Morphine ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
(I posted this short story earlier under a different title.)
Sterling Fingers lay in a semi-conscious state for three days. When he finally came fully awake, he found himself in a bed with rails like a baby bed. A woman in white with a face like an Indian chief stood beside the bed, her hands on the rail, looking down at him.
“Who the hell are you?” he asked.
“Pulse a hundred and ten,” she said.
“Am I dead?”
“I have to get up. I have to go to work.”
“No, you don’t. You won’t be going anywhere for a while.”
“What happened here?”
“You’re recovering from surgery.”
“Surgery for what?”
“A stab wound to the abdomen.”
“I didn’t have no stab wound to the abdomen.”
“I assure you you did.”
“I don’t feel anything.”
“Oh, yeah. I think I remember now. I was attacked by a vengeful woman.”
“I wouldn’t know,” the nurse said. “That’s a police matter.”
“There’s nothing more terrible than a vengeful woman.”
“You should know.”
“Has my old lady been here?”
“No, my mother, you goose.”
“No one has been here that I know of.”
“When you see my mother, tell her I need my gun.”
The nurse smiled for the first time. “You don’t need no gun,” she said. “And even if you did you couldn’t have it in the hospital.”
“This is a hospital?”
“What do you think it is? A whore house?”
He looked around to see if there was a telephone beside the bed. “I need to call someone,” he said.
“I have to tell my mother where I am. She’ll be worried.”
“I’m sure she was told as soon as you were brought here.”
“I want my gun.”
“Protection from what?”
“From the lunatic that tried to kill me.”
“The hospital is safe. Nobody will get in here who isn’t supposed to be here.”
“I don’t feel safe without my gun.”
“Think about it, Mr. Fingers. Use your head. If we start allowing patients to have guns, they’ll end up shooting somebody they wished they hadn’t. A doctor or a nurse. Maybe even an important person like the head of the hospital.”
“There’s only one person I want to shoot.”
“You’re at a critical stage of your recovery. You want to go on living, don’t you?”
“I want to get out of here is what I want. I have things to do.”
“The only thing you have to do now is concentrate on getting well.”
“When did all this happen?”
“Four days ago.”
“I’ve been here four days? I have to get up and go to work. I’ll get fired for being gone that long.”
“Now, Mr. Fingers! You have to calm yourself down. I’m sure your employer knows what happened and why you’re not at work.
“Four days,” he said. “Oh, my Lord, four days!”
“Would you like a sedative to help calm you?”
“We’ll have your doctor prescribe you a sedative.”
“In all the time I’ve been here, hasn’t anybody been in to see me?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Virgie didn’t come?”
“Would you like to talk to a priest?”
“No! I don’t want to talk to anybody! I want out of here!”
He felt the prick of the needle that plunged him into dreamland.
He opened a door to a cavernous room that had no bottom. He was in danger of falling but then he saw some stairs that went down into blackness. If he could make it to those stairs he wouldn’t fall, but when he tried to get to them they kept moving and shifting like an accordion. He flailed his arms and reached out for something to hold onto but it did no good. He felt a moment of panic, a moment of weightlessness, and then he was floating in space past the planet Saturn. Then he was lying on a table where a black-hooded figure like a medieval executioner slit his stomach open, releasing a flock of blackbirds with women’s faces and bloody claws. The blackbirds rose in the air and then swooped down to devour his liver.
He slept for a week, a day or an hour. When he woke up again, one of the blackbirds was standing beside his bed where the woman in white had been earlier. This one didn’t have a woman’s face, though, but a man’s.
“How are you feeling, my son?” the blackbird asked.
“Who are you?” Sterling asked.
“Am I dying?”
“The nurse says you’re improving.”
“If I’m not dying, why do I need a priest?”
“I’m the hospital chaplain. I make my way around to all the patients.”
“I need you to help me do something, father.”
“If I can.”
“I want a gun.”
The priest laughed and patted him on the shoulder. “I think that’s the last thing you need,” he said.
“You don’t understand,” Sterling said. “Somebody is trying to kill me. A big woman named Bernadette. When she finds out she didn’t do the job the first time, she’ll be back.”
“I don’t think you have anything to worry about. You’re perfectly safe here.”
“You don’t know what kind of a person we’re talking about, father. She’s evil. Surely you must know a thing or two about evil in your profession.”
“Would you like me to pray with you?”
“I can ask the nurse to give you a sedative.”
“No! If Bernadette is going to come back and finish the job, I want to be awake when she does.”
“Just calm yourself. Everything is all right. Nurse! Oh, nurse!”
The next day Doctor Fisbee came in to see him, an owlish man with round glasses and a small mustache reminiscent of Adolf Hitler.
“You’re a lucky man,” the doctor said.
“The knife missed your aorta by a quarter inch.”
“The crazed Amazon who tried to kill me won’t miss next time. She’ll be back with an even bigger knife or maybe a gun.”
“No one will get past Nurse Zorina. You’re perfectly safe here.”
“That’s what everybody keeps telling me, but I won’t feel safe until I have a gun under my pillow to pull out whenever I need it.”
“We can’t allow our patients to carry firearms.”
“So I’ve been told.”
“You’ll be fine.”
“What is this, a prison? You won’t let people protect themselves?”
“Would you like me to give you a sedative so you can take a nice nap?”
“No! Just get the hell out of here and leave me alone!”
Once when he awoke, Sterling saw his mother, gray and mouse-like, standing beside his bed. He wasn’t sure if she was really there or if he was imagining it.
“I came to visit you,” she said.
“How are you feeling?”
“Does it hurt much?”
“I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.”
“You got your name in the paper.”
She laid a folded newspaper on his chest. He picked it up and began reading: A truck driver at the Handy Dandy Laundry, Sterling Fingers, 32, was stabbed at the laundry’s headquarters at 1347 Fairview Avenue on Friday afternoon, May 12. The female suspect fled on foot and was later taken into custody. Several laundry employees witnessed the incident. Fingers was taken to an undisclosed hospital and is expected to make a full recovery.
“Who was she?” his mother asked after he put the paper on the table beside the bed.
“Just a dame that works in the laundry. Her name is Bernadette something or other. I’m not sure what her last name is.”
“Were you messing with her?”
“God, no, mama! She’s trash.”
“You’re trash, too, son.”
“You don’t have to remind me.”
“Was it some kind of a quarrel?”
“No, just a little misunderstanding. Nothing for you to worry about.”
She folded her wrinkled hands over the railing and smiled nervously. “Tippy misses you,” she said.
“Have you been feeding him and giving him water every day?”
He coughed, took a drink of water, and said, “There is somebody at the laundry I like, though,” he said.
“Would you expect it to be a man?”
“I didn’t mean it that way.”
“She’s only about twenty. Her name is Virgie.”
“She doesn’t belong in the laundry. The foul-mouthed slobs that work there will only crush her. In a few years she’ll be just like them, with their smoking and drinking.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’d like to take her out of there.”
“And marry her?”
“She was the only one that helped me after I was stabbed. Those other dopes just stood around and gaped at me like the useless swine they are.”
“Maybe you should try harder to get along, son.”
“Thanks for the advice, mama.”
On the day he was discharged from the hospital, he told them a friend was waiting to take him home; there was no friend, though, only the bus.
Feeling weak, dressed in the unfamiliar clothes the hospital gave him and with the thick bandage around his middle, he felt strange and egg-like, as if he might break into pieces if he moved too fast. And if he did break, nobody would be able to put him back together again.
Walking two blocks from the hospital to the bus, he saw a couple of women who could have been Bernadette, but they turned out both times to be somebody else. He was comforted only slightly by the words “taken into custody.” It didn’t mean much in his book. She might get a slick lawyer to get herself released. He wished again, for the thousandth time, that he had his old gun that he kept in his dresser drawer at home.
Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp