Ok I’ll get my excuses in early, I’ve been tied up with another (very cool) writing contest and the deadlines clashed, my story for that sucked all the emotional energy out of me and so this effort for NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction competition was a bit, well… meh.
But I’ve gotten in the habit of posting NYC submissions, so despite the embarrassment here it is as submitted. The prompt was a romance featuring an emergency room and a mop.
What the Eye Doesn’t See
In the aftermath of a death the feelings of four hospital workers come out into the open.
There was blood all over the floor. Marco wheeled the bucket in, pushing against the long handle of the mop. Superbugs had changed the game from a simple swipe of the mop to a process of infection control. He didn’t mind. It lifted his work from the lowly domain of the janitor to something that had meaning and consequences.
It also meant he could spend time working around the slumbering Dr Arden. She was slouched in a plastic chair, still in blood spattered scrubs, in a corner of the room. A stray hair fell across her face. He itched to brush it away, but his hands weren’t clean.
Her life had real meaning and she threw herself into it. The maintenance office gossip had her dedication as the cause of her divorce. Marco shook his head at that. The desire to do things well mattered.
Quietly, taking care not to disturb her, Marco wheeled the bucket of bloody water away and began the spiral of disinfectants.
Someone had left study books under the lip of the desk. With reception quiet now the grieving family were gone Jeanette flipped it open, idly going through the pages of tables and charts. It was some night study course. She sighed. Another person with false dreams of making a better life.
She looked down the hall to where Marco was busy cleaning. He had no such absurd ambitions. He had been in the same job for years, methodical and precise; kind of attractive too. What was not to like? Neither of them were young anymore and he was a steady guy. She had flirted with him a couple of times but she guessed he was shy, he hadn’t really noticed.
That was a good thing, she decided. Less likely to mess around. He was considerate too, working with care around the Dragon so he would not wake her. Jeannette would have to make a move. Time was passing them both by.
He seemed to sense her looking, which made her blush and turn back to the book. Behind her the coffee machine hissed and clanked. She looked over her shoulder and suppressed a groan. Anthony, one of the paramedics, was ogling her. There was a perfectly good coffee machine by the ambulance park, but he insisted on coming all the way over here with the excuse the coffee was better.
He would want to talk, and there was no work she could hide behind. She stared at the book, hoping he would go away.
He’d brought in the gusher. Running beside the gurney keeping pressure on the wound he’d twisted his ankle and run through the pain. No one had noticed. His next call out had been a false alarm, the passing time had not been enough for the boy.
At least it was Jeanette’s shift on reception, and at this time of night no one else was around. A little playful banter would go down well with his coffee and shake the gloom of a life lost.
Jeanette seemed to be engrossed in a book. He put the coffee cup on the counter and peered over to see what it was. The contents made no sense to him. “Management on the horizon Jeannie?”
She gave him the mock scowl he found so endearing and pushed the book away. “It’s not my book. Why are you hanging around here anyway?”
“Just came over for the best coffee and smile in town.”
She took a swipe at his coffee cup. He whisked it away before she could connect. “You’ve got your coffee. You can whistle for the smile.” The coffee splashed over the edge of the paper cup and onto his hand. Anthony yelped and dropped it. “And now you’ve got neither.”
He backed away, heading for an empty cubicle and a sink. Marco was cleaning up down the hall. Running cold water over his scalded hand he called “Marco, spillage in reception.”
A shout jerked her awake. She looked around, trying to place herself. She had sat down for just a moment when the boy had been wheeled away, and from the looks of things she had fallen asleep. Elspeth took a couple of deep breaths. There was nothing more she could have done.
There was a cleaner busy in the room, he gave her a shy smile and she responded with a tired one of her own before standing up and trying to ease the stiffness in her neck. She needed a shower and fresh scrubs to see out the rest of the night. Most of all she needed coffee.
Anthony was drying his hands on a paper towel as she got to reception, and there was coffee all over the floor. “What happened to you?”
He shrugged “A little accident.”
She shook her head in disbelief. “You can pull a boy out of a gang war, but you can’t hold a coffee cup?”
“Just clumsy, I guess.” His tone turned sombre. “I heard we lost him.”
She bristled, the boy’s loss was hers alone to bear, but she’d seen Anthony hobble on a bad ankle beside the gurney and couldn’t turn her anger on him. She looked back down the hall; she had tracked bloody footprints across the floor. “Hey,” she called out to the cleaner. “Deal with this already.” She kicked off her soiled shoes and stalked off.
Marco hurried over with his disinfectant floor wipes. Jeanette leaned forward over the desk and whispered. “She had no right to talk to you that way.”
Anthony watched her closely, realising in that instant where her interest lay.
Marco gave her a friendly smile. “It OK, it’s my job to clean up.” He looked over to where Elspeth stood by the coffee machine. Anthony read his expression as well and backed away around the spilled coffee. There was no way he was getting involved in this mess.
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3 thoughts on “What The Eye Doesn’t See”
In spite of your fears I read on when I meant to switch off. You have captured two fascinating things about us humans; we cannot know what is actually passing through someone else’s mind and we have an amazingly well-developed ability to read the tiniest signals of body language. I enjoyed the circularity of the story too.
I think these are good character sketches, Ali. It’s interesting, but I find the male characters overall more sympathetic than the females in this one. Probably that’s just me, however. I think this is a really viable story with multiple characterizations and potential POVs, which is really tough to pull off, and I applaud you for that. It was pretty straightforward, this, even though the idea was how each was emotionally intertangled (or wanted to be) with one of the others and mostly unbeknownst to the others (at least until Anthony’s epiphany at the end). It’s a subtle romance, I’d say, which I like, and the prose is very nimble and drives the plot very well. Might not work for the HEA crowd, but I doubt NYC Midnight is that crowd. Good luck, and can’t wait to see you winning that other cool contest!
Help me out Leigh, what is HEA?
In other news, a very closely fought battle in the other competition saw me just pipped at the post; my story for that was a rare thing: one of my own that I really like, and needed to write. With tweaks I will look to submit it.