Might As Well Live (Part 2)

The next morning i’m already awake at 6:30 – having listened to the raving woman wandering the halls shouting incoherently about somebody having been shot, beaten and stabbed (there’s blood everywhere, we’re losing him!) the entire night, – when a deep, booming masculine voice echoes up and down the unit -

“Vitals, vitals, it’s time for vitals! Everybody up! Vitals!”

I sit up and watch my room-mates shuffle, zombie-like & gibbering to themselves, out of the room and into the hall, turning left. I rake my hand through my hair and swear. I get up and walk over to the metal mirror in the room (no glass in the rooms except for the windows, which are thick as Hell and, i imagine, pretty unbreakable). My eyes look swollen and red and i’m pale – my cheekbones look like razors-slashes in the weird, dim light.

“Vitals!”

I consider just staying in my room, telling them i have a migraine (not exactly untrue), but think the better of it – that voice doesn’t sound like it belongs to the kind of man i want to mess around with. The lights in the hallway are the same life-leeching institutional florescent, only ten times brighter and i follow the sound of voices to a line of drooling, ranting, stinking people of all ages and colors (crazy is the great leveler, i guess; God’s neither a sexist nor a bigot), waiting to have their temperature and blood pressure taken. A man with a huge Santa-Claus gut is shouting about Jesus and the Latin Kings, yelling, “Vitals!” along with a tall light-skinned black man with a clipboard and shiny bald head – the owner of the echoing baritone. The other man is short and squat – and clearly a patient.

“Hey, girl, hey girl – you new around here, blanca? It’s alright, you gotta stand in line and get your blood pressure taken…praise Jesus and his name and you be ok, what’s your name? I’m a soldier of the Lord, taken from his almighty left hand – i’ve been here since i was born, but they don’t keep you for too long don’t worry – i been here since i was nine years old, but they gonna let me outta here tomorrow, isn’t that right my brother?”

Vato-Claus turns to the big man with the clipboard, who doesn’t look at him but at me instead. He points to the chair and tells me to have a seat, it’ll just take a minute and then i can go back to bed if i want. He spares me a little grin and i sit down like he says, my eyes still stinging from the lights.

“After this is breakfast, in about an hour. If you want you can go to the TV room, if you can’t sleep. So how was your first night, anyway?”
He seems to know who i am, so i open my mouth to speak when a short man with a blank face shoves a thermometer in it. I wait till it beeps and then answer the big man with the bald head -
“Noisy – is it always like that around here?”
“Heh heh, yeah, pretty much. I’d say you’ll get used to it, but i kind of doubt that.”
“Great.”

Breakfast is reconstituted eggs, watered-down decaf coffee, orange drink and toast. The food is cold and the juice is lukewarm. The only thing hot is the decaf coffee-like substance, which tastes enough like the real thing to keep me occupied.

I wish to God i had a cigarette.

But we’re not allowed to smoke in here. Whose bright idea was it not to let pent-up crazy people smoke while they’re locked up? The tension in this place is almost palpable as it is – you can practically hear it in the air; like the high-pitched whine of a guitar string just before it snaps. People rock and moan and mutter and pace all around me as i sit in the TV room, pretending to watch the screen. I’ve asked for a book, but the little midget lady with the short red wig who apparently is the “Art Therapist” told me she’ll only give me one if i show up to her “Group” this evening. Blackmailed by the demands of my pesky, starving little brain. Of course, i agree. What choice do i have?

The phone rings; a patient answers (it’s a payphone, in the hallway by the nurses’ station, so a patient always answers). I pity the poor family members who call here. Somebody calls my name – from the sound of it, it’s Vato-Claus from this morning; “Zoe Navarro, phone!”.
I haul myself out of my chair, feeling as if i weigh a thousand pounds. The walk to the phone seems to take forever. I know it must be either Elk or Betty – i put them down as my emergency contacts – and i have no fucking idea how i’m going to explain any of this to them.

Might As Well Live (Part 2)

Cory Monday

Chicago, United States

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Short Story – read the first chapter here.

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