"What's the world for you if you can't make it up the way you want."

-Jazz, Toni Morrison


The Foundations of Existentialism and the Metaphysics of Morals

The Foundations of Existentialism and the Metaphysics of Morals

    I hear footsteps in the corridor and a patient in another room cough up phlegm. I watch Joy’sarms shake as she tries to hold her body weight and ease herself down into the bedside chair. Last time I weighed her she was 76 pounds. Words chirp out of my mouth, “Don’t worry luv, this embarrassment won’t last...it’s only temporary.” An idiotic thing to say. The embarrassment won’t last but her incontinence will. Stage IV. I pull the wet sheets off the bed. Remember the money. There are worse places to work. Besides, I’ve grown fond of these ladies, their pink cotton hair, and the smell of warm milk and urine. “Dinner will be around shortly.” She looks as good as fairy floss. I’ll leave her there while I go and get some clean sheets from the linen trolley.

    I hear myself giggle in reply. “Thank you for your kindness, you don’t have to be so kind.” Glad she’s gone. How patronizing. I’d like to see what would happen to her if she had just had a catheter removed. I might be old but I’m not an idiot. Sitting here, waiting just hurts my back. If you put a red wig on a pig and colored its eyelashes blue, it would be the exact replica of that condescending excuse for a human being who goes by the name of Sister Eve. I giggle again.

    It’s good to hear that Joy’s in higher spirits now. Hope she doesn’t think I am patronizing, I try very hard not to be. Look at that...it’s scatter-brained Eden... racing into the Ward. She’s chewing something, and pulling her hair into a ponytail, on the fly as usual. Surely it’snot much to expect that the staff dress themselves before they enter the workplace. Honestly, that girl has got no idea.

Socrates has hair

    “Sorry I’m late.” I’m puffed and out of breath. Eve’s standing next to the Ward Clerk’s desk. She’s frowning, has one arm on her hip, and she’s holding a pile of dirty sheets in the other arm.

Looks like she’s put her mascara on driving the car. Most of it has ended up as dots on her lids. “Perfect timing Eden. Joy’s just wet the bed and it’s time for my tea break. Here...”.

    The wet sheets touch my skin and I am angry at Eve for piling them into my arms without consideration. If I distract Eve with small talk she might not be so angry about me being late.“How is Joy today?”

    “She’s wet the bed twice already.”

    It worked. Quick, keep going, don’t give Eve a chance to start on about you being late. “I could learn a lot from someone as infamous as her.”

    “She’s a bit disorientated...woke up and thought she was on the outskirts of Vermont hiking...I said to her I hope you took your plastic pants with you!” Why am I wasting time talking to this ditz? I’m craving for a cigarette. “Right, I’m off for my cuppa.” I smell freshly cooked toast coming from the tea room.

    “No worries.” I watch Eve’s saddle-bagged thighs waddle their way to the tea room. I call behind her, “Don’t worry, I’ll hold down the fort.” She shakes her head from side to side and says nothing. She hates me. Never approves of anything I say or do. At least the patients like me. Well, I think some of them do. I throw the wet sheets in the linen bin and get some crisp ones from the trolley. Can’t wait to see Joy again. She’s fascinating. Now there’s a psych study waiting to happen.

    Who’s that? At last! Someone’s coming back into the room to fix my bed. A gum munching ponytail? No such luck. It’s Eden. A complete nut. She even makes me look sane. And who’d call a kid such a cruel name? I must giggle.

    “Hello, Joy. How are we today?” She looks great. Always eager. Just stares up at me with that blank look. Eve’s not happy about me being late. I can tell. I need to leave Uni earlier. I’m always late. It’s ridiculous. How I haven’t got the sack is beyond me. It’s that bloody philosophy lecturer’s fault. He keeps making analogies using pineapple donuts and then I’ve got to go and get one. My uniform is so annoying. I wriggle it down and smooth it over the top of my thigh. A lump. Fat. That wasn’t there last week. Rotten pineapple donuts. Pretty soon I’ll be as fat as Eve.

Hair is aware

    I giggle. I don’t know what she’s doing. She’s just standing there, gawking at me. It looks like she’s talking to herself. That’s enough, she’s started rubbing herself. Best remind her thatI’m here, “Thank you for your kindness, you don’t have to be so kind.”

    “Ok Joy, I’ll get that bed changed for you in no time.”

    I giggle. She forgot about me last night too. Left me sitting in the shower for over an hour. The cleaner found me. Probably still be there if it wasn’t for her. I giggle.

    I pull off the pillow slip and see the plastic pillow case. How many people have died on this?“A bit chilly isn’t it Joy?” We just wipe it over, put on a new pillow slip and wheel in the next one. Seriously I can’t cope. I don’t want to see any trolleys leaving the Ward with a patient inside a blue bag today. I’ll have to hide if I see one and it’s not a very professional look. Eve will kill me if she catches me hiding in the closet again.

    I giggle. My feet are aching and my back’s starting to throb. Can’t she just make the bed?

    I flip the sheet out on to the bed. “All I want is a room somewhere...far away from the cold night air...”. I wish I could get it out of my mind, but ever since I saw My Fair Lady I can’t stop singing it. “Joy, have you seen My Fair Lady?”

    “Yes, thank you, you don’t have to be so kind.” I just want to get back into bed.

    I feel hot. I think I’m three days overdue. Hope I’m not pregnant. I tuck in the corners. Never been overdue before. Like clockwork. “Lots of chocolates for me to eat...lots of...”.

    I fart and giggle.

    I blow a huge bubble. That’s a real beauty! “Dinner won’t be long now.”

    “Oh, thank you, thank you, you don’t have to be so kind.” The only thing worth eating around here is a cheese sandwich. And that’s if I can keep it down.

    “I bet you had an amazing life..., bet you have a story or two to tell, don’t you?” I flatten the top of the bed with a cotton blanket and pat it into place. I stop to look at her. So cute and frail. Like a broken doll. “What did they lock you away for Joy?”

    I giggle. The day I murdered Adam at Vermont was the most liberating day of my life. Put up with years of his abuse; sleep apnoea, endless snoring. I’d do it again. The freedom. Cracking the axe into the back of his head. Whacking into that walnut thick skull of his. Again, and again, until the shell broke open. I giggle.

    She’s always so up. Not many patients like that around here. I wish I could just stay with her and hang out. She makes me feel like there is optimism, but I better write up the Day Book while Eve’s on her break, my performance review is coming up and I don’t want to get another hammering from her. I shout to Joy, “I’ll turn the TV on for you.”

    “Thank you, you don’t have to be so kind.” You’re kidding. Still not in bed. What I wouldn’t give to do the same to her. But first I’d like to stick that gum up her nose, bind and gag her, torture her for days by singing every song that Rodgers and Hammerstein ever wrote. I could ask her a string of rhetorical questions. But I am stuck here, in front of a mindless game show, giggling to myself.

Therefore Socrates is aware

    I turn and take a last look at the bald patch on top of Joy’s head. That’s got to burn in the sun. Must remember to wear a hat outside. Oh, I really love this woman. It’ll do her the world of good to be out of bed for a while. I don’t want her to die.

    I walk to the Ward Clerk’s desk and pull the chair out. What? Someone’s been sitting here. A patient. They’ve left a puss filled pad on the seat. Bloody hell. I can’t blame anyone for this but can’t they use a different desk to sit at? I grab the disinfectant, paper towels, and gloves. Why does Eve let them take their calls here? I spray. Wipe it over. Throw it away. Spray. Wipe it over again. Throw it away. One more time. I just want to go home. Better wipe the phone and desk over too. Make it a couple of times. I place a paper towel down to create a barrier between my bottom and the seat. Eve will lose it if she sees me sitting on this. You know what? I don’t care. Just sit down and forget about what Eve wants. It’ll be ok. Have a shower when you get home.

    I grab a pen from the jar and begin to copy the patient’s names from yesterday onto a new page in the Day Book. Come on, stay positive. “Oh, wouldn’t it be lovely...”. There’s a red cross scribbled in pen next to Room 36. Mrs. Sinclair? No, she’s still here on the Ward. She’smoved into 26. So, who was in 36? Mrs. Hope. No way. Thirty-three years old. Two kids, a boy and a girl. From Queens. Poor husband. Never stopped trying. Eastern remedies, naturopaths, blood transfusions. So much love. The daughter. Only thirteen. Spitting image of her mom.

    I see a vision of Mrs. Hope’s face, her cheekbones protruding through jaundiced skin, the light in her eyes, and the smile she had that warmed the room.

    I jump. The phone. “Eden, Gynae Oncology. Dr. Morgan? No, he’s not on the Ward. The Nurse Manager? Eve’s on her break. Yes, I’ll page Dr. Morgan for you.” I find Morgan’scode from the list on the wall. What will I do if I am pregnant? I punch 8985 into the phone and hang up. I couldn’t have an abortion, I’d have to bring the child up by myself. I never thought this could happen to me. I’ll have to check later. The phone rings. “Dr. Morgan, Dr. Tattlesworth wants you in theatre.” I hang up. Is Morgan the father? Maybe I will have to consider an abortion.

    My thoughts drift and I see images of all the ladies who have been on this Ward and who have lost their battle with cancer and I send blessings to those who have gone home and who continue the fight.

    Eve will be back soon, got to get this Day Book finished. I write Mrs. Lancaster in the space next to 33 and Total Abdominal Hysterectomy. “Lots of chocolates...”. I can’t be pregnant, I haven’t had sex with anyone. Concentrate. Mrs. Alexia, Open and Close. I’m almost sure that I haven’t had sex with Dr. Morgan. Mrs. Tse, Stage III Ca Ovary Mets. I’m positive that I haven't had sex with anyone for at least two years. I feel flushed. How could I have forgotten that?

    I see Mrs. Hope’s daughter step out of the lift. She drifts along the corridor, barefoot, lost tormented, gaunt. She’s in a flannelette nightgown that is way too large for her body. I get up from the Ward Clerk’s desk and walk towards her. I can see she hasn’t slept.

    “Does your dad know you’re here?”

    “I’ve come to get mom’s stuff.”

    I nod.

    “I want to smell my mom. I want to wear the clothes mom was in when she died.”

    I guide Mrs. Hope’s daughter to the closet with the blue bags and the deceased patient's belongings.

Socrates has hair
Hair is aware

Therefore Socrates is aware


Sharon Willdin is an emerging and award-winning writer who lives in Sydney, Australia. She believes in creating emotionally engaging narratives and pushing boundaries in relation to structure and content while remaining relevant to the human condition. Sharon has been published nationally and internationally in journals such as Hemingway Shorts, Brooklyn Review, Antithesis Journal, Spineless Wonders, and many others.

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