Saturday 21 June 2014

'Storm Damage' by Charlotte Schenken

Every night, as he sat at the bar, shivering a little, Dr. Broussard recited the reasons he should not make an exception to his rule about drinking, and the reasons he should.  Each night, the argument was brief and when it was done, he raised his hand and the barman brought a glass of vodka which Dr. Broussard swallowed in three gulps.  Then, not wanting to waste any of the benefits of his transgression, he hurried to his home which was an apartment. 
Ordinary.  Second floor.  Three rooms, mostly bare.  A bed, a stool for the counter, some cardboard boxes to organize his clothes.  His house things—as well as his office and his medical records and his secretary, who’d evacuated to Houston and stayed there--had all gone in the storm and he had not replaced them. 
After he had washed himself, he lay down and pulled up his blanket.  He folded his hands across his chest but kept his eyes open, fighting to stay awake for as long as he could because his night-people—Cecile and Sonny-Boy and the others--usually waited for him to sleep before they came.  They were angry and clamorous so it seemed simplest to stay awake.  Toward morning, he’d drop off for a little but the circles beneath his eyes were so dark that the nurses in his office whispered about him.  “Leukemia, do you think?”  “Radiation sickness?”

            In his old hospital, after the levee had given up and the water had crept through the hallways and under the doors, they—he, and the two nurses who had stayed, and Albert the janitor--had moved his cancer patients up a floor, and then another.  They moved them on stretchers and in their arms, because, of course, the elevators were not working.  Someone--usually Albert—followed, carrying the IV bags. 
After a while, they ran out of the things they had to have.  When the pain medication was gone and the water was gone and the heat and the smell and the bugs washed over them like a tide, when the plaster walls stank of the dead bodies they had left behind as they ascended the building, when the sounds of pain made him wilder than the storm, then he did as they had taught him in medical school:  he paused to assess his supplies, which were meager and growing more so, and his options. 
He was not a man who acted quickly.  He bowed his head and took some time over his thinking. Then he made his rounds, taking each IV line into his hand, and injecting it with freedom.  He wondered which of his patients knew what he was giving them. 
He did not know and did not want to know.  He clung to his ignorance, and to the cold blanket he had woven for himself.

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