This is new, I thought to myself.
I had been in this room alone for days. It’s nice they finally allowed me some company.
Although she hadn’t spoken and we were separated by that sorry excuse for a curtain, I could tell it was a woman. It was her breathing that gave her away; so dainty, so light.
I wasn’t sure how long she had been there. I myself had just woken up. The pain had come back; the searing hot chills in the back of my eyes just above the bridge of my nose. It felt like burning hot icicles poking and prodding the backside of my face, if that’s even possible.
It was definitely time for my meds. I reached for the call button, but my new roommate must’ve beaten me to it because in walked Berta, my nurse.
Berta was a one of a kind woman. She had the upper body of an ex-marine and the haircut to match. What made her unique, however, was the way she dealt with us patients. She had no problem spending a few extra minutes with us. The doctors say she coddles us; that she placates us and tells us things that aren’t true. Hell, I even got her to read me the paper last week and they never allow us to read the paper. They say it inhibits us. I say it keeps us connected. They say it’s a bad idea; Berta does it anyway. I like Berta.
“Can I help you?” Berta asked me in her usual husky voice.
“I was just about to call you for my meds.”
“Got em’ right here hun,” she said as she tapped the contents of the small plastic cup onto the tray before me.
Three little pills rolled out onto the tray. The largest of them had a purple H scratched into its surface. The other two resembled pink children’s Benadryl. I swooped them up with my right hand and gobbled them into my mouth.
Nothing makes the pain go away like these magic pills, I thought to myself.
Berta had offered me a cup of water, but by that time I had already chewed the pills and was swallowing the last few bits. I declined politely as I choked down the bitter dust.
Then I said, “That new girl must’ve read my mind. I was about to ring the button and then you were here.”
“What new girl?” Berta asked me.
I pointed my thumb at the curtain separating myself from my newly arrived roommate as I said, “I can hear her breathing.”
Berta’s eyes followed my gesture. She inspected the curtain briefly, and then, without looking back at me, she said, “Oh right.”
Berta threw open the curtain, revealing an empty bed.
She must’ve ducked under the bed, hiding for some strange reason. What did they do to my roommate to make her hide? I thought to myself.
Whatever it was, I understood. There were many times I wanted to hide from this place.
Then Berta left without saying another word.
Wasn’t she going to look for her? Had Berta finally given up?
Berta didn’t close the door behind her, and in the hallway I could hear her whispering to another. The second voice had an accent and the open doorway did not provide me with enough sound to make out his words; only that he was a he.
I heard Berta say, “I think we’re going to need to up the dosage.”
Then I heard some muffled response. To which Berta replied, “She’s got a guest.”
The second voice muttered something yet again, and I heard Berta say, “No. Not a real guest.”
Then she said, “She can hear her breathing.”
Was she afraid for her job? Was she just going to let this patient disappear? After John’s disappearance last week, she’s got to be on probation or something. Is this what they want to hear? Did they threaten her pension, her wages? Why is she lying to them? How can she get away with this, I thought she was on our side. Don’t they have an intake report? Won’t she get caught?
“Impossible,” I answered to myself.
Then, once again, the breathing in the bed next to me resumed.
I wonder where she was hiding.
I sat up in my hospital bed and pushed the fold-out tray away from me. I stood to my feet, throwing one leg to the floor and then the other. Leaning against the steel frame of my bed, I grabbed the thin curtain tightly in my right hand. I was going to prove this woman was in my room if I had to drag her into the hallway by her hair.
I felt tension on the curtain. Was she grabbing it too?
I ripped the curtain leftward to reveal the woman I knew was there; the woman they had brought in while I was asleep, the woman who’s breathing woke me, the woman who called my nurse.
And there she was; a tall, lanky woman with black hair and beautiful, green eyes. Her hand held the curtain tight.
I recognized her. Oh did I recognize her.
She wore the standard uniform; gray hospital gown, pink bracelet. I could see her patient number and her name upon the bracelet.
I inspected my own bracelet.
That was when I knew Berta was right.
As I stared into my own eyes, standing directly before me, with both of my right hands upon that sorry excuse for a curtain, I considered asking Berta for more drugs.