By Dylan Greer
The lake rose two feet over the past week. Seasonal flooding was common but Sharon never really understood science. She preferred to think of it as the passage of time. Her eyes were heavy and sagging. One of her contact lenses had fallen out that morning and she was blind in her right eye. Her normal spot on a rock at the edge of the lake was inundated with water so she sat higher on the bank staring out at a duck dabbling nearby. She flipped a Zippo lid with one hand and picked up her mug of coffee, staining the papers on the clipboard beside her. She took a sip, pressing her bottom lip onto the forehead of her yellow lab, whose pictures circled the cup. It was cold but caffeinated, and Sharon hadn’t gotten a full eight hours since she quit cigarettes. She shuffled her feet into the pebbles and imagined she was grounded. That the lake would keep rising over her until her hair floated on top like hyacinths and tadpoles ate algae from her clothes. Her alarm beeped and she went on the long walk up the hillside back to St. Mark’s.
Everyone in a hospital has a uniform. The nurses wear scrubs and doctors white, holier-than-thou coats. Patients wear gowns. Sharon dressed in street clothes. She said the clothes helped her relate to the visitors and grieving families she dealt with on a daily basis, but really, they helped her pass unnoticed from room to room carrying her clipboard like a scythe. Her first stop today was room 337. She wore blue jeans and a button-up red top. She walked into the room and took a seat by the bed. The patient was comatose and the EKG beeped behind her. She could smell the stagnancy. The patient was young but battered, with bruises around his eyes and the bottom of his chin. His left arm and leg were in casts but Sharon sat to his right. She was feeling nostalgic, remembering a time when she was as young and thin as he was. She looked at her clipboard. “LA VERNE, ANDREW.” She reached for him.
“Are you Jessie?” She had only just grazed his hand — clammier than she had anticipated — when the voice came from the doorway.
“I’m sorry?” Sharon said.
“Jessie, the girl that was with him in the crash?” Sharon looked at her clipboard and wondered if her insomnia had disguised her as a car crash victim. The man in the door was older, but less dignified than the man beside her. His jean jacket blending quietly with the color of the wall.
“Are you the father?” Sharon stood up and straightened her shirt. She placed her clipboard down on the patient’s hand and it fell to the floor with a thud.
“No, the brother. Our dad died a few years back and I look after him from time to time.” He walked over to the bed and sat down beside his brother. “They don’t take much care of him do they? He smells like shit.” He took a napkin from his pocket and rubbed a spot of dirt from his brother’s cheek.
“We do the best we can.” She didn’t look at the man or his brother, seeking comfort in the familiar blue and white stripes of the bedsheet.
“So, you work here? Are you a nurse or something?” He asked.
“My name is Sharon, and I’m with the business office.” She reached out her hand and he shook, but it was cold and defensive.
“Oh.” His face grew dim and bureaucratic. “Listen, he doesn’t have any money. I know his insurance company is paying for most of it, but he was drunk so we have to pay legal fees for the arrest and the fee for the ambulance ride to the hospital…”
“I have all of that down here. I will need a check from you now for $200 and I have these forms for you to fill out. The hospital will send you a bill with the remaining cost sometime in the next few weeks.” She handed him the clipboard. “I’ll be back in half an hour to collect the documents.” She closed the door behind her as she left and as she passed the nurse’s station, they watched and whispered in hisses. She got her mug from her office and filled it to the brim. She drank her coffee in silence as she watched the clock.
She was finishing her cup, so she started back to 337. She was warm and had thawed from her morning at the lake. She even smiled at the nurses as she passed them. Passing her, and not smiling, was the man in the denim coat.
“The paperwork is on the chair next to my brother.” He stuck his hands in his pockets as he walked away.
Sharon finished her coffee and put it down on the table next to the room. Her yellow lab grinned at her from the lip of the cup as a black line of dribble dripped down its face. She picked up the clipboard and took it to her office. The word “BITCH” was scrawled across the top of the paperwork, in the type of angry scribble that she found hard to make out. She put the check in one folder, the paperwork in another and headed to room 353 where a new mother owed $600.