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Short Story By Loren

Nan shouldn't have gotten the job, but her father was high up, so they gave it to her out of hand.  I knew she was going to be useless her first night up on the substance ward when she forgot to give Mr. Todd his Tegretol. I was having a cup of coffee and I heard this clatter, so I walked down kind of casually, thinking someone had merely dropped a tray, and Mr. Todd was heaving on the dining room floor, his tray and meal strewn all over.  The other patients were backing away like he was a rabid dog, and I shouted at them as I was wedging a tongue depressor between Mr. Todds teeth.
Why didn't you come get us?  Why didn't anyone holler? I told Martha, the LVN on that shift, to get some pillows, and to move the tables.
It just happened.  We didn't know nothin to do.  The speaker was a rawboned Mexican with yellow, cagey eyes and sallow teeth.  The rest of the patients were milling and muttering, like parishioners whod just left an especially ambiguous sermon.  And then Nan chirped in:
What's wrong here?  I looked up into her ferret-thin face with those curtains of highlighted hair.  She was smoking.
Put it out, Nan.  I turned back to Mr. Todd, whose convulsions had subsided.  His eyes were still clinched.  I patted his knotted wrist. 
I cornered her after wed gotten Mr. Todd bedded down and snoring.
Why didn't he get his medicine?  You were in charge of the meds cart.
She put aside her magazine and glared at me with maddening disinterest.
I made a mistake, goddamn it.  I'm new at this.
 Not new enough to screw up like that.  I took her magazine and threw it in the garbage.  She eyed it there.
Don't dig it out.  Work.  Oddly enough, she did her job the rest of the night, albeit poorly.  As she was leaving, her access card in hand, she stopped by Mr. Todds room and plucked up his chart.  She studied it a few moments, replaced it, and left. 
I was roped into being Nans partner once or twice more, before she left.  We were behind the counter in the admissions room, sometime around midnight on one of those rare, summery nights that drift around from time to time.  Wed had a motley evening, signing in two drunks and a crack addict.  All of them were whisked off to Substance Abuse.  Around eleven a behemoth of a woman, handcuffed and Medusa-haired, came storming through the doors, towing a string of beige-suited policemen.
Jesus, thought shed get away.  One of the officers said.  He was the only one of the entourage laughing.  They removed the handcuffs and I breezed through the forms, checking off the boxes that read Elopement and Suicide precautions, and this woman was put in the elevator and zoomed up to Special Cases.  All this time, Nan had been filing her nails.  I resumed my seat and, around twelve sharp the police came in with this kid. 
He was of mediocre height, perhaps five-ten, and the cops hulked over him as if he was a pygmy. His long, sleek black hair was pulled away from his lean, grimly handsome face.  He wore unseasonably heavy clothing, a plaid lumberjack shirt and jeans of coarse and uncomfortable denim.  I smiled at him.  He averted his eyes and faked absorption in the holstered pistol of the cop on his right.  The stitches on his forearm and wrist were fresh and raw and unsavory and competed with a star-belt of track marks.  One of the police ranged over and took off his hat, as if he was a bashful suitor. 
Maam, this young man needs to go up to your psychotics ward or
 Special Cases.  Well, lets fill out the paperwork.  I nodded, attaching no significance to the action, and was surprised to see the bashful cop spring to the kids side and unlock the handcuffs and nudge the kid forward.  He sat down and I started the questioning.
Morton Penny.  He started to claw at the stitches.  I stayed his hand gently and asked:
The bashful cop butted in here.  He tried to kill himself, see.  His parents found him He went quiet.  Nan had been listening with interest.  I leveled Mortons eyes with mine and said:
What prompted this, Morton?
The cop, obviously not as shy as he had seemed, jumped in with:
He's been on the program for a year now.  I know his father, and He stuttered and became a coy child again.  I looked at Morton, who was staring at the floor.  Zipping through the rest of the paperwork, I checked both Elopement and Suicide precautions and glanced at the officer.
You want us to stick around till hes settled, maam?  The bashful cop had caught sight of Nan and would now and again look away, feigning inattention.  I sighed.
No, we have some orderlies floating around.  Thank you, officer.  He nodded, and he turned and ushered his colleagues out the sliding door.  Morton was again scratching at his stitches.  I said:
 Well, do you have any jewelry or anything?  I'm afraid you cant have it in the hospital.  He started to talk, then threw his hands out, exposing two bare, stringy wrists.   
Okay.  Anything on your neck?  He fished in the collar of his shirt and finally unbuttoned it and pulled out a gold chain.  I inspected it.
Would you mind taking this off?  Well bag it and youll get it back when you checkout. 
Nan had been standing at my shoulder, and when I turned she hopped back and looked guilty.
Here.  I gave her the necklace Morton had so docilely removed.  Put this away.  Label it Morton Penny.  She took the necklace and fingered it, then let it rest in her palm as she twirled it about with her thumb.
Go.  She went away with a huffy expression, though she did what I told her quickly enough.  I smiled at Morton.
Well, I guess youre squared away.  Thomas? 
An orderly of genial aspect emerged from the faculty restroom and came up to us.  Morton needs to go up to Special Cases.  Thomas grinned at Morton, who seemed wholly ignorant of himself and his surroundings.
Come on, friend.  Lets get you to bed.  Thomas held out his meaty boxers paw and, unpredictably enough, Morton took it, and they walked down the hall to the elevator with model harmony. 
Nan waited for me to sit back down.
Whats a junkie doing with a necklace like that anyway?
Work.  I realized later that it was a daft demand, as first there was nothing to do and, second she wouldnt have done it right.
It hit about a week or so later.  I had been working mostly nightshifts, as I usually did, and occasionally when I got off I would stop by the Special Cases unit and ask about Morton.  I cant explain this outstanding concern even now.  It was plain that he was the youngest patient there, a young man surrounded by aged and threadbare Schizophrenics and glum, depressive housewives.  One time I dropped by, the nurse on duty reported that he wasnt eating well, wasnt attending groups, rarely left his room.
Is he still on the treatment?
Yeah, and he hates it.  We have a hard time convincing him to keep it up.  The nurse whod told me this, Gloria was her name, seemed visibly unsure, both tired of and concerned for Morton and his problem.  I suppose that just this kind of jaded enervation hounds most nurses at some time.  Hasnt hit me, though.
Well, keep me posted.  Gloria nodded and returned to idly arranging the medicine cart.  I went home.
 I walked into work one day, mildly pleased to know that I was assigned to Special Cases. I had seen the ambulance outside, though I was dumbfounded when Thomas came steaming past, followed by two paramedics shuttling through the reception room with a gurney carrying a draped form.  I looked to Martha, who was standing in a cluster of scrub-clad orderlies. 
 That kid up on Special Cases?
 Yeah So, they found him in his bathroom.  Heuhhe did it with a towel.
 Dumbfounded, I reviewed the orderlies with a searching glance.  They all either turned away or gave me sad, guarded frowns.
 A week or so later Nan came into work fifteen minutes late one day, though I didn't call her to task over it.  I was filing a chart when she sat down next to me.  I coughed.
 Morton hung himself.
 Who, the junkie?
 Yeah, yeah.  The Junkie.  I glared at her, and she glared back as if I had questioned her character.
 We were at the end of our shift and I was gathering my things. Nan waited until Harriet and Martha had relieved us, and as we were trekking the parking lot she said:
 So, you want to flip for the necklace?  Upon hearing this, I stopped and turned, trying to divide her wispy frame from the muddy night.  I had my key in my hand, the grooves pressing a deep but at that point unfelt indentation into my fingers.
 What?  I eased my fist.  She waved a quarter in my face.  I paled.
 Do you want to flip for the necklace?  The parents havent claimed it yet, and I thought
 She didn't expect it, and it knocked her back a few paces.  The coin went scudding across the lot and rested under a Buick a few spaces away.  As she pulled erect again, holding her cheek, I tried to collect myself.  I had dropped my key and, keeping an eye on Nan, I knelt to retrieve it.  Nan backed away a few steps, her pouting eyes wide, her cheek burning with the ruby flush of impact.
 You owe me a quarter, bitch.  My expression must have hammered home the answer.  She headed for her car, slamming the door loudly enough to make me wince. 
 I dont know where she went then.  Afterwards, whenever Martha or Preena and I were shift-mates, we'd whisper over our coffee mugs, bandying conjectures.  All we had to guide us in our assumptions was my knowledge of her, as I had been the overwhelming choice when it had come time to burden someone with Nans presence.  
 How old was she anyway?
 I don't know.  We never really got down to small talk.  I tried to avoid her as much as I could.
 What happened between you two?  I mean, what do you think
 I couldn't tell you, really.  All I know is I havent seen her since after Morton died.
 I never did like her.  She was a damn flake from the start.
 Yeah, she was.
 And finally, the last time Nan every cropped up in discussion, Preena asked as we were heading to our cars;
 Suppose shes alright?
 Oh, her.  I reflected.  Yeah, I doubt anyone that self-centered would let herself get hurt.  To myself, I added- At least I hope not.  Because I didnt hate her, you must know.  I am glad shes gone, and I hope that doesnt change.