The Office

This is a brief character sketch that I am open to have expanded upon. I have no idea where I was going with this.

The shot knocked the wind out of me, and as I fell to the floor I had a strange sensation about me like I was there in that moment but I was somewhere else too, standing with my arms open wide and feeling the rain on my face. I sensed that there was a commotion around me, and the activity whirled in my vision like paint colors being mixed together until there was nothing but blackness.

I felt myself being lifted. I kicked out, and many hands pinned my arms and my legs together. I heard a man’s voice yelling at me. I couldn’t make out what he was saying, but I saw his blue eyes staring at me, warm but serious. He was nodding his head slowly as he spoke, as though somehow I should understand what he was saying. I didn’t, but I registered that he was wearing blue hospital gloves, and I made the assumption that he was a paramedic. I felt relief, and then a wave of sleepiness hit me again. I fell asleep before I could think of anything else. 

The jolt of the bed hitting the ground woke me, but this time I floated through like I was watching a dream. A woman sat on top of me. She was talking quickly, too quickly for me to care what she said. I was surrounded by people. Hands were everywhere, pulling at my shirt, my clothes. I was upset by this. They were taking my clothes. Their hands were all gloved, and cold. I tried to lift my arms to fight them off but my arms wouldn’t work. A man lifted my wrist. I was aware that he was taking my pulse. His brown eyes were focused on my body, not my face. His brow was furrowed, and his lips moved quickly. His eyes flicked to my face, and his whole composure changed. He smiled. He put his hand on his chest, gesturing to his name tag. He pushed his glasses up the pointed the team to another set of doors. I just closed my eyes.

When I woke again I heard the beeping of a hospital monitor and smelled the sterile, antiseptic smell that gave away a hospital. I didn’t want to open my eyes to see the plain white walls, the white curtains, and the white tile floor. The thought, the smell, the beeping magnified in my mind and I suddenly became claustrophobic. My heartbeat increased. My hair stood on end. I sat up suddenly and retched. Cold hands pressed me back down, and a soft voice tried to comfort me. I retched again. This time a basin was procured and acidic yellow bile filled the pale pink dish. A warm wet wash cloth cleaned my face, and I laid back, suddenly weak and cold.

I felt the warmth of sunlight on my pillow. I hadn’t noticed it before. I lay back, letting the pillow hold me. I squinted, pulling the blanket up to my neck, and ventured to look around for the first time. The walls were a deep purple. The tiled floor was tan. The monitors around me were buzzing and beeping, and a man in khaki pants and a white coat lifted his hand and pressed a button, silencing them. He smiled at me with brown eyes through steel rimmed glasses. Next to him was a stern looking woman, a nurse I suppose, in colorful scrubs and a white jacket just like him.

Hiding behind the two of them, a long skinny boy in a black trench coat stood. He intrigued me the most. His eyes were a startling blue. His hair was longer, black, and covering half of his face. He was white, and extremely pale. Piercings covered his lips, his nose, his eyebrows, and he was leaning back against the wall, staring at me with cold indifference. No, not indifference; the attentive focus of his eyes, the twitch of his lips, and the rigid stance he had made me feel that he was interested that I was alive. I pondered this thought for a while.

“Miss Woods?” I looked at the doctor. Oh. He’d said something to me. I tried to speak but my mouth was dry, and I coughed to try and clear it.

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” the stern woman said, sitting me up with a pillow behind my back, and holding out a cup of water with a straw poking out. I took a sip and tried to swallow. I hadn’t been so clumsy with my drinking since I got my wisdom teeth out and my whole mouth was swollen and numb. I can only imagine I blushed, but I didn’t feel it burn on my face.

“That’s better,” Nurse said, putting the cup on the table that appeared in front of me.

“Okay, let’s try again,” Doc said. “My name is Dr. Andrew Talbot, I’ve been taking care of you here at St. Lucy’s Medical.” He smiled warmly and continued. “This is Rita, she’ll be checking in with you during the day shift here in the ICU.” I shivered but mustered a smile at Rita, whom I’d still just like to call Nurse.

“Do you remember what happened?”

And there was the question. I looked at my hands. My nails were freshly painted. A small gold ring was comfortably on my right ring finger. I could see the hospital gown, but under it I was aware that there was a bandage covering a hole that was probably sewn shut. I looked up at them. Sadness filled Dr. Talbot’s eyes, and Nurse looked more rigid than ever.

“I was shot.” I managed. Dr. Talbot nodded, and wrote something in the folder in his hand. “Do you remember anything else?” I looked at my hands again. A little girl, maybe 6 or 7, with blonde curly hair, and pink lips spun in a red dress with black sparkling shoes. My arms open to the sky as the rain fell. The crack of the gun as it went off, and my breath suspended in the air in front of me as I fell.

“I remember a girl in a red dress.” I said. “And I remember the rain.”

Dr. Talbot frowned at me, and wrote something more in his folder. The intriguing stranger behind him leaned back against the wall, his face expressionless. Nurse watched my face, then turned suddenly to both of the men and said, “Okay, Dr. Talbot, I think it is best that I give her a bath now that she’s awake, and change her bandages. Is that all you needed?”

Dr. Talbot nodded, and placing his pen in his pocket, nodded to me saying “All right, Miss Woods. Rita here will take good care of you. I’ll be back later on this afternoon.”

Nurse smiled warmly at me, and followed the men out of the room. She talked quickly and earnestly with Dr. Talbot, and all three disappeared beyond the view of my cell. She then returned with a wheel chair, followed by two other nurses. They came deeper into the room, and pulled the curtain to block off the glass windows and the open doorway. Carefully they lifted me from my bed into the wheel chair. I felt the uncomfortable tugging of tubes, IVs, and monitor cords and I sat weakly in the chair. To that point I hadn’t realized how plugged in I was. The thought gave me a fresh wave of nausea.

“Are you okay, Miss Woods?” One of the nurses asked. Concern flashed over his face, but I took a deep breath and I nodded.

I don’t think anything could have prepared me for that bath, and I’m not really sure it could be called a bath. They pulled off my gown and displayed a disarray of bloody and dried mess. Careful not to disturb the tape, they sponged me down breaking loose the larger clumps of blood and dirt. My legs and ankles were swollen from the fluids that I was receiving. I was stiff and sore from not having moved, or at least not very much. I glimpsed myself in the mirror. I was pale and skinny. My hair was matted and knotted. I had tape marks on my cheeks—I guess I’d been on a breathing tube. There was an IV in my neck, on my wrist, and then they began unwrapping my bandage.

My heart rate rose, and they looked at me in alarm. The same nurse who asked if I was okay came and stood in front of me so that I couldn’t see myself in the mirror.

“Just look at my eyes,” he said calmly. I stared at his beautiful brown eyes with the golden etching, his beautiful and smooth dark skin, his shining white teeth, but none of it helped. I felt a tug at the stitches and looked down at the small scabby mess. It was tiny, but I felt the whole weight of the hole in me, and the tears fell before I could stop them. I wept in the arms of that nurse. He held me up while the others cleaned me, put on ointment and then wrapped me up again.

Later on in the afternoon, I sat up in my bed looking out the window and sipped a cup of my favorite tea. Snow covered the rock-covered roof tops, and the bright orange sun was starting to dip toward the horizon, a beacon in the grey sky. A flag tossed now and again in the wind. I was warm, content even. A knock on the door admitted Nurse again. She smiled picking up my chart and making a few marks, and then she came to my side to take my pulse.

“It looks like that tea is doing you well,” she said, pulling the blanket down, and monitoring my tubes and cords. She reached out and touched my forehead. She took my tea cup and put it aside with a frown. She shoved two of her fingers in each of my hands.

“Squeeze,” she barked. I did. Her lips curved into a barely perceptible smile. “That’s better,” she said with satisfaction.

She scribbled more in her chart, replaced my tea cup into my hand, and then shifted her weight to one side as she observed me with a frown. Her face was always so stern. I smiled meekly at her. She raised her eyebrows and then turned suddenly and left the room. I shook my head, and returned my focus to the window when suddenly she appeared again.

“You’ll excuse me, but, I just need to do something about that rat’s nest in your hair.”

In her hand she had a comb and a spray can of conditioner. I started, then readily agreed, placing my tea on the side table, and sitting up a little.

“No, no.” She said, pressing the button to lower the bed. “It’s better if you’re laying down, and your hair is up above you—yeah, like that.”

I had lowered my head, and flipped my hair above me. She pressed the button to shift the bed a little flatter, then took a seat just above me. I looked at the ceiling, listening as she got comfortable and then shook the can of the conditioner. She sprayed it after a moment and I felt the cold. She started working at the tip of my hair, combing a little at a time, and then spraying more. After a while I perceived her humming softly a song that I’d never heard before. I was grateful for it. I always get songs stuck in my head.

“You’re a lucky one you know,” she told me softly when she was about halfway through. “You’re one of my lucky ones.”

I thought about that a moment, and then said, “...not many people survive these walls?”

“Not many,” she affirmed. “But then, not many are as young as you are.”

She went back to combing for a time, and then she spoke up again. “The sunset is mighty pretty now, all purple and blue. My son is just a bit older than you are, you know. He’s married though, and he’s got two little ones driving him and his wife batty.” She paused here, and I could feel her eyes on my face. She slowed her brushing a little, and then, finding herself again, she continued. “Do you have any family?” she asked with a feigned nonchalance.

“I did,” I say, fiddling with the gold ring on my finger.

“Are they gone?” She asked, more gently.

“No,” I said, “They just don’t live here anymore.”

“Oh, Miss Woods!” she said, placing her hands on her knees. “You need to call them!”

“I will,” I said, shrugging my shoulders, “When I’m better. I can’t trouble them when I’m like this.”

“This is the time you should trouble them, dear.” She said renewing her task with restored vigor. “There ain’t one mother who wouldn’t be with her baby at a time like this.”

I brooded on this in silence, returning my vision to the ceiling above me. She must have sensed my displeasure because she didn’t say another word on it for a few minutes. As she finished she sighed satisfied, and helped me sit up again.

“That’ll do,” she said, and, taking my face into her palms she looked me straight in the eye and said, “Miss Woods. You are a treasure, and you are loved.” She kissed my forehead, and then her stern, sour look returned to her face.

“Call your mother,” she barked, and she left the room.

Dinner came a little while later, and as I’d actually started eating on my own, and remained stable for a certain amount of time, my transfer out of the ICU was arranged. My new room was a little higher than my last one, and I could perceive on the far horizon the mountains, where they were lost to a mirage before. My new nurse was a cheery blonde with pink scrubs and a southern lilt to her speech that made her insufferable to me. Her hair was short and curly and bounced with every movement she made. She was short, and direct. She seemed to float across the room with every task, writing notes on the white board, administering my meds, and making light conversation about the weather. She wrote in a neat, almost typed cursive. Her curvy letters pronounced her name to be Lucy.

“That’s right! Just like this here hospital!” She said smiling and smacking the wall behind her. “Who’d have ever supposed!”

My days were always busy with every kind of therapist coming to see me, teaching me to walk, to write, to eat more solid foods, to talk about what happened. Lucy was always behind every corner when I finally got a moment of silence, drowning me with her endless cheerfulness. I sincerely missed the quiet of the ICU, and the afternoon tea that I had been permitted to enjoy. A few weeks more and I knew that pleasure again when I was allowed to leave. 

I walked cautiously up the three flights of stairs to my apartment. The big green door stood at the end of the hallway. A black door mat with the simple “Welcome” greeting was there to welcome me home. I slid the silver key into the lock and opened. It was pleasantly warm, but foreign in its own way. It smelled good. I felt my body immediately relax. I tossed my keys into a dish on the bar counter to my right, and flicked on the lights. The living room opened before me, neat as it had always been. The balcony sliding door opposite me was shut and locked, and the curtains were drawn to show a small balcony, and a view of the apartments on the far side of the courtyard. Flowers covered the countertops of the kitchen just beyond the bar. Cards and piles of unopened mail were wrapped in rubber bands and thrown in a box that sat on a table just outside the kitchen. I flipped the switch for the fireplace, and sank into the huge black sofa.

When I woke it was morning; time to start cleaning up and getting back to my life. I threw a few pieces of oat toast into the toaster oven, and ground up some beans for coffee. Once that had started to brew I turned to the mess on my counter. The roses were all dead in their vase. I pulled the card out and read: 

“Miss Woods— I am horribly saddened by the news of your unfortunate accident, and wish you a full recovery. Please come to see us again soon.
Dr. Madden, East Hills Dental” 

Huh. Well, that’s nice. I threw the roses away, and slipped the vase into the sink to be washed. I looked at the next set of flowers. Lilies. I read the card:

“Miss Woods—A speedy and full recovery to you and your loved ones.
Our best regards,
The Andersons”

I smirked at this. The Andersons were a small corner grocer a few blocks away. They owned a grocer and a small restaurant. I was in the habit of going there every Sunday morning, and drinking my black coffee while I watched the commotion of the morning unfold. I felt an overwhelming rush of affection to know that they had noticed my absence, and still more to know that they had gone through the trouble of sending these. Though they were dead now, I whiffed a beautiful fragrance off of them as I threw them into the trash.

The last bouquet of roses was freshly cut. They couldn’t be more than a day old. I looked at the card. The typeface was a bold, all-caps font gleaming up with silver lettering. All it said was “The Office” with a phone number printed on the back.

My toast popped. I put the card down, and turned to butter it, thinking to myself, “I don’t have an office. I poured my coffee, and went to sit on the couch, munching on the toast, and washing it down with the coffee. I looked at the card over and over again. Turning it over and studying the number. Finally, with resolve, I reached for my phone, and dialed the number.

It had only rung once when I heard a knock at my door. I looked down. I was still in my surgery scrubs. I grabbed a sweater that was on the couch and hung up the phone. I looked through the peep hole and saw two men standing there looking around the door, and down at the welcome mat. I turned the lock and cracked open the door.

“Ah, Miss Woods,” said the first man. He was a taller man with a bald head and a mustache. His suit was blue, and he wore brown shoes. He lifted a badge from his belt and held it up to the crack in the door. “I am Detective Marty Winston, and this is my partner Detective Gary Crowling.” The officer behind Winston waved awkwardly. Crowling was younger, shorter, and definitely better-dressed with a sleek black suit and a light blue tie that matched his eyes. He, too, fumbled with his belt and flashed a badge.

 “May we come in?” Winston asked. I looked at them, and then glanced around.

 I closed the door and slid the chain to admit them. They filed into my living room, looking continually around as they did. They both walked immediately over to my couch, their shoes on my white carpet. I tried to ignore the offense, and consciously brushed the crumbs off of my shirt.

 “May we sit down?” Winston asked, motioning to the couch.

 “Please,” I said gesturing to my couch, and then fiddling with my hair. I went to the table in front of them and removed my mug and my plate of toast and took it to the sink.

 “We’re sorry to have disturbed you, but we’d like to ask you a few questions if you have a moment.”

 “No, not at all. Please. Ask away.” I batted their apologies away with my hand, and, wrapping myself tighter with my sweater, and came around the counter to sit on the bar stool to watch them.

 “We understand that this may be difficult,” he started leaning forward, and opening his hands in front of him, “but would it be possible for you to walk us through everything that happened the day you were shot.”

 I looked down at my hands, and nodded.

“I was teaching that day.” I started, looking up at them as I spoke. “I had a class earlier in the morning, and another one scheduled after the lunch hour.” I paused remembering.

I had been very specific about my dress that day. I had chosen simple black heels, a patterned suit skirt, and a lovely blue blouse that I’d covered with a sweater. The day had been dark and gray. I ran through the rain under an umbrella, guarding my bag from the splash of the puddles. I pressed through the old brown door. It slammed loudly behind me and I clicked my way through the corridor to my classroom. The chalk boards were freshly cleaned. The room was empty, and silent. I opened my case and pulled out a stack of papers, and placed them carefully on the desk.

I turned to write on the board. I had made it through most of the lesson plan when the bell rang and a flood of students roared into the hallways. Soon they began to trickle off into my classroom: boys and girls about 16 slumping down into seats and laughing amongst themselves. I finished my sentence, and smiled as a few of them yelled out to me, musing about the scores of the football team, bragging about their athletic ability and wondering loudly if I had seen them. I nodded throwing my hands up.

“You were all magnificent!” I had said as the bell started to ring. I threw up the door stop and let the door slam. The class settled and looked at me expectantly. They were good kids in every way I could hope as a teacher. They were attentive and eager for the most part. They watched me while I spoke. But that day was particularly difficult. The rain, the grey light, the cold air that blew in gusts through the classroom all made it particularly difficult for them to concentrate on me. A sudden rap at the door made us all start and I opened the door to admit a few tardy students with late slips. The next hour passed slowly, and though they copied everything I wrote, I was sure they had heard none of what I’d said. The bell rang and they all came forward, turning in their homework as they left. 

One of my students stopped at my desk. He was a younger boy named Carl. Carl was skinny with sandy blonde hair and bright blue eyes. He was incredibly shy, and unable to participate in my class in any open way. He brought me his homework, smiled feebly, then darted from my room before I could say a word. I watched him disappear around the corner and looked down at his homework. It was perfectly written in small cursive handwriting. The letters were narrow and neat. Each dip and curve was long and sprawling. His handwriting was perfect, and years beyond his classmates who would inevitably never reach his talent due to the age of technology, and the death of the letter.

I placed his homework on top of the stack, knocked the paper against the desk to align them, and shoved them in my bag before grabbing my umbrella to dare the rain again.

Crowling cleared his throat, and my eyes shot to his face. I’d forgotten they were there. I shifted a little, and bit my lip before I cleared my throat and continued.

“I was in the teacher’s lounge when Carl, one of my students, burst through the door, and leaned against it. His face was pale, and he was out of breath. I was alone in the lounge, but I put my pen down and stood, looking at his wild appearance with concern.” I stopped, my throat was caught with emotion remembering the look on his face. His drenched raincoat, and backpack, and his lips, pale, blue and trembling.

“I rushed forward, and he took my hand, pulling me into the hallway. The hallways were eerily still. There was no one lingering, no one passing. Our footsteps echoed off of the stone as we ran out into the rain across the lawn to the parking lot. I stopped and watched as he fumbled with is keys.”

“He had his keys on him then?” Winston asked.

“Yes, a ton of them on a large black key chain with a lanyard.” They wrote that down. “He unlocked the car and told me to get in. I stared at him, and I told him I couldn’t.”

The End

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