Passage (Short Story) – February 2012


PASSAGE

by Thomas Glenroy

~ for Nina ~

After you’ve pressed the yellow button on the callbox that alerts the nurses of your intention to enter, after confirming your identity by mumbling an assigned code you have to read each time from a scrap of paper torn from an envelope that you keep tucked into the coin pocket of your jeans, after you’ve been buzzed in and the heavy insulated grey metal door rumbles closed behind you… after all this, you’re still only halfway there.

The real price of admission to the neonatal intensive care unit is three solid minutes of intense handwashing standing at a high stainless steel sink. There are no handles to turn, just two large foot pedals with brightly colored plastic tips. The pedal on the left has a red tip, the other blue. Experience would dictate that the red-tipped pedal would release hot water, and the blue-tipped pedal cold. However, a laminated sign awkwardly taped above the sink advises “Left petal- cold. Right petal- hot.” The authority of the sign is somewhat undercut by the use of a homonym for “pedal” and the unwise choice of the font Comic Sans.

Once you’ve unbuttoned your shirt cuffs, rolled your sleeves up past your elbows, and achieved a proper water temperature balance, you pull a chain hanging over the sink that triggers a bright red LED timer to start the countdown. Three minutes can seem like an eternity when you are forced to do something as repetitive as handwashing, or in this case, arm-washing, as you are taught during your initial visit to the NICU to lather your arms up past the elbows, and then to scrub your upper arms, elbows, forearms, wrists, hands, and each finger and fingernail individually, using a small rigid plastic disposable sponge resembling a Brillo pad. No matter how thoroughly you think you are scrubbing, each second seems maddeningly slow as you continue to work the pedals and the water sluices over the tender skin of your newly exfoliated arms.

Once the timer expires, abruptly going dark without a sound, you shake the drops from your hands and arms into the sink, pat them dry with a thick blue fibrous towel, and wait at the interior glass door for one of the nurses to let you in. Keying open the door, she glances at your damp plastic wristband and motions you to one of the heavy wooden rocking chairs near the wall. As you adjust to the warm, heavy air and the hiss and drone of the various machines, the nurse crosses the room to a high, clear plastic case that resembles a futuristic fish tank. Gently extracting a small bundle, she crosses the room carefully, smiles, and places into your arms a tightly wrapped blanket containing an impossibly small child. Your child. Your son. Your Joey.

In Country (Short Story) – April 2013


IN COUNTRY

by Thomas Glenroy

~ for Stacey ~


Her vision sharpened as she gazed across the table at his collared lavender pastel shirt. He didn’t have a shirt like that, but it didn’t matter. His face slowly came into focus. He was smiling, as always, his lips curled upwards but relaxed. There was no stubble on his chin or upper lip. He always seemed to have just shaved.

His eyes widened as he started to speak, and she leaned forward. “I love you,” he said, simply, softly. It sounded just like him. He extended his left hand across the table. She noticed that his usually plain gold band was embedded with tiny rubies.

She enveloped his hand in both of hers, sensing its weight and the texture of his skin. She felt the urge to speak but never did. This was a time simply to be with him. Sometimes he spoke but mostly they sat quietly as she studied him. Many times, he would reach out to her. Those were her favorite times.

The restaurant was non-descript, hazy, beige, unlike any place she remembered. Indistinct couples sat at nearby tables, talking too softly to be overheard. Servers milled at the back of the room but never approached the table. Though she detected the faint scent of onions and the yeasty aroma of fresh bread, no food ever approached the table.

His eyes brightened again. “The cats,” he said. “They’re okay.” She felt the urge to laugh at this seemingly trivial information. “You asked about the cats,” he said, and for the moment it made sense.

Sometimes, a few brief moments would pass before the scene darkened. This time was longer than usual. She continued squeezing his hand, hoping it wouldn’t end soon.

His hair was short, the way she liked it, much shorter than the last time. After a while, he leaned back and gently withdrew his hand, still smiling. She sensed the end nearing and increased her focus on his face, his eyes, as the haze intensified.

A shaft of light slanted across the room as she opened her eyes. She realized she had overslept, but reminded herself that it was Friday. Her goats would be uncomfortable, but at least no one would be missing her at the agriculture office.

She rolled over and squinted at her phone on the bedside table. Almost 7:30. He would have finished dinner by now, and would either be going to the gym or working on one of his never-finished projects. Seven months into her assignment, she still found it hard to believe that they were separated literally by half a world, that her morning was his last night, and that they hadn’t seen each other face to face since she deployed. Soon he would visit. She had circled the date on her desk calendar in three different colors.

She pushed the covers down and squirmed into a sitting position. Stretching her arms towards the ceiling, she rolled her neck gingerly as the bedside table rattled. She reached for her phone. It was him. She cradled the phone and heard him breathe. “Good morning, beautiful,” he said.

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