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.
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
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.
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.
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
Go. She went away with a huffy expression, though she did what I told her quickly enough. I smiled
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.
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
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. The Junkie. I glared at her, and she glared back as if I had questioned her character.
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
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?
know. We never really got down to small talk. I tried to avoid her as much as I could.
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.
finally, the last time Nan every cropped up in discussion, Preena asked as we were heading to our cars;
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.