“What are you eating?” Molly asked between forkfuls of salad.
“Egg salad? Didn’t they have that yesterday?”
“Yeah, it’s always cheaper the next day,” Jack said shrugging his shoulders wishing he didn’t have to say those words out loud.
Molly opened her mouth to say something that would make the awkwardness go away, something that would make Jack not feel so beaten by life, a fight that was making him old before his time. She wanted to say something but nothing came out. They continued to eat in silence.
Even above the din of the room all around him, Jack heard his keys before he actually saw Rockland Davis amble into the cafeteria. He walked into the room as if he had just tied his horse up outside. Jack unconsciously looked down at his boots to see if he was wearing spurs. Rockland’s bowlegged strut cleared a path as if he were important and not just in his mind.
“Kasper, you’re done eating,” Rockland said surveying the crowded cafeteria, willing people to clean up after themselves.
“Yeah Rock I’m almost done.”
“It wasn’t a question. There’s a P and S in room 247 that has your name all over it college boy,” Rockland said and before he sauntered away he nodded his head at Molly. “Nurse Davenport.”
“That guy is so weird,” Molly said wiping her mouth and throwing the napkin in the empty container. “What’s a P and S?”
“Puke and shit. Someone in room 247 is not having a good day, which means I’m not having a good day. But to be fair, my day really wasn’t going that great anyway. Well, I’ll see you later.”
Molly watched Jack walk away, stopping briefly outside of the cafeteria to grab the mop and bucket he set aside before sitting down for lunch. She thought about Rockland and how he tried to make Jack look so small in front of her and how he could never make Jack look small. She watched until he disappeared around the corner and only then did her heart start to beat normally again.
Jack could smell the room when he rounded the corner and had visions of just pushing that mop bucket right past 247. Almost inevitably, the person on the other end of a P and S call was someone whose time left on earth wasn't measured in years but hours. To the doctors and nurses, the name on the door no longer mattered. The person lying in that bed no longer had a name, they were only a bed. A bed that had to be taken care of, checked-in on, medicated and helped to the bathroom. And when they couldn’t make that walk, Jack was called in. He paused at the door to read the handwritten tag that bore the name Mary Allen. Jack cleaned up the once private functions of Mary Allen as the former shell of a woman struggled to breathe under the weight of the cotton hospital blanket. Her breaths came out as mucus filled rasps that filled the room with sickness.
“Mary Allen,” Jack said while he wiped up the last traces of humanness of Mary Allen with no more emotion than he would sweeping his own kitchen.