March Madness Flash Fiction: RED by Jessi Shakarian
TODAY’S BREW: French Vanilla by the Trader of Joes.
At the risk of sounding redundant, I love today’s March Madness story. I’m a sucker for vivid imagery and Jessi Shakarian gives me as much as I require in RED. You can find more of Jessi at https://twitter.com/listentomuses on Twitter and her blog http://t.co/GrsMIxbFe9. Now enjoy RED.
by Jessi Shakarian
Red isn’t a color you see too often in nature. Not compared to the spectrums of greens, blues, yellows, and pinks. Cardinals. Rainbows. Roses. Rubies. Blood.
But in here, in this laboratory, red is hidden. Taken away, like some kind of evil. My lab coat is white, the sheets that cover my patients are white. Even the metal tables reflect the white tiled wall in the sun. Pristine. Untouchable. They beckon me, challenge me to cover them in red. However, that challenge won’t happen right now. I have something more important to tend to.
The body in front of me is cold from the fridge, eyes shut. Her throat is covered with bruises from her death, her chest and stomach in stitches from the coroner’s previous work. Even though the answer seems pretty clear to me, I can respect their thoroughness.
I pick up the scapel off the tray, it shines in the light, and feels like an extension of myself. I am whole. It’s the feeling my father always wanted me to understand, as he did, except I don’t save lives.
This person has a name on her toe, but today she is not the person she was when she was alive. Tonight, I’ll call her Annie. I put my fingers to my lips and place them on her forehead. Don’t you worry, my Annie, I’ll take good care of you, I whisper in her ear. I pet her beautiful straight brown hair tenderly. She doesn’t smile in acknowledgement, but I know she’s heard me.
I make an incision at the base of her neck, through a strangulation bruise, and plug in the tube that connects to the container where all the blood will collect. I watch the start of the red line from her neck, watching the tube turn crimson. A shiver runs down my spine; it’s almost time for the fun to begin.
The first time my father let me shadow him in the operating room, I was thirteen, and my face covered by a mask. He opened up a cadaver, showing me the insides, and explaining a simple technique – removing a perforated appendix, of which the man had died from. Preparing me for the many surgeries I will parttake in once I get into medical school. My eyes crawled over every part of the incision, the organ, his latex gloves, the instruments, eventually his apron, and mine. Everything was covered in red.
But I’m no longer in my father’s laboratory. The red from my memories fade and the white walls still taunt me. I check on the container, halfway done, at half a gallon.
When I was six, I got a paper cut on my homework. My skin sliced open, and the blood poured out, like it had been trying to escape my body. I didn’t wipe it on a tissue, or ask to see a nurse. I stuck the wound in my mouth, and licked up the blood. It tasted metallic, unlike anything my tongue had ever felt.
It was the start of something wonderful.
The tube runs clear. The container of blood sits there, waiting for me. I can hear the calls like an old friend. Or maybe an old lover, whose passion pulls you in like time hasn’t moved forward. I jump out of my chair and check the container. One point two gallons. Not too much, not too little. Very good, dear Annie. I switch out the tube for another one.
Formaldehyde is thicker than blood, and takes more time, so I let Annie sit by herself. She never was good at being solitary, always needed the company of others. It’s what got her into trouble, but she’ll have to learn sometime. I lift up the lid holding the blood. It looks like a pool of colored water, but I can’t see the bottom.
I dip my arms into the container like a surgeon preparing for his experiment. Elbows in first, and I let the drips run down my arm to my hands. They race back down to the container, the safety of home. My fingers are stained, and I feel just as alive as that first time. I suck on my thumb like I got tomato sauce on it. This one is dingy, but euphoria pumps through my veins, like I’m on the purest form of heroin.
I scoop up a pint jar for myself, sealing it tight, and dispose of the rest the way I was taught in medical school. I label the jar “Annie” with the date, and stick in the mini ice box against the wall. There’s only two more jars with Annie’s name on it. This will tide me over for a bit before it’s time find the next Annie.
The back door from the loading dock swings open. “Jesus, Cal, it smells like death in here.” Jack’s back is to me, but his cigarette smoke says hello before he does. The cool late night air pushes it’s way through. “Why don’t you light up?” He turns around to face me, wheeling in my new friend.
I wipe my hands on a towel and go to my desk in the corner. Cigarettes only cover the smell everyone else calls “noxious”, but I call “welcoming”.
“I’m good for now,” I tell him as I pull open my desk drawer, take out a wad of cash, counting it. Red on green.
Jack wheels over the body, lifts up the sheet for me to take a peek. It’s her, the one I saw the other night. The blue and purple bruises on her pale throat stick out. My signatures.
“Thank you,” I said as I hand him the cash. “I’m almost done with her, if you want to wait a few moments.”
Jack counts the money, and nods. Pocketing it, he takes a drag of his cigarette. “Do what you have to do, doc. The morgue attendant won’t be back until the sun comes up.”