The Right Thing
The screen shone red. He had tried flipping the channels on the remote, but
nothing happened. He pushed his sheets aside and sat up on the bed. The thin
hospital gown did not cover much, and he hated getting out of bed for
exactly that reason. But this was an emergency. He pulled up a chair and
stood on it, because that was the only way he could reach the suspended TV.
Now that he was within an arm‚s length on the machine, he had no idea what
he was going to do. At that moment, Laura (who‚s favorite color was orange
and who‚s favorite holiday was Halloween) stopped at his open doorway and
asked him what was wrong.
White everywhere. By now he recognized the smell better than that of his
own home. During the first weeks, she had to drag him in because he knew
what was going to happen. Now he didn‚t mind it as much. People there are
nice. With pockets full of lollipops. Didn‚t even mind his baldness. The
separation didn‚t come all at once. He just remembers gradually seeing less
of her and more of the whiteness. After a while, she became a memory of a
smell. A memory of a touch. A memory.
The nurse tried switching channels. Still nothing. She smiled warmly at
him, that poor kid standing on a chair.
-I‚ll send somebody to look at it ok?
She was about to help him off the chair when they heard a commotion
After they were certain that she had left for good, nobody knew what to do
with him. Of course they had no legal right to keep him there, but it would
be morally wrong to release such a sick and weak child in the hands of the
state. The board of directors convened and they decided to play guardian
angels for a change. Technically the father still had legal rights over the
kid. Of course, he had ceased to care about anything long ago. So when some
lawyers came by asking him to sign something, he was glad to do it. For a
nominal fee, of course. Now the hospital had official care of the child.
Until his death.
Since that part of the hospital was usually quiet, the boy couldn‚t help
peering out curiously to find out where the noise was coming from. Two male
nurses were holding a bald older man by his arms. He seemed incredibly
strong and cursed at the nurses loudly, as they tried to put him in the room
next door. Two receptionists (Jody and Fran) passed, and one of them
commented, „This one should be in the psychiatric floor.‰ The boy couldn‚t
get a clear view of the man‚s face, since he was flinging everywhere and his
face was contorted in anger. Soon enough, the boy‚s neighboring door was
closed, and a while later, the male nurses walked out, apparently unaffected
by the battle. The boy couldn‚t hear a sound from the room next door, so he
assumed that they had sedated the man. Then he remembered the TV. Laura had
forgotten to call the repairman. The screen still shone red.
She still thought about him sometimes. Since his birth he had been a nice
kid. The quietest baby they had ever seen, is what the neighbors said.
Always willing to help around the house, although he was too small to do
anything. The diagnosis came suddenly. People tried to help, but it was a
pretty big burden. She started getting more relieved as his visits to the
hospital increased. Finally, one day, she just kept walking. Forgot about
it. Started a new life.
It was almost lunchtime, and he was getting anxious. He hated eating,
especially when he was feeling nauseous, but the nurse on duty would always
let him walk around with her to distribute the trays. Some of them would
even hold his hand. The door opened and Cindy (had two cats and dreamed of
going to Europe) rolled the cart in.
The trays looked all the same. The roll, the grey mush, and the green jello.
He was already getting out of bed when Cindy started shaking her head.
-Not today buddy. We are having one hell of a day with your new neighbor and
we don‚t need any more problems.
He didn‚t even need to protest, since his face showed his disappointment.
Cindy truly felt bad for him and she promised that maybe later they could
play Snakes and Ladders. They always let him win, but he didn‚t mind. He
knew they did it out of love.
At first there had been nightmares. Always the same. Floating slowly
downwards, like a feather. He tried to see underneath him but there was only
darkness. Suddenly a gap opened in the darkness and a white light shone from
it. As soon as he entered the gap, it would close and the walls would start
to melt, in swirls of black, gray, and red, and he would start falling more
and more rapidly. Then he would wake up.
It must have been around three in the morning. Of course, there was no way
he could be sure, since the display of his alarm clock flashed red twelves
and zeros. There must have been a power failure sometime during the night.
The hospital had a generator, but somehow the alarm clock still displayed
the flashing numbers. The boy was wide awake, but it wasn‚t as if he had
insomnia, but as if his body was sure that it was already morning. He even
felt the urge to brush his teeth. It was then that he heard the sound. It
was muffled, but definitely it was the sound of somebody whimpering. At
first, the boy was not sure where it was coming from (where was the
maternity floor again?) but after a while he was pretty certain that the
crying came from the room next door. The boy opened his door slowly, so the
night nurses wouldn‚t hear him. He tiptoed to the door next to his and glued
his ear to the door. Yes, the sound was definitely coming from inside. His
hands slid across the door to the doorknob. He had his hands wrapped around
it, but still, he did not dare open the door. The picture of a grown man
crying, especially that fierce man he had seen the other day on the hall,
was inexplicably frightening. It was then that he saw the scrap of paper
just peeking out from the bottom of the door. He crouched next to it, and
carefully, with only two fingers, pulled it out. He turned around quickly,
entered his room, and climbed on his own bed, still holding the paper.
It was pretty small, about the size of a label, but it was perfectly cut,
with no rough edges or anything. It was folded in half, as if it was a note
of some sort. The boy opened the paper, and it had only one word written on
it, all in capital letters: ŒT R A P P E D‚. The boy was scared. To him the
hospital was his home, and although he had come to terms with death a while
ago (after all, everybody dies at some time or another), he could not think
of a better place to die than there. He was sure the doctors would do
anything to help him, and having them and the nurses around was just so
comforting. He didn‚t know what to do, so he lay wide awake just clutching
the note in his closed fist.
„Ever heard about a dream in reverse?‰ The voice that asked was vaguely
familiar (maybe the memory of a voice?). It started with the unmelting of
walls. The unswirls of red, gray, and black. Going out of the gap. Zip it
up. Pitch black. Pulled upwards. Up. Black. Up. Black.
-…Wake up, honey.
He just caught the end of the sentence but the voice of the nurse startled
him. He opened his eyes and saw Jan (who had married her high-school
sweetheart) standing over him with a worried look.
-Were you having a bad dream?
-I didn‚t sleep very well last night.
-Oh honey, you should take a nap then.
-But today is reading day. I wanna know what happens to Charlie!
-Honey, reading day was canceled. They are using the room for a very
She leaned closer and almost whispered.
-It‚s about our new arrival.
Jan started wiping the sweat away from his head. Suddenly the boy knew
something was wrong. The nurse did not remove her hand from his forehead,
and now she was frowning.
-Honey, I think you are running a temperature. I‚m gonna call one of the
A perennial red screen. Lunch trays being auto-distributed. Snakes and
sladders slithering ceaselessly. A chocolate factory becoming a prison to a
boy who can never get out.
The doctor was fairly young. The boy wasn‚t sure if he had ever seen him
around. There were always so many doctors and doctors-to-be that it was hard
to keep track of all of them.
-Good morning, my name is Doctor Johnson.
He had a limp handshake, and the boy didn‚t know how much he could trust
him. Dr. Johnson proceeded with the routine examination: tongue out, ahhh,
look into the light… The boy‚s temperature was indeed high… Jan walked
briskly in. Patient next door was starting to act up again. They wanted to
know if they could give him more sedatives. Dr. Johnson said he was going to
go check on him. He hastily assured the boy that his fever was nothing to
worry about. Probably some virus that was going around. He prescribed some
white pills and left without saying good-bye.
The rest of the day was spent in a daze. He dozed off many times, but could
never seem to get enough rest. Different nurses came interminably in his
room to ask if he was OK, or something along those lines. The fever was
persisting, and by dinner time, the boy was even sweating cold. Right before
his bedtime, the night nurse (he couldn‚t even say who it was) came in to
assure him that she would be there if he needed anything at all. He thanked
her as she tucked him into bed. He went to sleep right away, still tired
from the previous sleepless night.
The smell of his own sweat on the pillow. Dark outside. Impossible to tell
the exact time time. 12:00. 12:00. 12:00. The flash of paper. The note from
last night lay forgotten underneath the pillow. TRAPPED. Death, the escape.
The man wanted to die. The boy‚s throat was scratchy and dry. The nurses,
always worried about him. Ungrateful. Probably had a family somewhere too.
Who cared about him. A real family. The boy opened his door and looked into
the hallway. It was completely empty. The bitter bitter man. And the note.
He opened the man‚s door and stepped in, making hardly any noise at all. A
movement caught his eye. Maybe there was a nurse there. The boy turned
slowly. He was looking at himself. The face in the mirror seemed strangely
unfamiliar. The boy turned away. Machines connected to his selfish body by
many tubes, more than he had ever seen in any other patients. The nurses
were always complaining about the lack of equipment. No point in wasting so
much in somebody like him. The boy was now standing right next to the man‚s
bed, and he could see his chest moving up and down. Up and down. In perfect
time with the endless beeping. The boy‚s small fingers moved down the panel
of one of the machines. Even in the dark, he found the switch he was looking
for. It was red. Still watching the man, he flipped the switch. The symphony
went quiet. The man‚s chest was still moving up and down. Up. And down.
Almost imperceptibly, it moved a beat slower. Suddenly the man‚s eyes
opened. In a flash, the boy saw the face he had seen in the mirror. The
movement of his chest was very slow now. The familiar unfamiliar face smiled
at the boy. The chest stopped.
The next day, Cindy and Laura were unusually busy. It was somewhat uncommon
to have two deaths on the same night. They were secretly relieved that the
old rude man was gone, but the boy had always been so sweet. It was a real
pity he had finally succumbed to a fever sometime during the night, as the
doctor had concluded. They were really going to miss him.
That evening, as the nurses made their way home, they wanted to remember
the name of the boy who had died the previous night, but, as much as they
tried, they could not.