By the Blood The only thing colder than the stiff welcome of a wooden pew on your first Saturday mass in three years is walking out to the chapel steps mid-prayer to answer a phone call from the weekend’s charge nurse. “Alicia, you’re needed in the E.D. stat. Craziest night we’ve seen since October.” The stucco churchfront was embalmed by the pearlescence of a full moon, but Alicia forsook its preservation for the sake of others who, she figured, probably needed more mercy than she did right now.By the Blood by Bluezbreakr
Few folks on the sidewalk tonight, Alicia thought, from the interior of a not-quite-new 4Runner. Too cold to foot it. Probably why so many people dissolve into drunken stupors this time of year. It was the holiday season. People wanted to eat, drink, and be merry, but there was nowhere to do that besides your own living room. Nobody did that. At city council meetings, Alicia had co
To the Partner of the DeceasedThe last time I saw Mr. Winston,To the Partner of the Deceased by Bluezbreakr
he'd been sitting across from me
at the table during Sunday lunch,
wrinkles and callouses rippling with pink
like cuts of his barbecued pork.
Today, I can't distinguish either of us
from the stark white lining of his casket.
When my dad woke me the day of the death
with nothing but a knock at my door,
I discovered that waking up to the news
of a murder is barely waking at all.
The news brings no upward jolt--no press
against the jowls of pre-dawn like a bolt
away from a spreading terror-dream.
“Oh,” I rasped, blank, before sliding jeans
on to go straddle the pink sky-tones
braising the day’s still-forming flesh.
But after class, when you asked me
why my eyes pulsed as red as stove coils
kindling for the morning's coffee,
I told you how instead they leaked
crimson like the holes in Winston's stomach,
the still-steaming drip of 18 lead
millimeters poured with no filter,
how my heart was gasping for breath
like Winston on his blood-staine
[Scrap] HeapThe only thing a vagrant wants to erode[Scrap] Heap by Bluezbreakr
more than himself is other vagrants.
Anyone who writes beautifully thinks
ugly, ugly thoughts. Don't ask me how I know
because i can't. This is law.
My gums are decoupaged with clippings of Eliot
books and transatlantic journals I've spent a
decade matting. They only flake when I lick
my lips or flick my tongue from my hard
pallate to summon lahs aloud: Law law law.
This week I've traveled the Cape with a recovering
lawyer who taught me self-defense is impossible
when you still testify in drawls thick as the guffaws
from harbor geese; we both spew shit from different
ends and leave portions of ourselves oxidating in
the saltwaves of the tidal air.
When I practice my account, I bend those laws to
the tip of my tongue. Lah. I bring all "G"s to
complete halts like I never learned the rules of the
"rotary," but i remember when one was installed in
my town: the "Roundabout," roun'bout 4, 5 years back.
In the Foster-Nolan guest bedroom at 3amA darkness this crisp is enough to breakIn the Foster-Nolan guest bedroom at 3am by Bluezbreakr
a man used to cicadas croaking till the light
poles shut off at 4am, but I could grow fond
of flyovers from BOS. My first flight taught me
that airplane engines don't hum--impatient fathers
and aunts do. Air doesn't flow into the cabin faster
than innocence and echoes flow out. You'll get rumbles when the wheels lower,
but else, airplanes only shake
as much as the steps taken down from the cabin.
But you'll only ever leave one cabin.
I've been breaking apart strolls through North End
with texts to girls 1200 miles away, combined. I've
got thoughts just as distant and as speckled and
specular as the cobblestone alleys. Spectacular
would have fit here, too, if I didn't trip at least thrice
on the uneven grooves of the road.
I want to apologize to Will for how fickle he's
never had to see me be before. I'm convinced love comes ashore every 15 minutes and i can board
at least 16 of its ferries at once before piercing the hull
of any of them. but oh
The only thing colder than the stiff welcome of a wooden pew on your first Saturday mass in three years is walking out to the chapel steps mid-prayer to answer a phone call from the weekend’s charge nurse. “Alicia, you’re needed in the E.D. stat. Craziest night we’ve seen since October.” The stucco churchfront was embalmed by the pearlescence of a full moon, but Alicia forsook its preservation for the sake of others who, she figured, probably needed more mercy than she did right now.
Few folks on the sidewalk tonight, Alicia thought, from the interior of a not-quite-new 4Runner. Too cold to foot it. Probably why so many people dissolve into drunken stupors this time of year. It was the holiday season. People wanted to eat, drink, and be merry, but there was nowhere to do that besides your own living room. Nobody did that. At city council meetings, Alicia had consistently been proposing ideas for new venues open to the public. Something accessible and warm. Something to get people up and out without dumping them on the streets, or worse, onto a stretcher; but so far, all propositions had been given half-hopeful maybes. It’d be good for the surrounding businesses, too, she'd reasoned, before being drowned out by the same old talk about the lighting of this year’s Los Cielos Christmas tree.
The parking garage of Los Cielos Regional Hospital covered all traces of the moon save the splintered lightbeams slivering though the windows opposite the side Alicia approached. She and the small influx of other call-ins trickled into the cold concrete tower, rhythmically falling into successive parking spots like a drip of saline. Once she'd turned off her car, the same arm that had shifted to “Park” shot to the backseat, retrieving a pair of freshly laundered magenta scrubs and a pristine stethoscope still uncannily unscathed after a decade in the emergency department. The hands shuffled around a bit more, frantically searching before realizing all present goods had been retrieved. “Damn,” Alicia sighed, realizing she had left her scrubs jacket in her locker during the previous shift.
Alicia took a quick detour through the locker room before she arrived at the nurses’ station on the hospital's floor level, and she didn't even need to check her watch to know she had arrived precisely five minutes later than Valeria Staccato had expected. The electricity of Valeria’s voltage-gated temperament ill-suited the heavy current of the E.D. As Alicia waited for the verdict of her charge nurse tonight, she thanked God or whatever Being she had just tried to sit through mass for that she and Valeria did not work together often.
“About time, ‘Lic. We’re swamped. Needed assessment on the new admit five minutes ago.” The sound of the unit door crashing open pounded against Alicia’s skull like an over-sterilized gavel. “Room 106. Fran just wheeled him in. Can hardly get a word out of him. Here’s a pen.” She jammed the gnawed instrument, gnashed to all hell by Valeria’s caricatured teeth, into Alicia's palm. “Grab the chart from the new incoming pile and for Christ’s sake, go.”
And as the door to 106 clicked shut behind Alicia, she felt the static imparted to her by Valeria disperse in an instant. “Good evening,” she nodded, grinning. Learning to reassemble yourself every time you pass over the threshold to a new room is hospital etiquette at its core. Sometimes Alicia even surprised herself with the boom and rotundity of her spontaneous matriarchal introductions. “My name is Alicia, and I’ll be your nurse this evening.” She glanced from the chart and to the kid wriggling in the bed before her. Eighteen, male, white, lacerations on the left thigh distal to the groin. “Mr. Yelkins?”
“No,” he hissed back like a sedated serpent, lacking venom and teeth, but having mastered the shimmy of cobras out of wicker baskets. He sat rigid despite the bed sloped beneath his back, neck wobbling to and fro. “I used to be, but no.”
“Who are you, then, sir?” The hollowed-out ravings of amnesiacs weren’t uncommon in an E.D., but the way he swayed, erect on his spine’s axis, was uncharacteristic of somebody who had drunk a little too much or conked his head on kitchen linoleum. She made a deft grab at the pen-light lining her jacket and approached the side of the bed. “Bright light, sir. Get ready.”
“Everything, I think. I’m Everything.” She passed the light over each eye and nearly caught the prismatic twinkles of his brain fragmenting the image into six or seven shards. The rhythm of his sway hit a soft reset each time the light passed his eyes. The skin around Alicia’s ears drew taut at the apparent simplicity of the problem as Everything’s pupils shrank down from the engorged caps of mushrooms.
The sudden click-and-whoosh of the door interrupted Alicia's examination and gave entrance to the lithe, anxious frame of a 50-something woman: “Hold up, Alicia.” Her thigh-length lab coat set her apart from the rest of the nurses—a practitioner. Alicia had once been in a program to become a practitioner in cardiovascular units until the sudden death of her younger brother forced her to handle to 15 months’ worth of pressing legal and familial issues. Five years removed from the end of that incident, she had still not been reaccepted into the program she had already half-finished.
“Hi, Paulette. Can I help you?” Alicia didn’t dislike the woman, but a knock-less intrusion was never welcome.
“Hello, Mr. Yelkins.” If Paulette had stolen a glance at Alicia’s clipboard, maybe her subtlety was better than her entrance presumed. “I’m Mrs. Thomas. May I borrow your nurse for just a moment?” A slight, perhaps even coincidental, raise of Everything’s head must have been enough affirmation for Paulette, and Alicia soon felt pat on the shoulder sweep her away toward the door.
The very moment her lengthy coattails had brushed past the corner by Room 106 Paulette whipped back around toward Alicia, so quickly that Alicia ran into a shoulder and mashed into her own sternum the rosary beads she had forgotten to take off before coming onto the unit floor. “Sorry, Alicia. Dr. G is ordering a blood draw on 106.”
“He hasn’t even seen the patient yet. This boy could be hemorrhaging for all he knows.” Alicia massaged the middle of her chest with her knuckles, fingers grazing the cross that had just nearly impaled her.
“I know, Alicia, I know, but he looked fine to me. No swelling anywhere except probably the wounds on his thigh. How are those looking?” If nothing else, Alicia has impressed at how much Paulette could gather from one covert glance at a clipboard. Maybe that’s what finishing graduate school actually gets you.
“I didn’t even have the chance to get around to those before you came in... What, Paulette?” If nothing else, Alicia was a sentinel to expression. Eighteen years in Puerto Rican home as an older sister to three bastarditos mixed with a decade spent in health care had ensured that the slight, incredulous eye-widening Paulette had tried to stifle was anything but unseen. “You barely even looked at the patient before confirming a blood draw on him and you’re giving me crap for not getting the time to glove up and inform him that he’s got a gaping wound?” Through her scrub top, Alicia fingered at the beads draped around her neck, continuously fumbling them in irritation.
“Yes, Alicia. Two officers dropped in and talked to Dr. G when your patient was still catatonic in the waiting room.” Alicia went to open her mouth when Paulette continued, “They received numerous calls from folks on every side of your patient’s residence. Lots of noise. Just one person, reportedly sounded like a young male. Bad neighborhood, so they’ve got their suspicions. They’re asking for a full drug panel.” She produced two carbon-copied papers from the pocket at her thigh. “Orders. Dr. G, at the behest of the county P.D., it seems. Can you get them to me in ten? Just get the entire lab draw done. Throw the boys downstairs this paper; they’ll know what to do.”
One-oh-six's door clanked open again, and when Alicia glanced back to spot the blurring heels of Converse knock-offs carrying a girl through the threshold, Paulette stuffed the two folded papers into Alicia’s jacket pocket and dashed away. “Thank you again, Alicia,” she craned back to say with stress-shaken sincerity, shuddering when the door banged back in place against the doorframe. Alicia did not “welcome” her as she returned toward her patient’s door to spy through its long, thin window.
Alicia picked out the image of a teal-haired girl, her skin like the flesh of an apple left in the sun, her stare sickly and set intently upon Everything. The girl swallowed a visible lump and retired to the aluminum chair pushed against the wall by the cabinets and sink.
Alicia took an old phone out of her pocket, careful not to shear off the old tape labeling it “#4” in fading Sharpie, dialed it, and brought it to her ear. The answering voice shook her like a distant explosion, spilling out of the earpiece into the space around Alicia. “Dr. Abraham Gottfried speaking.”
“He’s just a kid, Abe.” Other than to her own patients, Alicia’s capacity to mince words was minimal.
“A kid who’s tampering with something dangerous to himself and everybody around him,” Dr. G returned. In the decade she had known him, he had never managed to turn off the pedantic edge he seemed to put on his every last sentence.
“You don’t think someone impressionable who’s received moderate knife wounds is going to learn their lesson? This kid’s cut up, and instead of offering medical service you’re trying bending the law to get him arrested.”
“I’m not bending laws. I’m ordering a diagnostic procedure preemptively. The police will come back with a court order, and no one will be in the wrong except the boy who thought fueling a violent drug industry was an acceptable act for an eighteen-year-old.”
The earpiece whirred, and Alicia wanted to thank any possible god that she'd been interrupted before verbally assaulting the doctor presiding over her—she didn't leave mass to get fired. “Someone else is paging me, Abe. Goodbye.” She took a deep breath and mashed the CALL SWITCH button. “Alicia Rivera, RN.”
“Come back over here, ‘Lic.” She was almost certain she could hear Val’s shrill words echoing along the halls from the nurses station. “Got in touch with Victory Springs Hospital across town. They’ve got records on the kid in 106. Faxed them in about two minutes ago.”
Alicia ripped her vapid grip away from the rosary and hurried off to the nurses station.
Alicia paged through the black-speckled facsimiled papers describing the history of Everything, discovering that she had more in common with this kid than she originally thought. Both of them grew up with two younger brothers and a sister, had broken their left legs during their early teenage years, and were raised by mothers who had quickly remarried after their biological fathers had taken their unexpected leaves. Neither of them had criminal records, either, despite the fact that that similarity might be prone to change soon. They even had the same blood type—O negative.
When she found herself stepping back into room 106, she drew back all the papers on her clipboard to cover up the new information on Everything with her on-going assessment sheet. Alicia felt a new, palpably harsh presence look up at her from one of the chairs in the room: the young girl she had seen walk in just minutes prior. “Good evening,” Alicia found herself repeating, with less gusto than per usual, having exhausted it on the first occurrence of her little ritual. “I’m Mr. Yelkins’ nurse, Alicia.”
“Gerald. Just call him Gerald. I’m Hannah, his sister.” Alicia smiled and nodded her social pleasures. The girl couldn’t be older than 16, so it was definitely disgust welling green in her eyes. Alicia’s experience with teenage girls was painfully extensive. Her aunt had badgered her into fully examining her four daughters bi-monthly once Alicia had completed her first semester studying nursing; it was easier to humor Aunt Ronnica than listen to her rants on how American doctors never take kindly to Latina women. After two years of awkward examinations, Alicia knew girls this age rarely make eye contact with anybody; she was simply glad she didn’t suffer the same death stares as Everything, who was apparently roused by his sister’s arrival.
“I’m Everything, Hannah. All these things I can see. You’ve never experienced this before.” For the first time tonight, Everything spoke louder than a whisper.
“You’re not really seeing anything. You’re just fucked up,” Hannah bit back. As her fingers dragged her gloves into place, Alicia snickered in silence at the gall of teenage girls.
“You don’t. I do. Love, power, fear, doubt, joy, hurt. More. Everything.”
“Alright, Gerald,” interrupted Alicia, wondering if Everything could see the sparks spilling out of his sister’s head. “Let’s get a look at that thigh.” Alicia peeled the covers back from his feet, hoisting them gradually till his purple-patched pasty legs gave way to gashes longer than her fingers, crusted in dry blood. “Pretty deep. Nowhere near the artery. Thank Go--” The words seemed to evaporate before they even left her mouth.
But Hannah’s brick-solid words filtered through gritted teeth. “Fucking dealer barged into the apartment while our parents and little brothers were out. Brought two or three big guys. Apparently, this dumbass here was selling and decided to try the product for a week or two. It’s not like they wouldn’t count the money and find out. Shit, he was even tripping in the living room when these guys gagged him, sliced him up, took the rest of the stash, and ran. I called the ambulance before anyone else could come back to finish the job.”
“A little fierce for the kind of people who usually sell mushrooms, don’t you think?”
“Assholes from school. Gerald said they were his friends. He’s terrible at picking those and maybe worse at keeping them.”
“Well it looks like they weren’t aiming to kill, at least. Probably just a scare tactic,” she sighed as she opened kits of alcohol and chlorhexidine—partially in relief, partially to ward away the pungent fumes of purity. “Let’s get these cleaned.”
As she set down the antiseptic-soaked pad to his skin, his body turned stiff and he let out wide-eyed moans of “Whhhhyy!?”
Alicia pressed on past his obvious pain. “It's going to hurt, but it’s killing all the bacteria and viruses and other pathogens that could get in through this slash.”
“But why? Why hurt us?” Even Everything, in his psychedelic torment, could see the confusion his words instilled in Alicia’s all-too-sober eyes. “I am Everything. We are Everything. This hurts us.”
“We have to do to this, Gerald. A lot more pain could happen if we don’t.”
“This hurts us. I don’t want to see us hurting anymore. I’m tired of seeing us hurt.”
Hannah snapped back in with the burgeoning glints of tears in her eyes. “God, shut the fuck up, Gerald! This is your fault. This has got to happen because you fucked up.”
“Please, Hannah, quiet down,” reminded Alicia, feeling Everything's legs pulse with every stressed syllable of his sister's berating. The thrum of his muscles stopped when he spoke. “Because I wanted to be more than just me?”
“You’re just Gerald. Nothing else. And you might not even be that, soon.”
“Hannah,” Alicia interrupted, applying bandages now that the mixture had dried on Everything’s skin, stained red like a rust so ancient that it had begun to fade.
“Don’t defend him, Nurse. Some junkies know our fucking address now, and if he ever fucks around again he’s probably dead. God only know what our parents are going to do.” Hannah pressed her hand against the cabinets beside her until her fingers turned white. “Especially since that woman you were talking to outside the door seems to be trying to help some doctors and police throw Gerald in jail.”
“At least you still have your brother, Hannah. Mine overdosed on heroin. Everyone knew he had problems, and none of us helped. Then we all gathered in the church like it was some kind of tragedy.” The air conditioning hummed to life, and Alicia remembered the unwavering coldness of church pews. “It's been almost three years now. Do you think I'd wish that on anyone?”
The frigid air flowing down the back of Hannah's neck stopped her explosion in its tracks, and the sudden beeping from Alicia's pocket held back all the rebuttals Hannah didn't have. The blanching on the backs of her hands crept upward to her face.
“I'll be right back. Here's the call light.” Alicia draped the cord and button into Hannah's lap. She hadn't even entirely walked out the door before the phone, flashing a familiar number, reached her ear. “What, Abe?”
The authoritative boom of Dr. G's voice expanded in and around Alicia's head. “Have you drawn blood on 106 yet?”
Alicia strove to rise out of her solemnity, but she couldn't. “No.”
“It's needed stat.”
“This is wrong. Do you even know the patient's name?”
His words echoed through the cellular static like thunder. “STAT, Alicia.” Click. Though she recalled distancing herself from most of his calls mid-way through or having to switch lines, she never remembered an instance when she had been the first to hang up.
The night bled through the white, windowless walls of the E.D. Alicia thought of the marks carved into her brother's arms when they found him face-up days later, skin shriveling around the syringe still plunged in his arm. She thought of court dates to settle loans and the instructions of his will, the knocks of half-patient smack dealers at her door at night looking to collect inherited debts, the gravestone which received a constant flow of roses from damn-near-strangers despite their unwillingness to even acknowledge her brother, much less claim him, while he was alive.
Goddamn it. Goddamn it all.
And as she floated toward the supply closet to retrieve butterfly needles and colored-cap vials and the like, she made a weak effort to forget that she still dreaded threading needles into veins. For her own sake—something she rarely found herself considering these days—she was determined to.
“I need you to leave the room for just a moment. One more quick procedure.”
Hannah offered no protest to Alicia's demand. She simply rose and glided out of 106 in perfect, placid silence. Maybe even Hannah had faith in something.
When she could no longer hear the clapping of those counterfeit Converse trailing along the tile, Alicia drew the privacy sheet around Everything’s bed. “Tell me about the universe,” she implored, whispers slinking out of her rattling lungs like the last droplets being choked out of an IV bag.
“It's us. We're the universe,” he spun his soliloquy in hushed wonder. Alicia nodded her understanding. “All of us. Everyone here, in this building, in this town, in this world. Little bits of meaning in the whole of existence, all sharing the same moments alive, together.”
Alicia never looked away from him as she pressed the bevel of her needle onto the top layer of Everything's skin—along the same folds of skin where her own brother had sucked the life out of himself—just enough to make the tiny superficial mark of an IV. “So we're all in this universe together, even when we push away from the people around us?”
“Yes,” he wheezed, a prophet to all and nothing at once. “We are one. All of us. Always.” Everything didn't even notice Alicia's actions until she had firmly patched him up with gauze and tape.
“Alright, Gerald, we’re done now. Thank you.” She excused herself from his presence—her own presence, so she had learned--and slithered from around the privacy curtain to press her back to the corner of the room, away from the slightest sliver of light peeking through the door’s tiny window.
With her teeth, she drew tight around her own trembling arm the tourniquet intended for Everything. “We're doing a blood draw,” she explained aloud, needlessly and out of sheer habit, with what breath she had left. With two fingers, she patted the unfamiliar topography of the underside of her forearm, now uncovered from the white sheath of her standard-issue scrubs jacket. She knew nobody would be able to see the needled bruise on her brown skin, and she laughed a shaking laugh for only a moment. Her soon to be victimized arm reached up and grabbed her forlorn rosary to steady itself.
The needletip burst through the hardened flesh of her forearms without effort, and the flash of blood red in the tubing told her she had done right. She pressed vial after vial into the tubing until each was full and then smashed cottony squares against the underside of the arm whose hand had just reduced a small black cross into a mangled heap of wooden shards, none so divine without the others. She held the gauze down against the poke for a minute or two until both her shivering and her bleeding had passed.
“I’ll be right back,” she informed Everything. “I’ll get Mrs. Thomas to check on you while I’m out.”
She skirted past the overflow stretchers resting in their usual places along the walls like buoys, floating in a still sea of asepsis, guiding her toward the glimmering exit of the unit right beyond the nurses station. “I’m running these down to the lab, Val. Send Paulette to 106 if they need anything.” She hit a silver button by the door with her vacant fist.
As the doors hummed open, Alicia locked eyes with square-frames of a lanky relic of a man, stark white beard bleeding into the stitches of his lapel.
“Good evening, Abe,” she offered with a smile as demure and scarless as she was despite the plugged-up hole on the back of her arm. She walked into the closing elevator with a bag full of blood vials—her blood vials--in her hand.
“Alicia,” Dr. G. responded with the unintended yelp of a man rarely looked in the eyes. For once his voice did not fill the room and instead cracked into nothingness.
But she paid him no mind. By the time he might even begin to suspect her actions, her clean blood would be running into the same orange “BIOHAZARD” reservoirs as that of everybody else in the hospital—she would finally be mixed into little bits of everyone. As she watched the elevator ease shut like the doors to a once familiar, quickly-aging church, she smiled.