I smiled at the uniformed cop because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you lie to the cops. Not a stretched, frantic kind of grin, but smooth and easy going. On the other hand, Ted, Frankie and Jem, co-workers and occasional juvenile delinquents, were uncomfortable with authority. They preferred instead to slink into the background and make awkward faces. This happened a lot at work, so I didn’t mind so much. I was the one that stood up the boss and explained in my most grown-up voice why the files weren’t being filed faster or why memos came to die at our cubicle. This was always met with silent disapproval, much like the look the police officer was giving me right then.
I hate hospitals.
Again, not my fault. Years ago, I had a bout with pneumonia and my mother in her unhurried state had thought one of her local remedies would work wonders, some kind of poultice. When I got worse, it was three months of mashed beans, chalky pills. So it wasn’t exactly a joyful event when I had woken up to a fat woman in scrubs pinching a needle through my wrist, muttering something about dark skin and thin veins.
The police officer gave the hospital room another quick glance, like he was checking it for something illegal. Then he stared at Jem and Frankie as if they were hiding something illegal. “So, Mr. Hughes,” he said finally. “Are you sure that’s all you can remember?”
Shifting, I took a deep breath. “No. Nothing.”
“I would like to go over your statement. Just in case something jogs your memory.”
The police officer leaned back in his chair and looked at the pad in his hands. “Before you entered the club did you notice anything strange?”
“Anything untoward happen within the club premises?”
Out the corner of my eye, Jem stifled a grin. Hopefully, the cop didn’t notice it. “No.”
“Take your time.”
The lineup of girls outside the club, chattering, laughing, their clothes clinging and glitter mingled with sweat on their faces. There was the bouncer checking IDs, there was the bouncer checking my ID, nodding at me as I entered. The strobe lights pulsing-
“I’m sorry,” I said finally.
“Okay.” The cop looked down at his notes. The irony of the young and inexperienced, trying very hard not to look young and inexperienced and failing. “How about inside the club?”
Some crazy girl in some kind of weird outfit, all spandex and straps, with heavily lined eyes and straight, black hair. She had guns, big and ugly, pointed at my head.
Then for some reason, she’d put her guns down and pivoted away, disappearing into the haze.
“Just the fire.”
The cop shifted his shoulders. “Want to tell me something about that?”
I felt my heat rush to my face and looked over at my friends. Ted and Frankie wore hard smiles, but Jem looked just about ready to jump out of her skin. But then Jem was like that, nervy and impulsive, hence her eclectic wardrobe of tie-dye shirts and jeans. She lived with a cautious Frank who had been doing an amazing job of restraining her during the interview. I could imagine her questions now. How did it feel to be stuck in a burning room, John? What did it smell like? Did you see people burn, John? Did you see anyone burn?
“No, officer. Like everyone else, I was enjoying the party and then…BOOM.” When I shrugged, it hurt.
“Lucky to be alive.”
The cop looked at me and smiled for the first time since he got in. “Indeed, you are, Mr. Hughes. Thank you for your time.” He walked out of the room, a brisk, efficient walk like he knew exactly where he was going and it mattered. Somehow, I doubted it.
“Why was that chick trying to kill you?” Jem piped up.
Frankie groaned while Ted hurried over to the doorway. “What’s wrong with you, Jem,” he said over his shoulder. “Can’t you say something below a screech?”
Shrugging, Jem disentangled herself from her boyfriend and walked over to me. She leaned against the bed railing, looping her finger round the IV tubing. “Look at them, you’re the one in danger and they’re twitching.”
“I’m not in danger.” I said quickly.
“She tried to kill you, Johnnie. You should have told the cops.”
“No, Jem," Frank said from behind her. “We discussed this. If the cop doesn’t say anything about it, John shouldn’t either.”
“Exactly,” Ted added, turning away from the door. Obviously satisfied the cop wasn’t coming back. “A girl with a gun that nobody else saw?”
"But Johnnie saw her," Jem insisted.
“I don't know about that,” I said, joining the ‘voice of reason’ bandwagon. “Maybe all the smoke made me hallucinate.”
“It’s smoke, Johnnie, not weed,” Jem said with a snort, snapping my bed railings into place. “Crazy exes.”
I didn’t have crazy exes. Ending relationships was always difficult and sometimes people think that hurling bits and pieces of crockery at you is an efficient way to end things. But you left town, you left things behind, you started afresh.
You kept running.
“Alright. You’ve had your visit. Time to go.”
Jem’s weight shifted off me while I angled my head, trying to get a better look at who stood in my doorway. It was a nurse and she wore a frown designed to send visitors scampering. My friends got the message and one by one shuffled out of the room. Soon I heard Jem’s cackling laughter and Ted muttering something in response. Frank was, as usual, silent. Then it came, the bone-aching tiredness that had begun as a twinge that morning and was promising to get much worse before it got better.
“Your friends...they seem nice.”
I shifted in my bed and looked up with some effort, wincing at the creaks. The nurse flipped through the charts, squinting at something. I almost thought I’d imagined her speak. “Many people don’t have that much support when they come in here. Nice to see that you do.” She looked down at me then. I noticed her pinned up jet black hair, her eyes deep set blue, her lips smeared with pink gloss.
“Yes. I’m lucky.”
Putting the chart down, she reached for the box of gloves on one of the wall holders. “So…you must be happy to go back home.”
She pulled on a pair of gloves and rounded the bed. Lifting my hand, she pressed a thumb to my wrist. I soon felt a throbbing sensation. Pulsing. Heavy.
So are you a normal klutz or do just do that to get noticed?
“Any headaches,” she asked, her voice lilting upward.
She picked up a thermometer and squinted along its length.
So are you a normal klutz or do just do that to get noticed?
She twisted toward me. “Excuse me?”
Okay, this was embarrassing. “Did you just say something?”
The nurse smiled again, a sudden beautiful, familiar smile. “Alright, then. You should get some sleep.”
Maybe she was right. Keeping my eyes open was becoming a chore. I settled back into my pillow, kneading my back into its softness. “Okay.”
My vision blurred as she walked to the end of the bed and picked up the chart and pushed it into the crook of her arm. “You’re not going to stay with me, nurse? Keep watch?”
She giggled. “Now that’s lame.”
I laughed, but it came out as a snort. Now that’s lame Now that’s lame Now that’s lame…
The nurse smiled down at me and rubbed my feet which I felt was a rather inappropriate thing for a nurse to do but I was too tired to do anything about it and anyway my mouth felt like cotton wool and maybe I wanted to get some sleep but I shouldn’t sleep somebody was trying to kill me I think this nurse was trying to kill me I needed to get somewhere safe I need to get away-
Hey, Dream Girl. What are you doing in scrubs?