Familiar Things Like Hospital Beds and Bruises

Submitted into Contest #104 in response to: End your story with the line, “I’m never going out with you again.”... view prompt

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Drama Fiction Contemporary

9:42 P.M.   


My nose is bleeding. It’s bleeding, and it won’t stop, and the disgustingly metallic taste of blood fills my mouth as the blood keeps gushing. It keeps going even as I hold tissues to it, it keeps going even as I shove ice against the bridge of my nose. It keeps going long after you were supposed to be home at ten P.M. sharp and doesn’t stop.

The apartment remains deathly silent. 

My nose keeps bleeding as I wait, watching the clock. I make tea to wash away the sheen of blood that’s in my mouth. It’s tasteless and weak.


Four hours. It’s been four hours since you called me first (at 6:30 PM), to say you were on the subway. Probably two and a half hours since dinner ended (at 9:00 PM), knowing your classmates. Then dinner turns into drinks. So you’d probably be out until 9:40 PM, and be back by ten, if the subway were to be on time.


◆◆◆


My nose keeps bleeding. It’s less intense than before as the night draws on, but it never fully stops. Now, the bright clock on the microwave reads 10:36 PM in ugly, boxy, bright green lettering, as I throw away bloodied tissues.


I should’ve gone to the hospital, shouldn’t I? Everybody knows me by now. All the doctors tell their new interns “She’s a volunteer here,” and leave it at that. No mention of the unhealthy amount of time I spend in the hospital long after my official shift is over. They don’t say anything to me as I wander the halls, popping by to check in different rooms to help patients.


Shouldn’t they stop me?


I really should’ve gone to the hospital, shouldn’t I? Not today, though, but the first time this happened. Today doesn’t matter- it’s just a new nosebleed among a flurry of other (all too familiar) symptoms.

The one thing I hate more than the taste of red bell peppers is asking you for help. I can deal with asking my mother, however many annoying things she says. I could even ask my father, if I get desperate enough. But you? The one person I have who doesn’t dig into every little detail? I could never. It already took all my courage to ask you to fix the water pressure in the bathroom, even though it shouldn’t have, because you’re not scary and I know you’d help if I asked. 

But asking you for help to get to the hospital? Because I might faint if I walk down the stairs of the subway station by myself? As if.


I don’t want you to see me differently. I guess I don’t want you to know the truth about me, even though I know you wouldn’t overreact or act as if the world just ended if I told you. We’re not that close- never have been, never will be. Roommates, that’s it, really.


It doesn’t stop me from worrying, though. It doesn’t stop me from worrying about your reaction when I inevitably have to tell you because I can tell it’s coming back. Our strange way of coexisting doesn’t stop me from worrying about you when you’re not home, either. 


You were supposed to be home a while ago by now. You were supposed to be home thirty-six minutes ago and yet the hallway remains empty and submerged in dingy, washy yellow fluorescent lighting. I check through the peephole every now and then (it’s more interesting than looking at the pattern of tiny red dots that litter my body. I usually cover them, but I ran a fever earlier and was desperate to cool off, and I haven’t changed clothes since. I don’t think I can pull on my sweatpants from earlier without becoming lightheaded, anyway. So I remain in shorts and a short-sleeve, hoping you won’t notice when you get back.) 

You’re supposed to be home right now, except you’re not, and my nose keeps bleeding while I wait for you.


◆◆◆


Around eleven P.M.


My nose stops bleeding. The cabinets are a mess, having been ransacked by me earlier (desperately searching for paper towels and tissues and anything else that could catch the blood mercilessly dripping from my nose.)


The kitchen floor is cold against my paler-than-usual bare feet. 

A feeling I’d grown accustomed to back then. A feeling I don’t want again.


I slice a piece of slightly stale bread and go to the fridge, hoping to find something simple to put on it. Butter, or cheese if I’m lucky. 

I’m not picky when it comes to these things- it’s not like I have the energy (or the appetite) to cook a full meal right now anyway.

All too familiar.

All too familiar, indeed.


◆◆◆


11:30 P.M.


The half-eaten butter-and-cheese open-faced sandwich sits, forgotten, as I rest my head in my cool, paler-than-usual hands. My head is spinning and I feel as though I may lose my balance, even though the dining room chair is holding me steady.

I remember this feeling, too. It’s also from the time I want to forget.


◆◆◆


2:02 A.M.


I hear someone trying to open the lock of the room next door at 2:02 A.M. They grunt and breathe heavily and once even try knocking down that door. Eventually (at 2:10 A.M.), they give up and I hear them slump against ours instead.


Are they really content with sleeping in the hallway?


“Eyy, ‘nyone in th’re?” they slur against the wood. Drunk, I suspect, and the voice is familiar.


I swing open the door and let them fall across the tile. They tumble in like a domino, head bumping my foot along the way. As it would turn out, the person that’s now laying on my floor is you, intoxicated beyond belief. 

You sleepily pull your legs into the apartment and I move to the kitchen, where you’re bound to come next. I get water and Advil ready for you.


Five minutes later, you stumble in (piss-drunk, as I suspected), with a wild look in your eyes. I hear how heavy your footsteps are, even though you’re in socks and walking across rugs I laid out across the floor years ago.


“Here, drink,” I say, handing you the water and watching you take the medication dry. You then sip the water as if it’s cough syrup, looking disgusted with its coolness against your alcohol-burnt tongue. 


“Wha’s wiv yeh? Ya look payle,” you say, the sounds being so obscured by the haze of alcohol that I can hardly process them. 

“It’s nothing,”

“Ya shh-” you’re interrupted by a burp, “-ure?”

“Yes. Now, drink,”


I watch as you drink the water. 


My mouth goes dry as exhaustion hits me full force, stopping any words I want to say with an overwhelming wave of tiredness. I lean against the countertop to keep my knees from buckling.

You look at me again, a hint of sobriety peeking through drunken eyes, and speak again, a little more clearly.


“Ya sure y’re oh-kaye?”

“Positive. Now come on, you need to go to bed,”


As I guide you to your room, I notice a blood-covered tissue on the floor. You don’t say anything. Hopefully, you don’t see it as we walk by.


◆◆◆


Routine bloodwork today. I’m not sure if I’m dreading it or not. Yesterday, I helped you get over your hangover and you left again, probably to your sister’s. So there’ll be nobody there when I inevitably get the call, because you always stay with your sister for at least three days.

But I really should’ve gone to the hospital, shouldn’t I have? Back when things just started. Asked for my routine bloodwork to be moved up, before its scheduled date. Gone to the doctor and told him all my uncomfortable, concerning symptoms. Explained to him that even though it’s been years, even though I should be cured because of the way it ended last time, somehow everything is back, just as it was before. 

Except, of course, I’d rather stay inside and suffer in the sickly silence that’s only broken by the sound of our neighbor’s door opening.


I really should’ve gone to the hospital, shouldn’t I? Back when I could still make it.


It’s the only thing I think as I go down the stairs of the subway station, all alone, one by one, so carefully that I’m probably holding up every person behind me. It takes all my effort not to faint then and there.

I didn’t ask you for help like I should’ve. You like being alone too, so it wouldn’t be fair if I dragged you to the hospital with me. But now, I slightly regret it, because instead of being protected by your slightly taller body, I’m swept away in the sea of irked businessmen, stressed college students, and hungry office employees. I’m carried all the way to the platform, where I immediately put as much of my weight as possible onto one of the columns. The train comes, and I collapse into one of the seats.

A pregnant woman sits next to me, but moves so that we don’t touch. She tries to get as far away from me as possible on the crowded train.


Do I truly look that bad?


◆◆◆


The hospital. One I’m very familiar with, for multiple reasons. I walk straight towards my destination (not greeting any familiar patients on the way) and sit down.


I hardly even feel the needle that pierces the skin on my elbow, and don’t dare look at the vial of blood that will inevitably seal my fate. I know what the blood looks like by now, anyway. 


The lab technician lets me go within fifteen minutes.

I don’t feel anything at all.


◆◆◆


I get home in the afternoon. My hair is frizzy from the humidity in the air and I’m sure I look worse than before, with a purple bruise already staining the inside of my elbow, partially covered in a band-aid that’s holding too much blood to be healthy.

You’re not home yet, thankfully.


I take off my shoes and notice a bruise from where your head hit me last night. Your head didn’t hit me very hard, and yet the bruise is a surprising shade of blue, with slightly browned edges.


I move to the kitchen. A bowl of curry (still slightly warm) sits on the table. Hopefully it’s for me (there’s probably a note from you somewhere, too, but I don’t have the energy to find it.)

The curry is warm and comforting against my tongue, and it helps ease the ache in my cheeks that came from biting them for too long.


It’s the simple moments like these that will make me miss our stupid little apartment, since hospital beds and bland walls don’t offer the same comfort as a meal from the blue bowls we own.


◆◆◆


I inevitably get the call two days later. 


I check into the hospital four days after that.


I have to shave my head after three weeks. 


I don’t look like myself after one month.


You never come and visit me.


Did I even tell you that I’m here? Maybe not. I’m too tired to recall.


◆◆◆


I send you a text that night- it doesn’t explain much, but it’s better than no communication at all.

I only said I was in the hospital, and asked for the heavy navy blue blanket from my room.

You leave me on read seven minutes later.


◆◆◆


You come to the hospital three days later, unannounced. And honestly, you look awful. The circles under your eyes resemble the night sky with how dark a shade of purple they are. 

You look a little thinner, too. You used to be muscular- but now, those same muscles look as though they’ve hardly been used. 

You don’t say anything to me, instead taking three slow and measured steps toward my bed. Before you reach me, your phone rings.


You pick up and exit the hospital room on the phone. You’re there, in the doorway, holding my favorite blanket from home with an angry expression on half your face (I can’t see the other half.)

I can smell the hospital coffee in the thermos on my new roommate’s bedside table. I’m a little jealous of her, honestly- she gets so much love and support from family, friends, even all the hospital volunteers and employees. But me? I’m alone, besides you. You. You’re standing there, in the doorway, and talking on the phone. 

Funny, how our strange state of coexistence came back to bite us today. We haven’t said anything worthwhile to each other yet. Serious situations do that to both of us, it seems.


I overhear your phone call.


What do you mean, you can’t go out next week?” the person on the other line says.

“I mean, my roommate is in the hospital. I can’t afford to have fun while they’re fighting for their life,”


Funny, how we still care about each other in our weird position as roommates, but not friends, but not strangers either.


The person on the other end of the line gets louder.

Whatever, man!” they say, sounding annoyed.


I hear you audibly exhale before raising your voice, too.

“Nah, okay, you know what? You’re always like this whenever I don’t want to go out. That’s it. You convinced me to get awfully drunk a few weeks ago and my roommate had to take care of me, even as they were actively suffering. Then, going with you stopped me from seeing them in the hospital. They’ve had to go through everything all by themselves,”


It really is funny how we care so much yet say nothing.


What-” they start.


You move the phone and hover your thumb over the red button that means hanging up, but stay silent. You enter the room, fully, and stand by my bedside. You lay the blanket over my legs, then finally speak again. Your first real words to me in a while.


“Hey,” you whisper.


Who’s that you’re talking to?

“My roommate,” you snap, clutching your phone a little tighter.


‘Give me just one second’ your eyes plead.

I nod.


“I’m never going out with you again,” 


And you hang up.

July 23, 2021 17:17

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2 comments

Michael Martin
14:01 Jul 30, 2021

One of the things I liked about this was that you never explicitly state the situation, at least not in a way that prevents my mind from running over the possibilities. It's actually refreshing, as when I write, I'm overly explicit at times to a fault - I want to make sure the reader sees in their head what I'm seeing. But this reminded me of the power of leaving enough to the imagination where the reader keeps guessing. You give enough away by the end that I felt like I understood what was going on, but the first half of the story I spen...

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Julia Mondale
03:01 Aug 07, 2021

I completely agree! It felt like a roller coaster, every turn could bring the big drop, but you kept us guessing! Very refreshing & fun to read. Great job!

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