Say “Cheese” – Part 2


“You’re thirsty,” Tollin said, standing, then stepped forward to lean so she could see the nurse’s station in the center of the ER. “Nurse?” she called, and the tall, ferrety woman with a big silver barrette just below her nurse’s cap shot an irritated glance into the room.

The nurse’s expression changed when she saw it was the physician calling and not the patient. “Yes, doctor?” she said, managing a smile.

“Would you bring some water please?”

Tollin didn’t wait for a response and came back to the bedside. She offered a wink and smile to Melody, but her face never registered anything. Only her eyes shifted to the door when the squeal of the nurse’s shoes came through the door, an opaque aqua-colored pitcher in one hand and a four ounce transparent plastic cup in the other. She set them both on the wheeled tray then rolled it over the bed, scraping over Melody’s knees and thighs. The nurse poured the cup near full, droplets sloshing and bouncing onto the faux-wood tray surface.

Melody glanced at the nurse, then shifted her eyes back to Tollin, her expression never changing.

“Thank you, I’ll take it from here.”

“Of course … doctor,” the nurse spat, and wheeled on her heel to squeak out the door. Just before she exited, Tollin spoke.

“And please close the door, thank you.” She gave Melody another wink, and the slightest trace of a smile edged her mouth before vanishing like a vapor.

“Okay,” Tollin said, “we’re all alone, in privacy. Now you can speak.”

Melody gulped the glass dry while Tollin spoke, poured another, drained it too, and then a third and a fourth. She put the cup on the tray top and panted, catching her breath after holding it to infuse the liquids into her.

Tollin noted the continued death-grip on the camera. She didn’t say anything, though.

“So … tell me the story.”

Melody leaned back onto the bed, raised to an almost upright position behind her, and a heavy, exhausted sigh escaped her. She put one hand over her forehead, staring at the wall opposite the door.

“It’s a long story. Are you going to have time.”

“If I have to interrupt to help someone, you won’t hold that against me, will you?”

Melody’s eyes drifted to Tollin’s face, then she shook her head. “No. But don’t you have … I don’t know … other doctor crap to do?”

Tollin chuckled. “Yeah, but it’s not as important as the care of my patients. Right now, you’re my only one. So you get all my attention.”

Melody’s face screwed up, disconcerted. “I … I don’t have any … I don’t have insurance, you know.”

Tollin laughed a real, hearty laugh. “No, no … you’re fine. Don’t worry about that. You’re not being charged for this.”

“I … I’m not?”

Tollin shook her head. “Nope. On the house, just this once. But don’t spread that around, or everyone’ll want the service, okay?” Another wink. Another faint, fleeting smile which faded before it fully formed.

“So, you want the story. Okay. Let’s see … I’m not … I’m not very good at telling stories, you know? I mean, I’m not used to it. Usually someone else writes them and I just … act. Read the lines. But … well, nothing. I have to tell it, and I don’t know where to start. How to make it … how to make it make sense, because things’re just … weird now. And I’m a little … afraid, I guess. So I’m sorry for that. But I …” Her voice trailed off and she bit her lower lip, frustrated.

“It’s okay, honey,” Tollin said, and stroked her leg. “Just take your time. Begin where it makes sense for you. The beginning usually works best.” Tollin hoped for at least another wan smile, but got a sigh. “Just tell it the best you can. I’ll ask questions when I need to get things straight. Okay? Trust me — I’m used to listening to all sorts of stories, and not all of them are coherent. Just — say it. I’ll figure it out.”

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