The Gentleman in 114, Part III

For Part I, click HERE.

For Part II, click HERE.

“The Gentleman in 114” Part III

By: Sleep Sunshine

She noticed the lighting right away.  But could hear the rumble of thunder and saw a flash of lightening in the windows down at the end of the corridor she was walking towards and figured the dimness had to do with a power surge of some kind.  If she’d thought about it the fixtures would have struck her as odd, but she didn’t, and they didn’t.

She shifted the files to her other arm and continued walking.

At the intersection where the nurses station sat, an African American orderly rounded the corner right in front of her, eyes cast downward, nearly clipping her with a cart overfilled with soiled linens.  Lauren could smell the blood and the excrement.

“Sorry, missus,” the orderly muttered.  He was an old man, speckled black and gray beard, bald head, and the fact she didn’t recognize him and that he wore the old uniforms, the white ones the administration had done away with in favor of the more mood-pleasing pink or blues, didn’t register; for economic times were tough, and administration plugged temps into orderly positions, especially overnight, which all the overnight nurses chirped about–having inexperienced, many times untrained, orderlies for the shift that would rationally be the safest, according to statistics compiled by the administration, but when dealing with the non-rational individual, overnight nurses knew rational thought and statistics made as much sense as ice-cream sundaes for dinner for the diabetics.

The African American man flicked the cart forward and continued onward, one wheel squeaking.

“Wait a second,” she said, and the squeaking ceased.

The man turned slowly, head still down, shoulders slumped, and the idea he might be mentally challenged came into Lauren’s head.

“What is that in your hand?”

“Missus?”

“Your hand.”  She felt like a bitch, but rules were made and inside these walls rules were followed.

The man lifted his hand upward, wrist first, as though it were broken.  Gray smoke swirled toward the ceiling.  “A cigarette, missus.”

The way he said it shocked her, as though it were the most regular thing in the world.  “You can’t smoke that in here.”

“What?”

“Inside the building.  It’s against the law to smoke a cigarette.”

“Missus?”

Lauren softened her tone, the man obviously retarded, which was not his fault but showed how desperate the administration had gotten in these difficult economic times.  “Sweetheart.”  She smiled, pinning the files under her arm and raising her hands, palms out toward him, fanning the air–non-verbal comms used to calm erratic patients, something she found herself doing throughout her life; at the coffee shop, when baby-sitting her nieces and nephews or training Stooges, her puppy.  “There are laws and laws can’t be broken.”

The man flicked his eyes to her, swallowed.  “Yes, missus.”  He extinguished the cigarette on a metal rod on the cart, slid the butt in the breast pocket of his white shirt.

“What’s going on here?” said a female voice.

Lauren whirled.  “He was…”

The nurse wore the old-fashioned white nurse cap with a red cross on the bill, dark hair poofed into a bob, white nurse dress down to leggings and black tennis shoes.  She smiled, no creases near her crimson lips, none near her eyes when she furrowed her brow, straight white flesh on cheek and forehead of a woman in her early twenties.

“He was…”

“Yes, Doctor…” She peered at Lauren’s chest, frowned.  “Barstandt?”

Lauren’s mouth felt as dry as a cotton swab.  Her eyes flicked to the African American man, then to the old fashioned fixtures lining the hallway, and in the dim light they let off she noticed the pristine white newness of floors and walls.  Thunder rolled, the whole building shook, fixtures along the walls blinked out and Lauren heard a generator kick on from somewhere in the building and red emergency lights snapped on.

“Well, looks as though we’ll be doing bed checks this evening by candle-light,” the nurse said, chirpily. “Curtis, you run along now and tell the others to get all the candles and holders from storage.”

Curtis bowed.  “Yes, Nurse Toliver.”  The cart’s wheel creaked all the way down the hallway.

Every couple seconds, lightening illuminated the window at the end of the corridor.  Behind doors, Lauren heard patients stirring and muttering.  Down the hallway a pounding began.

Miss Toliver cast her eyes on Lauren.  “Shall we, Doctor?”  She stepped aside grandly, offered the path to the nurses station with a slender pale arm.

Lauren stared at her, feeling sweat drip down her ribcage.  Miss Toliver stared at her curiously when she didn’t respond, tilted her head, nibbled at her lower lip, a pink hue developing on her pale throat.  Lauren tried to get her mouth to work, but her tongue just flopped against her teeth.  She thought of the black-and-white photo she’d snuck and cut out of the paper the day after the accident, which she’d taped to every bathroom mirror she’d ever had: grade school, junior high, high school, college, medical school, apartment, house.  That woman was certainly not the girl standing in front of her now.

Miss Tolivar raised her hands, palms out toward Lauren, and fanned the air.  “Doctor?  Shall we?”

Lauren swallowed; all the rules and laws she’d learned her whole life running through her head as she said the most irrational thing:  “Well certainly, Mother.”

Check-in on Sunday for S.C. Green’s shocking conclusion to “The Gentleman in 114″…

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