.
                “No.  It’s not okay.  Not again.”
                The smile was gone and he looked away, down the street, maybe at the hotdog vendor at the corner, maybe the boy across the street, trying to balance on the fire hydrant, maybe at the young woman, my age, in the yellow sundress walking out of the bakery with a white bag.  He paused for a moment more, and then turned toward me, the smile back, a little bigger this time.
                “Come on, Karen.  You know it will be fun.  I promise.”
                “There’s nothing fun about visiting your parents.”
                “They really like you.  And it’s my mom’s birthday.  It’ll mean a lot to her if we come.”
                “Save it.  You can sell that shit to someone else.”  I felt my body tense as I drew my arms across my chest.
“But they do.”
                “They tolerate me.  So they can see you.  They don’t like me.  Not them.  Not your brother.  Not any of them.”
                “But …”
                “And if you really believe that, then we’ve got a real problem.”
                I was the problem.  A biracial woman who loved their son.  The son of very traditional Italian Americans.  There was no like when I saw them.  There were questions, and sideways glances.
                “They’ll come to love you like I do.”
                “Yeah, when the dinosaurs roam the earth again.  There’s no love when we visit them.”
                “Yes there is.  I can tell.  And they ask about you every time I call …”
                “’Are you still dating whatshername?’”
                He paused, stuck in mid sentence.  Long enough to know that I was close.
                “They always say to say ‘hello’.  That’s a start.”
                “Or a no starter.”


"I’m taking a survey.  May I ask you a few questions?”
Karen looked up from her book and saw the tall, thin man standing over her.

“It will only take a minute.”  He smiled at her, arching his eyebrows.
She stared at him for a moment, long enough to make him uncomfortable.

“I’m Justin, and you are …”

“What’s the survey about?”

He paused again.  “It’s a class assignment.”

“What class?”

“Sociology.  What’s the worst pick up line that you’ve ever heard?”

“Right now, this may be it.”

She watched Justin’s face go pale.

“Sit down.”  She pushed her book bag to the side.  “Ask your questions.”

He was tentative, sliding into the seat in the booth. 


“Oh, yeah.  So, what’s the worst pick up line you’ve heard?”

“Aren’t you going to write this down?”

Karen watched him fumble for a piece of paper from his jeans, and then started patting the same pockets again.  He blushed.  She slid a pen across the table.


“It helps to be prepared,” Karen said.  She tried to suppress her smile.

“Well, you’re my first subject.’

“Or the first that’s been willing to talk to you tonight?”

The semester had just begun and the library was quiet.  People were still easing into the routines after the holiday break.  Karen had skipped the holidays with her parents, she had made a quick weekend visit to them, but preferred to stay at her apartment and read and study, and in her words “get a leg up on the next semester.”

“Okay, let’s quit with the bullshit Jason.”

“Justin.”  He paused, looking hurt that she had forgotten his name.  “Justin Gabarini.”  He paused.  “And you’re …?”

“Karen.  So, if you were a vegetable, which one would you be?”


“It’s an easy question.  Answer it.”

“Well, I like artichokes, especially the way my mother fixes them, and then there’s …”

“Vegetable.  You.  If you were a vegetable, which one would you be?”  She looked at her watch.  “You’ve got ten seconds.”

He frowned again.  “Zucchini.  Very versatile, sweet or savory, happy to be by itself.  Or in a group.  Inexpensive.  Available year round.  Tough, stores well.”  He looked pleased.  “You?”

“Eggplant.  Tough on the outside, and you never know what you’ll find on the inside.  Adaptable to anything, versatile, dismissed at times, disrespected at times.  But always comes through at the end.”

“Sounds like you’ve thought about that one for a while.”

That’s my pick up line.”  She smiled.  “Works all of the time.”

“I’d buy it.”

“You would?  That little line?”


She reached over and took her pen out of his hands.  “I’ll meet you for coffee, tomorrow, say seven thirty at the Coffee Shack, off the quad.  Date?”

She stood and slung her book bag over her left shoulder.

“See you then.”

“Yeah.  Date.”

Justin sat at the booth until the library closed rerunning the conversation through his mind.

I sipped the dark roast, nearly tan with milk, and savored the flavor.  Justin sat across from me, his thin fingers wrapped around the white coffee cup.  He brought the cup to his lips and took a sip.  A few bubbles of foam stayed on his upper lip.  I wanted to reach across the table and wipe them away, to feel my finger rub against the stubble of beard on his face, to touch his face, to hold it in my hands.

“I don’t know if this is going to work,” I said, looking away, over his shoulder, to the barista at the back of the room.

“It’s been working fine.  Or it has been.  Until now.  Right?”

His eyes searched mine, finely oscillating back and forth over my face.  His face looked suddenly older, and worn, as if it had borne too many hardships.

“I think we need a break,” I said.  I was surprised when the words came from my mouth.  It wasn’t what I wanted to say, but what needed to be said.  For once, maybe, my brain spoke instead of my heart.

“Look, Karen, we don’t need to decide right now.  We’ll skip the trip to my parents.  I’ll tell them something’s up, and we, I can’t make it.”

“Don’t start lying.”

“You’re more important to me.”

“Don’t say that.”

I stood and took a step toward him, resting a hand on his shoulder to prevent him from standing.  I leaned over and hugged his neck, resting my cheek on the top of his head for a second.

I walked across the street and started home.




Wednesday, May 23, 2012

My contribution to Flash Fiction Friday

Summer Solstice

The cool June breeze was filled with the fragrance of magnolias.  James paced in front of the church.  He wiped his brow.

            “How do I look?” Jim said. 

            “Like you did five minutes ago.”

            “Are you sure?

            “All right, you look like a hobbit,” Richard said.  He was taller, and thinner, than James and although the same age, looked twenty years older.

            “A hobbit?”

            “On steroids.  Maybe with acromegaly.”

            “Acro what?”

            Richard leaned forward and adjusted James’s bow tie.

            “Acromegaly.  Pituitary tumor.”

            “A tumor?”

            “Growth hormone.  Think Andre the Giant.”

            “I look like a hobbit with a tumor?”

            “The cummerbund helps.”

            “Helps what.”

            “Dresses you up.  Draws the eyes away from the hobbit look.”

            “Fuck you.”

            “I don’t think the soon to be Mrs. Tugwell would appreciate that.”  He reached out and adjusted the tie again.  “I don’t think she’d want you all worn out before the big night.  So, save it for later.”

            “If there is a later.”

            Richard looked at his watch.  He just had to hang on for another fifteen minutes.  Get James into the church, to the alter, say the words, and it was done.

            “There will be a later,” Richard said. “That’s the deal.”

            “Maybe I don’t want the deal.”

            “Trust me, it’s the only way out.”

            James stood at the alter and listened to the pastor.  He wondered why people came to weddings.  There were only so many ways to marry people, so many things to say about marriage, commitment, round rings, eternity together, to death do you part.  Everyone knew the outcome, unless it was The Graduate.  And a wedding used up the whole day.  Or at least it had used up his whole day, but then again he had a good seat.  He looked at the bride, his bride, standing across from him, the veil hiding her face from him and the pastor.  He thought that she was supposed to pull it off her face sometime, but she had not done it.  Richard coughed behind him.  He coughed again.  Then he called his name, softly.  James scrunched his face as if he smelled burning sulfur, and Richard stepped behind him, and put his lips to James’s ear.

            “He’s talking to you,” he said and squeezed his arm.

            James looked at the pastor.  The pastor stared at him, the joyous face replaced by a frown.  They just looked at each other for a few more moments.  James heard coughs and murmurs from the observers.

            “James,” the pastor said, louder this time, raising his voice an octave on the last part of his name.  “Do you take Emily …”

            James looked at Emily.  What the heck was he doing here?  With her.  Now.  What had Richard gotten him into this time?  How long would it …

            Richard grabbed him by the neck and pulled his ear to his lips again.

            “Say ‘I will’ now,” he said, his warm moist breath hitting James’s ear.  “Now.  Say it.”

            “I will,” he said, his voice lacking conviction.

            The pastor turned toward Emily and went through the questions and in what seemed like an instant, Emily pushed back her veil and leaned forward and kissed him.  The observers clapped politely.

            The reception hall was dimly lit, like a hobbit’s cave, James thought.  He held Emily’s hand as they walked between the DJ’s console and a group of teenagers dancing like a frenetic giraffe on crack.  One of the teenage boys ran up to Emily, she was just a few years older than he was, he took her hand and led her to the rest of his group and, dressed in the long white gown, she looked like a fairy princess with her minions flowing around her.   

            James swirled the Wild turkey around in the glass, splashing the thin amber liquid over and around the ice cubes, and swallowed it without stopping.  The burn brought a tear to his eye.  He put the glass down, and signaled the waiter to pour another.  A man he did not know wrapped his arm around his shoulder and pulled him tight.

            “We’re brothers now, you and me.  Take care of her.”  The man looked around the room, his face shifted from face to face, and he leaned to James’s ear.  “Or else.”  He squeezed James’s shoulder, tight, the pain shot to his elbow, and the man walked away. 

            James picked up the glass, swirled the bourbon and tossed it back.

            “Slow down big fella,”  Richard said as he walked up to him.  “You’ve got a big night ahead of you.”

            James looked over to the crowd of dancers, even larger than before.  Emily was in the center, holding up the train of the dress, her head tossed back, a joyous smile on her face as the group pulsed around her.  He smiled, drank his third double in ten minutes.

            “I’m done.  Find someone else.”  He put the glass down, threw a five into the tip jar and walked away.

            “That wasn’t the deal.”

            “Deal?  What deal Richard?  Deals are negotiations, everyone gets something, a trade.  I’m the one losing his shirt in ‘the deal’, and the rest of you wash their hands.  Find someone else.”

            The room wobbled a little as James stepped forward.  He shook his head and looked at the ceiling light to right himself.  His steps were deliberate as he walked to Emily.  She turned toward him and smiled.  She reached out with her hands, the corsage was twisted on her wrist.

            He spoke to her, but the music was loud and the crowd muffled his words.  She stepped closer.  He leaned to her ear.

            “You have a good life.”  He stepped away and walked to toward the door.

            “James?” she said, the voice soft, buried in her throat.  “James?”

            He opened the door and the still June air rushed in and the smell of magnolias travelled like a stream through the crowd and swirled around Emily as the lights began to pulse.