with all my senses
a state of wild or chaotic activity
My head is throbbing, an invisible hammer breaking through my skull and destroying my neuron system. I bend and lift my arm to cover my eyes. The light in the room pulsating and vibrating, hitting my pupils with double force. It’s so bright. I close my eyes shut, trying to block everything. My sense of sight almost blinded. If I try to look now, there would be just a blurry image in front of me. And it would attack me again just like the sounds.
Oh, the noise. I can’t take it. I just can’t. I don’t want to! Make them stop, please somebody, make them stop! The voices shout in my head, thoughts of hundreds of people in this building are hitting me like a shock wave. I hear them, I hear them all.
Why won’t this stop? What did I do to deserve this?
The image of a man falling down the stairs fills my mind. An open, gushing wound in his chest is marked with blood. He falls. The sound of his breaking neck makes my skin freeze like ice. I see him tumble down. I see his gun lay next to him. He’s dead. And I killed him. I had no choice. It was me or him... but I shouldn’t have taken his life. It wasn’t mine to take. And it came with a price. I much bigger price than I anticipated. But I had to pull the trigger.
The voices in my head grow louder. They’re surrounding me. Wherever I go they follow. I hear their pain, their fear... I hear death knocking on their doors.
Bang, bang, bang. You’re next. Get ready. Last call. Make the drink good.
I reach out my hand and slide it against a wall, moving slowly as the pain threatens to open my skull right open, slicing it in half. I lift my eyelids slightly and disfigured streams of light slides against the surface of the soft tissue that surrounds my eyes.
I pull my hood up and cover my face with long hair. Their dark color turning them into a curtain that I can hide behind. I quickly find a seat and curl up in one of the plastic chairs set in a long line. I swallow hard as the fluorescent lamp above my head buzzes in a constant rhythm as if it wants to kill me in Morse code.
I start to sway on the chair, trying to block the voices in my head. Sweat running down my back. My face flushed as if in a feverish state. My cheeks blushing, while the skin around them is pale like wax. I don’t even have to look in the mirror to know how bad I look. And to know how deep the circles under my eyes are. I clench my fists. I would scream from all the pain and the incentives that flooded my body... but that would only make it worse. I knew that because I’ve tried before. Many, many times. I screamed for so long after he died. First because of shock, then guilt mixed with denial... and finally I screamed because all the pain in the world seemed to get stuck in my head.
Like now. I came here for help. I needed some stimulants to make it all go away. I needed drugs or morphine. I needed to steal it because they would never give it to me from their own free will. Maybe they would try to treat me. Cure me. Fix me. But it was too late. No matter what they would do to me it wouldn’t make it all go away. Because this would never stop, not unless I fought for my redemption. Unless I would help someone in need, or maybe I was just fooling myself. But I could feel it inside. All the sanity that I had left in me yelled. “Help them”. I didn’t know yet, who “they” were but I knew I had to do it.
Before it was too late.
Yet the hospital wasn’t the best place for my condition. The pain and the fear bottled up in this building crushing me even more.
I try not to think about anything, just focusing on not falling apart,
and then I groan. This approach wasn’t really working. Nothing was these days. I try to calm my breath as I fall deeper and deeper into the madness. All of them shouting at me, whispering, begging, cursing me.
A tearing moan slips out of my throat and escapes through my clenched teeth. I try to hold it in before it turns into an ear-piercing scream. I open my eyes as a noise breaks through all the torture going on inside of me. I lift my head and stare at what’s going on. The big doors on my right open and I see a medical crew moving fast and with urgency. They bring a guy over on worn out stretchers. Its wheels screeching and wheezing as they try to move as fast as possible.
I catch a glimpse of the man laying on the stretchers, his body covered in blood. A gushing wound in his chest. I feel like I’m going to vomit. The feeling of nausea bringing out the cold sweats. No, not this again. I didn’t want to watch this again. I didn’t want to see him die. I close my eyes for a short moment ready for denial to sweep me over, covering me in numbness. Hoping for it. The images of what happened too strong for me... but then I snap back into life. I look at the medical crew bump into the double doors on the left and quickly scan the place. My gaze freezes.
I notice the nurses room. I jump up, ignoring the commotion in my head and focusing on the one going around in the next room. This was my chance. I put a worried expression as if I’m someone’s family looking for a doctor or some help. I slip my hood down and try to fix my hair. Looking like a crazy, homeless person could not help me right now. I stare down, my eyes practically screaming now. But it’ not so bad. The adrenaline surging through my blood makes me more focused and oblivious to the pain.
I walk past rooms to get to where I want. The numbers playing before my eyes: 108, 109, 110... I quickly look around and notice that the door is open. I slip in and close it gently.
No one notices me, the nurses too distracted to pay attention to a weird girl wandering in the hallway.
to be continued...
My eyes scan the room.
I stare at the glass cabinets filled with medication and a single metal desk with a small lamp on it. My look passes past some documents and files laying on it, right to a big white mug with a logo on it. ‘Whitmore Medical Center’. I stare at the coffee stains on it and feel my legs shake.
I feel so weak. My muscles tremble as I reach the cabinets. I open the door and stare at the labels and unfamiliar words on it. I groan. I couldn’t just pick any and take it. Well, I needed a needle first. My lips lift in a sarcastic grin. I think I could find a couple of needles easily enough. After all, I was in the nurses’ room. I turn around the small bottles, looking for a name I do actually recognize. I smile for real this time. Morphine.
Yes, this should work just fine. I take the little container and hide it in my pocket. I stare at the shelf, indecisive. I needed more. I reach for the next one and hear the door behind me.
What are you doing here?!
The voice is raised and belongs to a man. I turn around and look up at him, his tall frame towering ever mine. He must have been about 6 ’1 tall. Which was a big difference when compared with my humble 5′6. I stare at him, not able to move or even say anything. My mind was so tired and I wasn’t prepared for any interruptions. I was only supposed to get in and get out. He wasn’t a part of my plan. Then again none of this situation was. I open my mouth wanting to say something but then it starts again. The voices pick up. I could only ignore them for so long and now that I could no longer feel the relief from finding what I wanted... I hear them. They’re shouting. Complaining. Some of them turn cruel.
I stare at the guy and I know what he sees. Wide eyes, fear, and terror slipping out. He looks surprised by my reaction and furrows his eyebrows.
Who are you?
My lips move but nothing comes out. I look at him for a moment and then my vision disappears. My feet buckle under me and I fall to the ground. The last thing I remember is hitting the cold tiles. And then nothing.
Are you alright?
I look up at him, barely seeing his face in the light. He sounds worried. My mind is confused. I try to make sense of what’s happening. He reaches for me and when he touches me the pain subsides, the voices fade a bit. I sigh with relief. I can’t believe what’s going on. I take a breath to steady myself before I let my voice out.
No, but I think I feel better now, thank you.
You’re thanking me? For what? For not calling the police right away or making sure you didn’t break anything by falling to the ground?
I blink and try to massage my temples with my free hand. I don’t try to break away from his hold. I just try to survive one more day without falling apart.
Chose one above, the unnecessary things you can scratch out.
Oh, we got a funny one here. Good that your sense of humor is still intact because everything else seems to be broken.
I groan as nausea takes over.
Don’t I know it. You don’t have to tell me twice... can you help me up? I promise not to run away... well, even if I wanted to, I couldn’t.
He smiles and helps me stand up. My legs shake as he leads me to a chair. He holds my wrist and checks my pulse. He frowns and then flashes a small flashlight at my eyes. I try not to scream from the blinding light and instead quickly close them.
Your pulse is really low, your pupils are dilated and your reflexes are slow.
Who are you, the doctor?
A nurse actually.
A male nurse?
Do you have a problem with that?
I shake my head and hope that it won’t fall right off.
Not in the slightest. You’re just behaving like a doctor. That’s all.
Yet you seem very surprised.
Don’t take it personally, I’m just in a lot of pain lately. So none of my reaction will be normal... so, sorry.
It’s his turn to look surprised. Maybe he thought I was an asshole. Well, he wasn’t that far off.
My name is Charlie. Care to explain what you were exactly doing here?
Well, Charlie dearest, I was stealing.
Honesty, an interesting approach. Can you be more specific?
Preferably, morphine would be my salvation, but in truth, any strong painkiller would do right now.
I smirk but then I frown again. I notice that the voices are getting louder and quickly grab his wrist. He looks surprised at me and then at my hand. He slowly pulls it away.
What are you doing? Because if this is some lame version of flirting and getting out of trouble, then it’s not really working.
Please, just for a moment. It hurts less when you touch me... or when I touch you. I don’t really know how it works.
What are you talking about...?
Please, just for a minute, then maybe later I can walk out of here on my own feet - I growl - and not on a wheelchair or in a black plastic bag.
I grind my teeth as the pain increases. Why in the hell is it so bright in here? I try to take slow breaths, so everything slowdowns as well. There is a moment of silence when I think nothing will ever get better but then I feel his fingers on mine. Sliding against my skin and grabbing my hand. I sigh in relief.
Can you explain to me what’s actually going on around here?
Not really, but...
If I don’t take anything from here and surrender to the cops, can I keep you then?
Yes, as a pet, or a houseplant.
What, not even as a boyfriend or your boy toy? Oh wow, I see your sense of humor is still doing well.
Hmm, I wish I was joking. But whatever medical miracle you doing here, it’s definitely working...
In the end, he didn’t call the cops. He wanted to though. His eyes kept gazing at me with an unreadable look. He took my hand and walked me out of the small room and into the main hallway. I stared at the gift shop absentmindedly while I let him lead me out. I looked at the colorful balloons and gift cards and wondered if I still remembered how to be happy. I wasn’t sure anymore. The chances of my situation ending in more or less good circumstances were less than zero.
On our way we passed a woman carrying a baby in her arms; she seemed exhausted and beaten up but still managed to smile at her child. She gazed up at me and the smile still lingered on her pale lips. My eyes closed for a moment as I considered how the scene didn’t set any emotions in me. Nothing. I just felt numb, now that the voices in my head had subsided. I stared at the hand holding mine and speculated how long will this last after he lets go. I really didn’t want to find out.
And now as he leads me to the front door and stands for a moment in silence, I try to set my mind in the present as the sliding doors open and close over and over again. He doesn’t loosen the grip. I don’t dare to move, ignoring my surroundings, just focusing on the here and now. I couldn’t even plan five minutes ahead.
One more time, can you please explain this to me?
I don’t think that I can.
Why not? You know I can still change my mind and call the cops?
Do what you must.
I say, thinking if he did call the cops, he would have to wait here with me until they got here. I somehow feel selfish, counting on the extra minutes with him.
Just like that? You’re going to give up?
Well, I think that ship has sailed a long time ago. Look, normally I would run away, okay? I would scream, shout and maybe even hit you with something. I would steal the drugs and leave... until I would need more. I would probably choose a different hospital, or maybe the same one, depends on how strong the pain would get... and since it’s getting worse with every day, I think I might visit you again. Something tells me that either way I would end up in prison.
You’re strange. You know that, right?
Mmm, the word doesn’t even begin to describe me.
He gives me another puzzled look, staring at me as if he is not sure what I might do in the next second. His eyebrows scrunched together, forming one line as if he is trying to solve some really hard problem and he doesn’t seem to know from which angle to grab it. He finally lets out a big puff of cold air and shrugs his shoulders, like he’s giving up just like me before.
Alright, look. I can see that you’re not as bad of a person that you seem at first. You’re not exactly a ‘usual’ kind of junkie that I have to deal here almost every day. But still, what you did was a felony and I should report this to my supervisors. I don’t even know what’s stopping me.
I look up at him, at the circles under his blue eyes and his tired face. I didn’t notice it before, too preoccupied with my own sufferings to even care.
I’m sorry, I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t have to. If I had a choice.
He lifts his other hand to his head and ruffles his bright, hazel hair. Then the hand covers his face, and he sighs deeply.
Fine, just go, I won’t call anyone.
He lets go of me and waves his hand as if he wants to get rid of me as soon as possible. I swallow and close my eyes shut. Somehow desperately trying to reverse the time with my mind. Surprisingly my thoughts don’t go back to the moment when all shit went down or to the many mistakes that I did in my life. My mind wanders off to the exact moment when he touched me and for the first time in days, I felt relief. I wanted those extra minutes with him.
And not only because of the miracle abilities that he possessed. There was also something about his presence. It worked soothing on me like nothing bad could happen to me as long as he was near. I try not to think how cliche my words sound in my head and make myself move.
Thank you. I really do appreciate it. If it was someone else...
I start to say and notice that the light from the lamps gets brighter. My head begins to throb but it’s not like before. This pain doesn’t want to open my skull, it’s more of a migraine thing. I hear some whispers and look at the floor. All liveable. I could do this. I look up at him and wonder how long before it gets back to the previous state. I don’t wanna think about it.
Nothing that I couldn’t survive. Trust me, it’s much better than it was.
I turn to the sliding doors and walk out into the night. It’s raining a bit but I don’t mind. The rain seems to wash away this terrible day, preparing me for the next one, that probably won’t be as kind. I hear the doors slide again but I keep on walking.
I turn around and stare confused at Charlie. He rushes to me as if in an emergency and I am tempted to look behind me, to make sure there wasn’t any accident happening there. But I don’t, because I know, that I am the emergency.
Did you change your mind? Shall I wait for a police vehicle?
I ask, almost amused, lifting my hands as if they were already in handcuffs.
Let’s just say, I am still debating. So stop kidding around.
Okay, okay. So, what do you want?
Your phone number.
Don’t look so surprised, I feel offended... I need your phone number so I can check up on you. Cause let’s face it, the entire time that I have known you, you look like you are on the verge of collapsing. I don’t want to have this on my conscience if anything happens. I have enough on my head as it is.
Do you have a pen and paper?
How retro of you... and yes, I have. It’s one of the perks of being a male nurse.
I take a small notepad from him and scribble a phone number and my home address. I hand it to him and he stares at it with a funny look.
Not sure if this will work. I don’t really do house calls.
Well, I don’t always pick up... for different reasons. And that’s a landline phone.
No cell phone?
It’s breaking a lot these days. I guess it doesn’t like it when I throw it against a wall.
Or throw it out the window, I think to myself. This was another issue for me. Because of the constant pain, I kept getting panic attacks and fell into a lot of tantrum states, raging on. When my head threatens to explode, the phone’s ring was like a screaming murder to me... that’s why it usually landed on my wall. The landline I only turned on when I didn’t have a surround system speakers in my brain. Which wasn’t often. But I guess even my pain had a scale. Sometimes it was an 8... and sometimes a 100.
So what you are saying, in such an ‘enduring way’ is that you won’t kill me with a hammer if I chose to check up on you?
Yes, sounds about right, since I threw away all of the heavy and sharp objects from my junkyard... I mean my ‘flat’.
Ok, it’s a deal.
He comes closer and extends his left hand. I hesitate for a long moment, not used to being around people as of late. The further away I was from everybody the better chance I had of mental survival. I finally shake his hand, enjoying the peace that this physical contact was giving me. I stare at him for a second, thinking that he might be doing this on purpose.
From one side I knew that he must be really confused about what was really going on. Maybe he thought I was some scam artist and that all I wanted were some free drugs... and in order to make it look convincing, I cooked up some silly story about his wondrous touch. Now, from the other side, I could feel that a part of him wanted to believe me, despite everything that he knew about the world and how much he relied on that knowledge. And not some crazy shit that was going around him. My fingers squeeze tighter around his and then I let go.
And as I leave him and head out into the night, I think to myself that this was a little gift from him. As if he was charging up my batteries for what was to come. I put my grey hood on and try not to be too visible. All I wanted right now, was some peace and rest. Hoping that maybe if I was quiet enough I could disappear and hide away from my problems.
And it doesn’t take very long for them to find me again...
1. widespread destruction
My freedom from the nightmares doesn’t even last a night. I am confronted with my demons after less than two hours of restless sleep filled with endless tossing and turning. My sheets soaked with sweat and the fear of people whom I don’t even know and will probably never meet.
I wake up with a sore throat from screaming and a beating heart ready to jump out of my chest at any moment. It’s like the hammer always lurking under my skull, is ready to take vengeance with double force. Paying me back for every moment that I spend with only my voice occupying my thoughts. This seems to take forever until the minutes turn to hours, and those hours change into days. I fight it at first, distracting myself in every possible way but eventually even I have to give up. The pain surrounds me like a cocoon until I am no longer able to stand on my own. Everything becomes a gigantic blur of darkness and mayhem colored by my own insanity. Until... until something manages to break through.
Hope is such a funny thing, isn’t it? No matter how bad things are, we always keep it somewhere in the back of our heads. Hidden away in the deepest corners of our minds. Conveniently stashed behind the layers of cynicism that replaced our dreams. But at that moment, I did not let hope set in, I let the thing that happened next, distract me from myself.
The bell rings. A piercing sound so high that it seems to make my ears bleed. I moan, throw a small carpet off my body, and drag myself from the wooden floor. My feet stumble under me as I head for the door.
The bell keeps ringing. I hold back the tears. The pain is excruciating.
I look through the peek hole and clench my teeth, trying not to scream and ignore the pneumatic hammer destroying my brain. I swallow, not sure what to do. It’s him. Paying me a house call. Just like he said he would. I watch his worried and frustrated face and stand there for a couple more seconds, frozen to the spot. He starts to pound on the door. I jump back startled, yet still grateful that he didn’t ring the doorbell this time.
I know you’re there...
He starts and then cuts abruptly, probably realizing he never asked for my name. I hear him curse under his nose and then he pounds again on the door.
Just open up. I can see your shadow under the door.
I almost jump back, like a child being caught on doing something bad. I move without coordination, fall to the ground and hit my elbow on the hard wooden floor. I growl while the pain in my head mixes with the one coming from my arm.
Son of a bitch...
Please let me in. I have medical training, remember? I can help.
I lift myself to my knees and get up. Oh, what the hell, he couldn’t possibly make this worse than it already was.
I unhook the multiple chains and locks and step out the door so he doesn’t see the catastrophe, that was once my flat. I couldn’t control what was going around in my head and I lashed out on almost everything I could find. Things flying in the air, the place a mess. Pieces of broken glass everywhere. This time the place really resembled a junkyard.
I cover myself tightly with my oversized, grey hooded blouse. I cross my arms, feeling weak but already going in my defensive mode. The one that I have used, as long as I can remember. Whatever the situation I was in, this has never changed. I stand there in my black, ripped jeans, messy hair tied in a falling apart knot, and stare at him. I bit my lip, not sure what to say or do.
Will you let me in? Or are we just going to stand here like this in awkward silence?
I turn back, open the door wide and step in, not even looking if he is following behind me. I pass the pieces of glass on the floor and sit on a sofa and then close my eyes. My hands tremble.
I hear him come in but keep my eyes closed. Too tired and embarrassed to even look at him. I know I was being childish, and that I desperately needed help.
This is the time you can muck my junkyard.
I say in a low voice and feel him get closer. I don’t have to see him, to guess what’s he’s doing. He crouches in front of me and grabs my hand. I know that normally he would start with examining my body and the possible injuries... but in this case we both know the obvious procedure wouldn’t have worked. I feel his fingers slide against my cold skin and a certain warmth starts to spread. It fills my veins and slowly moves through my cells, and when it finally reaches my head, I start to relax.
This was going on for almost two days straight.
My body starts to tremble again. I open my eyes and look down at him. He still has that worried expression on his face... and it’s this mixture of concern and a kind stare that makes my eyes sting. The idea that someone would care for me like that... for such a nobody like me. I blink and tears start to roll down my face. I quickly wipe them with my sleeve and clear my throat. I feel irritated and angered by my weakness, but still, the relief seems to be the most dominant emotion right now.
Thank you, Charlie.
I said I would come to check up on you.
So a man of your word?
Something like that.
I thought you would call first.
I did. Repeatedly. But there was no signal. I started calling you last night after realizing that 24 hours have passed since your last visit.
I look past him at the kitchen counter, when the phone used to be. My gaze falls down to the ripped cables. I frown and move my left foot to the back. I feel the phone under the sofa. I look up and keep a straight face.
It must be broken again... so you waited for another 24 hours so you could officially start the search and claim me as a missing person.
Well, look who’s mucking now?
I shrug my shoulders trying not to look bothered, at the same time wondering how will I ever repay him for what he was doing for me.
He stands up and looks at me critically. He has a strange expression on his face. Like he’s trying not to laugh. I frown at him. I can feel my defensive mechanisms kicking back in, even if this man probably just saved my life, and my senses.
So which part of your body did you hurt, falling down? You know, when all of those delightful words cascaded from your mouth?
I narrow my eyes, growl and answer him spiting through my teeth.
My right elbow.
Alright then, take off your clothes.
What did you just say??
Relax, I am not here for your doubtful innocence. I just meant your blouse so I can examine the damage... Don’t look at me like that. You could kill people with the stare of those steel, grey eyes.
He says raising his hands in the air and I flinch. I did kill someone, even if his eyes were colder than mine. I don’t say anything, just take off my blouse, revealing a worn out, white spaghetti strap shirt. The material is thin and I am not wearing a bra. I fight the urge to cover myself but he doesn’t seem to even notice. His expression serious and professional.
He opens a medium size, black bag that I didn’t notice before and puts out a pair of latex gloves. He touches my elbow gently and moves it to the side, looking at the scrapped skin and checking if I broke anything. He sterilizes the wound and puts a special gaze bandaid on it.
I think you are going to live, gorgeous.
Mmm, thanks again.
I quickly put on my blouse and zip it up to my neck. I felt very exposed around him, and not just because of the clothes. Just the whole situation mixed with his kindness. I wasn’t used to this.
It’s Eleonore... I thought you might want to know, and I don’t use short forms of my name. So watch it.
You’re very feisty for someone who was just laying on the floor, raving in pain.
Okay. Sorry. I really do appreciate what you did, and that you actually came over to check up on me. I’m just in a bit of stress state lately. That’s all.
Stressed? Don’t you mean excruciating pain that doesn’t seem to have any medical foundations? Because I think that’s what you really meant.
Yeah, that too. Mind not being so observant and perfect?
Perfect, you say.
Because of your medical training and doing house calls without any charge.
Who says it’s free?
Hmm, okay. How about that hammer over the head, for all of your help?
Sounds marvelous. Have you got a medium size one? The big ones can really open up your skull, too much mess if you ask me.
I stare at him for a long moment, debating what he just said and how sarcastic his tone of voice is - and for the first time in what seems like forever, I let myself smile.
Okay, how does tea sound then?
Well, it’s a big compromise but I will take it.
I get up and try not to step on anything dangerous while I walk to the kitchen annex. I fill the kettle with water and put it on the stove. I open a beaten up drawer and look for some matches. It’s not easy with all the clutter inside, but I manage to eventually find them. I light the gas and try not to notice how much my hand is shaking.
Do you have a broom?
I jump up as he stands behind me. I turn around, while I watch him, crossing his arms and giving me a funny look. My heart is pounding like crazy. Let’s face it, I was a complete wrack these days.
Why? Planning on changing your occupation? From a male nurse to a cleaning lady?
You know, that attitude isn’t going to get you very far.
I sigh and hand him an old broom that seemed to be here since I moved in. Then I pretend to wave an imaginary white flag at him.
Here. Sorry for being an ass.
He grins at me and goes to the living room area.
Mind telling me where all the glass is from?
I narrow my eyes and point to a big, tall frame, leaned against the nearest wall. It looks old and made of gold, but it isn’t. I bought it at a flea market, for 85 bucks. I fell in love with it, the moment I saw it and used some of my rent money on it. Still, it was worth it, even if now only the frame was left and the back panel.
I broke the mirror because I didn’t like what I saw in it.
He looks at me in a weird way, like he doesn’t believe that my words could be true. I shrug my shoulders and watch him start to sweep the floor. The kettle begins to whistle after a while, and I open the top cupboard to pick two mugs that are in the best shape. One mug is covered in little violets and the other boldly states“I choose to be a unicorn” It’s a picture of a lama with an attached horn on top of its head. I frown. Yeah, he is getting the flower one. I make rose tea and carefully take the mugs to the little coffee table that’s in front of the sofa. I put everything on a stack of newspapers, not thinking that he would actually mind.
I cross my arms and watch as he sweeps the floor, throws away the pieces of glass to a bin that’s in the kitchen, and puts the rug in its place. Right in the center of the living room. He also grabs some clothes off the floor and sofa and heads to the bathroom. I lean forward and see him throw it to the laundry basket (yes, I am also surprised that I have one and that I didn’t manage to break it yet). My frown deepens as I notice how comfortable he is in here. Like it’s his place. He comes out, wipes the fake sweat off his forehead and sits on the sofa.
Why are you still standing? Come on, sit down.
I was wondering what weapon I would use on you if you started to clean my bedroom.
I sit down and look suspiciously at him as I lift the mug and wrap my cold fingers around it.
I am not going there. It’s a danger zone, and you are out of your genie wishes by now. I am no longer lifting my finger. Well, maybe only for this.
He grabs my wrist for maybe five seconds and then let’s go. He gives me a long stare, probably looking for some reaction from me. The touch of his warm fingers is short, but it momentarily makes me calmer. The warmth of his skin better than the one I get from holding the teacup. My frown disappears and my face muscles start to ease up. He keeps examining my face like he would normally do with his patients. I don’t mind, simply enjoying the silence in my head.
That will do. I think I will handle the rest of the cleaning by myself.
If you think that you are up for it.
More than I was just an hour ago.
We sit around for some time and drink the tea, not really saying much. Just enjoying the silence. From time to time he puts his hand on my wrist and then I just close my eyes, trying to take as much as I can from this. I’m actually surprised that he isn’t asking me a million and one questions while we sit on the sofa. I know that he wants to, but maybe he is just aware of my current state and doesn’t want to push it. Eventually, he gets up.
I need to go to work now. I don’t want to be late for my shift.
I stare at the window and watch as the sun slowly falls over the horizon.
So a night shift?
Yeah, but I actually like it more. I’m not really a morning person.
You and me both... Charlie?
Thank you for this. I might act like a total douchebag, but I am really grateful for what you did for me today.
Did what I had to do, Nora.
Eleonore - I correct him.
Hmm, Nora suits you better.
I told you, no shortening my name.
He puts his hands in the air and his black bag moves around. I try to keep a straight face again.
Alright, Eleonore but only if you will tell me more about yourself next time I see you, and maybe explain what’s really going on around here.
I can’t promise anything.
Very well, Nor...
Okay, okay. I will try, alright? Is that enough?
He just nods his head and walks out of the apartment. I stare at the door for a long time after he leaves. I try not let myself be too hopeful while I think what he actually said. Next time I see you. I try and yet I hold on to those words tightly, like a person drowning, holds on to a razor. I lock the door and head for my bed, that’s in my tiny bedroom. I land on it, and my tired mind falls asleep as soon as I hit the pillow. It’s been so long since I could do that.
I just hope it lasts... even if just for this night.
catching up with life
The peaceful state lasts almost 9 hours and then it starts all over again. The only difference is that this time it’s much slower. At first, I don’t even notice it. Too exhilarated that I slept over 7 long hours. The silence in my head is so overwhelming that I just lay in bed, not even moving. Finally, I allow myself to stretch. Still nothing. I get up on shaky legs and head to the bathroom. I use the toilet and take a shower, letting the hot water almost burn me. Still nothing. I get out, head to the kitchen and open the fridge. It’s empty. My stomach growls.
I can’t remember when was the last time I ate and realize how loose all of my clothes were. I sigh. I actually missed my curves, being bony didn’t suit me much. My stomach grumbles again, demanding my immediate attention. I quickly pull on some clothes, my shoes, close the door behind me, and run down the four flights of stairs. I head for the nearest store to buy some food before the voices return. Because something told me this state wouldn’t last too long.
I almost fly into the store and grab a red shopping basket on my way. I take a carton of milk, eggs, apple juice and look for bread. Eventually, I find it and get two, grabbing a pack of Cheetos and two cans of coke in the next aisle. Then I go back, changing my mind. I leave one can, deciding that too much caffeine wasn’t the right option for me now. I reach the register and take a chocolate donut and a cheap pack of crackers. I look at my groceries and frown. I run back and quickly take five, discounted bananas from the fruit stand. I heard once that magnesium was good for headaches. I smile in a sarcastic way. Well, these bananas better be magical then.
I reach the register again and put everything on it. The guy behind it looks at me, bored out of his mind. His red hair stands in all direction and he has a lot of acne on his face. Not that it makes any difference to me. Right now, he could have had green skin and antennas, I would still be smiling. He stares at me in a suspicious way as if I had a bomb under my jacket or a gun, ready to blow his brains off. Hmm, apparently he wasn’t used to people being nice to him too often.
That will be $22.78.
I look around in my pocket and sigh with relief after finding enough money. Twenty-four bucks to be exact. I wasn’t very fluent in cash lately since I couldn’t really go to my job and make it through a workday. I keep one dollar to myself.
Keep the change.
He starts sarcastically but notices that I am still smiling, so he just nods his head and watches me leave. I smirk. Maybe he will Tweet about this to a friend.
I come back to the apartment, leave the food in the kitchen and decide it’s finally time to make that phone call. I kneel in front of the sofa and reach out for the miserable looking remains of my phone. I stare at it for a moment. Once ago it must have been white, but the best I could call it now was a ‘smokers yellow sunshine’. The thing is big and squared shape. It’s a good thing it was an old model, the new stuff wouldn’t stand a chance with my tantrum sessions. I plug it back on the counter and dial. I listen to the signal. One ring, two, three... eight, finally I hear a familiar crack as someone pick up the receiver.
Hey, it’s me.
Well hello there, kiddo. By now, I thought you disappeared from the face of the planet. Or did you disintegrated yourself in bourbon?
A heavy yet warm voice fills my ears. He’s joking around but I know that underneath his grumpy exterior he actually worries about me. In many ways, he was closer to a father figure in my life than my own parent.
Let’s just say that somehow I am still in one piece... well, at least physically.
You want to fill me in why I haven’t seen you for over 2 weeks? How many missed shifts at the bar, would that make...?
I know Phil, I messed up. Big time.
I hear my voice get unsteady as I can feel a slight migraine filling my head. I ignore it. In comparison with everything I had to go through, this was like a walk in the park, a soothing stroll while watching a sunset. I close my eyes and hope that it wasn’t coming back too soon.
I need more details, Elle...
I smile despite the situation. Phil, my boss, was the only one I let shorten my name. Even if this version made no sense at all. Well, originally it was made by him for the customers. An easy name to go on my identification tag. You know, the little white rectangle with the employee’s name on it. I hated it and not too long after, I got rid of it and flushed it down the toilet in the place that I was working. So the tag was gone, but Phil still felt the need to call me Elle as punishment. But time passed and the name remained.
Phil, I can’t explain right now... because honestly, I wouldn’t even know where to start without sounding like an insane person.
Start with the murder, a tiny voice in my head said but I ignored it. I couldn’t bring myself to even think those words without flinching. Let alone saying them out loud. Sometimes I considered giving myself away to the cops so they could lock me up for what I did. I doubted that the guy that I killed would be missed but at the same time, there was something alluring about this thought. It wasn’t so much about my guilty conscience as the lingering thought about what would happen next.
They would lock me up and eventually notice my erratic behavior. Then they would send me to a specialist that would without any doubt declare my insanity. That would lead to my lockdown in an institution. After that, I would have a free pass to endless medication that would numb me and keep the voices at bay. Sometimes I couldn’t shake that thought away. There have been at least dozens of times when I was already on my way out the door. There were certain occasions when I would actually reach the police station. Eager to give myself in, almost with a smile on my face... but each time there came a moment when I would back away. Terrified not only to confess my crime to the police but more to the point, admitting it to myself. Therefore making it real... and I didn’t want this nightmare to be real.
I think you already missed that boat, kiddo. You got crazy written all over you - his amused tone suddenly changes - Elle... Eleonore. Listen to me.
I take a deep breath hearing my whole name. He almost never did that. And if he did, it meant things were really bad. Like the time when I got into an argument with a customer and ended up with a broken wrist, after hitting him in the face. This wasn’t my fault. I saw how he was treating his girlfriend and my big mouth opened before I could even think. I didn’t regret it. And his broken jaw made everything even sweeter. I remember how later Phil set me down, his expression both irritated and proud.
Eleonore the damages are coming out of your paycheck...
Don’t get smart with me, you know what you did.
I’m not gonna apologize to that scum.
I wouldn’t ask you too... good right hook by the way.
Well, I’ve learned from the best...
Stop with the flattery and go clean up the mess you made”
There is a brief moment of silence before he continues.
Whatever kind of mess you got yourself into, we can fix it. I am sure the guys at the bar will be more than eager to help. They always look forward to a little rumble.
I know, it’s their spare time hobby.
Phil, I know how to handle myself.
I know that you have a lot of bruises to prove that... but I don’t want you to hit rock bottom again. That shit that you were taking before almost killed you last time.
I’m not taking drugs, I promise. And that was a one-time thing, after Dan, I just couldn’t...
My voice cracks and I take a second to compose myself, This wasn’t the time to open that dirty bag of memories. I count to ten in my head and continue.
Anyway, I just wanted to call you and let you know that I’m alive. But things are bad and I won’t be coming back to work for a while (if ever).
I know how this sounds but I got some help now. I found a... specialist, a doctor to fix me. I don’t know how that will work exactly. The situation isn’t easy but I’m not alone with this anymore. That’s all the information you need for now.
Alright, I know what you’re about, and that you need to fix your problems by yourself. I respect that... but make sure to keep me updated about your “alive status”.
I smile, I couldn’t believe I actually missed my work and the rotten normality that it brought.
I will. Talk to you soon - hopefully.
I hang up before he can say anything else and collapse to the floor. I sit on it and sob quietly for a while, bringing my knees to my chin. Then after a couple minutes, I make myself get up when I sense the pain starting to surge through my body. It wasn’t big yet, but I needed to hurry since I didn’t really have a timer on this. I go to the kitchen while my stomach grumbles to make a point. I sigh.
This was such a hell hole... but go ahead world, bring on the flames.
14 hours later...
I storm into the hospital, almost running. Eventually, I slow down, so people don’t think I am some kind of a maniac and that nobody puts me in a strait-jacket. I pass the main hall and head for the reception like the last time, wanting to ask the other nurses for him and then I stop. There must have been an accident not long ago because the noise increases and finally turns into words.
Words that only I could hear. It’s the part that I hated the most.
Make the pain stop...
Where is everyone? Why am I alone? Why can’t I move?!
I can’t feel anything. Somebody help me, please help...
Stop that! Don’t take her away! No, she is still alive. No, don’t she is so tiny...
I pass the reception and start to look for him desperately. The voices taking over my head. He has to be here somewhere. I watch patients in all sorts of states. Older people slowly moving forward, some with their IV bags. People sitting with their hands and legs wrapped around in bandages. Others are just worn out by whatever sickness was eating their bodies. I close my eyes, willing it all to stop.
He’s gonna pay for this, the fucking murderer. He’s gonna pay for what he did to...
I flinch and start walking faster. Maybe he’s with a patient? Or in the bathroom? I look for the latter and walk in without even thinking. I hear a lot of offended voices, see frowns and try to ignore a lustful grin from one guy. I lift my hands in surrender, saying that I am looking for someone (the idiot with too much testosterone in his blood, waves at me and winks). Then I call out Charlie’s name a few times and after not hearing any reply, I quickly evacuate from there. Where else can I look?
Why did you do this to me, Lord? Why did you take him away from me? WHY? You were supposed to take me, we had a deal...
I wince as I hear the cracking voice and all the emotions and pain wrapped around in those words. Honestly, I didn’t know what was worse here. The threats, blasphemy, and venom spat out of people, or the pain of a broken spirit crumbling apart. I just couldn’t find the strength to fight them, no matter what words fell in my head.
I notice the light getting brighter again and I start to panic, No, I couldn’t let it get as bad as before. This wasn’t a joke or something that could just go away. I could feel that whatever was happening to me, was in some way damaging my brain cells. And the loss of weight, insomnia, and nervous ticks were just a small addition to my falling apart state.
I stop walking for a while and put my hands against a nearby wall. I try to concentrate on calming down, my breathing irregular and I feel like I just ran a marathon, almost out of breath. I hear my heart pounding in my chest and try not to panic when it keeps skipping a beat. I begin to sweat when I realize that there are short times when it isn’t beating at all. Calm down. You have to calm down. I straighten my back and head for the cafeteria. My feet drag across the floor as I look around.
Most of the tables are empty, only a few people sitting and not really eating anything. Just moving their food on a plate or drinking cold, cheap coffee. I scan the room as I start to hear the lightbulbs buzzing and my insides twisting. Finally, I notice him. He’s sitting there, eating a small pizza and what looks like a salad. He’s reading a book, but I can’t really see the cover from this far. I start to walk up to him and not think about anything, in case I might mentally fall apart. He must hear me, because he looks up from the book and quickly gets up, seeing my state. He takes the first step and then I start to run. I reach him in seconds. I’m completely on autopilot now.
I stand next to him and put my hands on the sides of his face, needing the noise to stop. I close my eyes, concentrating deeply, and can feel him freeze under my touch, but I ignore it. The pain was too much for me again. I fought it as long as I could, too afraid that if I needed his help too much, he would finally say no. That he would be done with my sorry ass... but now that I knew that something was able to turn off this horror for even just a little bit, I couldn’t resist. I just couldn’t.
Just for a moment, I promise.
I’m sorry. I didn’t want to bother you but the pain is increasing and I had nowhere to go. You’re the only one that can help me. I wouldn’t have come if it wasn’t so bad, because believe me, it was. I know how important your work is and how busy you are...
He stops my senseless rambling and grabs both of my hands. I open my eyes and look up, embarrassed. I want to pull my hands out of his grasp but he doesn’t let me.
It’s okay. I understand. Hold on, as long as you need.
He says calmly and somehow I have this intense feeling that he doesn’t just mean this moment. My eyes start to water but I hold it in and blink a lot. I lower my head and close my eyes again. After twenty or thirty seconds it finally works. I sigh with relief, but somewhere in the back of my head, a dark thought slips out. It took much longer this time as if my body was starting to get more immune to his touch. It worked just like the first time but I could feel some new blockade in my mind. If the pain was big, I had to concentrate more on calming myself down so it could work.
It’s gone. You can let go of my hands.
He jumps back and let’s go abruptly. He seems just as embarrassed as I am. He clears his throat and his hand goes through his messy hair. I smile. I have grown to like this gesture of his. He looked so young when he did that. I sit down and decide to take pity on him.
So what are you reading?
I point a finger to his abandoned book and take a slice of his pizza. I was starving again. I take a big bite and my stomach grumbles as if I have a whole orchestra in there.
I don’t think I want to tell you.
I furrow my eyebrows and snatch the book before he can stop me. I stare at a used up copy of Jane Eyre*. I smirk at him.
Oh, nothing to be ashamed about. It’s a classic... but tell me, do you consider yourself closer to Mr. Rochester or our little Jane?
You know, Nora, rudeness does become you. In so many ways.
I open my mouth, ready to start a whole tirade where he can exactly shove those words, but once again I remind myself how much he is helping me. I think about the fact that I bother him at work, how I make a complete spectacle of myself in a hospital and on top of all that, I am now eating his food. I swallow my arrogance with another bite of the pizza and give him a guilty look.
You’re right. I’m just tired so you are welcome to ignore everything I say in the next couple of minutes.
I finish my food and try not to stare at the remainings of the pizza.
You wanna finish that, too?
He lifts his eyebrow mockingly but his voice remains kind as always. I shrug.
No, I’m fine.
Of course, you are... look, you can eat that and I am going to get another one.
You don’t have to...
He walks away before I can say anything else and goes to the register. I shake my head, amazed. I quickly finish my food and take his book to occupy my thoughts with something. I stare at the used copy and start to read from the first fragment I find.
“No sight so sad as that of a naughty child,” he began, “especially a naughty little girl. Do you know where the wicked go after death?”
“They go to hell” was my ready and orthodox answer.
“And what is hell? Can you tell me that?”
“A pit full of fire.”
“And should you like to fall into that pit, and to be burning there forever?”
“What must you do to avoid it?”
I deliberated a moment: my answer, when it did come was objectionable: “I must keep in good health and not die.”
A sour smile spreads on my lips. How very true, dear little Jane. I close my eyes for a moment. If this was just the beginning of my hell on Earth, I didn’t even want to imagine what would happen after this thing in my head finished me off... and something deep inside me told me that day would eventually come. Charlie was making it last longer but he couldn’t be by my side forever. I shake my head again and look for a different fragment to read. There has got to be something less depressing here.
“I have little left in myself -- I must have you. The world may laugh -- may call me absurd, selfish -- but it does not signify. My very soul demands you: it will be satisfied, or it will take deadly vengeance on its frame.”
I shut the book abruptly. This was too real all of a sudden. I massage my temples and look up as he sits opposite to me. I inhale the smells and my eyes widen.
Not liking the book?
It’s good... just not today. Not in these circumstances.
He looks at me for a while and moves the plate towards me. I grab another piece without even pretending to have some manners left.
You always have that kind of appetite?
Mmm... actually yeah. But usually, I eat slower.
So how long has it been since you threw yourself at someone else’s food?
He has a concerned look on his face and it bothers me somehow. I didn’t want his pity right now. I push the plate back to him and cross my arms tightly over my chest. I gaze at the book and then at him.
Jane Eyre isn’t the most obvious choice for a guy... you sure, you wouldn’t prefer to read “The Shining” instead? Butch it up a bit?
No. I think I see enough of horror in this place.
He waves his hand around and I try not to wince. I was doing it again. Saying the wrong things, doing the wrong things. Hardly ever acting the way I should.
Sorry, my bad, but Jane Eyre isn’t exactly the most optimistic book to be reading either. Don’t you think?
Well, it’s more optimistic than a guy turning insane in a hell hole hotel.
He smiles and takes a slice of his own. He opens the book, seeming to be looking for something. I stare at him, trying to figure out what this guy is really about. I mean, people were not born this good, right? He had to have some flaws. If not, I was ready to lay on the floor here and now, and wallow over my life. My thoughts start to get dark as he passes the book my way and points to a sentence. I look down, feeling depressed, then read the words. I snort loudly and then cover my mouth.
“Mademoiselle is a fairy,” he said, whispering mysteriously.”
He grins back as I try to regain some fake dignity.
Are you implying anything here, Mr. Rochester?
Of course not, Jane.
I narrow my eyes at him and flick through the pages. I put my finger on the old yellowed paper, and wait until he sees it.
“I mentally shake hands with you for your answer, despite its inaccuracy.” Mr. Rochester”
Oh, Charlie boy, I have been called many things in my life, but cute wasn’t one of them.
And what were you called?
Trouble - I say simply and shrug my shoulders.
Now, this I can believe. So, did you think about what I asked you last time? Ready to tell me something about yourself?
I wriggle uncomfortably on my chair. Alarm bells ringing in my head with double force. I couldn’t just tell him everything and risk losing him. I couldn’t survive without him. And not in a soppy, melodramatic way like in some cheap romance novel but the literal way.
Not yet. Sorry.
But you will have to tell me eventually. You know that?
Because I can’t be helping you if I don’t know what the real problem is.
Trust me, I know , but it isn’t easy to say. I’m really messed up... and I can’t even begin to say how grateful I am for what you are doing for me. I...
The day we met I made some bad choices.
I look up at him, suddenly feeling sweat on my back. So this was the moment when he finally decided that I was better off in prison. I look down at my hands spread on the table and feel mixed emotions. The thought that I would no longer have him as my friend, my ally... the thought was devastating. But the idea that I would most definitely get locked later in a mental institution with the “silencers” given to me in the form of drugs... now, that thought was all too soothing.
I’m sorry about that. I understand. Where do you want me to wait? At the nurse’s desk or with you outside while you make the call.
He lifts his eyebrows hesitantly, and I notice the confusion on his face.
What are you talking about?
You are going to finally call the police.
No. Why would you think that? Listen, Nora. All I meant was that, yes, I should have not done what I did. I should have reported you trying to steal drugs immediately. Those are the rules and the law that I always followed. It was the first time that I did something like that.
I know, and I’m sorry.
No. Stop. This is not where I am going with this. What I did was unprofessional and might one day get me out of my job if someone found out. But still, I don’t regret it.
It’s my turn to look confused.
But you said...
Yes, but what I meant was that I need to know what happened to you so I can help you. I don’t want you to get worse. I worry about you.
You do? So I am not just some weirdo, that has been bothering you with her mental problems?
Oh, you are... but you are also so much more. So, stop beating yourself up and finish ‘my’ food. I need to get back to work. There is a whole horde of angry nurses bound to show up and yell in unison “Off with his head!”.
He grabs his book, takes a big bite of pizza and rushes out the door. Then he freezes and turns back, takes my hand and pretends to shake it.
Goodbye, Jane. May your way home be pleasant for you.
My mouth opens wide and he grins at me. I feel the warm touch of his fingers heat my skin and bring calm to my haggard mind. I watch him almost run back to his patients. I really needed to understand that man better and what he was all about. My lips part and I whisper almost to myself.
Safety travels, Mr. Rochester...
*Jane Eyre is a novel by English writer Charlotte Brontë, published under the pen name “Currer Bell”, on 16 October 1847, by Smith, Elder & Co. of London, England. (...) Jane Eyre follows the experiences of its eponymous heroine, including her growth to adulthood and her love for Mr. Rochester, the brooding master of Thornfield Hall. The novel revolutionized prose fiction in that the focus on Jane’s moral and spiritual development is told through an intimate, first-person narrative, where actions and events are coloured by a psychological intensity.
toss some mundane there
I actually don’t leave, I sit in the cafeteria and think about everything that he said and finally make a decision. I walk away and go to the reception. I kindly ask for nurse Charlie. An older woman in her mid-sixties asks me which Charlie do I mean. I say “the only male one in the coop”. She gives me a stern expression at first but then it turns into a crooked smile.
So another one infatuated with ‘Mr. blue eyes’?
Nope, I need him for other purposes.
The words seem to amuse the woman and she actually gives a genuine smile while fixing her glasses at the same time. I look at her white, curly hair, pinned up high on her head, and the wrinkles that appear when she smiles.
And what would that be?
Just patient care, and private annoyance that I cause him.
Alright, dear. I will call his pager, and we will see if he has the time.
That’s okay. I will just sit here and wait.
This could take a long while.
Not a problem. Time is all I got right now.
Suit yourself, dear.
I gaze at her for some time, while she moves along very efficiently, and notice how tired she looks. I stand up with nothing else better to do and go to a vending machine that sells coffee. I stare at it and notice there is also tea or hot chocolate option to choose from. I pick tea and get two cups of it. I also take 3 packets of sugar (2 for me) and some plastic sticks to stir it later. I walk back to her and leave the tea and sugar on her desk and sit down without saying anything. She looks up from her papers and lifts an eyebrow. I shrug my shoulders.
I hear tea is good for you.
She stares funny at the paper cup but then looks up and silently says ‘thank you’. She seems grateful for the little gift. I sip my hot tea slowly and my stomach grumbles again. I pat it with my right hand and sigh. Ugh, seriously? After all that food in the cafeteria? Well, hearing voices sure did work well for the appetite and my metabolism... Or maybe it was the fact that I hardly ever ate these days.
Hey, you. Miss stalker...
I raise my eyes and stare surprised at the woman behind the counter.
She adjusts her glasses and nods her head impatiently.
Yes you, dear. Come over here.
I stand up and walk up to her. I think I already liked her. I stare as she pulls up a basket of muffins and pushes it my way. Oh, I definitely liked her.
It’s for the nursers but I don’t think they would even notice if you took one.
How about two?
Go ahead. Some of us need to lose weight anyway, and you sure could use some extra pounds on you.
I can almost feel my too loose jeans slip down slightly, under her drilling eyes. I grin and take the offering.
Thanks - I look at her name tag - Oh, and Susan...? The stalker girl’s name is Eleonore.
She doesn’t look up from the papers but I still see her lips twitch a bit. Hours pass and we don’t really talk much to each other. However, I watch her fascinated when my mind isn’t occupied by all the dark thoughts that I have. Honestly, I think that woman is a robot. She handles so many things at once, juggling her responsibilities like a real pro. I can’t get enough of her. Like watching one of those shows How it’s made* on the Discovery Channel. Apparently, today’s episode was about nurses and bionic parts that they hide from the world.
Finally, when things seem to slow down for a moment, she looks around suspiciously and takes out a crossword puzzle from under her desk station. I lift an eyebrow but don’t say anything. Instead, I look through another old glossy magazine and read about how to fit into a gown before the New Year’s Eve... 2012. I smirk, oh well. Didn’t make for that in time but 2018 was all mine. The main theme of the party will be “Hellhole celebration”. I rub my wrists against the scented pages and start to bitch around in my head, about make-up and sequins, when I hear a low noise. I look up at Susan and notice her tapping a pencil against the desk. She points it at me almost accusingly.
An optimist by another name...
She stares at me for a moment and sends me an almost wicked smile.
Oh, look at that. The circus is back in town. Let’s try again. The same question. Seven letters.
I sigh and she nods satisfied.
Good, I’ve got another one for you. “In Greek mythology, a place under the earth where the spirits of the dead go”.
My eyes widen, yet I don’t comment. How very convenient in this situation. Susan seems to get impatient.
Hades. Both the land of the dead and the god who rules there.
It fits. Alright, the most common...
What is going on around here?
I turn my head and see Charlie staring at both me and Susan, very baffled by what he sees. I try to keep a straight face. I put down the magazine and walk to the desk. I glance at Susan and it seems that she has the same guilty expression that I do. But it just lasts a second. She looks up at Charlie’s tall frame and seems to grow a couple of inches as well, getting all professional... while discreetly putting away the crossword puzzle.
What is this nonsense, dear? I do believe that you have seen a patient before in a hospital? Haven’t you now, Mr. Evans?
Charlie shakes his head as if something isn’t adding up here. Like a normal, everyday situation has been turned by 360 degrees. His eyes wander slowly from her to me, and back again. Somehow he reminds me of a white rabbit, searching for lost time. I narrow my eyebrows. Why am I thinking about such a thing? I restrain myself from looking at the nurse again, in fear that I might see the White Queen as well. Because she certainly fit the part.
Second name basis, Mrs. Cormeum? Because you are not fooling anyone with that strategy.
Oh, hush boy and take care of that girl, she has been sitting here for over two hours. Mind getting her out of here before she eats all of the muffins left? Ah, that reminds me. Feed her as well, she is simply skin and bones, and she can’t possibly keep stalking you in this state.
I can feel a blush spreading over my pale cheeks and I try not to snort again. I felt both embarrassed and amused. I cross my arms and look at him questioningly.
Is your shift over?
Almost... I still need to fill out some reports and patients cards and set new drug dozes for... Ehm, yes, almost over. Why?
I am inviting you to coffee. It seems that you wanted to find out some information, regarding my current state.
So will you find some spare time for me? I don’t have all the info you want, but it will be a start.
He stares at me, knowing exactly what I meant by that. He seems indecisive somehow. He drills his eyes into mine, just like nurse Cormeum before, then nods his head once, making up his mind.
Yeah, I’ve got a couple minutes to spare.
I hear Susan snort loudly and then quickly going through some papers, making a lot of noise with it. Charlie’s eyes narrow but he doesn’t comment. I keep my face muscles at bay, while I answer him.
Good, I will wait for you outside. Bye, Susan. The food was great.
You’re welcome Eleonore, and the tea was... drinkable, I will give you that.
I head for the main doors, and from the corner of my eye, I notice Charlie’s bewildered expression caused by our little exchange. As I leave, I can still faintly hear his words.
What did just happen here? Susan, did your husband bake the ‘magic muffins’ again...
His voice trails off and my lips still twitch as I wait for him outside. Just when I think my life can’t get any more bizarre, something like this happens. I close my eyes for a moment. Maybe it was the late hour? I feel the chill of Autumn days on my skin, the cold going under my thin jacket and making me shiver. I glance at the electronic clock above the main entrance and grimace. 5:43 a.m. Yes, that could be it. I look up at the cloudy sky while the darkness starts to slowly fade into a gloomy shade of grey. It was time to prepare for another day.
*“How It’s Made” is a documentary television series that premiered on January 6, 2001, on the Discovery Channel in Canada, and Science in the United States. It shows how common, everyday items are manufactured.
the right questions?
Charlie finishes his shift a little after six and takes me out to an old-fashion 50′s style diner. It’s a funny place, resembling a very long, oversized camper. Or like a giant tin can, it was hard to tell really. We sit in a booth in the middle by the windows, the seats covered in red leather - and we check out the menus. I glance at him from time to time, thinking about how he looked after walking out of the hospital. He had this strange expression as if he needed to get the difficult part over with, and at the same time... hmm, like he really wanted to believe the truths I was going to feed him with. Every part of him that was responsible for common sense and logic protesting.
Oh, how loudly it protested.
I look down at the menu again and frown. The prices were reasonable; however, I was really low on money. Plus, I think I didn’t actually take any, too busy surviving the turmoil that was taking over my mind. Funny, I used to mock all of the telepaths in those lame TV shows before. Always saying how those actors overplayed everything. Really ‘experiencing’ the pain of those tortured souls. It seemed too forced for me. And now, as I hear the buzzing in my head growing louder, I just shake my head at my own stupidity and at how insensitive I was. I stare at the list of different hamburgers and my mouth literally waters. I swallow and start to look around in my pocket. I feel a few coins under my fingers.
Charlie, I’m kind of low on cash, I think I can still offer the coffee but...
No problem. I am the one thirsty for information, so let’s say I am inviting. Plus I did have tea in your flat, so it’s only fair that I buy the food.
Well, unless the tea I made was filled with gold leaves, which it wasn’t, I think that’s a bit too much.
Nora, relax. It’s just some burgers at a diner. I might not be a Rockefeller but this I can still afford. Even with what I earn.
I stare at him, my eyes narrowed. My moodiness mixing with hunger. I clear my throat.
You do remember my full name, Doogie*? Or is school and medical care too much for you?
A part of me feels satisfied seeing his expression, the other part snaps like a rubber band and sends a painful sting to my conscience. Ugh, guilt. I haven’t felt that in a long while. I watch his features soften as a crooked smile replaces the scowl.
Call it a payoff for the food, There will be more to come. Now pick something, and let’s get this show on the road.
I gaze at him for a while, lifting an eyebrow but then just do as he says. I was too old for playing the sweet idiot or a damsel in distress. I stopped being shy when I was ten, and other people proved to me, that there was no place for such foolishness.
Fine, big spender. I will have two cheeseburgers, double fries on the side and a strawberry milkshake to top it off.
He seems amused as a waitress walks up to us. She’s tall, has brown hair pinned up and glasses with a silver chain. She looks like she could be in her mid-forties. She also seems bored and exhausted from just breathing, not to mention serving the customers. I look at her apron, it has a minty color with white edges, just like the rest of her retro outfit. Charlie looks up at her and gives her a warm smile. She seems to relax a bit and takes our order. It’s the thing I wanted and the same for him but he goes for a vanilla milkshake instead.
As the waitress walks off in a much better mood, I recall what Susan said to me not long ago. “So another one infatuated with Mr. blue eyes?” I gaze at him for a moment while he searches for something on his phone. He takes a napkin and writes something down. I frown as I judge his looks. Hmm, I guess that he was handsome. Tall, muscular shoulders. Great hair and kind, blue eyes. What could a girl want more, right? Hmm, the waitress sure seemed to agree with that.
I put my head to the side, while I keep studying his features, and at the same time wondering, how long was the line of girls piling up to him. I amuse myself with the thought that you had to get tickets to get to him, and maybe wait longer than for a premiere for a new Star Wars movie. I cover my mouth in case I snort came out again. He looks at me questioningly and hands me the small piece of paper. I take it and lift my eyebrow.
My cell phone number and the one for work, plus my pager if anything - unexpected happened.
Unexpected, what a lovely way to describe it, but thanks, I really appreciate it. You sure, you want me to bother you at all hours of day and night? Ain’t that a bit risky?
I’m a big boy, I think I can handle my own affairs.
I’m sure you can. I think to myself, and so do the ladies. I try not to smirk.
Ok, I accept. But be aware, that by doing this, you are purchasing a madhouse.
Is that so?
Yeah, I think you saw what this thing can do to me.
He stares at me with a serious look. I gulp, suddenly nervous and prepare myself for his next words.
And what is “this thing” exactly, Eleonore?
I stare out the window and hold my hands tighter under the table until my fingers and knuckles turn almost white. I stare at the dark sky and the rain that starts to pour. I notice some lightning and frown, I wasn’t a fan of those. I turn back and gaze at him. In the corner of my eye, I see the waitress coming back with our order. I sigh in relief.
Can we eat first?
He turns his head to where I am looking and nods his head.
Sure, no reason to handle life trauma on an empty stomach.
The woman comes with our food and puts everything on the table. My lips twitch a bit. He gets his food first, of course. I look at her name tag (did everyone have one? because they seemed to be everywhere these days) and read the name. Sammy. Well, how not fitting.
Will there be anything else, Charlie?
No, Samantha, we’re good.
That you are, that you are.
She heads back, her hips swaying very suggestively but Charlie doesn’t seem to notice her efforts. He doesn’t even turn around for her. He seems more than oblivious to what she is doing. Or maybe he is used to it by know if he knows her by name? He grabs his hamburger and takes a big bite. I smile.
I see that you are very popular here. Is that the misses?
Very funny, it’s just that I come here at least three times a week. By now I know everyone’s name.
Alright, alright. I’m not judging.
I grin at him and dive into my burger. Oh, this was so good. I also stuff my mouth with some fries and sigh happily. Maybe I really would survive this conversion better after eating all of this; though probably not. We take our time, enjoying the food and throwing a couple of comments here and there. However, it’s mostly me making approving sounds with a full mouth. I finish before him and pat my stomach with satisfaction. Oh yes, this should last me for a longer time. He stares at me with wide eyes as I lick my fingers, making sure nothing is left. I shrug my shoulders. What? Who knew when the next opportunity like this would happen again.
Okay, I know I am stalling here, but can we start with a little chitchat first?
As long as you get to the point before the end of time, preferably before the apocalypse, Nora.
I am not amused.
And I am very patient. So can we begin?
I stare at him a bit agitated by now and cross my arms tightly over my chest. Then I undo them and start to tap my fingers against the table. My right hand doing almost a dance there, while the left one stays on my thigh, fingernails digging in. I take a deep breath, hold it in and then exhale.
Fine, fire away, Mr. Evans.
He sits back, more comfortable and puts his left arm against the headrest. I look at his forehead and imagine words moving around in his head, creating sentences and questions.
Alright, something easy. How old are you?
Is that the first question you’re going to ask a woman?
You’re stalling again.
Fine, I’m 24. Satisfied?
Barely. Are your parents alive?
Yes, they are.
Do you have a good connection with them?
I stare at him, annoyed that I had to talk about myself. I didn’t like that.
Yet I knew that it was important, to be honest with him, as much as I could anyway. I owed him that much at least for everything that he was doing for me. I also I wanted him to stay, so I had to untangle my tongue a bit for him.
No. We don’t really talk right now.
And why is that?
I did a lot of things in my life that they didn’t approve.
Let’s just say they had plans for me and I didn’t share the same enthusiasm as they did.
Ok, that will do for now. Do you have siblings?
Other family members?
No. I mean, I used to have an aunt, but she died. That’s how I got the apartment... it used to look much better when I got it. Guess, I am not very ‘tidy’, as you are aware by now.
What did your parents think about you moving away?
They were all for it. I think they enjoyed the distance.
And when did you move there?
When I was 19 - before then, I spent over a year with a friend of mine. We shared an apartment for fifteen months.
Was the friend your boyfriend?
No, it was a girl I met at work. We were both messed up and broke, so we decided to share the expenses in her tiny flat... it was half the size, of what I have now. Can you imagine?
I smile, remembering Cara and the rathole that she was renting. It was horrible, but I still felt happy there. She was a great friend, though she was even more messed up than I was. I missed her a lot, but I guess at one point in my life I really closed a lot of gates shut behind me. Burning all the bridges. Charlie stares at me as I relive things that happened to me in the last couple of years.
And after that time?
I moved to my Aunt’s place. It’s where I lived with a guy I met.
What an understatement of the year, I think. But I wasn’t going to dwell into that right now, it wasn’t the time - and maybe it never would be.
Was it serious?
It was... it lasted a while.
What was his name?
None of your business - I say shortly and cross my arms. I wasn’t going to budge on this.
Alright, I get it, a touchy subject.
You could say that.
Do you have a job?
I used to, but thanks to the ‘current circumstances,’ I am out of work.
Well, it’s hard to find safe questions for you.
Tell me about it.
I stare at him and move my head to the side. I guess I could get some information too.
And how old are you, Mr. Evans?
Not really a secret. I’m 28.
I tap my fingers against the table again. What did I actually wanna know about him?
Are you married? A girlfriend, boyfriend perhaps... a cat that loves you?
None of the above. Especially not the last one. Why do you ask?
I was just wondering if I bothered you too much, would some jealous party come and beat me up with a shovel, or a baseball bat, if they were more cultural, of course.
Well, aren’t you just adorable?
Yes, I am a real peach.
I smile at him and relax just a little bit. It was so much easier asking the questions rather than receiving them.
Where do you live, Charlie?
Do you want the full address?
No, just the general location so I can paint myself a better picture of you.
Alright. I have my own place but I am sharing it with my younger brother, he’s in college, but stays with me cause it’s cheaper. He also raids my fridge on a daily basis but throws a couple of bucks from his half-time job.
What kind of college?
He’s going to be a veterinarian. He has a gift when it comes to animals and an unnatural strong addiction to his Xbox.
He sounds like a great guy.
Want his phone number, or is 21 a bit low for you?
Still not amused, besides I’m not really looking for anyone in my state. I think you can understand that.
And before this happened? Oh, and for how long has this been happening?
For around two weeks. Don’t look at me like that, I haven’t been always THIS messed up - and before, I wasn’t looking either. Too busy trying to earn a living.
I look at my empty plate and the nails of my left hand dig in deeper into my thigh. I think he notices the change in mood because he asks a different question.
What interests you?
As in hobby or something?
He nods and I relax again.
I don’t really have that many interests but I am actually good at taking photos and I can’t really say that about a lot of things, that I can do. I even got paid for it; it was my part-time job.
Okay, favorite movie?
I don’t really watch TV, these days.
But when you did?
I think about it for a moment until my mind hits something.
“The Secret Life of Bees” and before you ask, I am not exactly sure why maybe because I like how the bees work together and always take care of their kind. Or maybe I am secretly in love with Queen Latifa, who knows?
Yeah, I have no idea where I got it from.
We stare at each other for a while, not saying anything. And I can feel the tension building up, though it’s mostly coming from me. Mister patient, just studies my reactions. He moves his hand forward and touches my right wrist. I feel the warmth spread but then I shake my head and pull away.
It’s not that - that thing is on a ‘neutral’ level, which means I can handle it on my own. Still, thanks for that. This time it’s just me not wanting to answer some questions, but I am trying, I really am.
I know that you are. Can we move on?
Alright, I won’t ask for the specifics but can you tell me, where is the pain coming from? Is it in your head, muscles? Is it a constant feeling, or does it have different intensity depending on different factors?
Is this the moment where you ask “on a scale of 1-10, where would you say your pain is right now”?
Very funny. I wasn’t going to... alright, maybe I was. Can you just describe it to me in your own words, so I can visualize it properly?
Ah, mister big words. But okay. It’s this massive pain that attacks my brain and spreads to my entire body though it’s not like, suddenly my hand or leg hurts; it’s more this overpowering sensation that I am being attacked from the inside. It’s as if the pain shoots for my senses, my sight suddenly gets very sensitive to light; the sounds that seem to vibrate through my nervous system. It’s as if I feel the world with all my senses.
Okay, imagine this. You’re in a club and the music is very loud. So loud that it vibrates through your entire body, the volume is so high that you almost start to jump as if your teeth were going to fall out at any moment. Do you know what I mean?
Yeah, I do.
When it’s exactly like that but times ten.
Afraid not (long sigh) though I wish I was.
And is it always like that?
I stare at his concerned face and my stomach tightens. I never actually told anyone about any of this. Not that I could have had a long enough break to share these pieces of information. I tap my fingers against the table.
I swallow. Dangerous territory. Very dangerous indeed. I sigh again. It was time to really confess to the insanity, without telling the most important part. The reason why this was happening. I couldn’t tell him everything he wanted to hear, yet I had to tell him some part of it.
Is this the scene when you stand up and storm out of here, while the wind lifts your hair in an over-dramatic way?
I look at him and smile. He sure knew how to break the tension.
No, sorry. I was going to say more but you stopped me.
He lifts an eyebrow and shrugs his shoulders as if not completely believing me. I couldn’t really blame him for that.
Let me try again. Listen, the thing that I am feeling isn’t just about the physical pain. It has more to do with the things that are in my head, and I how I feel. How I react to the world.
I don’t think that I follow.
Ok, Charlie. The easiest way to put without getting into all the dirt and filth of it all is to say... Hmm, in a way you could call me an empath*.
You know what that means, right?
Of course, I do, but that stuff doesn’t happen outside movies and science-fiction novels. You can’t be serious.
Oh, I am. Deadly serious.
But that can’t even begin to cover the subject. Your pain that you’re experiencing, the headache you must feel, the weight loss...
I hear voices, Charlie.
He seems to be taken aback by what I said. I can almost hear the little screws and bolts moving around in his brain, and I know that nothing adds up for him. I cover my face in my hands and count to ten before I speak.
Do you want me to leave?
He stares confused at me.
What? No, of course not. I am just trying to understand what you are saying, and I have got to say you are really making it hard for me.
Then ask me more questions and I will promise to answer them as honestly as I can. I really want to tell you about it, it’s just hard to understand it. Even I still can’t seem to wrap my mind around it.
That’s very helpful, Eleonore.
Well, there is an upside to it. You managed to recall my full name.
This isn’t funny.
Oh come on, I’m breaking the ice here. Mind helping me out?
Fine... what... I mean, where...
Okay, listen, it’s almost eight in the morning. I know you must be exhausted and frankly so am I. Don’t look at me like that. I am going to tell you everything you want to know; well, everything that I can. Alright, release those eyebrows before something snaps on your forehead.
No, stop. I am really not going to run away, and we are going to have this conversation again. Cause, let’s face it. I can’t really disappear. I mean, could a migraine patient escape her paracetamol bottle?
I grin at him and he sends me a dirty look. My grin widens.
I am going to tell you. Just for now this is all you’re getting, I’m afraid. So for now, you can just think of everything that I said and clarify your opinion of me - and I promise not to run if I hear the police sirens in the middle of the night next to my building.
He moves his hands against his face and his fingers go up and through his hair as if he was considering pulling them out. I grab one of his hands and put it on the table, I squeeze it with force and feel my senses relax instantly, the low buzzing stops. I want to grab his attention. It seems to work because he finally looks at me.
I told you I was messed up. Now, how about we go back to our places and each party has some much-needed sleep?
He nods after a while and gets up to get the check. He comes back after a couple of minutes and hands me a bag. I take it and stare into its contents. I see two burgers and greasy fries. I look up at him with eyes big like saucers.
He smiles, a tired smile at me and we leave, parting on a sidewalk. Heading in different directions. I watch a faint light trying to get through the thick clouds. The sun. It seems that I haven’t seen it in a whole lifetime. I stare at a couple of sunrays that manage to slip past the dark barrier. Well, look at that. It was finally shining on me too.
* Doogie Howser, M.D. is an American medical comedy-drama television series that ran for four seasons on ABC (...) The show stars Neil Patrick Harris in the title role as a teenage physician who balances the challenge of practicing medicine with the everyday problems of teenage life.
** Empath - a person with the paranormal ability to perceive the mental or emotional state of another individual.
games in the dark
The phone rings. I hear its decibels breaking through the noise of running water. I sigh but quickly step out of the shower and wrap a towel over my body. I move fast and at the same time trying not to slip and fall on my face, water dripping from my wet hair. I shiver slightly and pick up the receiver. It’s him.
He sounds worried.
How are you doing?
I’m... coping. No need to worry. It hasn’t been that long.
I wrap the towel tighter and start to rub my other arm. So much for the positive effects of a hot shower. The old radiators weren’t helping either. Well, that or the fact that I was running late with the last bill.
Yeah, that sounds like an invitation. I’m coming over.
You don’t need to.
You sound like a broken record.
Blame the turntable that hears voices.
You’re not as amusing as you might think.
Oh, I think I get by quite well, thank you.
I stare at the empty, gold frame where the glass used to be once, and wonder how bad the shape of my body was. The small mirror in the bathroom didn’t really show the whole scale of the problem. I knew things were a bit better now, but I wasn’t sure I was ready for the top to bottom, overall look.
Charlie, things are durable, and you have a lot of work. Don’t waste time on me. When it will get really bad I will let you know or come over - or maybe not, Susan keeps sending me strange looks.
She sends everybody those looks until your dirty conscience floats to the surface and she can use it against you.
You’re still not being funny, Mr. Evans.
Well, I’m still coming, and when I do, you are telling me your second name.
I hang up the phone and smile. I look at the half-empty pill bottle filled with painkillers and put it away. Good, I hated the way they made me feel. Less pain, the same volume. I head to my bedroom, put on some clothes and then dry my hair. It was a good thing the general electricity still worked. I finish drying my hair and notice that I resemble a poodle, locks moving in every direction. Hmm, a lion with deep issues. I gaze into the mirror and I quickly brush out the mess, then tie my hair into a long braid. I stare at their color and pout. It was always a funny thing. Once they were almost completely black and other days like these, they were just dark brown.
I head to the living room and grab an oversized black sweater from the sofa. Today was definitely not a t-shirt weather. I make myself some tea in the kitchen and sit on an old chair. Patiently waiting for the right paracetamol bottle to come. The one that never had a side-effect, just a deep penetrating stare. I smile. Don’t even go there, I think to myself while wrapping my fingers around a hot mug.
She’s sitting on the couch and drinking the last cold remainings in the cup. It’s her second one, and there is a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. She doesn’t bother herself with turning on a small TV because usually the static just irritates her senses, sometimes even speeding up the whole process in her head. Not that she normally has the time for cheap entertainment, too busy raving in pain on a regular basis.
She looks at her messy surroundings and starts to feel sleepy, all the extra energy that she had from the shower seems to drain out of her. Her eyelids get heavy, and she yawns. She sets herself in a more comfortable position, putting her head against the back of a couch and wrapping the blanket tighter. She shivers and feels her body set in rest mode. She eventually closes her eyes, too many sleepless nights finally making a mark and catching up with her. She leans to the side and slips down to a laying position; a couple more seconds and she’s gone.
The wind hollows outside, and the rain bangs against the windows. Thick clouds covering the room in shadows and making it seem that the night has already settled itself in, darkness slipping in every hole and crack of the flat. She shivers in her sleep, not only from the cold, as all sorts of images fill her mind. Dangerous images that liked to sneak up on you, when you were too tired to resist. She sinks deeper in her sleep, and the nightmares begin once more.
Faint light slips into the empty space. Dust motes flying in the air and shining like an endless galaxy of stars, making the scene seem beautiful and peaceful. Making it a lie. The air is musty and chilly, a complete opposite to the weather outside. The heat wave keeping a distance from this place. Avoiding it. No good gets pass these walls. Unknown eyes search every detail, and speck of dust that covers the surfaces and sticks to the ground. Those eyes linger on the emptiness and enjoy the slow decay. It’s felt in the atmosphere and can be inhaled with the stench that climbs down to the lungs, and leaves mold in your soul.
Those eyes stare at the broken floorboards, and the holes in the walls - the only thing that lets the light filter through. They move forward and linger on the stairs. The banister is a risky business, and each of those stairs represents a different threat, leading strangers to the second floor of this dark place - a place that was once a grand mansion with people that lived there in luxury and comfort. Now it’s empty, the surroundings resembling the inside of some terrifying creature, its guts ripped from inside, and all that is left is a gaping hole that moans, and over time submerges into darkness. Sinking in the depths of the past, but not before it satisfies its hunger. This place. It craves her and wants to devour her... yet, it is in no rush. No, this monster is patient.
The eyes that have no physical body, smile... and it’s a truly cruel grin. No sounds escape this unseen danger as it waits, as it prowls.
She stirs in her sleep, her heart racing, her body twisting and bending, but her mind not letting her wake up. Holding her in the nightmare. She knows that she has to see it all, experience it all over again because this will never end for her. Her mind on constant repeat.
She’s in the building, feeling the mold in the air and the chills that reach under her skin. The fear crawling under her organs and heading straight for the heart. But she had to be here, following him to see where he went. He had his gun with him. She needed to see. She had to know. Because she knew what he had done to... Her mind trips on the name, blocking her, body starting to shake. She tries to regain some focus. All the things that she found out about this man terrified her and made her sink even deeper after... A single click in the head, another blockade. Her feet move, scrapping against the cracking floor.
She knew what he did, but he knew about her too. Long before she even knew him and the things that he was capable of, and the void that he would bring her and make her forever suffer because of it. He tracked her down and wanted money that she didn’t have. He made her life a living hell. And now she was here, following his every step, no longer caring for any consequences.
She tries to step as quietly as she can, all the while feeling the weight in the bag. She doesn’t want to use it, just wants to be protected - being in constant fear since, since… - her mind goes blank again, as she searches for him. She saw him come in here. She saw him disappear into this building, on this late, summer’s day.
She wants to wake up so badly because she knows what will happen next. So many times that she had to relive this scene. Over and over again and she could never wake up before the end.
Moving slowly up the stars, she feels watched. Her skin cringing from the sensation. Her mind spinning. Her heart so close to jumping out of her chest. Her breathing speeds. She moves up, holding on to the shaky banister, tripping over countless holes on her way. She finally reaches the top. She gasps as she hears something downstairs. She moves back and hides in the shadows, where there isn’t any light to expose her.
She sees him now. He’s heading up, looking to the sides; small eyes drilling into everything. She looks down and gasps again. He’s holding his gun in a firm grip, his lips twisting into a smile. As if he knew that she was there, knowing all along that she would follow him. He was waiting for it.
She hears a noise somewhere in the back of her head. The sound is piercing... a doorbell. She wants to wake up so much, but her body can’t move.
The man goes up, stairs squeaking under his impressive weight, but he doesn’t seem to care. He just moves forward, waiting for his prize. She grips the banister tighter, blood draining from her face.
Come on, little girl. I’m waiting for you. I have been waiting so long.
She moves back and stumbles. She falls to the ground and hears a low laugh.
Ah, there you are. Hiding from me, you slut? Come here, or I will make you suffer - more.
She stands up on shaky legs and reaches into her bag. The cold metal burning her hand. She hesitates for a moment but pulls it out. For a while, she feels brave. She takes a couple steps and the remaining floorboards shriek under her weight.
There you are. Did you miss me? Because I have sure missed you. Come closer so I can have a better look at you.
She slowly walks up to him, her mind not able to produce any coherent thoughts. For a moment she even forgets why she’s here.
I don’t have the money.
Oh, who the fuck cares about that?! You know what you did to me? What your lover infected on me?
I don’t understand...
Oh, stop playing along. You must know what’s going on with me. I got rid of him, and it fucked with my mind.
He comes closer and she instinctively steps back. She swallows. What is she supposed to do now? Was she really going to do this?
You might be a pretty little thing, but I know the real you. And you know what? I bet it started from you. That you are a disease that crept into that idiot that stole my money, and then it caught up with me, your filth spreading It got to my head.
He points his gun to his forehead and slowly pokes it a couple of times. Bang, bang, bang. She flinches.
I can’t think straight, I keep messing up my business. And those damn voices in my head! They’re there all the time and - well, they say stuff. About you. That I need to get rid of you. And so does he.
What are you talking about? I didn’t do anything, you killed him. You did all of this; you got rid of him, you took him away from me and then you haunted me like an animal for money. And who is “he”?
Don’t play dumb with me.
The corners of his lips suddenly lift.
You know, he told me you would say that. That you would try to distract me. Playing the victim, the innocent, and then you would fuck with me and end me.
I lift my gun, my hands shaking. I swallow. What was going on around here? What was this hell hole that was my life? He looks at the gun and then into my eyes and smiles. I cringe, seeing the rage inside of him. The hate that infects him like pollution. Like venom.
And I see that he was right. Naughty, naughty. But don’t worry, you will pay for it all. This will never stop.
He reaches her, they struggle. He’s bigger than her and has the upper hand. He pushes her against the banister. She tries to think logically, but everything is happening so fast. She doesn’t seem to understand any of it. She plunges forward, trying to get him of her. There is a lot of rustling noises. She fills the gun against her stomach. It pushes inside her body. She panics.
I told this would be over for you...
She hears the trigger and then a bang. The gun goes off, and then - there is just stillness. Not even one breath is altered. She sees dust motes in the air. The light slipping through the cracks. She feels something wet. It’s warm. It flows. It drips. She looks down and sees blood. She looks up and gazes at his surprised expression. He stumbles back. A low pitch hiss escaping his throat. He croaks some sounds out, and blood flows out of his mouth.
She doesn’t move. She doesn’t breath. She just watches with a completely empty mind, as he steps back and tumbles down the stairs. She hears his neck snap. Her eyes staring at his motionless body. There is no sound around her, just the nothingness surrounding her from each angle. Screaming filling her ears, her head, her body. Her shouts breaking the walls, crushing the stairs, ripping her flesh and twisting her bones. More screams, more pain, and then...
I wake up, practically screaming my lungs out and falling down from the couch. The only thing breaking through is the constant sound of the doorbell. I pant like crazy, trying to free myself from the blanket twisted around my body. I hyperventilate, attempting to make sense of my surroundings and what the heck had just happened here. I close my eyes and the annoying sound of the bell finally makes me focus.
Eleonore? What’s going on? Come on, let me in. I’m freezing here.
Charlie. His name is like a whisper in her thoughts, amongst all the noise. A silent distraction from her screaming mind.
I get up, kicking the blanket away, and automatically fixing my hair as I stumble on the way. Then I scold myself for doing it in the first place. What was I trying to achieve here? I walk up the door, my bare feet against the cold wooden floor. I start to tremble a bit from the sudden chill coming from the air.
You’re late. I had a nightmare, and I don’t want to talk about it right now. Come on, get in here already. You’re letting the cold in.
He looks at her with a scowl. His clothes and hair all wet. A broken umbrella in one hand, and a paper bag in the other. There is a moment of silence while I gaze at drops of water falling down from his hair and hitting the ground. It’s so quiet, that each drop seems to make a noise like a steel ball instead of water. I sigh.
Won’t you please, come in?
I pretend to bow and then wave my hand with an overdramatic movement. He gives me a dark look, but then the corner of his lips twitch, and he smiles.
Well, aren’t you the “hostess with the mostest” today.
He gives her a once-over look and lifts an eyebrow.
Now, look what we’ve got here; a black sweater, black leggings, and almost black hair. Hmm, at least your cheeks have some color.
I open my mouth to say something nasty, but he just passes me and heads for the kitchen, before I can even alter a single word. He puts the paper bag on the counter and looks around, a bit confused. Then he marches to the bathroom. I look at the water prints on the floor and sit on the side of the couch, curious about his doings. I didn’t really have company much, so this was like watching Animal Planet on TV for me. I put my head to the side as he walks out, jacket and shoes off, an old mop in his hand. His hair fixed and combed back. I blink a couple of times. He actually reminds of some old movie star now. He notices me staring. I quickly close my mouth.
What? I left my shoes and jacket in the shower so I won’t get anything else wet, besides, I always clean my mess.
It’s my turn to lift an eyebrow.
Wish I could say the same. You know, this isn’t really Taj Mahal or Louvre in Paris. No one is going to kick you out for being a slob. I mean just look around.
He pretends to inspect the flat, but then just shrug his shoulders. He starts to mop the floor from the kitchen to the door and back. I try not to frown. Definitely too comfortable around here.
What’s in the bag, cleaner boy?
He walks away, and I can hear him from the bathroom.
Late lunch for the malady.
I snort. But then quickly jump up, walk to the counter, and open the bag. I stare at four croissants and my mouth starts to water. I inhale. Mmm, chocolate. I bit in, and almost faint with pleasure. My stomach growls accusingly as if I didn’t feed it for the past week. I finish my half before he even steps in the kitchen.
Did you leave me any?
Sure, sure. I’m not an animal, you know.
One could argue.
Stop trying to be amusing, it never works for you.
Oh, I think I get by rather well. Can the slave ask for some tea?
I roll my eyes but don’t say anything, putting on the water and setting two cups on the counter. We sit in silence while the water boils. Him eating and me focusing on not thinking about the nightmare. I make the tea and then he finally decides to say something.
I fixed your radiator, by the way.
What? - I look up surprised.
Yeah, the knob was twisted off, I found it on the floor and just put it back in place and turned it. It’s already heating up as we speak.
I look at him in consternation. So, it wasn’t about the unpaid bills then. I shake my head. Yet. Because it was just a matter of time really if I didn’t do anything about it soon. I still have a funny expression on my face while he asks.
So, about that screaming, I heard? Do you feel like adding anything now?
No, not really.
Come on, give me something.
He leans forward and takes her hand. She feels the warmth and relaxes a bit. Funny, she didn’t even notice if the voices were back or not. She didn’t even hear the buzzing this time. She sighs. These bad dreams had a way of falling in first place, once they showed up.
It was just a nightmare. What else can I say?
I stutter while I think of what to actually say. I stare at my fingers, my thumbs circulating the sides of the cup. Maybe I could tell him this? Or some of it? After all, it was a bad dream and it could mean anything. People hardly ever took them in a literal way. I take a slow breath, trying to calm my heart.
It was a big house. I dreamt of an old residence or a building. It was dark there, just a little light slipping inside. The place was practically falling apart. The stairs, uhm... the stairs were very unstable and there was this man. He had a gun and I take a deep breath, and it fired. He attacked me and then he fell down the stairs. He broke his neck. I... didn’t stop the fall.
My shoulders start to quiver as I try with all my might, not to say the words, “I killed him.” I just couldn’t bring myself to say it, even as I pretended it was just a dream, when in reality that was the exact thing that happened. He grabs my hand again and rubs my skin. I look up. He doesn’t look like he’s going to run away, and I let myself breathe.
It was just a nightmare, Eleonore. You can relax now.
Maybe. Yes, you’re right. So, what happened to you? I mean, why were you late?
I do what I can to change the subject. My mind sending me constant alarm bells. He let’s go of me and gives a long sigh.
The weather was a real murder. The rain, the wind; I pretty much broke my umbrella, but that’s not the worse. The bus broke down and I had to walk the bigger part of the way. Generally, not a very optimistic day.
I couldn’t agree more.
He gazes at me for a moment. He seems to be indecisive about something. I try not to think where he’s going with that look on his face.
So, how is your head today? Is it like a techno party in there?
Actually no. I feel alright.
I’m not sure who is more surprised by this statement. Me or him.
That’s good to hear, and are you feeling more talkative than the moment we walked out of the diner?
How about just some chill time today?
He gazes at me for a moment, like he’s debating on his options. He taps his fingers against the counter and drinks his tea. He smiles.
You’re the boss, Elle. Did you have any fun activities in mind? Because there are so many activities that are good for chilling.
He twitches his eyebrows at me and a paper bag hits his face. He laughs out loud and put his hands up in surrender. I get up, switch on the lights, and point to the couch.
The TV will have to do, lover boy. Now go sit, and I will go get my laptop, I have tons of work that I am behind with.
I stare at him for a moment and then smile.
And thanks to you, I finally can get to it.
Well, glad to be of service ma’am.
This time a pillow hits his face hard.
action - reaction kind of thing
close / adverb /
very near to someone or something; with very little space between.
Two days later.
Once again we sit in my small, beaten up living room. It’s messy and cluttered since the space is very limited and the room actually qualifies as almost the whole apartment. Part of it, being the kitchen and my ‘office’. That, plus a dark bathroom and something that passes as a regular size bedroom on my lease, but hardly fits a double bed, a couple of bookshelves, and a small nightstand that I have... and an old narrow wooden chest of drawers that by some miracle I managed to squeeze against the wall. It belonged to my aunt and I adored it since I was a little girl, staying over at her place that was now mine. She would never judge me, no matter how misbehaving I was as a child, or what trouble I caused when I began to be a teenager. My head shakes as my mind jumps back to my tiny bedroom. Let’s face it, it would make more sense as a shoebox. I sigh and glance at the used-up camera and empty envelopes waiting to be filled up. They lay on an oversized desk squeezed in a dark corner - where I keep all of my junk and stare almost accusingly at me. Being a freelancer photographer didn’t exactly pay the bills but at least I liked doing it. One of the few passions I still had in life.
Now, the other job that I use to have was a bartender job, where I worked for Phil. I despised it for many reasons. Such as the drunken customers that after they had a couple of drinks too many, usually decided that I was irresistible, and easy. I wasn’t. Which often got me into trouble. But the owner was a good guy, even if a bit of a grump that manifested odd political beliefs. His mind filled with conspiracy theories about what the government tells us, and what’s the actual state of things.
Still, he was tolerant of my moods and understood when the situation wasn’t my fault. The other times he enjoyed giving me the whole speech about my bad temper when I was to blame, which was often. No, it wasn’t a dream job, that was for sure. But the tips were good and occasionally I could take something home. I had a thing for bourbon when things got tough. Thankfully this ‘hobby’ didn’t overtake my life. I preferred to be behind the bar and not under it.
I stare at the screen of my laptop, looking through the pictures I did some time ago before everything collapsed on me. Scrolling with one hand while the other rests on Charlie’s wrist. He studies a medical journal with one eye while his eyes darts to the TV screen from time to time. It was the Discovery channel and Morgan Freeman was charming us with his appealing, one of a kind voice while talking about the universe and its endless mysteries - so often beyond our understanding, and always far from our grasp. I sneak a glance at Charlie and then get back to work. I couldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for him.
Now, the bartender job was out of the question. I couldn’t really keep him close to me at the bar, as my lucky key chain - besides he had to work too. Actually, he worked a lot. So a ‘quality time’ like this that was saving my mind from insanity, really helped. Though it didn’t stop me from visiting him at the hospital whenever I could, and harass him during his lunch breaks (the harassment prove to be much harder when he was taking care of his patients). Let’s just say I was kicked out a lot by the other nurses. Some were amused because they thought I was stalking my ‘boyfriend’, others just looked like I was there main pain in the ass, while their workday was hard enough as it was.
I look through some older files and wonder which of the photos I could sell for the second time, while my fingers start to automatically run up and down the skin of his hand. I don’t even notice it at first until I can feel him staring at me. I turn my head towards him and frown. He has a strange expression on his face. I can’t really read it, but I don’t like it. Then I finally look down and notice what my fingers are doing. I try not to flinch. I am annoyed at myself because I didn’t want to do anything to drive him off. I needed him desperately in my life but not in ‘this’ way. Nothing romantic. It was more about survival and my mental health. I enjoyed his company and in some way already considered him as my friend.
I try not to make a face at him. Guess I didn’t realize how much I missed the physical contact. I have been on my own for most of my life and lately, things just got worse and worse for me. I move up my hand so it’s touching the material of his blouse and not him. I could just let go completely but I got used to the silence in my head.
Sorry, I guess I wasn’t thinking. You gonna survive the touch of my scaly fingers?
He lifts an eyebrow and laughs at me. I feel relief slowly spread through my body.
I will try but maybe you should consider gloves. I mean the lizard hand is soothing but...
Yes, very amusing. Make fun of the mentally ill.
Why not? Just because you hear voices, you think I’m gonna treat you lightly?
You are a nurse, after all. You need to respect your patients.
You don’t really have medical files.
Well, then respect the oath.
The oath? - He asks amused.
Oh, don’t feel bad. I am sure that male nurses have an oath too. Not just the doctors... and the ‘normal’ nurses.
He makes some disgusting sounds and starts to read the journal again. I try not to laugh and get busy with my work. I had to pay the bills somehow. Insanity or not. As I concentrate on the photos my hand slides down to his wrist again. My thumb slowly, circulating his warm skin. I don’t even notice.
Her touch does something to me, I can’t really explain it or put my finger on it. There is just something exhilarating about it. She looks up at me and I can see some strange panic in her eyes, even if she tries to hide it. She makes some really bad joke, and I smile so she can relax a bit. So much of her life is a strain that I just don’t want to add to it. But then again - maybe I’m just a coward because I don’t want to face whatever is going on in my head. Maybe I don’t want to hear the “voices” either.
We spend a quiet evening together until it’s time for me to go. My shift beginning in less than an hour. I don’t really want to leave her, constantly worried that something will happen, and I won’t be there. The thought scares me, and I wonder silently if maybe it has become an obsession of mine, the need to keep her safe. Or maybe it’s not just that - in a strange way, I seem to feel better around her, more at ease, and at the same time more focused. I close my eyes and rub hands against my face, trying to snap out of this little haze. I give myself a second or a two and look at her as she gets up, and takes the dishes to her tiny kitchen. She doesn’t wash them, just pours water into the sink, and gazes at the window in front of her.
My eyebrows furrow at the sight. The lights are on, so all she can see is her own reflection in the glass. Yet she doesn’t seem to notice it, staring at the window as if she seeing an entire spectacle there, happening right before her eyes. She stands there, and her body starts to tremble and shiver. She inhales deeply, and puffs of cold air come out of her mouth and nose. My eyes widen in surprise at first, but then I explain to myself, that the windows are old, and the cold air must get through the cracks at days like these. My eyes still linger on her, as she puts her hands on the sink and leans in forward. Her fingers gripping the metal until her skin turns white. She starts to hyperventilate, but it only lasts a couple of seconds. She forces her body to calm down, her breath already slowing. Yet I still see a tension in her shoulders, so I stand up and walk up to her slowly.
She turns her face to me and the strain is more visible now in her eyes. She shakes her head, and then ‘really’ notices me. Her lips turning into a tired smile. It’s small but seems to radiate from her as she looks at me - her expression grateful. I feel my legs go a little weak as her smile seems to fill me up from within. It was so rare that she smiled at me like this. A smile that was neither forced or sarcastic, not just a grin that came from joking around. I inspect her face like the side of her lips lifts even more. She crosses her arms playfully.
See something you like?
She moves her hip in a provocative way but then points to the dirty dishes with a grin. I burst out laughing just like before, but this time it’s more natural.
Not this time, gorgeous. I need to get back to work.
She looks disappointed but tries to hide it.
Fine, go make the big money and make all the nurses and patients swoon. Just don’t bring a guy over next time; well, unless he likes to do the dishes and has a weak spot for dusting and vacuum cleaners.
Don’t provoke me, woman, cause I just might. And you will finally get the slave that you deserve, and I’ll be free as a bird... though I don’t know what you could offer him.
Ha, ha, ha. Now, aren’t you just hilarious? Maybe, I will offer him my boa feathers shawl collection, huh?
I open my mouth to say something when an image of her covered just in boa feathers fills my mind. I clear my throat and quickly step out of the kitchen.
Yes, you do that, meantime, I have to make a living.
I put on my jacket, take my bag ready to run out, very aware of what I just saw in my head - when I stop suddenly, realizing something.
Will you be okay? All charged up for now?
She gives me a funny look as if she notices that something is wrong but doesn’t press the subject. She just puts out her hand, and playfully moves her fingers.
Well, a little extra wouldn’t hurt.
I walk up to her and hold her wrist while avoiding her stare, pretending to search something in the pocket of my jacket.
Okay, come on, confess. What’s wrong? Did the Happy Meal upset your stomach or something?
I’m just stressed about work issues.
She breaks away and moves so she can see my face. I notice the fear in her eyes.
Oh no, is it Mrs. Wilson? Did she get worse?
I look at her surprised. Mrs. Wilson was a patient I was looking after. She was 84 years old and didn’t seem to have any grandchildren to visit her, so she was usually laying in her bed alone. With irregular visits from her daughter; bringing some food or new clothes for her - like a warm sweater or thick, woolen socks.
How do you know her?
Oh no, no, no. First, answer my question.
She grabs my wrist with force I wouldn’t expect from her weak, thin hands. I frown but then notice her worried face. I sigh.
No, she’s fine. A bit tired, but that comes with age and her long history of illnesses. Eleonore, how do you know her?
She looks relieved but still eyes me suspiciously, and then her expression turns to embarrassed.
I visited her once or twice, you’re not my only point of interest - well that, and I also get bored while waiting for you - she takes a long breath - and I just thought something happened. She’s so fragile now. She misses her husband.
I watch her, as her grip tightens over my wrist, her eyes watering up. It’s her time to clear her throat. She let’s go of me, turns around, and wipes her eyes angrily. I stare at her puzzled, and then I look at my watch. I quickly head for the door again, but then turn my back at the last moment.
How do you know about her husband? She doesn’t tell anyone about that. In fact, she hardly says anything at all. It really worries her daughter, which claims that she wasn’t the same since her husband passed away last year.
She looks at me for a moment, more relaxed than before but still a bit tense. She crosses her arms in a defensive way and just shrugs her shoulders.
Her wedding ring.
She still wears it - and there is a picture of an older man on her nightstand by the bed... yet there is no one visiting her.
Oh, I didn’t actually notice that.
I stare at her awkwardly for a moment, but then she just loosens her arms and comes near me. She puts a hand on my shoulder and squeezes it. She smiles at me and I relax a bit.
You can’t see everything, Charlie. You are already stacked with work and your “voluntary work”.
She points to herself and my smile widens.
Yes, I guess you’re right.
Ok, now hurry up, or they’re going to fire your ass, and who’s gonna bring me all the delicious food then?
So, I am only here for the food and the warm touch?
Hmm, pretty much. Now go.
She practically pushes me out of the apartment, and I rush downstairs and run for the bus, as I see it move out of the corner of the building. I run until I am completely out of breath but manage to catch it in the last moment. The driver sends me a dirty look, while a couple of the passengers give a low cheer; as others ignore my presence without giving me even a glance. I fall hard on a single seat and finally let myself to breathe out properly. I put my head against the glass window and let my eyes rest. The only thought still roaming around in my head, is that I need to visit my patient, Mrs. Wilson, and maybe ask her some questions.