This story is by Lexie Bargen and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Mr. Roberts?” She spoke softly, moving towards the tall man pacing anxiously in the waiting room.
“Carla, is she okay?” His fingers twitched as he awaited the news.
“Sir, I think it would be best if we spoke somewhere more private.” She escorted him into a conference room and motioned for him to sit. Removing her scrub cap, her brown pony fell against her back; she sat down beside him. “Mr. Roberts, when we opened up your daughter’s skull to remove the tumor, her brain began to herniate. We did everything that we could, but from the amount of pressure,” she took a small breath, “she is brain dead, and she will not be able to come off life support.”
He stared at her. “You said this was something you’d done hundreds of times.”
“It is, we did not anticipate that your daughter’s brain would suffer that much swelling. I am truly sorry for your loss.”
Tears began to form in his eyes, and in an instant, he stood up and threw a chair against the wall. “She’s all I had!”.
She sat there motionless, tears glazing over her bright green eyes. “Sir, if you would like to go see her. She won’t be able to hear you consciously, but we still have no idea what the subconscious can process.”
“I want my daughter. I want my daughter!” He repeated several times. Falling to his knees, he began screaming. He paused for a minute; she turned to him and saw him break before her eyes. Through gritted teeth, he said quietly, “this is your fault.”
For the month following this conversation, his words distracted her each day. Between every free moment she had at the hospital, every time she did not have a patient open on the table. Surgeries were the only way to calm the voice of Mr. Robert’s continuously repeating in her head, echoing into silence.
Every night when she got off, she would go to the bar. Two tequila shots, one beer and a short, mundane conversation with Paul, the bartender, took up thirty minutes of her routine. However, that night she stopped at the liquor store to pick up a bottle of wine to drown the thought of the two patients she had lost that day. It was becoming apparent that death was a more significant part of the job than saving people. Was medicine truly the savior people imagined?
“Ollie!” She yelled from the door while she stumbled with her belongings. Ollie was getting old, his senses beginning to fail him, his hearing was the first to go.
She adjusted the bottle of wine under her arm to hold Ollie’s face. Ollie softly licked at her fingers, and she smiled. “Let’s get you some dinner.” She opened the fridge and removed the only container of wet food Ollie actually liked to eat.
As the spoon began to hit the tin bowl, the sound pulled her away from the task at hand. Ollie filled a void in her that she did not realize she had. While she was a resident at the hospital, she never wanted to put a man through being involved with someone specializing in neurology. However, when the time came to become an attending with slightly more reasonable hours, she wanted to start a family. She assumed that she could do it on her own; there was a daycare at the hospital. Plenty of women have children and intense jobs; she told herself the entire way through IVF treatments. Every time she would become pregnant, it wouldn’t last for more than a few months. Ollie pushed his head against her leg, bringing her back to reality, and she smiled.
“Sorry,” she said as she placed the food down. “You know, mom gets distracted.” Opening the bottle of wine, she smelt a coffee mug that had been sitting out, before shrugging and pouring anyways. She walked to the couch and sunk herself into the soft, cream-colored cushions. She turned her attention to the TV she had left on for Ollie while she drank her wine.
“The shooter is still out there; the police have assumed he is within a ten-block radius, and we have patrol cars searching each area. If you have any information, please contact the Vancouver Police Department immediately.” They showed a picture of what the suspected man looked like, and she narrowed her eyes on the photo. Is that-? She shook her head, that can’t be Mr. Roberts. She was being crazy.
The weight of the day began to take a substantial hold on her eyes, causing them to flutter shut. She tried to delay it, but fighting exhaustion was not a match she would win. Her head slumped back against the couch as her hands laid restful on her chest. Her soft snores echoed throughout the apartment. One unusually loud snore woke her from her small nap and caused the wine to inhabit the cup no longer.
“Shit!” She muttered, feeling it slowly drip down her chest under her shirt. She awkwardly stood up without shifting to one side or the other, trying not to get wine on the couch.
She walked into her cold bathroom and turned the knob on the shower. Hands pressed against the tile countertop; she unwillingly pulled her attention up to her reflection. She noticed the bags forming under her eyes. Sleep eluded her. She stripped her stained clothes onto the floor before stepping into the shower. She stood there for a while, motionless, letting the water run down her skin.
After placing Ollie in his room, she decided it was time for bed. She turned off her phone, placing it on the small, off-white, bedside table. A habit she had picked up after the news of her parent’s death came in the middle of the night. She settled in what she hoped for each evening, a restful night.
“You look peaceful when you sleep,” a low voice rang from the corner.
Her eyes shot open. She laid there still, body completely unable to move from the fear that was racing through her. She was dreaming, wasn’t she? However, she could feel her heart pounding; every hair on her body was raised. Her body began to shake, the pit in her stomach overgrowing.
“Doctor Davis.” He was quiet before his footsteps moved closer. This is a dream; this has to be a dream. Kneeling, he turned on the lamp sitting on the floor next to her bed. It brought to light the man’s features before her, his stark black hair, mustache, pale blue eyes. His green jacket and black ripped up shirt. At that moment, her nightmare became a reality. She was frozen until she shot out of bed and tried her best to get to the door. He grabbed her wrist and threw her to the ground. He got on top, legs on either side of her waist.
Tears rolled down her face as she fought for him to get off. “Please! I swear!” She yelled between sobs, “I never meant for anything to happen to her.”
“But it did,” he was calm, ready. He had planned this. “You were supposed to be at the bar; you’re always there. After every shift, you go there and sit and have two tequila shots and a beer before walking home.”
“Please, I’m begging-” she screamed.
He hit her across the face with the gun and pressed it against her head, “Shut up- it’s my turn to talk now.” He stared at her for a moment before continuing, “you change your routine the day that I can finally get this damn gun. The same fucking day,” he laughed to himself. “It’s been a month since her surgery, do you still think about her?”
She nodded, tears staining her cheeks.
He nodded once, and he, too, began crying. “She was only sixteen years old. I will never get to see her smiling face again, hear her laugh, walk her down the aisle.” He was in pain – immense, understandable pain. It caused people to do unimaginable things. “Do you know the agony of having to bury your baby?”
“No.” A lie. “I’m so sorry.”
“Me too.” It was quiet for a moment, she wanted to scream again, but the cold barrel of the gun pressed against her head reminded her that was not the best idea. “A parent should never outlive a child,” he removed the gun and stared at her sobbing beneath him. “Are your parents alive?”
“N-No, they died a long time ago.”
“Good.” He said as he pressed the gun against her chest again.
“No!” She screamed as he squeezed the trigger. The noise echoed through the apartment, and her blood began to pool. She laid there lifeless, as Carla had. He stared at her for a long moment before loading three more shots into her chest. He turned around and walked out the same way he’d come in. Medicine wasn’t the savior people imagined.