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.