Night Orderly (5th Annual Dialogue Contest Winner)

by Ronald Friedman

"It's almost five. You'll be out of here in a couple of hours."

"I'm telling you, this really knocked me on my ass. It's a crummy enough job as it is."

"Artie, I don't understand what happened to you. Why didn't you use the gurney?"

"I don't know. That's just a small part of it, anyway."

"It was in the hallway wasn't it? Outside the room?"

"Yes, of course. I just decided not to use it."

"There are rules for this kind of thing. Protocols. They're there for a reason."

"Look, you don't have to lecture me."

"I'm sorry. I realize it seems like I'm kicking you when you're down. I feel bad for you, but I'm pissed at you too."

"I was sleeping in a chair at the nurses' station up on Five West. The nurse had to wake me. They're usually pretty good about it if you fall asleep when you're not busy in the middle of the night. When she told me they needed an orderly on Two East I hoped it was just for a bucket of ice. That's usually what they call me for. You know, mostly a bunch of crappy errands.''

"Our job is different working in Psych. More keeping an eye on the patients."

"There's a lot of overlap. I worked afternoons in Psych last summer."

"You could have said 'no'.''

"I thought about that later. I wonder if they would fire me if I refused to do something.''

"This isn't the army, it's a hospital. You don't have to obey every order."

"Maybe you're right, but I didn't say 'no'."

"So you went waltzing over to Peds to get them some ice.''

"No, not really. I waltzed, as you say, hoping it would be ice buckets. But they had the body ready for me. It was already wrapped in a shroud and had been prepped for me to transport to the morgue. You've done that before. We all have. I thought I was used to it."

"But not when it's Pediatrics."

"Right. Older patients. Sometimes I'd have to prep them. I would stick a few wads of cotton up their ass, tie their hands if they keep flopping off the cart, maybe tape their false teeth to their chest, wrap the body in a shroud, drag them onto a cart and haul them to the morgue."

"Do you know if it was a boy or a girl?"

"I asked the nurse. I shouldn't have asked, but I did, like you just asked me. It just seems natural to want to know those things. It was the body of a little girl. Actually, the girl had not been her patient so the nurse had to look at the chart to find out who was inside the shroud."

"How old?"

"Almost three."

"You know how she died?"

"No. Somehow I finally stopped asking questions. I had to pick her up to put her on the gurney, but when I had her in my arms, she was so light that I thought I could carry her. Those shrouds are just rough tissue paper. I could feel her through the fabric. She was still warm."

"Geez, Artie."

"It was the middle of the night. Her parents weren't around. The nurse didn't even know if the kid was a boy or girl. You know me; I don't even like kids. All I could think of was that she was three years old, her parents, if she had any, probably didn't know she was dead and nobody seemed to care."

"Just you."

"I'm not so sure about that. Somebody ought to care, but was it up to me? There was nobody in the morgue when I got there. I needed to wait. If I'd had her on a gurney I could've just wheeled it in and left it there. Or, even without the gurney, I could have set her down somewhere, maybe on one of the tables. But I didn't. I sat down and held her for maybe 15 minutes or so until  Lancaster came back and put her in a drawer."

"You did some good. You took care of her."

"No. She was dead. That's all. There was no one for me to take care of."

"You cared about her. That counts."

"For what?"

"I don't know exactly."

 "You've got it backwards. That's not what gave me such a jolt. All the time I carried her and then held her in my arms waiting for Lancaster to show up, I was waiting for feelings from inside that would tell me that at least I was someone who cared about the kid. But I've waited right up to this minute and I don't think those feelings are there."

"Artie, you are one sad-luck son of a bitch."

"If they call for me again, I'm going to say 'no'."

BIO: Ronald Friedman is a retired psychologist living in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is the author of two nonfiction books and over 50 articles published in magazines and newspapers, but has been writing fiction for only the past three years. His short stories include "The New Suit" published by Huff Post 50 and "Time Remaining" in the Rind Literary Review.