I'd been working in the emergency room for about three weeks, I guess. With nothing to do on the overnight shift but file insurance claims, I started wandering around the hospital looking for Lisa, the late-shift social worker. Her office was just down the corridor from triage. It was the size of a broom closet or a urinal, and it smelled like black licorice. Lisa was small, too. On tiptoes, her brown eyes stared into a cherry mole the size of a gum drop over my left nipple. She snapped a couple of Polaroids of it and sent one to the New England Journal of Medicine, and crazy-glued the other in her portfolio. Lisa was an aspiring photographer and on slow nights, like this one, she and her instamatic haunted the floors -- surgical intensive care, the burn unit, head and neck . I was surprised to find her in her office, cramming a licorice stick down her throat.
"Do you know what twizzlers are made of?" I said. "The same thing as plastic straws. I'm not kidding, Lisa. It takes six years to digest licorice!"
She loaded her camera and laughed. Half of Lisa's mouth curled up and the other half turned down, like her lips were shot full of novacain. I screwed the pint-sized woman once anyway, but her facial contortions made me feel paternal; like I owed her more than I could give.
"Wanna look at my new stuff?" she asked.
"Sure," I said, and turned to the last page of her album.
Holy shit! A three-nostreled newborn howled at the lens. An arm, broken in four places, formed a hopeless quadrilateral rectangle. A pre- and post-op print of a French-pedicured toe, black with gangrene, and an artificial anus oozed despair.
"Hey," I said. "Did you hear about the guy who got impaled on a fence? He went to surgery around six o‚clock."
"Well, he was burglarizing some church rectory and he, like, leaps out the second-floor window when the deacon shows up. What a damn mess."
"Yeah," said Lisa, her brown eyes shining.
* * *
At the end of my shift, I caught Lisa at the water fountain.
"Something wrong?" I asked.
"I got a call from post-op. They wanted me to take a picture."
"The impaled guy? Cool."
"No. They wanted me to take a picture of the fence. Seems like it's a historic site, and the church wants the fence back. I said, 'I'm not a god damn photographer. I'm a graphic artist!'"
"That's telling them," I said, and caressed her palsied lips. Then her frigid cheek, again and again, while the hospital intercom whispered, Our father who art in heaven ...