b e s s    w i n t e r


The Nurse

Predictability of Spines

The Nurse


The Nurse left work at five-o-clock. He cracked his joints and wiped his hard hands on a rag as he stalked home in the dawn.

“The Nurse don’t drive,” said Jon. “The Nurse too bad to drive.” And Jon and the boys watched The Nurse stump past stores and dead lots till he was gone.

Then they turned back in to the bar, took up their mops and their bleach and their rags and kept on till there was no more blood on the stools, no more teeth in the bowls of nuts, no more shards of bone lost in cracks in the floor. Till they could go home clean, with bills in clips. Till the work The Nurse had done was gone.

That day, on his mom’s couch with the den’s shades drawn for sleep, Jon dreamed of his next job, and his next, and then. He dreamed of where he would be soon if he worked hard. He dreamed of rolls of cash, the clack of the die, the flip of a card. Of a car. Of a house. Of the white blaze of a knife. In the dream, he snatched it all quick and ran. In the dream, he knew the dream would end. In the dream, he was like all the boys, the live and the dead. He was stalked by the mean hulk of The Nurse, who would come one day to split him in to parts: the bones, the teeth, the blood, all for some bright new boy to hide clean.



Predictability of Spines


Rout had an epiphany. He knew epiphanies were the stuff of bad endings: cerebellar fireworks that petered out and left a dim trace of sulfur in their wake. But there was nothing that had come before to indicate this was an ending. So maybe it was a beginning.

I want to fly to Jupiter on a grain of rice. I want to make love to ectoplasm. I want to squeeze my soul into an orange: these were his desires. But his desires weren’t the epiphany; the epiphany revolved around the world’s inability to let him fulfill his own desires, to even nudge him towards fulfilling them.

Rout reshelved books with an especial zeal that afternoon; he reshelved books and books and books waiting for his shift at Books and Books to end. If this was a beginning, he was at the center of a story in which there was sure to be conflict right ahead. Perhaps something he would enjoy or perhaps something perplexing. When he left Books and Books he borrowed a book, as usual, and waited for his bus, which might be late, he thought. It wasn’t.

The faces on the bus were the familiar floating faces (petals on a black bough, thought Rout); the route was unobstructed, and Rout returned home at the usual time. There was no mail waiting for him in his mailbox. His roommate, Behn, had done the dishes. Behn always did the dishes. Behn never left a trace of his own existence. Behn was the best roommate Rout had ever had by virtue of being quiet, considerate and almost invisible.

So Rout sat himself in a straight-backed chair and waited for his conflict. When it did not arrive, he threw on his coat and sent himself out onto Manning Avenue. He stalked beneath the globed streetlights (illumined pearls, thought Rout) until he reached College Street, where thick-bellied patrons of the many resto-bars and Italian restaurants and clubs flowed down the sidewalks like blood cells in a raucous artery. Surely, thought Rout, he could find a conflict here.

But the patrons flowed around him like so many fish avoiding a diver. Each enjoyed or lamented his or her evening without taking any notice of Rout, who even stopped to accost one or two passers-by. Each shrugged him off and walked away, or sidestepped him as if he were a beggar or a drunk. Then the crowds petered out and Rout returned to his home on Manning Avenue and lay, sleepless, in his bed, listening for the sounds Behn might make coming home: a key in the lock, careful footsteps on the old floorboards, the tap running in the bathroom. The house was silent.

Rout continued to wait through the next day and the next and many days after that, which droned on in perfect symmetry like a garland of paper dolls. He shelved and reshelved books at Books and Books. He stalked the streets of his neighbourhood. He waited for Behn, who was never home. His conflict evaded him still. He found solace, soon, in the shelving and reshelving of books, in the predictability of spines. It pushed him into a meditative state whereby he excused his mind from shelving and reshelving and looked down on the structure of his predicament. An answer floated on the edge of his consciousness like a point of light. When he tried to face it directly it raced for cover beneath his menial task. When he returned to his meditation it eased towards him again, hovering just there, just out of reach. It occurred to Rout that here might be his conflict. It occurred to him, too, that perhaps this was another lousy epiphany, another non-ending, and what would he do then?



BESS WINTER holds an M.F.A. from Bowling Green State University, where she was Special Projects Editor of the Mid-American Review. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in PANK, Berkeley Fiction Review, Gargoyle, Wigleaf, JMWW, Pindeldyboz, Adbusters, and elsewhere.

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