Hey, the newest installment of the hospital series for you, our dear gentle reader(s)! Quick preliminary notice: Jeff and I will be hosting a poetic performance at the Okay Mountain art gallery on June 14th. We'll email and all that other great stuff shortly, but I just can't contain myself at the moment and must let people know now. Zagets!
Lola watched french fries sizzle in pig fat greasers. She imagined her fingers stuck in the mix, plumping in the burn. A man across the cafeteria sat in a blue booth, munching a biscuit. Lola thought of him as a burn victim; his hair was burnt and his face was red mash. The kind of man who waits roadside in hot summertime, passing out for lack of water. His gown told Lola that this man was a recent acquisition at the hospital, a virgin of IV solutions and dank white gleaming light.
“Gonna’ get those, darling,” Esmeralda joked behind Lola. She was senior staff in the kitchen, but she had little authority in her voice.
“Oh, right,” Lola replied, snapping from the daydream of Our Sacred Lady of scarred flesh.
The flies flopped out into a metallic catch tray, ricocheting fry oil onto her apron. It matched a ketchup stain Lola had acquired earlier in the morning. She made the two spots kiss as she wiped them into the folds of the apron.
“Fries are done, Ez.” Lola removed her white hat a moment and thumbed at her hair net. Blue fingernail polish mixed with her blonde locks. The kitchen was a furnace, but she couldn’t remain free of the tyranny of the hat for too long. Everything, in the end, must be sanitary. Must must must to wash my hands, she said to herself, and caught a glimpse of a handsome doctor before she exited into the back room.
In this tiled part of the kitchen, Harold the dishwasher stood alone, wiping his hands on his pants. Lola nodded her head his way. His missing teeth were cause for concern. Lola passed him readily, imagining his hands all over the silverware. She needed fresh air. Lola played at a box of cigarettes in her pocket. She made for the back exit way and kicked the door open. Lola leaned against the support of a brick wall and stared into the haze of the blue sky. She had a dream last night that she was free from life, just floating in the ether. Or was that it. She tried to remember and lit a cigarette.
Lola had wings. Smooth blue feathers all over her naked body seemed
to catch the wind with every turn. She was high above the hospital looking down
on the happiness, the carnage, and the normal. She flew over mountains. The
faces of all the men in her life seemed etched into the rocks below her. She
landed on the ground only to discover the soil was made of jelly. Hunchbacks
with straw hats tended the earth with giant forks. Lola felt alone, but
liberated. She flapped her wings and soared once again above the ground. From
the sky all the jelly of the earth flowed into a centralized black hole. Lola
whistled in quick bursts. She saw another feathered creature flying toward
her. They were about to embrace when...
That was more like it. She put the cigarette down and imagined the hospital in the evening. It must have been a hungry place, a vacant building of blinking souls eating bits of plastic morsels from vending machines. The thought turned her stomach. Lola returned to the kitchen; she flicked her cigarette as she went.
Harold had gone, leaving his apron slung on the dirty clothes hamper. Lola imagined a rat sitting behind a large cooking vat, rubbing its teeth greedily with its paws. But the hospital would kill such a creature. No bacteria, no virus, no vermin. Such was the way of the world, Lola old girl, she told herself, and sanitized her hands while counting the cracks in the cement wall. She returned to the front line of the kitchen.
A young boy stood on the opposite side of the glass counter. He slid a red tray down the round chrome pipes that served as a stand. Some mashed potatoes, some red beans, a bit of spaghetti. The kid had large glasses and a thin face. He reminded Lola of her younger brother. She wanted him to juggle pies, or to do it for him. Move along, young man, she said under her breath, and imagined him growing tall and strong and tossing trays around the hospital café. Her vision wandered around the cafeteria again.
A couple, old and black, sat together in bathrobes. The man was bald and the woman had deep-set wrinkles. They were sharing a bit of ice cream in a beige bowl. He tried to feed the woman, but she was dodging the airplane of his spoon, laughing. Lola smiled. She did not notice Esmeralda sneak up from behind.
“Boo!” she sounded, placing a banana in Lola’s back.
Lola jumped and shrieked quietly. “Oh you bitch!” she played back, swatting at the banana.
“Hey girl, I just wanted to tell you we’ll need to put the bread rolls in a little earlier today. There’s supposed to be a big crowd coming. Cancer researchers, I think I heard.”
“Oh, okay. Sure thing Ez. Like what, in an hour from now or so?”
Esmeralda shook her head and traipsed into the back room, holding an egg beater. She was an enigma. To work in a place of vaporized water and hydrogenated kidney beans and ugly twisted old hands and the great iron sink that sucked up all chemical agents was beyond Lola. Two years, tops, is all she gave herself in this place before she moved with her boyfriend to a coastline somewhere east or west. But Esmeralda seemed happy. That is what life should be, or pretend to be, Lola thought, and wondered about bread rolls falling on an operating floor.
Lola glanced at the time and realized she had nearly half an hour before the lunch rush. This empty mid-morning cafeteria was getting to her; best to make a break for it, old girl. She checked the milk containers quickly, winked at one of the cashiers, and paced out from behind the counter and down one of the white halls.
Lola had discovered a near abandoned hall with a secret room in her short time here at the hospital. She felt the tug of a cat-nap; just down down the way from a blood clinic, past frozen viral samples. She had seen young intern doctors cram twenty minutes of sleep into empty cafeteria booths. Why not Lola? She carefully slid about the halls until she snuck down her secret walkway. Behind her secret door, an old locker room with an older bathroom waited, near dusty, near complete in its abstinence from human complications. Lola jumped past the locker room and into a bathroom stall. She closed her eyes a moment, thought of her younger brother, where he was now, then faded into a quick sleep.
Thousands of rats crawled over bronze busts of wealthy bald white
men. There were so many rats. Lola was in a box. She could barely breathe.
Her lungs burned. Her heart raced. She could see a man coming toward her. He
was yelling or waving his hand or dancing. It was too unclear. The rats had
kicked up quite a bit of dust and began eating through the walls. Lola knew
she would die. The man got closer but still his face remained unknown to her.
A large bucket of grease dangled above her head. The rats wanted the juice.
They wanted to indulge. Lola saw 40 one-eyed women get out of a van and enter
the space where she was standing. The cyclops women were holding large nets.
This would stop the rats from advancing.
The door to the bathroom swung open, startling and waking Lola. Two women entered; their shoes were pitch black. They rustled and fussed over faucets until speaking.
“Did you hear about Tina?”
“No. What happened? Where is she?”
“She got let go. She was stealing morphine.”
“No! Oh my god, not Tina! Really? She got caught?”
“Well, yeah. That’s what I heard at least. I mean, you don’t see her around anymore, do you?”
“Well, no. I don’t. But that’s a shame. I always liked her. In fact, sometimes we’d come in here after eating lunch and just gab. You know, get away from it all. I can’t believe she was stealing. Jesus.”
“Yeah, I don’t know if she was using or what. Just one day, she’s roaming the halls, pleasant with a smile on her face, then the next – gone. Lickety-split. I’ll miss her too. We used to gossip about Dr. Reynolds. You know, that cute one over in Post-Partem.”
“Who’s that? I don’t think I know him?”
“Oh - ”
The women stopped talking suddenly. Lola thought she could hear them whisper. Suddenly the two ladies stomped off and left the bathroom. Lola waited a few moments and exited the bathroom herself. For an unknown reason, her heart was skipping and jumping. She was excited. She’d stolen a conversation, one of the best things to do in a hospital. And the morphine: Lola had stolen breaf from the cafeteria before, but morphine was much sexier. If she was a hospital thief, she’d steal wheelchairs and send them rolling into lakes and streams. Or she’d steal gowns and stitch blankets from them. Lola stuck her head into the hall and made sure the women had gone.
Lola felt as if she got away with something. She was part of the invisibility of the old hallways of the hospital. I am a fly in the ether. It was the sag of the shoulders, the dip of the head, that allowed one to attain anonymity at Our Sacred Lady. Lola’s only offense, the only noticeable element of her person, was her slight scent of fried food. And as such, she sauntered back down the empty white halls, white shoes squeaking. Soon enough, men would be talking around her, fixing their hair, wearing smocks, counting things like boats and bank accounts. Women would be scratching their noses and fixing glasses and speaking about their husbands. Children would be attacking their plates with plastic cutlery. Lola was not eager to return to the grind, but only for a moment she wanted to escape and run out through the front entrance, tossing her clothes about the abandon of cigarettes and hairnets.