Worse still than the muffled oppression of the hallway was the medicinal bouquet that squeezed her throat. If she walked much further, she feared she might not draw a breath at all.
The clamminess of their grasp grew uncomfortable. Glancing downward, she caught the shimmer in her daughter’s wide eyes. “It’s okay. I brought you here so you can get better.”
Around them, activity bustled. Behind closed doors nurses vanished, while doctors, studious fresh faces half concealed by clipboards, sauntered by. A shriek sang out – then snipped – suppressed from somewhere down the never-ending hallway. Her eyes darted downward again, but if her daughter had heard, she never let on. The child stared quietly ahead. “Sometimes people here hurt.” Lying would accomplish nothing at this junction. People here did hurt. “But only for a little.”
The hallway widened, allowing for the girth of a large, horseshoe shaped desk. Hand raised high, a guard approached. “What do we have here?”
“Is that all?”
“Yes.” She felt the squeeze of small fingers. “We’re hoping.”
Behind the desk, a rosy-cheeked nurse lifted her head. She scrutinized them, then nodded toward the guard. “I’ll call ahead,” she said.
“Okay,” the guard nodded in turn, attention now seized by his crooked badge. Fingers fiddled across his chest. “Walk to the end. Double doors on the right.”
They continued along. Her throat began to burn, and it became quite hard to breathe; the air spiced with blooms of Lysol, the ghosts of cleaning agents. She prayed she would forget that scent once they arrived back home. Home – what remained of it, anyway. Fresh baked brownies once served as a shawl there; cut flowers from the garden once enveloped them both. “We’ll be done and home before you know it.”
Another cry resonated; soon it died. Cut off. No doubt, her daughter had heard it this time; no doubt, it came from beyond the double doors. Sweat pooled between their palms but neither mother nor daughter released their grasp. “Sometimes people here hurt,” she reminded.
They walked until they could walk no longer. She glanced backward. Endlessly, the hallway stretched behind. The guard watched them, fingers still dabbling with his badge. Defiantly, she flipped strands of hair from her face, then followed her daughter into the ward.
Immediately silence consumed them, betrayed only by their hastened breaths. Partitions lined the walls. She lingered before one, sweeping aside the fabric drape liner that sealed its interior from view. An empty medical bed, sheets crisp and stark; a stainless steel table. Various monitoring equipment; a Dinamap loitering in the far corner. It all appeared so cold, so impersonal. Any trace of caring had long since been sterilized. The drape liner fell back. “Come.”
Mother and daughter moved along. They moved from the partitions and entered the main hub of the ward. At last, someone sauntered to their assistance – a nurse, frayed pigtails protruding from either side of her head. “Sorry, busy, busy. Now, what’s our emergency?”
She pressed hard against the small fingers. “Verbal abuse.”
“Eighth one today. Are we fixing this for good?”
Her fingers squirmed, intensifying the heat between them. “Yes.”
“I hope so for your sake. We have your consent, then?”
She broke free from their clasp.
“Your consent?” the nurse demanded, pigtails spinning in clumsy circles.
A pained expression corkscrewed her face as small fingers gripped her wrist. “Yes.”
The nurse snatched her away. It happened with frightening speed; how could such a small thing move so quickly? She struggled, grasped at empty air, but the rope binding her hands restricted her movement and the nurse – the nurse well practiced at preventing one’s escape. She twisted her head; behind her, small fingers fluttered.
Dragged along her heels, doors sprung open to either side. The commotion assaulted her ears; the shouts, the commands for preparation. Hands, soft yet so strong in their urgency, held her down atop a gurney. She saw them all then, scurrying about – the children, the damned children of a world turned upside down, doling out their judicial punishments as they saw fit. A freckled face boy of ten stood over her, scalpel in one hand, forceps in the other. “Your tongue, please,” he smiled and tore at the duct tape, freeing the lips her daughter had sealed. She screamed, but the doors slipped shut, her cries taken prisoner within the ward.
Then she understood why people here hurt.
~ Joseph A. Pinto
© Copyright 2012, 2013, 2014 Joseph A. Pinto. All Rights Reserved.