”I’m leaving the subway now, just a block away!” 

Josephine hurried through the crowd, pushing past people on the stairs, her heart pounding in her chest as she ascended towards the clean air above. A light drizzle met her outside, but other than that the open sky felt welcoming as she drew a deep breath and felt the tension leave her body with the exhale.

Normally, on a day like this, she would have kept her umbrella with her; her hair was too important not to mention expensive; but this evening she had pulled her hair back and tied it up in ponytail that no amount of humidity could conquer - also, she didn’t really care anymore.

Her phone vibrated in her coat pocket. Cara — again. Josephine felt her jaw tighten but tried to smile as she answered, hoping that it would carry over the line.

”Yes. I’m turning into Dulcimer Street now. Be there in five — no four minutes.” 

Caras voice was sparkling like electricity.

”There’s no need to panic. People are just starting to arrive. You won’t be the last one here.”

Josephine could feel her self slowing down slightly, like someone else controlled her actions.

”So, who will be there exactly? Thought you said it would be a small and quiet housewarming?”

”Oh, it won’t be too many” Cara said. ”Just the girls. And their boyfriends. Five bucks Penny has pulled some rando off the street just for show. She’s a hot mess!” Cara laughed. ”Soo happy you’re feeling better babe, I’ve missed the hell out of you the last couple of weeks!”

”I missed you too — So — that’s you, me; Penny with her rando, Lisa and Peter, Carly and Chris - and that’s all?” It already felt like a lot. Josephine swallowed as she pushed the gate open and walked into the yard. The apartment complex was looming.

Cara continued:

”I don’t know, probably a few more. Oh right, Carly is bringing her cousin as well. We don’t know him but she insisted.”

As the doors closed behind her Josephine felt trapped again. The narrow corridor leading to the stairs and elevators bathed in a yellow light that made her feel nauseous.

”But Cara — why?” she said as she skipped the elevator and proceeded to the stairs. ”You know I’ve been ill and I’m not up for meeting new people. If you’d told me I wouldn’t have come!”

”— no just leave it, I’ll deal with it tomorrow — I’m sorry sweetie I didn’t hear you; are you almost here? Can’t wait to see you!” Cara continued to laugh with someone on her side. Josephine sighed.

”See you..”

The apartment was on the third floor. Josephine felt a bead of sweat trickle down her back. I’m in terrible shape, she thought as she stopped outside Caras door and checked herself with the camera app on her phone. She was pretty but her eyes looked tired and her skin dull and lifeless. Josephine cleared her throat. It still ached and felt dry and swollen but got better every day. It was cold season after all so no one would question why she sounded hoarse and croaky. It was the perfect alibi.

A familiar melody could be heard from inside the apartment when she pressed the buzzer — hello from the other side — it appeared the Adele anthem had moved with Cara to the new place. Josephine immediately regretted coming out tonight - she was not ready.

 The door opened and a wave of laughter, conversation, music and perfume poured over her. This was not a quiet gathering. Cara flung herself around Josephines neck.

”Jo! So good to see you! I thought you’d been swept away by a sheik or something, come in - oh your coat looks darling, is it the Burberry one? I knew you had one I just didn’t — have you met Cassandra yet? - She has one too - just like yours - but she’s too skinny you know, it doesn’t look nearly as good on her.”

Cara pinched her cheek. ”God, it’s amazing to see you! How are you?”

Josephine removed her coat and bag. 

”I’m fine. Look, had I known this would be a party I wouldn’t — I didn’t think I would have to —

”If I had told you it would be a party you wouldn’t have come,” Cara interrupted. ”And we haven’t seen you in ages! This will be fun, I promise! Let me show you the place!”

The apartment was packed. Josephine counted at least fifteen people, several of which she didn’t recognise. Lisa was there, looking posh as ever, her boyfriend Peter was off in the corner lecturing a group of new faces about bitcoin (as always). No one could sell ”boring” as Peter, and it served as both his greatest strength, and the most annoying thing about him, that he never seemed to pick up on the glazed expression in his audience eyes. Pennys ”rando” turned out to be a girl this time. 

That was new.

Cara pulled Josephine around the apartment on a very speedy run through of the four rooms before returning to the living room with its many guests. 

”She never gets tired that one,” Lisa laughed nodding towards Cara as she spun away. ”It’s like we all haven’t seen a one bedroom apartment before.” Her deep blue eyes now fixed on Josephine. ”You ok? You really had us worried for a while.”

Josephine sipped her drink.

”Yeah, thanks. I’m ok. It was a nasty infection.”

Lisa studied her with a worried expression.

”Must have been yeah — and just about when the merger was about to go down. The whole office was scrambling. I thought Jaineway would snap.” 

Josephine could feel her face grow hot and red.

”I - I didn’t make this up you know. I got really sick! Also, I knew you could handle it.” 

”I know I know, I believe you. The pressure you were under — it would get to you eventually. We all suspected it would.”

”And yet you never said anything?” She didn’t know if her voice cracked because of the strain or the anger that was suddenly flaming up inside her.

”Honey” Lisas voice softened. ”You never would have listened. You are a work horse. And no one is as good as you. Everybody knows that. Especially you.”

Josephine struggled to find a good comeback but failed. Besides, Lisa was right.

The people at the party where all well dressed and fancy. The black long-sleeved turtleneck and jeans she wore made Josephine feel underdressed among the blazers and blouses and she thought of using fever as an excuse to leave early. The mood was high and the volume had grown louder to combat the alkohol fuelled discussions. Josephine moved towards the kitchen. She had walked past it on her way into the apartment and noticed a big window with some green plants that made the room seem much different from the rest. Cosy and warm. Like a mirage in the desert. 


”I’ve told you! I’m just really tired.” 

David took another swig of water hoping that would put an end to the conversation. He wasn’t exaggerating. Having worked the night shift for what felt like forever, and even though the schedule hade turned, his mind and body hadn’t turned with it. He looked down at his cousin. Carly was still there, arms crossed, looking like an angry pixie. She sure had changed since moving to the city.

”You could at least make more of an effort and not stay cooped up in the kitchen all night”, she muttered. ”I had to convince them to let you come you know.” 

David yawned into his hand.

”I thought these were your friends? Why would they mind?”

”Because it would only be small group of friends, that’s why. I told them you were my cousin, that you had been working really hard and needed some fun. Now you’re making me look bad!”

David felt exasperated.

”And your small group of people didn’t turn out so small did it?… — Look” he continued, off Carlys bummed expression. ”I will try ok? I promise.” 

”Ok then.” Carly beamed, ever so used to getting her way. As she turned to rejoin the party another girl appeared in the doorway. Carly let out a shriek.

”Jo! It’s you! I’ve missed you soo much!” 

David watched as the women embraced. The newcomer was blond and slender, dressed in a black sweater that made her skin seem even paler than it probably was. She towered over Carly and her arms, long and thin, wrapped around his cousin almost twice. David recognised her instantly.

”David,” Carly said, turning back towards him, her arm firmly around the new girls waist. 

”This is Jo! The girl I told you about. The one who puts us all to shame.”

”Come on now,” new girl said. ”You are being way too — ” She looked at him and her eyes widened. ” — dramatic.”

David knew this girl. Knew her by name. He had heard the doctor calling her over and over. Trying to wake her up. Josephine. That’s what it was. Josephine.

After a brief moment, a moment that probably felt much longer than it actually was, they shook hands. Her hand felt cold in his. He remembered holding it before, changing a needle for the IV. 

A month had passed but he could still see a fading yellow bruise on the back of her hand. He smiled. She did not. 

”I’m David. Nice to meet you.”

Josephines lips thinned as a strained smile pulled from end to end - like a prisoner torn apart by horses. Carly didn’t seem to notice.

”David’s a doctor. He works over att Blue Road Hospital,” she said almost giddy.

David gently put his hand on her arm.

”I’m a nurse. Not a doctor.” He smiled again. Josephine just thought she did.

”Yeah fine, a nurse.” Carly continued. ”But you can still become a doctor later right? When you are finished with your studies or exams or whatyoucallit?”

David sighed. He knew that a nurse meant ” just a nurse” to Carly and her family; they always had difference of opinion on what it meant to be successful. Excel, make a lot of money and always have people below you. This was one of the reasons him and his father had almost become shunned by the rest of the family. Because they were content. And that always bothered someone.

”Sure, Carly”, he said. ”But who will clean up after the doctors when I’m gone? They need me where I am.” He winked and Carly rolled her eyes.

”Just lazy. And silly.”

Watching them bicker; Josephine thought back to when she’d last seen David. She hadn'´t noticed him at first. It was the doctors that spoke to her, and they seemed to change with every round. The nurses however, were mostly the same, and David had been there a lot; changing the linens, checked her vitals and brought her food when she became well enough to eat. They hadn’t really talked. Other nurses tried to make chitchat in order to make the situation less uncomfortable. They all knew why she was there after all.

But David had remained respectful and never bothered her or pushed her to speak. She really appreciated him for that.

He was also the only one who didn’t look at her with pity when he saw her scars. Josephine scratched her arm and pulled her sweater down further over her wrist. Her mother hated them too.

Looking at her now, David could hardly believe it was the same woman he had helped save a little over a month ago. She had been brought in at around eight on a Wednesday, non responsive and very weak. He had just started his shift and still had crumbs from his cheese sandwich around his mouth when the alarm sounded. The woman was in bad shape, not drunk but clearly intoxicated. Turned out to be pills - and lots of them. They had pumped her stomach and she had regained consciousness in the middle — he had been forced to hold her down when she had struggled to remove the tube from her throat. Her eyes were wild - blood shot - panicked. 

Eventually she calmed down and after a mild sedative, was able to sleep. Later that evening, in the staff room, they all wondered what would make such a young, beautiful woman want to end her life.

Carly broke the silence again, snapping reality back into place.

”I went to you moms Jo, since you didn’t answer your phone. I guessed you must have stayed there? She told me everything was fine and that you just needed some time off to fight the virus. Sounded like you would be back at work in no time.”

Josephines eyes met Davids and he could see them pleading for him not to say anything. 

”Yeah, she would say that…that’s just…mom.” Her voice was starting to fail her now. She couldn’t deal with this.

Somewhat sensing the tension but missing the tone completely, Carly said:

”See David? This girl is amazing! Never complains. Always gets the job done.This chick would never settle for a nurse. A doctor — a good one — maybe…”

She flashed a smile and a wink at them both.

”Something to think about.” 

Then she backed out of the kitchen and was gone.

The silence between them seemed to drown out the noise from the party. They just stood there unsure of what to do next. When David finally spoke Josephine almost pulled back.

”So…I just wanna…”

”Don’t…please” Josephine put her hand up to stop him. ”We don’t need to do this…I just can’t right now.” She looked at him. David had a blank expression on his face, the one he had worn in her hospital room, when she had cried next to her mother who refused to listen.

”Sure” he said. She tried to smile but stopped herself, fearing her eyes would well over if she did.

”So —” Josephine straightened up. ”Not becoming a doctor then?”

David laughed. 

”No, I think I’m good. Not everyone plays forward you know.”

He looked so calm and at ease Josephine felt almost frustrated with him. Was he just lazy like Carly had said? She didn’t care for those people.

”So then, how do you know when you’ve reached your full potential? If you don’t strive for anything?”

She sensed how inappropriate her tone was and immediately regretted it. David didn’t seem offended though. Perhaps it was just in her head. She looked at him. His eyes were kind and warm.

”I don’t see my fullest potential as something to do with what career I have” he said, thoughtfully. ”As long as I’m happy where I’m at…I’m — well…happy. No matter what it is or what people think.

I feel my fullest potential is reached when I love what I do.”

Josephine said nothing for awhile. So many emotions flowed through her; anger, guilt, remorse, shame. She had been taught to climb, to always reach. But was it ever really enough?

She turned to the window. Autumn was coloring the trees outside with flaming leaves and frost was reaching in from the corners of the glass. The plants on the windowsill smelled fresh and sweet.

”Do you think there’s ever a way to make the world just give you a break?,” she said, looking out at the night sky. ”To slow things down just enough to give you all the time you need. To figure things out?”

She was crying now. Silently and softly. She again turned to look at David who was standing halfway between her and the people in the other room. He had seen her at her worst so her tears didn’t face him. And he didn’t judge her for it. He just stood there.

”There always is” he said. 

Josephines lips were trembling and her tears were falling hard now.

”How?” Her voice almost a whisper.

She looked at David and he looked back. Then he smiled.

”Just ask.”

August 27, 2020 23:37

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Yolandi Bester
11:04 Sep 01, 2020

Gorgeous. An endearing take on an otherwise superficial topic. Well done.


Jesper Jee
18:17 Sep 01, 2020

Thank you very much!


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