poured out before bed
The sound of a little V8 can being knocked into my chest is followed by the gooey feel of it’s contents soaking into my shirt, the tangy scent of it’s vegetably goodness filling my nostrils.
“Oh God, I’m so sorry!”
The awkward radiology resident wears such a look of mortification that I momentarily forget my own soiling and wonder if he’s been bodily – not just socially – injured.
“Oh – oh I’ve got a napkin here somewhere!” he is quickly runseling in his knapsack, little bits of paper and long lost pens falling from it’s gaping mouth.
“Oh gosh, Jon, don’t worry! It’s a black shirt, so no harm done. I’ll just be a minute cleaning up. Excuse me.”
I nip over to the ladies room – a geometric square consisting of toilet, pedestal sink and little room for much else – where I flick the collected tomato-y goober from my shirt and hold it briefly under the tap till the water runs clear. A quick dab with a paper towel and all is well – you can’t even tell where the ebony knit is damp. I about-face to exit, have just turned the handle, when the door flies open, nearly knocking me into the sink.
A woman nearly as large as the scant open space in the room sidles in and slams the door.
“Out of my way!” she shrieks and, before I know it, she’s dropped trow and a few goodies upon the porcelain throne, all the while glaring at me.
“Oh, goodness…um, let me give you some privacy,” trickles out from around the shock I’m emoting.
The generously proportioned woman places her fleshy hand on the door.
“Oh no you don’t, girl. You were stupid enough to not lock the door, now you can’t open it while I’m sitting like this.” She spits the words out, her eyes bulging, sweat rolling down her forehead. The smell is incredible – the sourness of skin folds gone anaerobic, the rough stench of hard liquor, the acridity of excrement without the slightest hint of fiber swirls into my nares mercilessly. It is all I can do not to gag as she sits there, her eyes locked on mine.
I stand motionless a few moments, processing, before the smallness of the space and the bigness of the smell make the situation wholly untenable.
“I’m sorry, excuse me,” I say, grasping her wrist and thrusting it from the door with one hand, turning the handle with the other, engaging the lock as I pull the door shut behind me. The fresh air and open hallway are most welcome experiences.
But instantly, from behind the door I hear a great bellow, and suddenly the door is open. From her perch the woman begins yelling, swearing.
“You let everyone see me!” she screams repeatedly, waving the door back and forth, slamming it open and shut. Her screams rapidly degenerate into wild sobs punctuated by the slams.
I’m frozen on the spot. How should one respond to something such as this? I scan the empty hallway, praying for a helpful figure to appear. There is no one.
The woman is now sobbing uncontrollably, arms over her face, the door left ajar. Reflexively, I shut the door and stand dumbly outside of it, feeling the cold moisture of my wet shirt against my chest, listening to her cry.
The childish sobs slowly subside into sniffles, but continue methodically.
Against my better judgement, I knock on the door.
“Ma’am, are you alright in there? Do you need anything?”
The sniffles pause for a moment. “I need to dry out,” comes an anguished rasp. “I need to get help or I’m just going to go home and finish it.”
The hair on the back of my neck stands up. “What do you mean ‘finish it’?” I ask, leaning into the door.
The harsh sobs have continued for so long I’m about repeat the question when comes a strained whisper.
Now those neck hairs are fully erect. I feel a chill that is incompletely explained by my damp blouse.
“Ma’am, I don’t know what you are going through, but I’m sorry you feel that way… Will you let me try to help you?”
The sobs continue.
“Ma’am, can I walk with you to the mental health complex?”
A few more sobs, a flush and wash, and a short walk to the psychiatric crisis center later, and my shirt is completely dry.
When I finally re-enter the reading room, Jon fumblingly rises.
“Mulberry, I’m so sorry about that – did you get it all out?”
I nod and smile, leaning in to the look at the next CT scan on the screen.
“It’s no problem at all, Jon. Messes are the stuff of life.”