by David Delaney
‘Damn it, I should have known. I was careless. It was right there in the medical notes. Allergy! Plain as day and I missed it!’ Jessica berated herself silently in her mind. She made a mistake. Jessica had filled a syringe with something most others would tolerate quite well but for this particular sixty year old dear, not the case.
Jessica was a doctor, first year out and terrified to cause harm. Luckily for her, on this occasion, she and her patient dodged a bullet. A watchful nurse grasped the syringe just seconds prior to Jessica inserting it into the patient’s intravenous access and pressing on the plunger. The brevity of the near miss combined with the grave possibilities of ‘what could have been’ moved Jessica to self doubt and scorn for her professional abilities.
‘Maybe I’m not cut out for this anyway. I mean I always made mistakes in other jobs. Retail, waitressing . . . I hate feeling like this”, she says to herself looking for the nearest bathroom to hide away in.
She pushes the door of the bathroom stall open continuing to hold her composure but the moment she twists the latch to its occupied position the cracks appear. Jessica sits on the lid of the toilet seat, puts her head in her hands and sobs warm, heavy tears.
Twenty minutes pass in much the same fashion. The toilet cubicle becomes a place of fear, of sorrow and reflection. Her final epiphany before brushing herself off and facing life again is, ‘I miss him so much’.
After a quick reapplication of lipstick kept in her pocket and a dab of cold water below the eyes which now appear puffy and red, she gets back on the horse. ‘Four hours and seventeen minutes to go, I can do this’ she thinks exiting the bathroom.
Jessica reviews who she has left to see. She decides to pawn off a couple of ‘real sick ones’ to more experienced doctors, claiming she isn’t comfortable with their level of acuity. There is no issue with doing this as safety is the primary goal but she knows too much passing the patient will have tongues wagging. Wagging tongues can kill a career. Given all that the last few months have thrown at her she wants no more shit to deal with?
She finishes without issue. A sigh of relief exits her mouth as she makes her way to the hospital exit. ‘Maybe tomorrow will be better’, she thinks as she walks to her car.
Her next day’s shift was good. All went to plan, that was until she encountered Mrs. Harwich.
Jessica had her nose down and pen moving frantically across pages and pages of paperwork when she heard the call for help. Not a shrill call of someone in shear panic but a controlled call for help, one emanated from one of her colleagues. Pen dropped, she raced to the source. Entering a single bed room she found a nurse performing chest compressions on an unconscious Mrs. Harwick, a patient Jessica reviewed hours earlier in the night. Jessica hits the emergency button located above the patient’s bedspace. Within minutes a team of highly experienced medical and nursing staff will come to perform their life saving duties but for now it’s just Jessica and the nurse.
Jessica rushes out to the corridor and grabs the crash cart. A cart containing the essentials prepared in advance for moments like this. She tears the sticky pads of the defibrillator with vigour and places them on the patient’s chest. Now a read of Mrs. Harwick’s heart rhythm can be seen on the small green and black defibrillators monitor.
It’s bad, very bad. The monitor tells them it is asystole, meaning there is no heart activity at all. The blue lips, slightly opened mouth and utter lifelessness of the woman now receiving CPR start a panic deep inside Jessica. ‘Not now, get a grip’ she thinks.
“I’ll draw up some adrenaline, administer then take over compressions”, Jessica says receiving a brief nod from the nurse now covered in a sheet of sweat.
With syringe in hand, she attaches it to the IV access, ready and fully prepared to administer its contents when the emergency medical team enter the room. Four bodies enter with speed but calm composure.
“Ok, we’ll take it from here”, says a man with a thick Indian accent.
Jessica twists her syringe loose, still full of its contents and stands back as one of the four take over compressions while the now sweat drench and breathless nurse gives medical details of Mrs. Harwick to the Indian doctor.
Jessica turns away from the scene ready to place her syringe into a specially marked bright yellow bin when horror crosses her face. She realises that she has not drawn up adrenaline but something else. She picks up the small glass ampoule, it reads ‘AMIODARONE’. It’s the wrong drug and a completely inappropriate dosage. She drops both syringe and ampoule into the bin. She is completely unaware of the commotion surrounding her. She loses her breath and stars dance across her eyes.
“Are you ok”, asks the nurse who has somewhat recovered her breath.
“Yeah, fine, I need to go.”
Jessica leaves the room quickly without looking back. She needs to be somewhere else right now. Alone with her own thoughts, time to think, time to recover. Another mistake, another near miss and this time in a much more critical moment bears down on Jessica’s shoulders. Its weight felt unbearable. Holding that composure similarly to the night before she searches for a bathroom, or any place she can be alone. Alone to shed tears once more.
Up the corridor no bathroom is in view but there is a dark office. The late hour mean many of the offices are vacated until their occupants return the following day. She sees one of them and its darkness within will allow Jessica the optimal space with which to feel like utter crap.
She opens the door entering a small, gloomy, run of the mill office with stationary and paper strewn everywhere. She collapses and sinks into the plump black leathered office chair and commences to shed her disheartened tears.
While her tears begin pooling on the desk below her she begins her silent internal scolding of herself, ‘What the hell am I doing here’, ‘I’m obviously not cut out for this’, ‘I’m stupid’. A cloud of self apathy descends upon her. She knows the real reason for this is not simply to do with her supposed inability to perform her job well. Her conscious mind strays to a particular distraction constantly, dragging her from her work, work she needs her full attention to detail in order to perform. It’s him, it’s Scott, always Scott.
Memories of words, of pictures and of moments together with Scott enter her thoughts all the time. She tried to push them aside but it never works. Her mind and body are damaged enough, so much that she can’t be sure how much more she can take.
Jessica is startled from her thoughts from the sound of a knock on the small window of the office. She looks up from her downward glance brushing tears from her eyes with the back of her hands to see a small bald man standing peering in at her. A broad but warm grin is spread across a wrinkled face. Laugher lines surround his eyes giving him a look of kindness. His thin rimmed circular glasses provide a sort of comical look to him. If the eyes were the windows to the soul then Jessica thought this man must be a happy one at that.
He nodded his head towards the door. Jessica took this gesture as, ‘May I enter’. She nodded in spite of the fact that she previously wanted nothing more then be alone with her misery for company. He opens the door and asks, “Mind if I join you”.
“Em, sure”, she says still brushing tears from her eyes.
“Thank you. Hospital is an awful place at night. Everyone sleeps.”
“Can I help you with something,” Jessica asked.
“No, no. I’m just doing the rounds.”
‘Maybe he’s a psyche patient. Should I be in here with him?’ she thought feeling a little perplexed but curious as well about the man.
“What ward are you on, can I help you get back there,” she asked.
“No, no, I’m familiar with this place. Been here a long time you see.”
He had a cheerful voice. It was uplifting to listen to. Jessica felt a little better for just engaging him in conversation.
“Is there something I can do for you,” she asked him
“Like I said my dear, I’m doing my rounds. If you have a moment my dear, how about humouring an old man by telling him a story.”
He pulled a chair from around the other side of the desk, placing it a few feet from Jessica. Jessica now noticed his attire. He wore blue stripped pyjamas, pale blue to be exact and slip on brown slippers. He seemed too colourful in the gloomy office but she could see him quite well.
“A story, I don’t really have anything to tell . . .”
“Oh come on, you must have something to tell. We all have stories do we not.”
His eager expression seemed to melt Jessica’s resolve against telling a story. His grin beamed towards her while waiting for her response.
“I would, really I would but I have to go get back to work.”
“Oh pish posh, take a moment for you and you alone. It’s good for your health you know.”
She thought about his last statement and decided, ‘What the hell, I deserve a little time for me. A few minutes couldn’t hurt’.
Stories were never her thing; creativity was not her forte, which is why the objectivity and scientific calls of medicine drew her in. She considered what to tell him then decided to just begin, an act of free thinking on her part, leading to who knew where.
“Ok, so there was a girl who really liked a guy. To her he was a kind of prince, not a real prince. The girl wanted badly to have the courage to walk up to the prince and talk to him. She lacked the confidence to do it. See she didn’t know she was good enough.”
As Jessica continued with her story her eye’s started to become distant, looking to another time and place.
“One day the girl was sad, stressed and sitting alone in the cafeteria of university. She was studying for her exams and it wasn’t going very well. She was so absorbed by her own woes that she didn’t notice the prince staring at her until she got up to leave. When their eyes met from across the hall she became awestruck. Her legs became jelly forcing her to sit. He started walking towards her.”
A rarity crept across Jessica’s face; a smile illuminated her young beautiful looks allowing her to look her age once more.
“The prince sat down in front of her and asked her if she was ok. His voice shook a little. The girl thought maybe he was as nervous she was. ‘I’m ok’ she said to him, ‘just exams, you know how it is’. ‘Tell me about it’ he said, ‘I’m a paramedic student and have clinical placement tomorrow’. The blush behind the girls cheeks faded to nothing as did the nervousness in the prince’s voice as they spoke for hours about study, themselves and life. Once darkness fell he walked her home to her dorm room. To the girl’s delight they had agreed to meet up for dinner in two night’s time.”
“So the girl loved the prince? Love at first sight, like in the movies,”the small man interjected softly.
“Yes, love at first sight.”
A longing enter Jessica’s heart but she brushed it aside as it was a longing for something now gone.
“As time went by they grew closer. They understood each other deeply, equals who complimented each in every way. They argued at times like everybody but resolved their differences amicably. Life was wonderful. It became even better when those three words everybody wants to hear were said. The prince said them first, one night while at dinner in a cheap Italian restaurant. The girl had a face full of carbonara when out of the blue he said, ‘I love you’. She was taken by surprise, much to his amusement but she quickly chewed, swallowed avoided chocking narrowly and returned his words, ‘I love you too’.”
Jessica stopped for a moment as tears began to well up behind her eyes. She quickly brushed them away now wanting to finish her tale. It had become important for her to tell it but she also had a job to do. She felt herself becoming lost in reminiscence.
“Maybe that’s where I’ll stop,” Jessica said to the small man.
“No no, please you must go on. It’s a lovely story.”
“Yes, but I need to get back to my job, people will start to wonder where I am and I don’t . . .”
“My dear, remember time for you. Now please continue it is important,” he spoke with a little more authority this time.
“Alright maybe a few more minutes”
Jessica thought for a moment considering the right moment to pick up from and they began once again.
“They were both very happy. Life for both of them seemed to have just begun. Study and work weren’t as mundane as once before, they seemed to have a renewed sense of excitement, of purpose. Instead of plans being made for one they were made for two. The future was bright, shiny and new for them. They both graduated from University, the girl became a doctor . . . .”
Jessica stopped for a moment wondering if the small man could surely see her story for what it was, a mini biography of her once happy life.
“. . . and the prince became a paramedic. They found an apartment in the city, close to both of their jobs and lived happily. This was to end though.”
A fresh and warm line of tears fell from Jessica’s eyes as she went on.
“One night when the girl was busy at work she missed a call from her prince. He left a voice mail telling her he loved her. It was something he did often. She listened to it and it never failed to brighten up her shift. The girl got home from work first. She was expecting to find him home already so she tried calling him. It went straight to voice mail. ‘Maybe there was something big’, she thought turning on the news to look for some disaster, an accident, anything which meant he would be working late. She found nothing. Hours passed without news causing anger to grow inside her. How could he be so inconsiderate to do this without telling her? She phones his friends with no luck. She called his sister who he was close to but nothing came of it. Her anger turned to worry which then turned to fear as the clock continued shedding minutes and hours with no sign of her prince. At 11:49pm she got a call from a woman with news that shattered everything the girl held dear. As the girl listened to the woman revealing the horrendous truth to her she sat numb and unbelieving. Her mind fought against the truth. It couldn’t be real because he wouldn’t do this to her. Why did they make plans for the future? The girl hung up.”
Jessica suddenly found it difficult to continue. Her cheeks were sopping wet from tears which had pooled below her on the table once more. The small man offered her a tissue from a box he found in the room. She took one, thanked him and dried her eyes. After a few deep breaths, a quick blow of her nose she felt calmer, more controlled. She continued on with the final scenes of her tale now uncaring for time or her work.
“Her hands were numb, her mind was blank and her heart was weakening as she drove. She parked in the drop off space outside the main doors, leaving her keys in the ignition. She ran through the automatic door she knew so very well. A group of people she didn’t know were there to greet her in the emergency department. Jessica ignored their their condolences.
All she needed was to see him. One of the doctors led her through to the resuscitation bay where her prince lay. As the curtains were slowly pulled aside more and more of her prince became revealed until she saw his angelic face. It was unmarked. It was perfect but for the blue colour of his lips and pallor of his skin. A white sheet covered him up to his shoulders. ‘It was freezing in here’, she thought while walking over to him. Her eyes lingered on his face. She timidly reached out to him with one trembling hand. Touching his skin sent a chill through her entire body. This chill of reality gripped her very soul. With the same trembling hand she shook him gently willing him with everything she had to wake up, stop playing this cruel game on her, but he didn’t. He just lay there motionless, lifeless. The miracle of life was extinguished, never to return. The girl threw both arms around him for one final embrace. She shed bitter tears of sadness, moistening his neck. For the first time ever he didn’t return her embrace.”
Jessica stopped to inhale deeply and exhale slowly. Her words were becoming harder to tell. Her voice quivered a little. The small man placed a hand onto one of her own and she felt instantly better. Renewed strength ran through her. It was a strange sensation but welcome one.
She inhaled deeply and continued.
“It was an accident. A stupid pointless accident. Her prince was hit by a drunk driver while at the scene of another crash. He lost consciousness on the side of a road and never woke up. An aneurism was the cause of death. His heart stopped a few hours later in the resuscitation bay of the emergency department. She never got to say goodbye to him. They found his phone under the seat in the ambulance he drove, must have fallen from his pocket.”
“The funeral came and went. The day was warm, people were kind and friendly and it wasn’t as hard as she thought it was going to be. The hard part came afterwards, times alone when memories torment you causing pain and longing; his scent on his side of the bed, the sight of his toiletries still left in random locations around the bathroom. They were the hard times. They still are the hard times. It’s funny how silly things remind you. Silly things like foods or TV shows or colours. They always have some memory associated with them and no matter how hard you try you can’t wipe your memory clean.”
A moment of silence passed between Jessica and the small man.
“Better to have good memories then bad ones,” the small man finally said.
“The good one’s hurt though.”
Jessica stared down at the table in silence. Her tale was over. A sigh of discontent left her lips and she made to get up. The small man curled his fingers around both of her hands as she began pushing herself to a standing position. She startled a little not expecting the speed of movement from the small man.
“Sit back down a moment longer, please,” he said to her.
She sat back down.
“A tale of joy and tragedy”, he nodded to himself, “Isn’t it funny how fond memories bring pain rather than joy.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, the prince and the girl had much joy between them during the brief time they had, but the memories cause pain rather than joy even though their time was pleasant, wondrous even.” He let go of her hands and looked to her for a response.
“Maybe, but when you don’t get to say goodbye, it’s hard, and then you’re alone,” she said in a dejected tone.
“Imagine what our departed loved ones would think if they could see us sorrowful and tormented with grief,” he suggested.
“Well they’re not here are they? We are and we’re the ones who have to suffer”, Jessica’s snapped a reply. She instantly felt sorry for speaking unkindly.
“No my dear you couldn’t be more wrong”, he said in a sombre tone.
Jessica looked at him confused. Her heart broken as well as her will to go on with life ebbing ever more away she finally decided this bizarre exchange was over. She stood up defiantly. “I’m off; you’ve heard enough from me. Sorry to take up your time.”
“Please sit. It’s important to you and to Scott.”
“How do you know his name?”
“Just know that I do, a few more minutes, please my dear.”
He gestured with his hand for her to sit again across from him.
“Now please place you hands in mine and close your eyes.”
Reluctantly she did as he said. Something inside her, her gut maybe, told her to trust this man. She had trusted him with her deepest sorrows so far.
He covered her hands with his own, clasping his fingers snugly around hers. Jessica thought for someone his age his skin was cashmere soft. His hands felt warm. They both sat like this or a few moments, in utter silence until a halcyon effect overcame Jessica. A rush of peaceful tranquillity filled her.
“Now my dear, take a big deep breath and then, open your eyes”, the small man’s voice mellifluously flowed towards her seeming to enhance her already ethereal feeling of peace.
Jessica inhaled deeply. She could picture it in her mind, her chest rising sharply and falling slowly. As the last few millilitres of air left her lungs, she opened her eyes. All around her started to swim, colours blended into each other as the world resembled a Monet masterpiece.
Her world stopped spinning with a suddenness that made her lose balance. She regained her swaying self as colours fell into their rightful places. She became orientated once more. No longer was she surrounded by the gloominess of the office. She was somewhere quite different.
Jessica stood in a field of lush green grass. Dotted here and there were wild flowers. Their sweet sent filled floated towards her along the light zephyr. It tickles her skin. Tall trees circled the field. They looked magnificent and beautiful. Jessica cared little for the impossibility of this place or how she came to be here. It was truly beautiful. She allowed herself to be swept away on the wondrous feeling of simply being here. Free from troubles, free from the pain of loss. She twirled slowly feeling the brush of the grass against her bare feet and ankles, suddenly noticing she was wearing a dress she hadn’t seen for a very long time. The last time she wore this was the moment he first told her he loved her. She twirled again like a dancer, felling delight and freedom.
Something appeared out of the corner of her eye. She stopped moving and watched a figure staring at her.
‘Was he there all along?’ she thought as she ran towards him leaping into his arms. He swept her off her feet in a deep embrace.
She couldn’t believe it this moment could become more perfect but it had. He was here, she could feel him. His scent was real. She felt his breath against her neck, the sound of his beating heart, right here with her now.
“I love you”, her prince said into her ear.
She looked up to him, “I love you too”. More tears fell as she kissed him intensely but softly. Jessica shed tear of joy, not pain.
“Don’t cry”, he said while brushing away her tears.
“Ok, I won’t but I miss you so much. Why did you leave me?” sorrow entered her voice.
“I miss you too, very badly but I had to go. It was my time.”
“You were twenty-eight. How was that your time?”
“Life and death are so close. It’s hard to explain I guess but the two worlds are side by side. Death is another way of living.”
She looked up at him hearing his words but not their meaning. Jessica was immensely happy to be with Scott again.
“Can I stay with you”, Jessica said.
“No, not yet. In time we can be together but not yet. We have now though.”
They lay back onto the lush grass, holding each other and enjoying the mutual comfort found in the moment. Time was immaterial in this place. Jessica felt this while she held Scott, her prince. She drifted to sleep in his warm embrace. He gazed lovingly upon her and held her for as long as he could until he had to leave.
“Now dear you can open your eyes again”, Jessica heard from a distance.
Jessica opened her eye’s seeing the small man in front of her. She blinked twice letting reality sink back in then allowed a smile to cross her face. A weight had been lifted from Jessica’s shoulders. Her pain had been lessened. She felt calm and renewed, ready to continue her life.
“What just happened”, she asked.
“A brief glimpse into another world, my dear.”
“I don’t know fully what it was but thank you”, she said with heartfelt sincerity.
“No my dear, thank you, for sharing your story. It was brave of you, as I saw the difficulty you had in telling it.”
They stood and she hugged him. He hugged her back.
“Now go my dear, go and live your life knowing he is safe. You’ll be together in that place again but not yet.”
She smiled at the small man then walked past him taking the door handle in hand and stopped.
“I never asked your name”, she said turning around towards him.
The office was empty. The small man was gone, evaporating into nothingness. She wasn’t startled by this nor was she perplexed. Jessica knew something amazing had happened, something not everyone would experience but she had. She knew whoever or whatever the small man was, he had given Jessica the strength to go on. She felt contentment. She missed Scott dearly but knew their paths would cross again. He was safe and he was happy. Now so could she.
She left the office closing her previous sorrows behind while walking with a new vigour.
Jessica walked into the corridor once more suddenly realising she must have been gone a while. She would most likely have people in a tizzy looking for her. She walked back towards the paper work she was in the middle of. It had seemed like a life time ago now. Walking towards her was the nurse who had called out help while performing CPR on Mrs. Harwick.
“How is Mrs. Harwick?” Jessica asked
“No change really. How are you though I just wanted to see if you were ok”, asked the nurse.
“Oh, I’m good just feeling a bit out of sorts is all.”
Jessica saw the emergency team wheel Mrs. Harwick out of the cubicle towards the elevators.
“Jeez, how long have they been working on her?”
“What do you mean”, the nurse said.
“Mrs Harwick, she’s only leaving now”, Jessica pointed to where they left wheeling the patient.
“They’ve only been here a few minutes. I left them as soon as I gave them the information about Mrs Harwick.”
Jessica tried to hide the bewilderment from her expression by simply laughing and saying, “Oh I know, sorry. I must really be tired.”
“Tell me about it. Well as long as you’re ok. I know emergency situations can be really awful sometimes.”
Jessica and the nurse said their goodbyes walking in opposite directions.
Jessica silently thanked the small man again for the strength that she now possessed. She wasn’t sure who or what he was nor could she explain if she had actually left the office but the experience was exactly what she needed.
The next time she saw the small man she was the ripe age of eighty-nine. He stood having aged not a day wearing the same kind smile she remembered. He took her hand, once young and smooth now frail with age. He led her down a long path ending in a bright white light. Her friend made her unafraid to walk on.
Closer they ventured towards the light until Jessica paused to consider whom she saw standing near the end. She knew immediately, waiting with his hand outstretched ready to take hers from the small man. Her prince nodded to the small man, who nodded in return. She had known love after losing him. She had lovers and shared many parts of her life, of herself with them but Jessica only had one true love and it never waned.
Jessica and her prince reunited once again walked from the world of the living to a world beyond.
My name is David Delaney. I live, write and work in Hobart, Tasmania. Hobart is a very easy place to live. Friendly, homely and feels just about right in summer it’s a delight to call home.
Writing for me is a way to break from reality. It feels pretty good to create stories, characters and world from nothing. Whole worlds become real in the imagination of the writer and the hope is that this is also true for the reader.
My influences are vast in number. A simple walk through a park or city street can spark of my imagination. Works from popular writers such as Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Patricia Cornwall, and Michael Crichton and others similar to them guide how I write. There fiction provides more ideas for future works as well as guides on how to do it. Movies, news, video games as well as everyday interactions with people go into my stories. From this mix I try to form my stories.
Overall I write what I enjoy to read and my aim is to hopefully give someone a few moments with which to break from the everyday and enter a world and story not yet known to them. http://davidjdelaney.