It’s just Joe the pharmacist, myself, and the rock playlist in the background during the graveyard shift. He’s semi-retired and dozes off every now and then. I work in an isolated room enclosed by plexiglass. Its shelves are full of pins, needles, bags, and meds. I mix IVs like a bartender would mix the finest drinks. 2 ml’s here, 4 ml’s there, pushed into a bag that shoots straight into someone’s veins.
Before I begin mixing, I make my rounds. The air conditioner pierces my skin as I walk through the corridors. At this time, the chatter, the rings, and the overhead pages have silenced. A sporadic elevator door, beeps, moans, snores, and soft wandering footsteps are the sounds that linger. There’s also a desolate mood that clings to the walls, the beds, and to those who work here.
Jameel Hamilton, 46 is the first on my list. He overdosed on heroin. His IVs are running fast. “Mix extra” I write. With luck he’ll stick around.
Heroin was Sue’s drug of choice, that’s what I heard before she died. She asked me to forgive her for all that she did, like going into labor high and drunk. I never forgave. I never recovered; I was never able to call her mom.
In the psyche ward, room 487’s TV is on all the time. His stoic body lies across from the tiny monitor hung high on the wall. When he first came in he threw faeces and spit at the nurses. Every day I go in and his eyes follow me. I don’t know if it’s a plea or a threat. His paralysing agent needs to be replenished. “Fuck the painkiller” I scribble in despise.
The people from my past are surprised that I’ve held a stable job. I grew up with the system and its scars. I heard I had a father, locked up somewhere. Sue was always too ill, too sick in self-depreciation. A black and blue across my cheek was the last draw, and at the age of 8 the cycle began, from one abusive foster home to another.
I pass by ICU room 202. Estelle Shwartz, 87 years old. Fentanyl, versed, levophed and other drips running through her veins like cobwebs. — This one’s a goner. — I think to myself. — She won’t make through the night. — Nat’s by her side, like every night. — We’ve been together for 58 years. — He told me once while covering her frail body with a warm blanket. I wonder if they have children. I wonder if they live in a white picket fence.
— Hey boy! — I hear, as I pass room 312. — Fetch me my coat! — I feel thuds in my chest and shivers down my spine. Taking two steps back I see Bill Cornwell, 79, sitting at the edge of his bed spewing venom at someone from his past while he looks out through the window. — He’s a fucking asshole. — Nurse Jackie tells me. Her Jamaican accent makes it sound like a compliment. I highlight his name on the chart.
Sue made it back into my life. — She had found Jesus. — She said, after one of the times she was at the brink of death. Towards the end she wasn’t as ill as she thought. I wasn’t as well as I was told.
Between broken limbs, sutured skin, molestations, and rape I somehow made it to high school, where fights, expulsions and detention were as common as history and math.
— You’ll have to learn how to fend for yourself. — The best advice that one of my social workers gave me. So, I signed up at the nearest technical school and beat the odds.
After my rounds I head back to the pharmacy. Joe is leaned on his chair, his head against the wall and his eyes shut. Once inside the IV room I put on my mask, head and feet covers. Then I scrub my hands, my arms and finally dress up in a lab coat and gloves. It’s like I’m a different person. I can see the whole pharmacy through the plexiglass. The phone rings and Joe types something on the computer. He looks at me and I wave back. The music sounds louder in this space. I hear the words … It’s like a face inside is right beneath my skin… playing in the background and the walls, the shelves, and my chest quiver.
Sue lived with me till the end. I watched her suffer and made sure she slowly died. .
I mix Estelle’s cocktail and think of Nat and think about how things should be.
I wonder how much pain Sue felt when the time came.
Here’s room 487, the right dose of vecuronium to completely immobilize you, but you’ll still know what’s going on. No more shit from you.
I see the highlight on my notes. My second foster dad had a bark like him. It was usually accompanied by his fat sweaty body forced into mine. — To redeem myself. — He used to say, crazy son of a bitch. The visions return. The voices sound louder. A visceral rush runs through my skin. It’s like my own kind of high. Baptism By Fire jamming from my playlist, Sue’s face within the verses and 10 ml’s extra of untraceable fentanyl to send Cornwell nine feet under.
Highway To Hell soothes my soul.
República Dominicana/Estados Unidos, 1970. Radica en los Estados Unidos desde pequeña. Escritora, fotógrafa y psicóloga. Realizó sus estudios iniciales en Nueva York y los superiores en La República Dominicana. Autora de cuentos de ficción en inglés y español. Participa del taller de escritura de Hernán Vera en Miami desde el 2017. Varios de sus aforismos fueron incluidos en la agenda Para Trillar Caminos (Nueva York, 2017). En el 2019 fue semifinalista del concurso de cuentos Cuentomania con D.E.P y en el 2020 con Luzmary Unisex. Sus cuentos La
Mosca, Caída Libre y Náufragos fueron publicados en Inficciones (Miami, 2020). “Luzmary Unisex” está incluido en la antología “Vacaciones sin hotel” (Miami, 2021).