Dingy Pastels and Deep Black

The room was the best the hospital could offer his panicked staff. Unlike the other oddly shaped quarters with bulky beds shoved against each other and perpetually buzzing screens, this one was private. Kayden Burke looked around at the dingy pastels and did his best to be thankful. He was alive, and his staff thought they could risk moving him soon.

The door opened, giving him a brief view of the busy hallway before a mousy nurse in pink scrubs shut the door behind herself. Latex gloves covered her hands and a lowered health mask cupped her chin. She didn’t say anything, giving Kayden the impression she’d been here when he’d was unconscious. He still couldn’t sit up properly without gasping, so he winced through a nod of greeting.

The stiff bandage over his throat made speaking difficult.  “Is Dr. Malel coming?” He kept the words clipped to reduce the pain.

The nurse picked up his chart, scanning the paramedic report and current medications. She nodded to him and turned to the counter, athletic shoes squeaking against the over-cleaned floor. “When?” Kayden asked.

“Within the hour, you’re on his schedule.” She turned back around and switched out his medicinal drip, replacing it with the vial from her hand. He frowned. There had been no talk of changing his pain killers or the IV regimen.

“My staff needs his signature.” He said too quickly and had to breathe through a fresh flash of pain. Kayden clenched his jaw, nostrils flaring.

The nurse paused for the first time, and looked at him. “You’re not stable enough to be moved.”

“I can’t stay here.” It wasn’t safe; he needed his own house with his own doctors and nurses. Trapped in a foreign hospital miles– countries away from real security measures, this trip was a nightmare he planned to end as soon as possible.

The nurse blinked at him, as if it was her line and she’d forgotten it. She checked the drip and then leaned over his arm to run her fingers near the needle.

“Its fine.” He snapped, wincing out of habit before he realized he couldn’t feel the lacerations in his neck or the needle in his arm, or even the latex over fingers touching the light bandage around his elbow. “My physician hasn’t changed anything. What did you do? What is that?”

“Something to help you sleep.” She said and straightened, looking to the door.

“What? No, I need to see Dr. Malel.” His voice should have risen, but seeping warmth was spreading through his chest. His vocal cords wouldn’t tighten properly. “What—.“ The realization was slow, no doubt partially due to whatever she’d just set to drip into his veins. He moved his hand.

She caught it before it reached the needle. Kayden looked up at her, mouth going slack. With terrifying ease she tucked his hand back his side.

“You’re one of them.” It didn’t hurt anymore to speak, but his tongue was getting heavy. The previously lumpy hospital bed now cradled his relaxed muscles. More so, the bullet wounds that’d torn through his abdomen no longer ached with medicated agony. Kayden was so warm and drowsy his eyelids fluttered.

The nurse looked to the door again, then back at him as he worked over what was happening. “I don-“ He swallowed. It was a silly thing to say. Kayden couldn’t help the deep sigh as his body became light. He’d never been so comfortable.

Her expression softened and she reached around him to adjust his pillow. “What you did was impressive. Not many survive something like that. This way is more pleasant.”

“I guess you’d know.” Kayden murmured. His lips barely moved to form the words. It didn’t matter now of course.

The nurse nodded.

His voice wouldn’t move above a whisper, everything was going slack. “Tell my –“ The nurse shook her head.

“I don’t do that.” The nurse said.

She pulled up the stool from the counter to his bedside and sat. Kayden flicked his gaze to her, the motion exhausting. He closed his eyes and felt the dark slide over him like a blanket. “What then?” He mouthed the words, too tired to wonder why she was still here.

“I can sit with you, and wait.” Her voice sounded as if she was speaking from very far away. Kayden felt the nurse’s fingers slide into his. She’d taken the gloves off.  Her soft skin was cool against the chemical heat suffusing his. “If you’d like.”

Kayden tried to nod but he was already sinking deep into the warm black around him.


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