Check Out by Sarah Louise

“What am I doing here?” Hannah says from her bed.  She stares at the other woman in the small dim room, sitting in a straight-backed chair under the only window, blinds drawn against the rainy night.  “Who are you?” Hannah asks.

The other woman’s thin lips part slightly, then close again.  She crosses her long bare legs, smooths her grey skirt, wraps the fingers of both hands around the V neck of her dark blue sweater, drops her shoulders in defeat.

Hannah, white curly hair framing an olive-skinned oval face, sits up but doesn’t try to stand.  She feels like she has been at sea, or in outer space too long.  The other woman becomes kaleidoscopic, breaking into sharp-edged pieces that circle each other, pass through a full palette of color, dissolve, reappear.  Hannah falls forward, caught by the jigsaw woman’s elongating arms.

“How are you now?” the woman asks Hannah when she wakes.  “You look rested.”  She’s changed her clothes to purple scrubs, a stethoscope around her neck.  She is crisp, self-contained, her contours as clear as those of a storyboard character outlined in black magic marker.

“What do you mean ‘now’?” Hannah says.  “How long have I been here?  You look familiar.”

The woman pulls a piece of wood the size of a business card from her pants pocket, gives it to Hannah.  HOUSE RULES is printed across the top.  Rule 1: Need to know only.  “More rules may crop up over time,” the woman says.  The wood begins to warm and soften in Hannah’s hand.  It reminds her of marshmallows and campfires.  She drops it on the blanket, where it seeps into the fibers without leaving a mark.

“That always happens to the evidence,” the woman says.  “No need to worry.”

“Are you going to use that on me?” Hannah asks, pointing to the stethoscope.

“The bed monitors your vital signs,” the woman says.  “As long as you stay where you are, you’ll be fine.  I can’t say the same for me.  Everything keeps changing.”

“I’m sorry,” Hannah says.  “What if you get in with me?”

“That won’t work,” the woman says.  “Foreign bodies set off alarms.”

“Are those daffodils?” Hannah asks, nodding toward the vase on the table at the foot of the bed.  Her expression morphs from puzzled to surprised to glad.

“They’re daisies from my garden,” the woman says, her forehead starting to ripple.  She sinks slowly to the floor, liquefies, evaporates.  Hannah is temporarily refreshed by the moisture left in the air, like dew-laden grass before the sun comes up.  She can hear the squeaky hinges of a door opening somewhere.  Her room doesn’t have one, but she has an inkling that doesn’t matter.  That she’s free to leave whether she understands what’s going on or not.  That she doesn’t need Dorothy’s ruby slippers or Alice’s magic potions, though they give her pleasant ideas that part the hospice walls like the Red Sea and take her for a walk.

 

Sarah Louise lives and works in a log house in a rural area north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. She teaches college writing classes online, writes, hikes, walks the dogs…. 

Her stories and poetry have been published in magazines, journals, and anthologies, including Quarry, The Fiddlehead, Prism international, Contemporary Verse II, Descant, The Canadian Forum, The Cimarron Review, and Canadian Woman Studies. 

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