The Nurse by Erik Wennermark Flyleaf Literary Journal Chicago Literary Lunch

Erik Wennermark lives in Hong Kong where he writes prose. His stories have appeared in Pank, Guernica, Upstreet, Rumpus, among others.

THE NURSE

by Erik Wennermark

July 8, 2016

 

The nurse’s scratchy penmanship indicated it had been a night like any other: one spent suffering the drip of the old man’s congealed humors, his tepid kicks and lashes from the bed. The old man always shrieked at the I.V., spit and cussed when it was time to be turned. They told tales of his constant abuses: the goddamn clicker, faggot this, cocksucker that. The detective sighed and put down the clipboard by the vacated bed of the now dead old man.

 

The detective imagined the nurse standing over the old man, staring down at the product of his labors, the breathless body before him, haranguing him no more. Yet the eye was open, dead and blank but staring accusingly.

 

The nurse would shake the old man’s breath off his coat as he walked to the bus, head bent and collar raised against the lashing wind, shuttering the teak and dust world behind him. The detective pulled a fingertip along an expensive-looking blue ceramic vase in the hallway, brought it to his thumb, rubbed the grit. Lotsa gold, but gone to seed. He sat on the stoop and smoked Camels, watched the yellow-gold leaves that fell from the trees line the gutter like cursed soldiers, their last moments in the concrete bunker waiting for the next charge.

 

Maybe he’d wanted to quit that day. The nurse didn’t know or couldn’t say. With that sonofabitchin’ old man it wouldn’t surprise ya. He’s like that Chinese water torture, ya know – motioning a drip, drip, drip with rubber-gloved fingers – his creepy eye be just enough to drive you insane. The detective nodded and scratched in his notepad. He asked about the old man’s gold. The old man had plenty of gold, sure, but the nurse didn’t seem to give no care about that. He weren’t the type to kill a man for his gold nohow, not hardly interested in the finer things: his ratty coat, the worn rubber soles of his nursing shoes. Give him enough to pay the rent on a studio apartment and a few stiff ones after the shift, that’s all he asked for, that’s all anybody can ask for nowadays. He didn’t need no schooner, no Venetian honeymoon, and wouldn’t get it anyway. Hey man, I’m outta gig now, I still ain’t got no resentments, that should tell you well enough. The detective nodded again.

 

Walking to the bus, the nurse’s mind fixed around the old man. Looking across the Afghan, footboard, dust ruffle, at the old man. The nurse’s head lodged into the crack of the door to the old man’s bedroom, hours there, unmoving, silently glaring at the near-blind, cataract-sown old man. The old man, sickly asleep, slow trotting breaths, hoof beats in lungs and throat. The bile escaped his mouth. Moving closer. Standing over him: the old man’s rheumy eye shining upon the nurse’s face like a reflection in a pool of milk. A soft intake of breath. Strong fingers wrapping around the old man’s reptilian throat.

 

The nurse grimaced and choked to stifle a gag. He passed the bus stop and walked to Eddie’s. He sat and ordered a drink. The nurse stopped here on occasion and the bartender knew him.

 

“How’s the old man?” the bartender asked.

 

“Same as ever,” shrugged the nurse. “Worse, if anything. He’ll be dead soon enough.”

 

“Gold in it for you?” asked the bartender. The nurse shook his head. “Just as well,” said the bartender and moved a rag over the countertop. “Just as well.”

 

The nurse started with a beer, then a shot and a beer, then just the liquor. He put Lou Reed on the jukebox and drank. The murder of a stranger, The murder of a friend, The callings from the pits of hell, That never seem to end.

 

It was early and no one bothered the nurse, wanted to talk, had questions about a nagging ailment. The hours passed and the nurse tied one on. He looked down at his hands, watched the skin crawl, looked up to order another. At ten or twelve—no one knew for sure—the nurse put three twenties down on the bar and walked out.

 

Did he go straight back and do the deed? Why? Who knows. The detective stamped the cigarette under his shoe, rubbed it into the cement.

 

It must have been easy enough: the nurse was strong and the old man was weak. Too weak to fight, if the old man wanted to fight at all, which he probably didn’t. The detective could discern no robbery, nor, in the weeks that followed, find any trace of the nurse. His captain was after him to move on to another case. The detective held the folder before him and closed it. He shrugged as if it were the way of things, the old man’s death. Others nodded in agreement.