Fourth in a series of Flash Fiction shorts that I’m writing while in Thailand. I’m allowing myself a maximum of two hours per story so please forgive the rough edges. Cheers!
Clarice woke to a leg cramp in the middle of the night. Smack in the middle of her left calf. By the time she realized what she was doing she was clutching the space where her left calf used to be. Phantom pains.
All she could do was grimace and wait. Try to take measured breaths. Try not to clench her teeth hard enough that she lost one of those as well. The pain subsided after nearly an hour. Her alarm went off an hour after that.
A runner bounced past her on the way to the subway. Light, easy stride, slight pronation in the right foot. She lingered as the runner went around the bend.
In the back of her mind she still heard the cheers at the side of the road. Like a cramp in a limb she didn’t own anymore.
The brown water that passed for coffee in the hospital cafeteria was too hot to drink. She gingerly put the cup on her table. A new resident was sitting across from her yammering on about something. Star struck, she supposed.
“No, there’s nothing at all like it. Holding a beating heart in your hands. I would say it’s a rush but it’s more than that—it’s a tremendous responsibility.” She must have pulled out that line a thousand times but it always got the right reaction. She excused herself.
She drew a red line across the patient’s chest with her scalpel, her own heart beating like a metronome. Her hands worked automatically. Gliding through the procedure with the grace of thousands of hours of practice.
Her leg cramped hard.
Someone tapped her on the shoulder. Voices in the background murmured and the murmur sharpened.
The monitor alarm screeched.
Blood. Over her mask, across her glasses. The surgical assistant doing his best to help but his efforts only turned her world into a smeared mess.
The operating room roiled with frantic action around her and all she could hear was the bleating of the alarm.
Dark arterial blood coated her gloves. She couldn’t take her eyes from her hands.
It had been several weeks since she’d nicked that artery. Nicked. More like hacked it open.
This was the first time she’d been able to stand in front of a mirror since that day. The first time she’d looked herself in the eye.
The last time she felt this guilty was a long time ago.
She’d been floating along the road, numb and happy, welcoming the hot scrape of cold air as it passed in and out of her lungs. The burn in her muscles each time she pushed off, her calves squeezing at the springs of her feet.
A pedestrian crossing in the park ahead. A blur of tourists crowded, waiting for the light. Brian, her running partner called out from behind, “Wait. I . . . need. . . .”
“Work through it!” She shouted, at least in her mind she shouted, who knew if anybody heard. Who cared? “Push!”
Clarice kept on, floating.
On the next lap the pedestrian crossing the path was blocked by a crush of people. She turned back to say something witty to Brian but he wasn’t there.
EMTs dispersed the crowd.
There was Brian’s body, laying on the path. Unresponsive.
Afterward the guilt ebbed long enough for her to keep her hand steady. How do you absolve yourself of murder? Everybody assured her that she hadn’t murdered anybody but killing someone with your own incompetence was worse, wasn’t it?
She eyeballed the scalpel on the counter, the gleam in the overhead light.
One flick across the carotid and she’d bleed out through the neck. Gruesome but nearly painless with a bit of Valium. Besides, leaving a clean corpse would only betray the sentiment. Her unmarked body a testament to her own vanity.
Clarice set the scalpel back on the counter.
She walked to the bathroom for one last look into her own eyes. Sentimental maybe, to look into your own eyes when you tell yourself goodbye.
Her eyes were kinder than she remembered them. Grey, flecked with little bits of gold. Eyelids rimmed pink and puffy.
Maybe she could make it up. Make her amends with something other than her life.
Clarice went back to her scalpel.
A limb is simple to remove if you know where the connective tissue is. If you know exactly where the ligaments attach to the bone and have an instrument capable of making a clean incision.
Clarice shot up from a deep sleep. The pain came like a stab wound. Her hand clawed up in a ball, so tight that her knuckles might have popped out of their sockets.
She woke to her right hand pawing at the place her left had been. A futile attempt to uncurl cramped fingers that no longer existed.
All she could do was grimace and wait. Take some long breaths while she paid her nightly penance. If she was lucky she’d get another hour of sleep before her calf woke her.