Breaktime – by Linda Simoni-Wastila
Damn. I didn’t think the crash would come so fast. I grip the sink, wait for the bathroom to clear but the door keeps opening. Men stand three deep before the urinals and I gag from the smell of ammonia melding with lemon disinfectant. Nausea pulses, a wave of jittering gray.
No time to wait for a stall to empty, seminar starts in ten minutes. I hurry out. Pale light fills the hospital atrium. Two kids toss coins in the fountain, each penny dropping with a melodious ping. Making wishes no doubt: help daddy get better, let mommy bring home a baby brother, fix Grammy’s broken heart. If I had time and money to waste, what would I wish for?
Rubber soles squeak on linoleum. Bette from ICU calls my name, snaps me from my daze. She waves, a tight curl of her hand. The smile plastering my face feels lopsided, too large. I walk carefully but no one else seems to mind the wavering floor.
I pause before the Chapel, look both ways before pushing the wooden door. The hospital roar fades, replaced by airless silence. A woman kneels before Mary and Jesus, blond hair tumbling down her back. For a moment I swear it’s Phoebe, but it’s not, it can’t be, Phoebe’s prepping anesthesia. I should be with her, but I’m in no shape to thread IV lines into veins.
Out of habit I genuflect before collapsing into the pew. My fingers tremble in the white jacket pocket under the ‘Kevin Sullivan, MD’ embroidered in black over my heart for the fentanyl patch I fished from Mrs. O’s hazards box. The foil crinkles.
The lady’s head lifts. I freeze. Her red-rimmed eyes stare back at me. She doesn’t look like Phoebe at all; fake blond, sucked-in cheeks from too many face lifts. A lot of women look like this in Baltimore, the rich ones. I know their sort too well. My lips quiver into a smile. She turns back to the altar.
Say a prayer for me, baby – I need all the help I can get.
My thumbnail scrapes the patch. Three drops, shiny and viscous, ooze into my palm like liquid crystals. Remorse pricks me, and disgust I’ve come to this again. Today is the last time, I swear, but I greedily lick my hand. The alcohol taste turns sweet. Calm gilds my mouth and throat, spreads to my chest, my fingers, my world, and I forget. The door opens, the blonde mourner floats from the room. I surrender to the velvet-lined bench.
Nothing else is more pure.