The lines on her patient’s face and the purple, obsidian bruises under paper bag skin were behind a fog and Cherry couldn’t tell if she were at work or home. A million footprints brought this meeting to room 155, hers and his. It was her job to see him through and send him on his way, better than he was when he arrived. She’ll never forget her first.
Whatever I see or hear in the lives of my patients, whether in connection with my professional practice or not, which ought not to be spoken of outside, I will keep secret, as considering all such things to be private. —the Oath
“I’ve been holding this in for decades,” he said. He didn’t feel the needle dive subcutaneous. He closed his eyes and the black behind his eyelids gave way to the memory. He forced his eyes open again and looked at the hem of her sleeve then the unmarked skin of her upper arm where it met her nurse’s smock.
“What’s that, Bobby?” She slowly pulled the needle back and put the cotton and tape over the hole the better to stop the bleeding. Blood traveled faster at his age and rushed holes not meant to be there.
“Nothing. Just a regret that I can’t unload.”
“Ah. I’m sure whatever it is you’ve more than made up for it over the years. You’ve got a wonderful family.”
His eyes met the window halfway and the flickering shadows from the leaves in the wind played havoc with his anxiety. “Nurse Koora?”
“Yeah, friend. I’m right here.” She looked over her shoulder to see what he might be looking at. Nothing but window, the sun through trees near the window setting orange way back in the horizon. She used to be a doctor. It wasn’t that many years ago but now that time felt about as far away as the sun.
It was a nightingale in the leaves that she overlooked. For his part, he tried to recall what he knew of the bird. He named it then without a word. That, he committed to take to the grave even as his worst regret began to flutter to his lips. For now, he said, “Never mind.”
“Okay, Bobby. Why don’t you try to sleep a little? The series is on again tonight.”
“What’s the score again?”
“Kansas City leads it two to one. Game four starts at 7:30.”
“Who’s singing the anthem tonight?”
“That I don’t know. Want me to close the shades?”
“Just about halfway, please. Thanks.”
Nurse Koora left the room. The door clicked behind her like a vault.
Above all, I must not play at God. —the Oath
Sally Koora plugged info about Bobby into the computer behind the nurse’s desk. A few patients loitered in the hallways without anything to do, maybe asleep. Maybe not.
“How’s your boy?” Trucella asked.
“Good. Going to college in fall.”
“Good to hear. He doing okay after the thing?”
Sally didn’t hear her. She studied Bobby’s info. Spouse’s name. Children’s name. Date of birth. Trucella looked at Sally. Maybe shouldn’t have asked about her son. Long day though.
“Could you call maintenance and have them fix the exit sign down the south wing?”
“Is it out?”
“Flickering. About to go out again.” Sally heard her pick up the phone and make the call. Must have been Jimmy on the other end. Her voice got soft and flirty. Wonder if her husband knows, Sally thought. She rolled her mind’s eye while her face remained placid.
“Did you say the north end, Sal?”
“South,” she said, wanted to finish with, and stop calling me Sal. Jimmy ain’t impressed. Or was he? Maybe she had it all wrong. Maybe not.
She had a dream once.
The director yelled, “Cut!”
Eternity University hallway. The loitering crowd waiting for the cast list. All life’s “poor players” eager to “strut and fret.” The cast she tended with the connection of a propmaster backstage with the objects. When the director yelled cut it was her that closed the scene. Her face, the last one seen before the poor player slipped into their dream.
Jimmy came down the hall with a stepstool and his tools. A grin for Trucella and a nod for Sally. If she hadn’t been distracted by the stepstool banging against his toolbox, she wouldn’t have seen Robert’s wife round the corner behind him. They made no eye contact. Sally saw the manila folder tucked at Mrs. Weaver’s elbow triggering her imagination. A will? A contract? Some form for a fond farewell? She wrapped up her data entry and grabbed a coffee back in the little get away room as the nurse’s called it.
“Ramona, I don’t want to leave her this way.”
“It’s what she wants, Bobby. I know it has to hurt. But if we think of it as giving her the gift she actually wants instead of the one we thinks she needs,” tears hung from the cliff face of the corners of her eyes. Don’t look down.
“But, we are her parents. We are supposed to do what we think she needs. I can’t sign it. If you want to forge my name when I’m gone, well, there’s not much I can do about that.” Night beyond the window looked cold and he couldn’t help thinking that’s what the grave would look like. It wasn’t until later that the concept of absolute nothing, even the inability to know darkness, penetrated his understanding.
He pushed his little red button with the white plus sign raised in relief.
Sally saw her pager. Room 155 buzzing. On her way to the room she spun a wheel of misfortune to come up with some pretext to find out what Robert’s regret could be. Mrs. Weaver wasn’t cold to her but she wasn’t given to gush with information either. Why would she be?
“Mr. Weaver,” Sally said. Then she broke through her own trepidation, “Bobby W, what can we do for you?”
Mrs. Weaver chuckled and smiled down at Bobby.
“Nurse Koora, I need to use the toilet.”
He was down about 70 pounds from what he weighed a year ago. It allowed her to get him in the wheelchair with no assistance but it was still a dance of leverage and determination.
In the bathroom, she got him set on the toilet and saw his eyes watery and asked if he was okay. A sniffle and a wave. She exited and waited for him to call her.
“Thank you. I’m not strong enough, thin as he is now.”
“That’s what we’re here for, Mrs. Weaver.” She paused barely a second. “Is he okay? He’s crying a bit.”
“Just some family stuff. One of his daughters is upset.”
“It happens at times like these.”
Mrs. Weaver looked at her a moment. “This started years ago, afraid to say.”
“Koora,” he called, dropping the formality.
“Alright, Bobby W, do you want to stay in the chair or back in bed?”
“Here for now. Thanks. Are you on duty all night?” He laughed a little and then repeated his joke, “On doodie?” She laughed a little, too. Mrs. Weaver’s head dropped and she shook her head.
“Yeah, BW, I’m here through the night.”
I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm. —the Oath
There was a gang of nurses in the hospice center worked together to reduce the load of material possessions wards in their charge came into their realm with. And they could smell one of their own. The proper family would be so noticeably concerned with the health of their loved ones that a cut-rate magician’s skill of misdirection would suffice in making sure the slip of a ring, the lift of a document went unseen through their grief.
So that on an autumn morning when the daughter of the patient in 242 walked in as Nurse 1 and Nurse 2 were dressing the patient, “Patiently waiting while we pinch this locket,” 1 said to 2; they saw immediately one cut from the same cloth. A near matriarchal deference in their half-executed genuflection occurred so involuntarily 1 and 2 blushed.
But they were all no match for Nurse Koora. Papers would call her Cherry Blossom as the trial took on a national scope, not only because of the heinous audacity, but the literal miles connecting dots from Elliott Bay to Biscayne Bay. Port to port and multiple posts in-between. And all of it worn on her sleeve. The collective imagination of the country would find itself rapt and grasping to understand; but comprehension in such matters is rarely easy or quick.
1 and 2 hastily put a ring and the locket under the patient’s pillow as the daughter, facing the rain jeweled window, wrote and email to the Honorable Judge Dunbar.
Sometime ago, in this wing of the center, a patient since passed, struck upon the idea of calling Nurse Koora “Cherry Blossom.” She was wiping his bottom at this Eureka! moment. The grimace on her face wasn’t simply fatigue, but this name. This name would appear in affadavits and judge’s minutes beside, “AKA.” This name would spill blood-like from the lips and pens of the media and wind its way into pop culture; paintings, movies, books, blogs, matching tats, and music. The song “Nightingale” would spend 28 weeks at the top of the charts with lyrics, “When my cherry blossoms it will sing you to sleep. Unclick the cap on my lip stick and let the needle slip. Let me skip town and skip the record. Needle Dee and Needle Dum. Needle Dee Needle Dum. Your heart beat’s under my thumb.”
Up and down the road and the branches of her sleeve from her shoulder to her forearm the petals shivered. She knew one day it would end and probably how; but now she knew the alias the media would give to pop culture, “Cherry Blossom.” Petals, snow white, that fall to the earth and rest like a pall as winter turns to spring. The Revealer of All Things exposing winter’s fragility and its own mortality.
Nurse 1 overheard one day this patient call her by this nickname and during a smoke session on the patio during the monthly pot luck let slip across her tongue, “Cherry Blossom.”
I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science… —the Oath
To the artist she said, “I need to add one petal to this branch.”
“Just the one?”
“One.” Sally removed her smock.
“Tomorrow will be better; one less thing to worry about.”
“I hear ya.”
Doubt it, she thought.
With the fingers of his left hand splayed on her upper bicep to still the surface, the ink gun drew the outline of a Cherry Blossom petal.
Later at home she thought of 155. Back in Washington state it was easier to leave than stay. With all this time and the sakura maturing on her arm, it was easier to get set in her own ways. “I don’t recall.” Occasionally she caught herself in the middle of one thought rehearsing her lines for a trial that would surely find her one day. “I don’t recall.” Like an eraser across the long chalkboard without a thorough follow-up cleaning the words, at least some of them, remain visible. Exhibit one. She fantasized that first one would be the hardest to get through. After, the rest of the exhibits would just wash over her like a dream. She figured pounding heartbeats of anxiety and tremoring hands were something a weaker mind would endure. She would sit, she figured, as stoic as the day was long.
But she shook that off and returned to the screen reading about 155, Robert Weaver. Years ago, as he chewed on his regret and edited his confession over and over in the hopes that by making it clear it would seem logically inevitable to any listener, Sally began researching his family and friends. He was young for his condition and it left many witnesses to be interrogated She started with social media. It was a hands-off intrusion that would go unnoticed by nearly everyone. She saw his daughter’s wedding pics. His grandson’s baby pics. A snapshot of Mr. Weaver in uniform at a welcome home event out at the airbase; which turned into a rabbit hole all its own during a two-bottle night down the River Merlot. But she always came back to his other daughter’s social media. One page. One picture. No details. Corinne Weaver. Never came to visit him in the hospice. Never called. Never sent a note or a flower.
Bobby W., she started calling him near the end, never said a word about Corinne. Sally overheard conversations here and there between his other daughter and his wife but not enough to really understand the relationship. Or lack of.
What she supposed was there was some violation of parental trust or neglect of responsibility that kept her away. Hell, once she set adrift on the River Merlot there was really any number of theories that could have led Bobby W. to a place where one of his offspring wouldn’t want anything to do with him. Nights like that, his regret was her regret. Consumed her like a gullet full of wine.
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