Trisha’s catheter must be relocated every couple of days, or it will blow the vein. If the vein blows she’ll get a hematoma—a black pocket of blood under her skin that could become infected. If too many veins are blown, her home-care nurses can’t give her the fluids that keep her hydrated and the morphine pushes to get her through the day.
When they move the cath, the clear tape that holds it in place leaves outlines of residue on the back of her hand, grimy oblongs that look like the camouflage of some weird jungle creature. Trisha wonders where the grime comes from, since her hands are never dirty.
On Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays, Connie is Trisha’s nurse. Connie is short and round and always cheerful, which Trisha finds annoying. Nobody should be happy all the time, especially somebody who can’t hold onto a man and turns to Little Debbie for consolation. Connie gabs about her man troubles a lot, which Trisha also finds annoying because she’s never been with a man, never will be with a man, and will die a virgin because she has bulging fish eyes, a deformed neck, and an atrophied, useless body. No man wants to get with a girl who’s stuck in a wheelchair and never leaves the house and is going to die before she’s twenty.
Trisha thinks Connie keeps getting dumped because she’s a total uggo. Not like Salma Hayek; Salma Hayek is beautiful. Connie and Trisha talk about Salma a lot, and they paste pictures of her up on Trisha’s bedroom walls. In the afternoons, they watch the soaps together, but Trisha is sometimes disgusted with the female characters because they’re either spineless floozies or evil bitches with no real purpose. If you’re going to be evil, she thinks, there should be a purpose behind it.
One Monday evening, after Connie has left for the day, Brandon comes into Trisha’s room. Brandon thinks he’s in love with Connie, but Trisha knows that’s only because he’s ugly too and could never get with a beautiful girl. Teasing him about it is the most fun Trisha gets out of having a brother.
“What do you want, skeeze?” Trisha says.
“Did Connie leave yet?” Brandon asks, ignoring her jab.
“You know she did. You’ve been in your room with the door open all day, listening to us. You’re just too chickenshit to come in here and talk to her.”
“Shut up, Trish.”
“You should, you know. You two would make a great couple. You could have fat, ugly babies together.”
“Shut up, Trish, Connie’s not ugly.” Brandon’s voice goes up an octave and he turns crimson. “You’re just jealous.”
“She is so ugly. She’s fat and dumpy just like you! If you weren’t so chickenshit you’d come in here and talk to her, and then the two of you could go to your room and have sweaty fat ugly sex.”
“Shut up!” Brandon says. “Don’t you talk about her that way.”
“Or what? What’re you gonna do?” Trisha fumbles for her joystick and pivots her chair around. “Are you gonna hit me? If you hit me I’ll call the cops, and they’ll take you to jail and you’ll get butt-raped!”
“Shut up!” Brandon flees down the hall to his own room. He slams the door, but she can still hear him screaming into his pillow. Brandon has rage issues. He sees a therapist twice a week because of a court order. Trisha thinks it’s hilarious. She wonders if he cries at the therapist’s the way he’s crying now.
At fifteen, Trisha was bright-eyed and hopeful, like one of those Make-A-Wish kids on TV. Now, at seventeen, she’s bitter and lonely and she loathes those ignorant kids who think the whole world loves them because they’re special and not because they’re sick.
On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Richard is Trisha’s nurse. Richard is a skinny guy with a limp brown mustache that he thinks makes him look like a movie star, but to Trish it makes him look like a circus seal. Richard is a sad sack and can’t keep a girl. Trisha thinks it’s because he’s weak and lets them walk all over him.
“You should be more assertive,” she says. “Women like it when a man takes charge.”
“Yeah, absolutely,” she says, watching him draw up her morphine. “Hey, could I have three cee-cees this morning? I hurt really bad.”
“The order says I can only exceed two if you’re in extreme pain. You know that, Trish.”
“Please?” she says. “You know I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t need it. The pain kept me up all night.”
“Well, okay,” he says, drawing up the additional fluid. With methodical care, he slips the needle into her IV cath and empties the syringe into her vein.
“You know,” Trisha says, as her body floods with pharmaceutical sunshine, “you should ask Connie out on a date.”
“You think so?” Richard drops the used syringe iton a little sharps bin.
“Oh, yeah. She’s had the worst luck with men lately, and you’re a really nice guy.”
“Maybe I will,” he says.
“Just remember: assertive. Make it seem like it was your idea, and act like you’ve got everything under control. Don’t leave any room for her to doubt you.”
With a smirk, Trisha relaxes in her chair, hoping her brother Brandon is eavesdropping down the hall.
As it turns out, he has been, grinding teeth the entire time.
“So,” Connie says on Friday morning, “Richard called last night.”
“And?” Trisha says.
“He asked me out!” the bright-eyed nurse says.
“That’s wonderful! I hope you have a good time. You both deserve it.”
“Oh, it’s nice of you to say. It was certainly unexpected. He has a whole evening planned; I never figured him for the take-charge type.”
“Well, Connie, he’s not as together as he seems. Let him see you as a confident, independent woman. It will reinforce his own confidence,” Trisha preaches, quoting straight out of Cosmo.
“Of course, Trish. I’m not going to make the same old mistakes this time.”
Connie is upbeat and cheery for the rest of the day. It makes her extra-agreeable when it comes time for the morphine pushes.
“How was your date?” Trisha asks on Monday morning.
Connie’s smile doesn’t turn up at the corners quite as much as usual. “We had fun,” she says, “but he was a little bossy.”
“Oh, he’s just nervous,” Trisha says. “I think he’s been browbeaten by some domineering women, and now he’s over-compensating. Keep showing him you’re strong, and the two of you will get along fine.”
“You’re probably right,” Connie nods, her mood brightening as she taps a fresh vein on Trisha’s arm. “It really wasn’t that much of a problem. We’re going out again this Friday.”
“I feel like she was sending me these really mixed signals,” Richard says, frowning, the next day. “I tried to be assertive, like you said, but she seemed a little stand-offish, you know?”
Trish pretends to hesitate before responding. “Richard, I, no, I shouldn’t,” she says.
“Well, it’s kind of private. If she finds out I told you.”
“Please tell me. I won’t let on, Trish, I promise.”
“Well, Connie has some, issues,” Trisha says, the lie blooming from inside her. “Her dad, he was really abusive to her mother, and that’s kind of what she expects from a man. Little girls always go through a phase when they want to marry their fathers, only she never outgrew it.”
“You mean I should abuse her?”
“No, not like that. Just let her know you’re the man. You’re in charge. Although, if it comes to it, like, in the bedroom?”
“Yeah?” Richard leans in.
“Let’s just say she likes it rough.”
“If that’s what she enjoys, I suppose I can do that. You’re sure about this?”
“Yeah, she told me that it totally gets her off. Women share this kind of stuff.”
Richard nods as though he understands perfectly, which he doesn’t. Way better than the soaps, Trisha thinks.
On Monday, Richard is in the hospital. Trisha laughed aloud when she read the article in the Sunday paper. Reportedly, Connie’s neighbors heard a disturbance late Friday night; first a lot of shouting, then something crashing against the wall. They called the police. According to the official statement, Richard was arrested for sexually assaulting Connie, but the charges were dropped the following morning. Trisha was a little disappointed by that part, though still pleased with her handiwork.
Brandon did not find it so funny when she showed him the article. He did not find it funny at all, and that afternoon went to Richard’s house and attacked him with a kitchen knife. Then, like an idiot, he ran straight home and hidden in the cellar. Trisha watched with glee from her window as the police dragged her handcuffed brother down the front walk and stuffed him into the back of a cruiser. Their mother was distraught, their father fuming; of course, they didn’t know the whole story.
Connie comes in late this morning. She seems her usual chipper self, in spite of the traumatic weekend she’s had. She waves a glossy magazine in the air as she walks into Trisha’s bedroom.
“Seen the latest Vogue? Salma made the cover again!”
Trish can’t figure Connie’s game, but decides to play along. “Cool, is she inside?”
“A twelve page interview, with lots of pictures.”
“Awesome, read it to me.”
“No.” Connie’s smile drops in a heartbeat. Unlocking the medical cabinet, she selects a fresh hypodermic syringe—a big one. “You know,” she says, “Richard called me from jail. He told me all the awful things you said to him, how you manipulated him into hurting me. That’s why I dropped the charges.”
“So?” Trisha says.
“So, you may not have to suffer the consequences of your actions much longer, but the rest of us will bear them for the rest of our lives. Richard lost almost five feet of his lower intestine from your brother’s attack, but you probably hurt him more than Brandon did. And poor Brandon’s eighteen now; he won’t be going to counseling this time, he’ll go to prison. You’ve practically ruined his life.”
“Like I give a shit about my brother,” Trisha says. “He’s an asshole.”
“Patricia, you are a liar, a shrew, and an addict. We cared for you, and you played with us like little toys.” Connie turns around and yanks the battery cable out of Trisha’s wheelchair, immobilizing the crippled teenager before she can react.
Trisha eyes the syringe in the nurse’s other hand. “So what are you gonna do, Connie, overdose me on morphine? That’s murder. They’ll put you away.”
“I’m not giving you morphine, Trish,” Connie says, drawing the plunger back. “About six cee-cees of air ought to do it. Pulmonary embolisms are a risk for someone in your condition; they’ll assume it was natural. I’ll wait fifteen minutes and call the paramedics. I’ll tell them I was fixing your lunch and found you dead when I came back upstairs. Even if they resuscitate you, you’ll be a vegetable.”
She grasps Trisha’s wrist and slides the needle into the cath. “By the way, my father was a saint,” she says, and gives Trisha the push.
Anders Benson lives with his wife in the mountains of western Maine. He has held a variety of occupations including welding and steel fabrication, pet care service, and railroad car mechanics. Anders’s work has appeared in Gemini Magazine, Diverse Voices Quarterly, and Soundings East.