To-nite I greet this sallow month with a little story. Fiction that it may be, it is sadly all too true for many a noble soul.
If you see yourself in these feeble scribblings below, do let me know. The disenfranchised such as ourselves need to help each other. We cannot rely on the sands of capricious fate to do the heavy lifting for us, in this shallow and nihilistic age. Otherwise we will be waiting forever...
Catherine Gilmore opened the battered door to her small and dowdy fifth floor apartment somewhere on the city’s desolate west side. Inside, as usual, she found it despondently bare and empty. With a sigh Catherine shut the door and hung her handbag on the metal hook behind the door, her worn and tired hands glad to be free of it. Scraping off her worn leather pumps, she turned on the kitchen light and let the sensation of quiet and peace fall over her for the first time that long day – as she did every day, after another exhausting shift at the medical center.
With little fanfare she loosened her collar and went to work making a pot of coffee. Caffeine – without it, she didn’t know how she could function otherwise. The thick aroma of the black powder filled her nostrils with a hard but comforting familiarity that she had come to expect in the evening. It was the least bit of indulgence she could afford for herself.
The lights of the city streamed in neon glow through the window at the far end of the room, the half-closed blinds etching its rays into long sliver-like slats of light reflected solemnly on the bare walls of the apartment. Turning on the living area light, Catherine moved her gaze upon her living quarters, the sum total of her life. In the center nearest the kitchen was a small, battered table with a scarred Formica top and two weather beaten chairs, their legs loose and their backs flaking to shreds; further toward the window was her worn sofa which doubled as a fold out bed, a small coffee table checkered with the brown stains of spilled coffee, an old stand up dresser chest which contained her clothes and doubled as a makeshift closet, a metal rack covered with books mainly dealing with medical topics; and finally, a small, struggling plant that never could seem to thrive, no matter how much water or sunlight it received. To the right, out of sight for now, was the small bathroom which, as she knew, comprised a small shower, a chipped ceramic washbasin, dispensary cabinet, and full length mirror mounted to the door. Otherwise, that was everything.
The sum total of her existence…
The coffee began to bubble as it came to a boil and Catherine poured herself a cup into the one blue coffee mug which she often used. Sitting at the table and letting the peace and solitude sink in, she began to let her thoughts drift, as she often did around this time of evening. It was not often she had the luxury of just allowing herself to let her mind roam free from a mode of constantly making calculations, attending to patients – a strict discipline of mind and body which every good nurse was expected to follow.
Life up to this point had not been easy. Oh, she was well off enough – reasonably fed, and housed, with work that she enjoyed and cared passionately about – thought certainly, there were people who far outstripped her in all these regards. But it was not easy being far from home. She had come to the city seven years ago, from the small town where she had grown up, where she had left family, friends, relationships. City people were not so easy to get to know as all that. They were hardened, cynical, afraid to admit anything unfamiliar or untested into her life. Sure, she knew people – the hospital offered plenty of opportunities to meet and encounter lots of folks, from many different walks of life. But while one could get to know people in passing, it was another thing again to get to know them on a real and personal level. There was a stiff and formal air of professionalism that kept herself separate from her colleagues, a barrier invisible but very real, one which in all this time she had never managed to cross or penetrate. Oh, she didn’t believe that people disliked her – but again, it was the entire aspect of city people, and their fundamental disdain for people not like themselves. After a time she had understood. She did not take it personally. She never had, really. Spite was not an emotion that Catherine could be made to feel easily.
Really, she had never been a particularly social person. It was not in her nature to be the center of attention. She hated attention, actually. But to be recognized, as a human being, as someone of value who gave and contributed to this world – that was not something abnormal to wish for, or desire. It was the basic human desire, really.
Life happens, whether for good or for ill. She had always been taught that by her elders. But what to say when life simply doesn’t happen? When you expect that something should happen, given your past experience, and that hoped for expectation fails to materialize? What to say then?
You think too much, she told herself with a slight smirk. There was no point in beating these things about. Her body was sore and tired and Catherine suddenly felt very exhausted. It was time to shower and rest. She had to be up again by five in order to begin her shift at six, and it was already very nearly nine in the evening. Downing the rest of the now-fetid cool caffeinated liquid, Catherine moved toward the small lavatory with its aqua green tiles and constant sterile smell.
As she soothingly rubbed the soap down her aching muscles, Catherine let the warm water flow over her, allowing her body to indulge freely in one of the few forms of pure pleasure she permitted herself. For a moment she could forget the emptiness of her own present and remember how life was supposed to be lived, how happiness was supposed to feel…
The warm water brought her back to the small town where she had grown up, to Calusohatchee, to humid summer evenings spent languidly swimming with her friends in the temperate currents of the Calusohatchee River, to days on the white sands of the beach with the tropical waters of the Gulf lapping at her feet, to nights strolling along the riverfront boardwalk while the moonlight played its sparkles upon the surface of the dark streaming snake of life that coursed beside her…
Life had been simple then. No traffic, no crime, no complications. Their town did not even have a stop sign, much less a stoplight. There was a mutual trust between folks who lived in the community. Everyone had his own business to attend to, but underneath there was an unspoken camaraderie, an experience of shared living, an easy willingness to help a neighbor or friend in need. No gray areas or moral quandaries here.
She had really never known that life could be as complicated as it had turned out to be for her, until she stepped foot into the sterile white reaches of Melville Medical Center for the first time.
Fresh out of nursing school at twenty-one, and eager to help others, with a smile on her face and a caring heart. Two things that came very easily to her.
They had said it from the beginning – her parents, her friends – that she would certainly end up a nurse or in a similar ‘caring’ profession.
“Oh, that Cathy – she is the sweetest girl I know.”
”Catherine is apprised of the kindest and most caring heart that I can imagine.”
All still true – but tempered by seven years of hard experience. She still had a smile on her face, and still cared about those in need – but deep down she knew, fundamentally, that the rest of the world didn’t.
The doctors were the primary culprits in developing this assessment. It is said that due to the material rewards of the profession, it is becoming more common to find medical professionals who are less interested, say, in upholding the Hippocratic oath as they are in ensuring that they are handsomely compensated for the privilege.
She had never encountered such frightful shades of moral ambiguity as she had witnessed during seven years spent as a practicing registered nurse at Melville Medical Center.
Doctors – barely human in all their dispensing of life and death – determining who should live, and who should die, solely by the factor of the pocketbook, or how it would affect their careers. With all that Federal money floating about, it stood to reason that the souls of men would be corrupted by the siren call of a false Mannon.
The Hippocratic oath be damned to them! she thought. They can hardly be called human, if they cannot feel what it is like to be human, to hurt inside, to understand suffering.
Stepping out of the shower, Catherine examined her dripping body in the full length mirror.
It was a body possessed by some form of higher art, a beautiful and finely crafted feminine figure of an especially pleasing and curving shape, well rounded in the hips and thighs, narrow and slender at the waist, amply bosomed with full, round breasts that would delight any man; tall, sinuous, and muscular – strong, lean, fit, well-toned, healthy, superb condition for a young woman of twenty-eight, topped by a thick mane of wavy brown hair that was usually thrown back into a smart ponytail, with a heart shaped face, its sharp and piercing feature chiseled as in granite, but femininely soft at the same time.
In short, she was quite beautiful and pleasantly attractive, as men rate women in terms of looks. And really, she did not object to those characterizations – though she hardly thought of herself as the raging beauty that others would make her out to be.
But here she stood, twenty-eight, unmarried, no beaus or any significant others, no marriage prospects in the near future, or the long term future, in fact – no matter which way you looked at it, she was utterly, terribly alone.
A L O N E. That was the bare, hard reality of her existence.
Alone, in the city, no friends or family to turn to, no one to share pain or joy or love with.
(For god’s sake, she was still a virgin, at her age! Not that it was a major consideration. For Catherine sex was something which waited until one had a husband.)
She rubbed her hands down her flat stomach, down to her well formed waist, her thighs…These loins would bear no children. Perfectly suited as they were, by the gift of God’s nature and their especial pleasantness to man, to bring new life into the world, to provide joy and happiness for some incredibly special and fortunate man, and yet no life would spring from them.
With effort Catherine held back a sob. It was too much…She would not cry! If there was any person more responsible for her current predicament, it was her. It was her life and it was up to her what to decide to do about it and go about living it.
She wanted love, she wanted children, she wanted happiness. Who didn’t? But she wanted these things in a time and place where the ground for springing these things forth was infertile, where the emotional earth would not yield its harvest, where the creed of nihilism had triumphed over everything else.
Sure, if she wanted easy pleasures, there were always the male interns and orderlies around and about the hospital complex, with their seemingly endless stamina for carnal exertion. Certainly more than a few had made less than discreet inquiries as to her availability in this regard.
But that was not happiness; it was an empty counterfeit substitute, which in the end was sure to leave her with an even more gaping hole in her soul than she currently possessed. And quite frankly, the idea of a strange man she hardly cared for as a person penetrating her was not a particularly satisfying thought for her.
She was twenty-eight, yes, and her loins burned as much as any young woman’s for that wondrous physical release which potentially resided between her legs. But there was a time and a place for all these things…namely, one’s wedding night.
Love was sacrifice, not an easy fling or a cheap thrill. She knew the difference.
Hardly wont to linger in a state of stressful worry, Catherine placed her nightgown over her luscious figure and went off into the living room, to unfold her bed for the night…
I might add to this later, might not - depends on whether a good idea for the next chapter forms in my mind. Stay tuned...