Featured Fiction
// Colin Spensley

My own footsteps are the only sound that disturbs the thick, woollen blanket of silence that wraps itself around Ward G tonight. Since administration told us to stop calling it the “graveyard” shift, a few of us custodians have started to refer to the hours spanning from two to five o’clock in the morning as “the deadtime”. Honestly though, I’m the only guy around here who sees almost no death in this damned hospital during the deadtime. Ward G is the recovery section of this hospital in central Chicago, and not much happens during the deadtime. Nights pass as I sweep invisible dirt tracked in by the ghostly shoes of patients in heavy states of sedation or the deepest of sleep.

A cough from down the soft-lit hall breaks my inner concentration. I spin hard on my heel and it makes a satisfying squeak on the freshly waxed floor, open the door and once more, I’m in 11B.

This room has been empty for a few days now, and I’ve been spending a lot of time here during the deadtime. Some old guy with a lot of dough paid extra to have his own room while he recovered from some sort of stomach operation, so they carted in a big TV, some extra pillows, and a mini-fridge full of mineral water. The way things go around here, it’ll probably sit empty like this for weeks, or at least I can hope it does.

I breathe in. The smell of disinfectant has become so familiar to me now, like mother's cooking or dad's garage, so normal, like walking through the front door of the home you grew up in. I glance into the tiny mirror over the tiny sink. Haven’t shaved in a couple days, but who cares? The only people I see around here is Susan the night nurse and Bob my boss, but he’s drunk half the time and Susan doesn’t want anything to do with me. I adjust my name tag; “George C. – Custodian”. I read it aloud before opening the fridge and examining a leftover bottle of pills on the middle shelf.

“Promethazine hydrochloride…hmm…” Cracking one of those mineral waters, I pop two of the pills. I throw myself down on the bed and switch on the television. ER is on again and I relish it for a moment. I see the hardworking doctors rushing between gurneys as nurses run to fetch supplies and solutions. Bones are set, cuts stitched, and stomachs pumped. Oh the mess! The gore … It’s all just so … glorious! A fictional patient has severed his jugular and the blood is everywhere. Pouring from his neck like a fruit punch waterfall.

My mind wanders from the television and I reflect on the custodians who must dart in to dispose of such a mess. Oh, for they are the unsung heroes of the ER wards, aren’t they? Imagine doctors setting their own broken wrists because no one was around to mop up the vomit, piss, or blood. A chuckle escapes my dry throat and I take another swig from the cool bottle of water. The green glass bottle feels good in my hands and the region of France where this water comes from is probably beautiful this time of year. … So I heave the bottle against the wall, and watch it smash into a thousand emerald snowflakes and the remaining water pool onto the floor in between the shards, little islands in a fizzing sea.

No sounds emerge from the hall; no one has woken from my act of self-induced rebellion. The television's warm glow captures my attention again – a cleaning commercial for disinfectant. I chuckle and begin to undo my boots, slowly. My eyes don’t leave the screen as each lace comes undone. An ad for a digestive biscuit, a public service announcement… “And now back to our regular programming …” A female doctor has an obese man sliced open like some sort of human road kill. The blood is everywhere … I can see his liver, his kidney, and his heart open on display like some morose peep show … I take off my socks and get out of the bed. I reach for the broom next to the window and place my bare feet into the shattered remains of the bottle and press down with all my weight. I can feel the glass cutting into my soles and the blood starts to seep out, mixing with the mineral water.

//Colin Spensley, writer
/Graphics by Caitlyn Neufeld

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