Stones in His Throat

“They have no idea what they’re asking,”

“They need to just let go.”

“Of course, when they get here they suddenly become the wife.”

“Shit! Call a code.”

“How!?”

“Give me the phone! We need a cart in 312.”

“Emergency cart needed in 312.”

The voice over the loudspeaker was always so calm. I don’t think I ever met her, but I imagined her with big glasses and dark, curly hair.

“Do you need help?”

“No, I think I’ve got it now. They haven’t written any orders yet.”

I have no medical training, all I can do is enter the doctor’s orders in the computer and answer the phone.

“You need to listen in,” The clerk from another desk has come to check on me, she connects the speaker at the desk to 312, “They might call out orders from the room.”

“Okay.” Muffled shouting comes from the speaker. All of it direct, steady, it has to be the nurses and techs. When it’s calm they’ll stop by and chat, meandering conversations, but in rooms surrounded by bells and “the family” they all have voices like highways, creating the quickest route between two points. Another sound rises above them, above the alarms and the pack or arriving doctors. It’s gasping, rasping, rattling. He’s trying to breathe. He’s older than I can ever imagine being. He’s surrounded by family. He’s thin and age-tanned and leathery. They need to just let him go and he’s trying to breathe. It sounds like gravel and meat grinding together. He’s been dying for days. There’s a living will in his chart. I checked it just an hour ago, to make sure everything was in order. They can’t intubate him, but they’ll try CPR. He’s gasping and rattling and I’ve never even seen anyone die before. I’ve never seen him or spoke to him, he hasn’t been able to speak while he’s here and I don’t go in patient’s rooms if I can help it. I wouldn’t even know his name if I hadn’t pulled out his chart, he’s always just been Room 312, and I’m listening to him die.

They aren’t calling out for orders, they won’t call out for any. They’ve been expecting is, arguing with the family for a full DNR, but the family didn’t understand what it meant to call a code. Turning death into shouts and struggles and gravel in the chest. I wanted to turn off the speaker, to disconnect from the noise, but the other clerk is still there. Death is rare on our floor, so when the sound and violence for breath ends and the crowd disperses she talks me through the steps. A magnet with a flower on the door, a set of forms to prepare, a list of people to call. A cart comes up with coffee and cookies for the family. They don’t eat any of them. They talk to the nurses and hold each other and move down the hall to the visitors area.

When I get home I talk to my roommate, who’s tells me about the jobs she applied for and what happened on Maury. I think of bringing up what happened, but I don’t know what to say. “I heard a man’s dying breaths today and I’m scared about how easy it is to act like nothing happened,” No, too melodramatic. Instead I laugh at her impersonation of the I’m Not the Father Dance, and decide it’s not something I need to talk about right now. It wasn’t even my tragedy. I don’t know him, I’m not mourning him, so what right do I have to be troubled by his death.

I’ll tell her about it over a year later. We’ve moved to Chicago, and after months of sleeping on a couch in her friend’s living room I finally have my own place. We’re talking about terrible moments at work. Screaming customers, long hours, the boss who accused her of stealing.

“At the hospital we had to listen in when they called a code, in case they called out orders. It was kind of terrible.” My voice warbles comically, but it’s so obviously not funny anyone can tell I’m trying to cover up something. Exactly what that is, I’m still not sure. It’s silent for a moment any I’m not sure what I expect. Normally when talking about shitty situations we trade off, like a game of who can work themselves to death first.

“I really don’t think I could have worked there.”

“I am so glad I quit.”

Yelling at Trees: Part 1

When all else fails, put the fuckers in a car for ten minutes. Things are sure to get ugly.

Part of the Big Scary Fantasy Project with 10 Different Working Titles. I want this section to stand on its own, though.

_______________________________________________________________

          “Can we go to Starbuck’s first?”

                “Max, we are…” Della attempted to turn around to face him but the seatbelt jerked her back down. Her attempts at drama thwarted she started again, louder.

                “Max! We are going to explore the wonders of nature and you want to go support Big Business first! Here I thought you were a caring soul,” She managed to turn around enough this time that he could see her clutching at imaginary pearls.

                He rolled his eyes. “We can go to Bernie’s, then, or go ask at someone’s house. I don’t care, but I need a cup of coffee.”

                “You know caffeine dependency isn’t very healthy, Mr. Doctor,” She waved a finger at him.

                “Della?” Max said, grinning so hard it hurt.

                “Yes?” Her voice was still filled with saccharine.

                “Remember when you asked why we don’t hang out more? This is why. You drag me out of bad at the ass-crack of dawn and when I just ask for a little bit of coffee to make this morning somewhat tolerable you decide it’s time for you to criticize,” He tried to hold eye contact with her, bending his neck at an awkward angle, but she turned to face the window.

She muttered something that may have been, “I was just joking…” or may have been a short string of Welsh oaths. Silence descended over the car, but Max could swear he hear Sonia’s hands tightening on the steering wheel.

“Wow,” Joe eventually blinked to life next to him, “I think that’s the most I’ve ever heard you talk in one go. That, like, wasn’t about school or witchcraft, or whatever.”

“So?” Max snapped.

“Um, so…” Joe looked around as if trying to find an exit, “So I think coffee sounds like a wonderful idea. The trees aren’t going anywhere, so let’s go and sit down at Bernie’s until we’re all friends again.”

“Sounds great!” Sonia said, swerving into a blessedly empty turn lane, “What was your name again? I don’t think we’ve met before?”

“Joe, and… oh, wait. Let me get this out of the way,” He straightened up in his seat, “I’m an empathy, I feel the emotions of people around me, so I might, you know, not do so well if we all get upset.”

“Sorry,” Della said. Her eyes hadn’t moved. It was possible that she wasn’t staring out the window at all, but at the glass itself.

“It’s okay Deli, it’s not like I can’t deal with a couple tense moments, either. Anyway,” He turned back to Sonia, “I’ve also never dealt with magic before in my life and am kind of a complete idiot about it, so if I say anything dumb or rude, I’m sorry.”

“So, is that you’re whole sales pitch?” Sonia grinned.

“Yep, so let’s hear yours.”

“Well… let’s see. I’m Sonia, I’m a junior. I’m not apprenticing, but magic is really important to my family, so I might be able to help you if you don’t understand things… and…” She paused long enough for Joe to ask, “Did you say Sonia?”

“Yeah! Is there something…?”

“Oh, wow! It’s cool to finally meet you, Della’s…” Della broke eye contact with the window to shoot him a panicked stare.

“Oh, was I not supposed to know?” By the sound of Joe’s voice, halting and declining to a whisper, he had figured out the answer by the time he finished his question.

Sonia careened into Bernie’s parking lot and slammed on the brakes, “Della, how could you just…” she started screaming. Joe took that as his cue to evacuate the car, and Max quickly followed suit.

Rabbit’s Heart

Put it on the ground where everyone can see it.

Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten.

Come here, put it there, little rabbit,

You’re life was meant to be short,

And mine so, so long.

 

I was the boot on your neck,

The trap in your hutch,

And you loved it until you were gone.

 

Now put your heart upon the ground where I can take it.

It was always meant to be mine,

Why did you hold out so long.

 

(Just working on rhythm, plus a couple lines that have been stuck in my head.)

The Red Bird and the Wolves

I forgot that I’d come into the forest looking for a little red bird. A long time ago I had followed it in, tracked it by its song that seemed to promise that something would change if I kept going. The trees grew dense and I grew lost. Everything looked the same. Every sound was the wolf coming to eat me up. The wolves around every corner ate up the red bird, ate up the time before, ate up everything except the trees and the overgrowth and the snapping twigs.

I had stopped looking for a way out when I finally found it, emerging at the exact point I had first seen the red bird. All the colors were too bright, the green of the hills, the brown of the path, the red of all the birds singing in the sky. They brought with them all the memories the wolves had eaten up, and that these birds had been here all along, waiting for me to come back from the forest.

But in the forest the wolves were waiting too.

Misplaced Baggage

“Thank you,”

I say, soundless.

I hope he can read lips,

While not looking at my face.

I had spent too long away,

Lost in thoughts far from the crowd,

And upon returning found

My voice had been lost in transit.

I try again,

To push the words out,

But by then he’s gone,

And I’m kicking myself,

For being rude,

And being away,

While someone,

A strange someone,

Was being with me.