Thunder finally cascades across the sky, chasing the gentle rippling flashes of lightening, barely seen above the thick cloud bank. Here on earth the alarm rings for the second time. I pull my body from the futon's surface and drag myself vertical. I tell myself, outloud to the dense air of the room, You must lose these last five extra pounds, and then I remember that I'm out of coffee. I stand in front of the window above my desk, right hand circling left wrist, poised to slide my feet into the fuzziness of my slippers. I fall into a stupor, landing before another window, long ago.
I stand in a sterile hallway peering through an open bedroom door. I shift in my duty shoes, crinkling the stiff polyester uniform. The room in front of me has only pale illumination, yet night has not descended on the hospital. Something stirs within and I think, What am I seeing? One step brings me closer; then I know.
The room's occupant clings to the window sill, spread full against the glass. He cannot escape; the bars keep him from tumbling three floors to the ground. A thought looms: Can he shatter the window and cut himself if he continues this relentless beating on the pane? I tell myself, You need to call the code. But the sight immobilizes me.
The patient's bulk fills the window. His body heaves once, twice; I think he will fall backwards. Then he stretches his arms and resumes banging his fists against the glass. He turns his head, jerks his shoulders. He cries out; I can see one side of his face. Sweat, or tears, or blood obscure his eyes.
Still I do not move. Still I stand. His wailing pours out and fills the corridor.
Suddenly the rush of someone running past sends me staggering to one side. An aide thunders into the room and hauls the patient to the ground, casting him to the floor. Others flood the hallway: The code team, with their crash cart, their syringes, their restraints. Someone pressed the panic button. The last white-clad nurse closes the bedroom door against the terrible sound of the patient's anguish.
I walk back to the nurse's station and sink into my chair. I stare at the stack of charts on which I had been working before an unseen hand pulled me to the other side of the Dutch door, drawing me to the dimness of that awful room.
My hand shakes as I reach for my pen and resume my work. I think: I've got to find a different job.
A nurse enters the area and stands in front of me. I see the trouble on her face. She asks, Why didn't you get help? I know I've violated protocol. I understand. I shrug. I drop my pen. My right hand sneaks across my chest, to circle my left wrist. I hold this pose, looking down, hoping she'll go away.
She pats my shoulder, and passes behind me to pour a cup of dredge from the percolator. My shoulders drop. I reach for my pen, and go back to transferring meaningless gibberish into something the pharmacy can understand.
The thunder has relented now, and releases soothing rain to fall on my dry yard. I stand in the front doorway and watch the flags fluttering in the silent wind. My plan to weed the hostas must wait; I'll clean closets instead. I see a pair of birds clinging to the shuddering limbs of the maple tree. I wonder why they still sing, despite the surrounding drabness. What do they know, that I have not discovered? A dinging from the kitchen tells me that my mug of leftover coffee has finished warming. I turn away, moving back into the quiet of my home to start my chores.
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