Monday, 12 December 2011


TKnC welcomes Paul back into the fray with a chilling moral tale.

Things They Don't Teach You In Medical School 

Gloria hadn’t changed into the hospital gown yet.  She sat on the edge of the gurney in a short denim skirt.  It was faded and slashed and looked like powder blue road kill without the tire marks. She wore it with a red camisole top that should have been sexy but there was nothing there to show off except the stark geometry of collarbone and sternum. She talked into her cell phone.  Her voice was thin and raspy like there wasn’t enough air behind it or maybe it was just worn dry from friction.

“Yeah, I'm still waiting.  Stop yelling at me, It’s not my fault!”

“I dunno.  The nurse just came in and took my blood pressure and stuff.  It’s crazy in here today.  It may take a while.”

There was a long pause.  Her face went red as she listened.  

“You ought to try doing this some time if you want to get so fucking picky!  It’s not like they hand me a menu!”

The privacy curtain slid back with a metallic scrape.  She flipped the cell phone closed without another word and looked up at the doctor as he walked in.

He looked like a doctor, moved like one, walked like one; confident and controlled with an overriding sense of purpose, like he expected tables and chairs to move out of his way.  He wore a white lab coat over green scrubs and a Stethoscope draped over his neck. His hair was thick and curly, still sandy brown but now with a hint of grey. His pale blue eyes squinted at her from behind rimless glasses. He started with a smile.  It was clean and disinfected like everything else in the room; detached, clinical.

“So, Gloria, is it?  What brings you in today?”

“It’s my head, doc.  It’s killin' me.  I think it’s one of those migraines, I feel like I’m gonna puke.  I need something for the pain, maybe some vicodin or something.”

Ummm Hmmmm.”  He nodded his head and flipped a few pages on her chart.  “It says here that a few weeks ago we saw you for a twisted ankle.  X-rays were negative.  How’s it doing?”

“Oh fine, fine.  It’s better now.  I was sore for a few more days
but it got better just like you guys said it would.”  She talked too
fast and bit every word hard to show she meant it.

“Hmmmm, good, good.”  His head was still bowed over her chart. “And before that, it was your back.  We gave you a shot of Fentanyl and sent you home with a scrip for Percocet.”  He paused.  “Now, here you are again.  Looks like it’s been a rough few months for you hasn’t it?”

Gloria didn’t say anything, she couldn’t, she didn’t dare; but she answered anyway.  Her shoulders sagged and her chest hitched where she tried to catch a sob.  She turned it into a cough to hide it and just nodded at him.

He stopped pretending to look at the chart.  His eyes turned on her and dissected her like any other specimen; they pried her open and analyzed the secrets underneath.

Her legs were long.  Too long, too thin.  Not enough meat.  They were just bones balanced lengthwise on top of each other and held in place by the thin layer of skin wrapped around it all like duct tape.  Her hands jerked and twitched and were afraid to stay in the same spot for too long.  Her right hand reached out and clutched at her left elbow and pulled her arm in tight against her side like she wanted to give herself a hug but just couldn’t get it right.  Her eyes looked old and hollow.  Her pupils were swollen and heavy but they wouldn’t slow down.  They kept darting back and forth; watching, waiting for something heavy to finally land on her.  To fall out of nowhere and crush her.  She wasn’t strong enough for the weight of being alive.

His eyes softened, he’d seen enough.  Too much.  He set the chart aside.  “So, why don’t you tell me why you’re really here?”

He waited.

The quiet between them grew until it filled the exam room and he still waited.

It was finally too much.  She opened her mouth and the words tumbled out but made no sense, they piled up at her feet.  This time Gloria couldn’t hide the sobs; sloppy tears fought past her eyelids and fell to the clean white linoleum.  It felt like she cried forever but finally the tears were done.  They left her empty but calm.

Clean.  She could see clearly and it terrified her.  She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and then she jumped.

“It’s the fucking pills.  I think...I think I need some help.”

If she fell, she knew she’d fall forever.  She hoped to god he would catch her.

The doctor leaned back on his stool.  He looked around the room for help but there was no one else there.  He took a deep breath then reached out and laid his hand on top of hers.  Her skin felt wrong to him without a clean layer of latex between them.  He was terrified.

He needed to quantify, to diagnose, to biopsy and sanitize.  He needed to do anything else but this but he could feel Gloria’s pulse quivering through her warm skin and it caught him and held him and brought him back to her.  The spark in her touched him and found something familiar, common to them both.  Universal.  Human. Something he had forgotten about a long time ago.
Gloria felt his hand on hers, then looked up at him.  He squeezed her hand once, gently.  He wasn’t sure how to do it but it seemed to turn out alright; she smiled.  For the first time in a long time he saw a person filling in the white space where a patient used to be.

Maybe they both were going to be alright.

Bio: Paul Newman's most recent published stories appeared in: Ethereal Tales May/10, Midnight In Hell March/10, and Beat To A Pulp Feb./10. If you're interested, you can find a few more stories on his website


  1. First rate flash fiction. I want to read more of, Paul Newmans work now.

  2. That was a great piece, some terrific lines, "Her voice was thin and raspy like there wasn’t enough air behind it or maybe it was just worn dry from friction."

  3. Enjoyed that. Thought the doctor was going to try and have his way with her, in exchange for the pills, but you fooled me.

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