“It wasn’t supposed to end like this,” Carrie said turning to Dom, his olive skin glistening in the light of the setting sun.
“Maybe,” he said, propping himself up and plucking a strawberry from the basket they’d brought. “But aren’t you glad it did?”
She smiled and he placed the fruit between her teeth, the sweet tang of the juice trickling over her tongue as her teeth punctured it’s soft flesh. It was a wild taste, full of sounds and color, yet part of it sent her back to a time when taste was dull. A time when the freshest fruit she tasted were pulpy strings whipped into a cup of dense dairy product.
Dom pulled the cup of strawberry yogurt from his pocket and placed it on the tray beside her bed. At first Carrie could only stare at it, then she turned to him. The gangly nurse produced a crooked grin. “I—uh—I pulled some strings with the kitchen ladies, I know it’s your favorite.”
Carrie turned her attention back to the television where Maury was yelling at a woman who was afraid of pickles. Dom didn’t speak again until the commercial break,“This place will do you a lot more good if you’ve got a friend or two, you know.”
She blinked at him. “Do you try this hard with all the pretty patients?”
The nurse rolled his eyes. “Well my lunch was cut short so if you don’t want it-” He reached for the yogurt, but Carrie snatched it away. Dom raised his hands in surrender. “Fine,” he said. “Wouldn’t want you taking one of my fingers with it.”
Carrie turned back to the TV and the two of them sat through another strained silence. The next time Maury broke for a commercial, she turned to face the nurse again. “So how long are you going to be watching me then?”
Dom glanced down at his watch. “Well, my shift doesn’t end for another seven hours and thirty-five minutes, so another seven hours and thirty-five minutes.”
“And you have to be in here? The whole time?”
“That is in the job description,” said the nurse.
“And you’ll just be sitting there, watching me?”
“No more than an arm’s length away,” Dom grumbled. “But hey, at least you’ve got a glowing personality.”
Carrie thought for a moment. “What about the bathroom?”
“What about it?”
“Do you have to watch me there?”
“And if I use my bedpan, you’d have to be the one to empty it?” Carrie asked.
“Can we stop talking about this?”
“Answer the question,” she insisted.
“Yes,” he sighed. “I would be the one to handle your excrement.”
“Did you really just call it excrement?” she said, stifling a chuckle. “Are you a middle school health teacher or something?”
Dom shook his head and smirked. “Are you this mean to all the pretty nurses?”
Carrie raised an eyebrow. “Maybe I should give you some excrement to handle, deflate that ego of yours a bit.”
He laughed, “Please, this ego’s been slashed open so many times it can hardly–”
The room was strangled into sudden silence and for the first time since taking his seat beside her bed, the nurse looked away from Carrie. “I—I’m sorry,” he sputtered. “I didn’t mean it like–”
“No,” said Carrie, “Don’t be. You were just–”
“An asshole,” said Dom. “I was just being an asshole.” He slumped in his chair, his eyes studying the pattern on the tiled floor.
“Hey, you’re supposed to be watching me, not the floor, remember?” Carrie said.
The nurse didn’t move.
“And look,” she said, extending her arm lazily in his direction. “More than an arm’s length. You wouldn’t want me to complain and get you fired now, would you?”
Without looking up, the nurse pushed his chair toward the bed until Carrie’s finger tips were touching him. She leaned forward then and snatched up his hand before he could protest. “Listen,” she said. “I’m telling you I don’t care. And if I don’t care, then you shouldn’t care, and the both of us should go back to having fun.”
“Fun?” he asked, his eyes making their way back up to hers.
Carrie shrugged. “Well, you’re better than Maury. That’s a start.” She pulled back the foil lid of the yogurt and licked the residue that had been stuck to the top. It was a bland flavor that tasted of plastic and mass production, but there was something else hiding in there too. A sort of sweetness she’d been longing for since the night before she’d arrived at the hospital.
The meal was terrific in it’s decadence. Mashed potatoes slathered thick with savory brown gravy, spaghetti smothered in a lavish three-meat sauce, and all the rest of Carrie’s favorite foods sprawled across the length of the table. She took little more than a single bite from each as she made her way through, making certain that every beloved flavor danced its way across her tongue before the night was finished. But by the time she’d worked through every dish she couldn’t help but feel as though something was missing. But that was the problem wasn’t it? Something was always missing.
After her feast, Carrie made her way to the upstairs bathroom and called her sister. It went to voice-mail, as expected, and she rattled off what she had prepared. Then shedding her clothes, she descended into the bath she’d drawn just before her meal.
She barely felt the cuts. Her head grew light and the warmth of the bath folded her up inside of it, and just before her eyes drooped shut, Carrie caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. Her gaze drifted down to the steady stream of scarlet at her wrists. And as existence itself began to fade around her, she found herself longing for a strawberry.
It couldn’t end like this, she thought. Not until she had one more taste.