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The 31 Days of Hallowe'en - Nurse's Requiem

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  • brent wodehouse
    N u r s e s R e q u i e m by Maurice Broaddus Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding? -Job 12:12 Daniel nearly vomited
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 27, 2011
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      N u r s e ' s R e q u i e m

      by Maurice Broaddus

      "Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring
      -Job 12:12

      Daniel nearly vomited the first time he rolled the old lady from her
      sloshy pool of excrement. His arm buckled, almost dropping her, but Jake
      supported her with his free arm. With a few tugs on the incontinence pad,
      Jake pulled the stained one free while rolling a fresh pad under her.
      Daniel became all too aware of the odor that as-saulted his nostrils.
      Feces still covered her matted, gray pubic hair. He tried to be gentle
      when he wiped her clean, but she still groaned at his efforts.
      "Can you hand me a new gown?" Jake asked.
      "This has seen better days," Daniel said with a gallows chuckle,
      holding the soiled gown as if it threatened to rear up and bite him. His
      friends often wondered what made him choose to work in a retirement home,
      the Devil's playground. He grew up in a close-knit Bible-believing church
      that bordered on religious fundamentalism. So when the demons revealed
      themselves in order to openly live among mankind, he recognized it as a
      change in Satan's tactics and rejoiced.
      The end days were upon them.
      In the meantime, he had to be about the Lord's work. Daniel always
      had a heart for the elderly; recalling his lessons that whoever mistreats
      the least of these, widows and orphans, mistreats Him. However, the
      Regional Healthcare Center, home of the damned, was a repository of the
      best forgotten. Daniel had three nights of orientation for being a
      certified nurse's aide, which meant that he had to be paired with someone.
      Tonight, he toured with Jake. Jake was "high yella," Daniel's mother
      would've said. He had a large forehead, exag-gerated by his receding
      hairline, quite visible despite his shaved head. And he had a slim, though
      muscular, build.
      "Thank God you a dude," Jake said.
      "I'm pretty grateful." Daniel didn't want to jump to any conclusions.
      All of those Hollywood types and rappers thanked God. God didn't seem to
      really matter to them; like God bless you, it was something to say.
      "Nah, I mean it. The rest of the staff is women."
      "Kind of what I expected, you know, being a nurse's aide and all. Is
      that so bad?"
      "You ever listen to a roomful of women cackle? Plus, I'm still with
      my baby's mama, so it's not like I'm looking."
      They peeked in the next room. A rather obese man breathed with a
      wheezing snore. A teddy bear rested next to him.
      "That's Mr. Reams. If he's asleep, let him sleep," Jake said.
      "But shouldn't we check to see if he's wet?" Daniel asked.
      "How long have you been an aide?"
      "Tonight is my first night of clinicals. After ten days, I can take
      my CNA test."
      "Yeah, you sound like you just got out of those state board classes."
      Jake sighed. "He got a catheter due to his ... condition. No legs and
      shit. So if Mr. Reams is asleep, let him sleep. Same with his roommate,
      Mr. Black. Let them sleep, or they stay up all night bugging the shit out
      of you."
      Daniel followed him back to the lounge area and plopped down next to
      Jake, not noticing the man on the other side.
      Jake leaned forward to say, "Hey, Mr. Black."
      "Hurm," a razor-sharp, yet gravel-filled sound replied. "You gotta
      "It's too early for cigarettes, Mr. Black."
      "Baby, you gotta cigarette?" Mr. Black said to Sh'ron, another CNA,
      who sat across from them, wrapped in a blanket.
      "Baby, you gotta cigarette?" Jake mimicked, silencing him. Daniel
      felt a pair of eyes on his back. Mr. Black. He kept studying him when he
      thought Daniel wasn't looking. Whenever Daniel turned back to him, Mr.
      Black looked away. Not that Daniel stared at him too long; there was an
      ugliness to his yellowed, bloodshot eyes and wrinkled, flabby jowls, like
      a fat man who had lost his fat and was left with extra skin.
      "No one told me we had such a good-looking man up in here." Sh'ron's
      voice had an annoying nasal rasp; a beautiful picture spoiled by talking.
      Her deer-brown eyes studied him like he was the last rib at a barbecue. A
      mole accented her left cheek in an intriguing way; bright red lipstick
      anointed her full sensual lips.
      "Thanks," Daniel said.
      "You in church?"
      "I could tell. I bet you in pretty deep, huh? Guess you off-limits."
      He smiled, both embarrassed and flattered. Mr. Black shifted noisily.
      "C'mon, man, let's go get a Coke or something. Anyone else need
      anything?" Jake stood. Muffled half grunts and shrugged shoulders were
      their only response. In the silence that accompanied the slow elevator
      ride, Daniel noticed the tattoo on Jake's forearm: a heart, with wings on
      either side of it, with a pair of horns on top and a tail extending from
      its tip. Twin pitchforks crossed in the background. Three letters
      inscribed the heart: _B G D_.
      "Black Gangsta Disciples," Jake said.
      "Huh?" Daniel felt stupid, as if caught peeping in his sister's
      "Yeah. Black Gangsta Disciples. I used to run wild in the streets.
      You know how we do, deal a little. But I'm through now, walking a
      different path."
      The elevator spat them out at the lobby entrance. A statue of Mary
      greeted them. Her fingertips were broken and cracked, an-other neglected
      mother. Bits of wire peeked through her worn hands. Her hollow and dead
      eyes held Daniel's gaze for a moment. He could see how a fallen Mary might
      amuse the guests. A nurse cleared her throat, looming over them with a
      toxic glare of instant dislike, like a cat tossed amid a pack of hyenas.
      "I see that no one's told you the rules." She pointed to the silver
      cross dangling from Daniel's neck. "Those may agitate the resi-dents."
      "That kind of goes against my First Amendment rights."
      Jake rolled his eyes.
      "That's why we usually don't take your kind," the nurse said.
      "What kind is that?" Daniel asked.
      "You have the stench of a Jesus freak about you."
      "Don't mind her, she's all right," Jake said once they were out of
      earshot. "She's a little uptight, but a good nurse."
      Daniel didn't pay her any mind. She was the least of his concerns.
      Here, surrounded by the sick and the possessed, he would be tested. It was
      one thing to have faith in the unseen spiritual; it was quite an-other
      thing to know, to confront the reality of belief. The opposite of faith
      was certainty.
      "How do you like it so far?" Jake warmed up a burrito.
      "It's different. A lot of people to remember."
      "Don't worry about it. This place works short every shift. Never
      enough people because they don't wanna pay shit. State would shut this
      place down in a second if they knew how this place was run." The
      microwave's _ding_ interrupted his thought. "Gotta have a balanced meal."
      "This is all the balanced meal I can keep down." Daniel raised his
      Coke can.

      "Daddy, Daddy! No, Daddy, please, don't make me," Ms. Mayfield, a
      wisp of a woman, cried out. Coarse black hairs sprouted from her chin. She
      reminded Daniel of his mother, in a way, what his mother might become. His
      mother, too, had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. At some point she'd stop
      being that little girl who trusted Jesus. She'd have lost her mind, no
      longer there in any real way, simply a body.
      Ripe for _them_.
      Daniel lived with the constant fear. The possibility that he would
      grow old and forget who he was and what he believed. He knew the Devil was
      real. Daniel always thought it curious that Jesus was always casting out
      demons, and yet these days doctors were quick to diagnose people as
      mentally ill. Then demons appeared in their midst, telling them what their
      doctors were too smart to see. Only the sad-ness of the situation kept
      Daniel from making any "I told you so" pronouncements.
      Ms. Mayfield winced in pain, then touched her forehead. A calm-ness
      overtook her face. She reached for him with one of her wrinkled, skeletal
      hands, startling him with both her suddenness and her strength. She pulled
      him close. Images of her withered desires sent him reeling back. However,
      she chanted something in what sounded like a mix of Latin, a north
      European dialect, and gibberish. Yet her tones were cautious, almost
      concerned. Her eyes virtually shone with clarity. As quickly as it
      started, her "lucid" outburst ended and she fell back, exhausted.
      The odor was utterly appalling, so he removed her
      sweat-and-urine-soaked gown. Her age-laden breasts fell flat against her
      chest. He found himself unable to look away, at once revolted and drawn to
      the sight of her full, wrinkled nakedness. Daniel mulled over her wardrobe
      selection, settling on a pink, flowery housedress suitable for milling
      about with the other residents. She curled into the fetal position, almost
      pleading to be let back into some unseen womb, murmuring to herself. On
      her nightstand was a photo album. Curiosity got the better of him and he
      flipped it open. Pictures of crows from magazines had been placed like
      scrapbook photos.
      "We're all crows. My children and I. All crows," she said with a
      He pushed her wheelchair to join the elderly gathering in the
      television cul-de-sac, like the set of a geriatric sequel to a zombie
      "You come in tomorrow?" Jake asked.
      "They have me scheduled to work Monday through Friday this week and
      next week. They want my clinicals to be over with quick so they can
      transfer me to Southside."
      "Yeah, but you coming back?"

      A nostalgic wave of melancholy washed over him, unbidden, with
      memories of Aaron. The two of them grew up in the church together, best
      friends since they graduated into the church youth group. Daniel's
      friendship with Aaron revolved around the two of them being bad influences
      on each other. Aaron, ever the pastor's kid, enjoyed slumming with Daniel,
      mostly because hanging with him annoyed his parents. For his part, Daniel
      enjoyed the cool status reflected onto him by Aaron's presence. Aaron was
      the envy of all the kids: the pastor's son, tall and athletic, blond curly
      locks, handsome with a clever wit about him. Daniel's parents insisted
      that he go to church even if they didn't. He had been unnoticed by the
      other kids and knew only the distracted attentions of his Sunday school
      teachers. Somehow it came up that his father drank and smoked, two of the
      bigger sins in their little corner of church, and Daniel noted the sudden
      interest stirred in others about him. On occasion, he raided his father's
      cache of alcohol, and he and Aaron whiled away long evenings talking about
      girls and life. That was about as wild as they ever got, but in their
      circles it was wild enough.
      Life had a way of falling into place for Aaron. He married his high
      school sweetheart right after graduation and had a beautiful son. Then one
      day, they were about to go to "Friends and Family" day at the church. They
      were in a hurry as they usually were (it wouldn't look good for the
      pastor's son not to be there early). He was going to pull the minivan
      around front to meet her. She'd left the baby unattended for only a
      minute, not realizing it lay in Aaron's blind spot.
      He never saw the baby carrier.
      The accident shattered them. Oh, the couple said all the right things
      about God's will, about all things working for good. They were allowed to
      grieve, but even Daniel felt the pressure for them to put it behind them,
      to move on, to never question or doubt. It was as if everyone was afraid
      that real grief - real faith-shattering tragedy - might expose the house
      of dogmatic cards that they called faith for what it was: a series of
      failed homilies that they depended on to guide them, rules without love or
      anything real to offer.
      Watching everyone walk around with plastic, "everything's for God's
      glory" smiles left Aaron stumbling after his faith. He confessed to Daniel
      (begging him for faith, it seemed, looking to him to restore the shattered
      remnants of belief), asking what he'd do when he woke up screaming in the
      night from the silence of his unanswered prayers.
      That was the night before Aaron shot himself.
      "Lord, I believe. Help me with my unbelief," Daniel whispered. A call
      button from one of the empty rooms was jammed - and with maintenance not
      due in until morning, the signaling bleat snapped him from his revelry.
      The incessant drone stabbed Daniel through the front of his skull, fraying
      his nerves. He filled out ADLs, Activities of Daily Living, which on the
      third shift meant logging what time he turned each resident. The splatter
      of dribbling water drew his atten-tion. At first, he wondered who'd left
      the sink running, until he noted how close the sink sounded and that the
      water smelled like piss. Mr. Reams, with his subdued wheeze, slept through
      his bladder release. Daniel hadn't realized how young Mr. Reams was, at
      least compared to the others. Daniel found out Mr. Reams had lost his legs
      in Vietnam. He came home from the war and got into a fight with someone
      who shot him point-blank with a shotgun. The wound left his side horribly
      scarred and him barely able to see; he had to force his eyelids apart to
      detect any image. Still asleep, he cuddled his bear tighter.
      "Him and that damn bear," Sh'ron said.
      "You ever hear him when you put him to bed?" Jake said to Daniel, who
      shook his head. "'Cover the bear. It's the type of woman I like. Don't
      want shit, don't ask for shit."'
      Daniel grew a little uncomfortable with the conversation since he
      feared where it might lead. Spying Mr. Black creeping out of Ms.
      Mayfield's room provided the perfect reason to excuse himself from the
      conversation. Mr. Black liked to pretend he was a CNA, except that he
      deposited an article of clothing at each stop. He was down to a T-shirt
      and his boxers.
      "Why don't you go watch TV, Mr. Black?" Daniel asked.
      "Hurm. I wouldn't enjoy that."
      "Sometimes I wonder if you are doing this on purpose."
      "No, I'm not doing this on purpose." He took off his boxers.
      "Come on, Mr. Black. I don't have time for this."
      "Why are you here, then, surrounded by old folks?" Mr. Black asked
      with a rising sharpness to his voice.
      "Morbid curiosity." The words spat out more sharply than Daniel
      "Tell yourself that if you want." Mr. Black's eyes alit with dark
      perspicuity. "You live in a world of the weak and the wounded. Being here
      lets you feel superior to your fellow believers."
      It dawned on Daniel how difficult it was to tell the demon-possessed
      from the mentally addled. He thought he had Mr. Black - still standing
      naked from the waist down, a collection of wrinkled flesh - pegged as
      merely senile.
      "I'm not afraid of you. My soul is safe," Daniel said, comfortable in
      such tiny leaps of faith.
      "Your soul? Hurm. Your soul is barely worth a dollar to me. What am I
      going to do with it? I can't compete with the magic of being saved. Take
      comfort in your manipulator, accepting Jesus every time you doubt or feel
      doomed, while finding yourself alone after every prayer. I prefer the
      certainty of clean sheets and three meals."
      With that, Mr. Black shambled down the hall.

      "Who's there?" Mr. Reams growled. He sat up, his stubby fingers on
      either side of his eye, stretching it open. It darted about like a
      scavenging rat, bloodshot with a cloud pooling over it.
      "It's me, Mr. Reams," Sh'ron said.
      "Who's that with you?"
      "He's only been here a few days. Can we do anything for you?"
      "Just empty my urinal," he snarled. It came out "_Emy mah urnal_."
      Mr. Reams rolled away from them. Huge swatches of bandages covered
      his backside, shielding the pink raw flesh, a succulent sponge oozing
      blood from its center. Decubitus ulcers were fairly common; though caught
      early, the bedsore had fingernail marks around the wound.
      As they walked back to the lounge, Daniel could feel the mental pull
      of the place weighting him down. He hoped to lose himself in some reading.
      Forget the despair, the subtle groaning of the soul, the environment that
      gnawed with teeth of confusion, apathy, doubt, futility ... the gamut of
      nightmares that were his activities of daily living. He recognized the
      handiwork of the Devil when he saw it. He knew Satan's many voices when
      they spoke: Mr. Black, his mother, his own. The voices that spoke of the
      cracked and fragile thing that he called faith as being little more than a
      trick of the weak mind. Though raised in the church, Daniel had never
      quite made the faith his own. It was more like other people's expectations
      of it in him. Still, it was easy to put on the show; the show was reflex
      ingrained in him, and that was all anyone looked for. If you parroted the
      right an-swers, you were in. And you learned not to ask the tough
      questions, or your soul was in danger of damnation. Questions like why a
      good God would allow any of His people to be flesh puppets for the fallen.
      This place, Daniel believed, was a test. Once and for all his doubts would
      be put to rest; unquenchable fires purifying the quality of his faith.
      His doubts scared him the most, plaguing him most whenever he thought
      of Aaron.
      "How's Aaron?"
      "What'd you say?" Jarred from his thoughts, Daniel felt like a man in
      the throes of a nightmare startled to full wakefulness. It took a moment
      for his eyes to focus, for him to recognize Jake.
      "I asked, `What're you reading?'" Jake stared at him with mild
      concern. "Your test is coming up soon."
      "A book on unseen spirits. You know, angels and demons, that sort of
      "Jesus was always running around dealing with demons."
      "And look where it got him." Jake's fingers danced with antsy
      frustration along the end table's edge.
      "We only fear the spirit world because we don't understand how it
      works. That's why I've been studying. Haven't you ever wondered how demon
      possession works?"
      "Sometimes, I guess."
      "All right, check this out. Say you're driving in your car minding
      your own business. Pretend that your car is your body and you, the driver,
      are the soul. Possession is like being carjacked." Daniel paused to let
      the lesson sink in. The weight of his book shifted from hand to sweaty
      "Carjacked. I like that."
      A balding woman wheeled herself down the hall, inching along by her
      foot pulling her, an eerie, determined intelligence in her eyes. She
      slumped forward in her wheelchair. Concerned, Daniel rushed to kneel
      alongside her. She bolted upright in her chair, glared through him, and
      let loose a barrage of expletives and ravings that caught him so off guard
      that he fell over.
      "I don't think I'll ever get used to them. They're so..."
      "Real?" Jake offered.
      "You know, my girlfriend used to have to drive by a cemetery on the
      way home from school. Then one day, the city put up a stop sign right in
      front of the cemetery. A friend told her that one time, when he stopped at
      the stop sign, he looked into the cemetery and saw a ghost coming toward
      him. My girlfriend laughed this off, so I asked her, `Do you believe in
      ghosts?' She said, `No,' so I asked, `Have you ever looked into the
      cemetery since then?' She said, `No, if I looked, I may see a ghost, and
      then I'd have to believe in them.'"
      "I still don't get what would make demons possess a bunch of old
      folk." Jake laid down the remote, only to pick up a cigarette. The smoke
      curled up around him. A defiant gleam in Jake's eyes seemed to dare Daniel
      to come up with something even close to rational.
      "It's the deal we made. It wasn't easy coming to a detente that would
      allow us to ... accommodate demons. They need a home in a host body to
      give them rest and allow them to express themselves in the physical world.
      Remember, they're spirits. Wandering about is like hanging out in a
      desert. I remember a story in the Bible about a demon called Legion."
      "`For we are many.'" Jake tamped his cigarette into a cracked, black
      ashtray. Something about his casual sureness gave Daniel pause.
      "Right. He and Jesus crossed paths and Legion asked if Jesus was
      there to torment him ... them before the appointed time. Jesus said no,
      but he was going to cast them out from the man the demon had possessed.
      Legion begged to be put into a herd of pigs, so he was. The same
      principle's at work here. To be frank, senile people have little left of
      their minds to offer much resistance. For all we know, they may suffer
      from a preexisting mental or spiritual problem that the demons merely took
      advantage of."
      "That's where I have a problem. You can't tell me that all of these
      crazy old people are demon possessed. Some of them are just sick or old.
      Look here."
      He grabbed a few of the patients' charts from the nurse's station.
      Some patients were brought in for Alzheimer's, some had become
      noncommunicative, some physically abusive. Senile dementia,
      hallucinations, simple schizophrenia, history of seizures - theirs were a
      veritable laundry list of sundry ailments.
      "Not every case is possession, but it's possible that some of the
      diagnoses of mental disorder could be," Daniel said. "So what would you
      "That's easy. The Bible kept it simple. All we'd have to do to
      exorcize the demon is - "
      "We? Oh no, my brotha, you been misinformed. _We_ ain't doing shit.
      Ain't no way I'm about to go up against no pea-soup-spitting,
      head-spinning mothafucka."
      It amused Daniel to see Jake slip from his professional persona when
      he got worked up. Somehow it reassured him, like they were connecting on a
      personal level. Daniel pressed on. "C'mon, Jake, we have to do something."
      "There's that `we' again. Call me funny, but if a bunch of demons
      ain't bothering me, there ain't no need for me to be bothering them. If
      all I have to do is wipe they ass and get them a drink every now and then,
      I'm Mr. Status Quo."
      "It's kind of our responsibility ... as nurses' aides. You see, once
      the demons have found a home, they act like anyone else and hang on for
      dear life. Unfortunately, they also torment their victims and try to kill
      "That sound you hear is my bullshit detector going off. Is this why
      you wanted to work here?"
      "What would it take for me to talk you into this?"
      "You don't have enough words. Shit, English don't have enough words."
      "Even if you saw..."
      "Even if I saw what?"
      ("_How's Aaron_?") The floor alarm cut off whatever reply he might
      nave had. Only a resident wandering through a restricted exit could have
      triggered it. Ms. Mayfield stood before them, more horrible given the
      humor of her filthy appearance. She had covered her gown in her most
      recent bowel disgorgement, but she paraded about like she was the height
      of fashion. Having bathed in a bed of her own ordure, she was a sour
      bouquet of sweat and excrement.
      "Where you going, Ms. Mayfield?" Daniel asked.
      "I wanted to be where everything was happening."
      "You know I'd come get you if anything happened."
      "By the time you get me, everything will be over last year. It's cold
      in here."
      "Go lie down, then, sweetie," Daniel said.
      "I can't. It's thundering something fierce."
      "When it thunders, the angels are rolling out the rain barrels, and
      when it rains, one of them done dropped a barrel or two and bust it."
      "What do devils do?" she asked.
      Daniel chuckled.
      "You're different from the others here. What do you do when God's
      promises fail you?"
      "They won't," Daniel said. "I know..."
      "You _know_ very little. We know. Black was right about you, you wear
      your story like a poorly chosen hairstyle. You grew up in church parroting
      your parents' faith. You'd done it for so long, dressed it up in clothes
      of youth group and mission trips that everyone thought it was the genuine
      thing. Even you. Except on those dark nights when you fear that you have
      nothing to call your own. Thus, no matter how often you fall on your
      knees, you lie in bed terrified that you'll be left behind. Don't tell me
      what you know. I've been _there_. Sang with the hosts. Seen Him. There's
      no room for faith here."
      No one understood. He barely understood. These creatures were an
      offense before God. The idea of Jesus' miracles terrified him. They
      weren't miraculous, they were unnatural. He'd grown up sympathizing with
      Doubting Thomas. When Jesus returned from the dead (returned from the
      dead!), even then some didn't recognize him; as if their minds refused to
      accept it. The horror, the abomination. Thomas said he wouldn't believe
      until he saw the Christ's wounds for himself. So he stood there, tracing
      the open gash along Jesus' side, his fingers feeling the torn flesh, still
      struggling to believe.
      Like Thomas, Daniel feared that even had he put his fingers through
      the pierced flesh of Jesus' hands, he still wouldn't believe. Better to
      submit to the authority of his church elders, those who better understood
      such things, and trust in them. It was somehow easier to trust in
      principles, their clear (and safe) black-and-white tones. The demons,
      their presence, their reality threatened to unravel it all, to color his
      world in faded-blood shades of sepia.

      The windows of the sullen yet formidable building stared at him with
      a stern blankness. Daniel listened to Mahalia Jackson finish her dirgelike
      rendition of "In the Upper Room," keenly aware that his shift had started
      ten minutes ago. He'd been working at the Regional Healthcare Facility for
      under a month.
      A chill wind rocked the car.
      ("_How's Aaron_?")
      With Mahalia's last note, Daniel walked duty-bound to the front door,
      scourged by the biting fall wind. The mournful quality of the dingy,
      amber-colored walls increased his anxiety. Holiday decora-tions,
      reminiscent of the ones his fifth-grade teacher used to do, hung in
      feigned cheerfulness.
      The first-floor nurse's station stood abandoned.
      The elevator door waited, its doors agape with expectation. The car
      rose with a tenuous tremble, as if old, insecure muscles strained to pull
      it up. He stood near the back, part of him bracing for the impact sure to
      come when the cables snapped. The elevator stopped a foot shy of the third
      floor out of spite. The stale, fetid air of looming death greeted him.
      He felt a singular sense of disquiet. Two aides had already quit that
      day, one leaving a note that read "I will never be back again in life."
      The smell wafting about the halls was particularly stomach-turning,
      probably due to the addition of his own anxious sweat. He focused on his
      enemy to keep his nausea from overflowing. Jake whispered into the phone
      at the nurse's station; the frustrated look on his face screamed that his
      baby's mother must've been needling him about his responsibilities. A
      horrible howl came from the room Sh'ron exited from.
      "Mr. Black was going through some of the barrels looking for a
      shirt," Sh'ron started. Neither he nor Jake even glanced up, but she
      continued anyway. "I'm thinking about tying him down, before he goes
      through everything and makes a mess."
      Daniel wished that the state would do an inspection tonight: Regional
      would be shut down for sure. He realized that only he, Jake, and Sh'ron
      were on as aides. That would be great except that they were it for all
      three floors. The lone nurse in the building spent her evening running
      back and forth among the floors. Her standing orders were that if the
      residents gave them any problems, tie them in restraints. State regs be
      damned, Daniel guessed, when they worked this short.
      Sh'ron had a broader definition of residents giving her problems: All
      the residents in her hall were tied down. They would probably stay that
      way, unturned and unchecked, until it was time to wake and dress them.
      Daniel wasn't up for idle chatter tonight, though. Behind the nurse's
      station, his right knee danced up and down with its own nervous energy.
      "Is it me, or do the residents seem extra agitated?" Jake asked.
      "It's him." Sh'ron thumbed toward Daniel.
      Daniel's doubts picked at him like an unhealed scab, needling him
      with the Devil's voice. How long could he tread water believing, not
      believing, as he did? He wanted to surrender to the doubt, let the
      insecurities rush over him like a quick slice across his wrist and give in
      to the gentle caress of the abyss. He needed the church, the danger of
      community, to feel real. Yet he knew he was cut off. Something within no
      longer worked, connected, leaving nothing in him for belief to latch on
      to. No love to fill those empty spaces, those cancers of his faith.
      "I'm going to go pray over Ms. Mayfield," Daniel said.
      "No, Daniel, wait." Jake grabbed his arm.
      "Look, all I'm going to do is pray for the demons to leave in the
      name of Jesus Christ. If it works, fine. If not, all I've done is pray."
      He would have his answer: Would God's might truly protect him?
      Daniel crept into her room. The last sharp stabs of light from the
      hallway faded with the door closing behind him. The parking lot lights
      spilled through the curtains. Daniel noticed a few facedown picture frames
      along her dresser. He flipped them over to see that every picture of Ms.
      Mayfield, even photos that caught only a thatch of hair or a passing
      elbow, had been circled. Probably done during her last lucid moment to
      remind herself that she wasn't forgotten.
      "Who's there?" she stirred.
      "It's me, Ms. Mayfield."
      "I keep hearing voices in my head."
      "Have you ever prayed against the voices?" he asked. She flinched as
      if in pain. "I mean, have you ever thought about talking to Jesus about
      your ... problems?" She continued to grow uncomfortable, writhing
      slightly, and quietly wincing.
      "I don't want to pray. I don't like it," she muttered.
      "That's okay, you don't have to."
      He laid his hands on her and prayed. Trying to sound stern, yet
      compassionate, he exhorted the demons to leave in the name of Christ. Her
      hands fell to her chest, her head rolled to the side, and she fell into a
      deep sleep. He peered at her face: peaceful and melancholy.
      "It's all futile, you know," Mr. Black said from behind him. "You
      feel it? The wisps of that fragile thing you call faith escaping through
      your fingers. You don't know what to do with your terror, shame, and
      "What do you want from me?" Those bloodshot yellow eyes, those veiny
      egg yolks, followed his movements.
      "Hurm. It's what you don't want. You don't want to have to think, to
      struggle with reality. You don't want God, not really. You want something
      that will make you feel good, something bigger than you to lose yourself
      in. Something safe. God is none of those things."
      "I'm doing His work. There's Ms. Mayfield. Her soul's safe now. She
      won't be joining you in hell."
      Ms. Mayfield's eyes sprang open. She spoke through a contemptuous
      grin of utter, hostile malevolence. "Let that belief comfort you at night,
      but know this - hell is empty. We have no more a wish to be there than
      you. We just want to live in peace. To _feel_."
      Daniel backed away from her. He felt movement behind him, a shifting
      among the shadows. Mr. Black opened the window. His flabby jowls made him
      look all the more like the Devourer. He gestured for Daniel to join him.
      "Tempting, isn't it? To jump in, unthinking, and embrace the decrepit
      whore you call faith. Pimped out to a God that doesn't listen to you. The
      irony is, if you find proof, you no longer have faith. Then what do you
      Daniel wanted to escape, be free of the constant harangue. He leaned
      forward, peering out the window. The sidewalks loomed far below him. He
      wanted to let go. Nothing made sense to him anymore. Nothing about the
      world that he lived in felt right. The way he lived, the way he moved,
      down to the core of his being - God seemed so far from him. The tattered
      edges of his faith clung to life like a man residing under hospice care.
      The weight of Mr. Black's glare pressed in on him long before Mr. Black
      spoke again.
      "It's the ultimate test. The final answer to all of your questions."
      Daniel mouthed the words to the Lord's Prayer, and it lodged like a
      cold stone in the pit of his stomach. His mind tried to latch on to
      something to anchor him. Reading the Bible first thing in the morning used
      to bring him such simple comfort. Now it was like reading the love letters
      of an ex-girlfriend. The prayer died on his lips. He doubted it would be
      answered anyway. For that matter, he doubted if he would be heard. He
      doubted if there was ever a hearer in the first place.
      Daniel keeled forward through the window.
      He didn't make a sound as the pavement rushed to greet him.
      "What the hell's going on in here?" Jake rushed in. He joined Mr.
      Black at the window.
      "Hurm. Seems someone's been asking the wrong questions," Mr. Black
      said, "had himself a bit of a fall."
      Jake stared down at Daniel's broken body. "May you be in heaven a
      half hour before the Devil knows you're dead."
      Mr. Black handed Jake a dollar.
      "Oops, too late."

      "Nurse's Requiem" copyright © 2007 by Maurice Broaddus

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