Contest #238 shortlist ⭐️

28 comments

Sad Suspense Mystery

This story contains themes or mentions of suicide or self harm.

A kids’ hospital playroom in Moscow. Crayons and board game boxes scattered on the floor. A plastic table flexed in the center, surprisingly in good shape. A male nurse and an adolescent girl sit across from each other at the table. There are papers and markers spread out in front of them. Neither of them want to be there. The girl, Dasha, is drawing. 

Nurse: …and where are you on this bridge?

Dasha is silent, scribbling. She waits. 

Nurse: Draw yourself. You can be anywhere, in the middle or anywhere.

Dasha: I’m not ready yet. I’m putting water underneath.

Nurse: Take your time. 

He looks away and focuses on an invisible clock. It ticks. 

Dasha: Here. 

She slides the paper over to the Nurse. He looks at it, touches the girlish stick figure drawn smack in the middle of a poorly-sketched suspension bridge. 

Nurse: Nice hair. I draw it like that too.

The Nurse smiles, inviting. Dasha holds eye contact, a little sorry for him. She takes back her paper and picks up a black marker. 

Nurse: I like your bridge. I’ve never seen one like that–

Dasha: It’s the famous one in California. 

It’s silent for a moment. A question hangs on the Nurse’s tongue. 

Nurse: Do you miss home?

Dasha: That’s not why my bridge looks like that, I just thought of the most famous bridge and it’s the one from California. It’s not home, I’m not from there. 

Nurse: From where then? 

Dasha: Pennsylvania. 

Nurse: Must be a big change coming here to Moscow. 

Dasha scribbles. She draws waves in the water under her bridge. She holds the silence until the perfect moment to break it arises. She knows how to do this well.  

Dasha: I wanted to come here. 

Nurse: I know, but it can still be–

Dasha (abruptly): It’s not hard. 

The Nurse falters, somewhat intimidated and now cautious. He takes a paper and a marker. 

Nurse: I’ll draw too, keep you company. 

They draw together. 

Dasha: You’re not a very good nurse, you know. 

The Nurse lifts his head. Dasha has caught his attention. 

Dasha: You can’t keep track of all of us in the ward. It’s not good for a hospital to lose its patients.

Nurse: We check-in every few hours. 

Dasha: You didn’t today. I was in my room all morning, I never left. Didn’t even go to the bathroom. No one came and then my mom called and I had nothing to tell her. No updates. The doctor didn’t come, neither did you, no one checked my vitals. You should be more careful. 

Nurse (shrugs): It’s Saturday, it’s not usually busy. 

Dasha: Is that why you’re here?

The Nurse is confused. He doesn’t say anything. 

Dasha: Because it’s Saturday? You’re the Saturday staff…

He is not sure if he should be offended. 

Nurse: Show me your bridge. 

Dasha slides the paper to him again. It is fuller now, her bridge more defined. She added details.

Nurse: Nice touch. Seagulls. 

Dasha (Heart not in it, but out of courtesy): Thanks. 

Nurse: What are you doing on the bridge?

Dasha knows the right answer. 

Dasha: Walking to the other side. 

Nurse: Which?

Dasha: This one. On the right. 

She points to the right side of the paper. 

Nurse (exhales, relieved): Good, that’s good. 

Dasha: It is good. 

Nurse: Good. 

Dasha: What did you expect me to say? 

Nurse: What you said. 

They both know they are lying to each other. 

Dasha: Can I have a yellow one?

The Nurse hands her a yellow marker. 

Nurse: What are you walking towards? On the other side, what’s waiting for you?

Dasha nearly rolls her eyes. She predicted this question, so she has an answer prepared. When she answers, her tone is droll. 

Dasha: The academy. I’m going back to my classes. I’m ready to dance again and work hard. I can go back now. I’m really ready….Really. 

Nurse: That’s right, they told me you danced. 

Dasha: I do.

Nurse: You did at home too? In.. Penn.. Pennsool…

Dasha: Pennsylvania. Yes. 

Nurse: You must be very good. Barely anyone gets in. And it’s tough there. I’ve heard… stories. 

Dasha doesn’t answer. She doesn’t confirm or deny the stories. 

Nurse: Your parents must be proud. 

Dasha: Yes, really proud. It took nine years of training for me to get here and thousands of dollars for them. My mom had to take another job, but it was worth it. She did it for me. They were so happy when I got in. They’re still so happy. I like making them happy. It’s the least I could do after everything. 

Nurse: Do you miss them?

It’s quiet again. The scribbles are audible, palpable. 

Dasha (testing the waters): My mom called you, or maybe not you, but someone at the hospital. 

Nurse: She did. 

Dasha nods. This quiet admission changes something between them. It is awkward now. They have poked the bear. 

Dasha: What did she say? 

Nurse: First tell me what’s on the other side–of your bridge.

Dasha (defiant): What’s on the other side of yours?

The Nurse picks up his paper and shows it to Dasha. It is bright and colorful. An ostentatiously cheerful bridge; he wants her to know that it’s a happy bridge, not a sad bridge. He points to a sketch of a dog on the far right side. 

Nurse: This is Kolya, my pup. He’s a bubbly one, always licking my boots first thing. I come home and he barks and barks and oh the neighbors get mad, but what can Kolya do? He’s just a pup.  

Dasha: Must be nice. To be just a pup. 

Dasha looks away. She doesn’t like the story about Kolya. 

Nurse: What’s waiting for you on the other side of the bridge?

Dasha: The academy. I already told you. 

Nurse (doubting): You really want to go back?

Dasha: I have to go back. I missed too much already and I’m so out of shape. The other girls will get ahead, I’ll lose my place. It’s happened before… I know I don’t have much time left. If they kick me out I…I…

Nurse (notices Dasha’s agitation, tries to calm her down): Don’t worry about all that. You’re still recovering.

Dasha: Am I?

She gestures to herself. She looks a mess. The Nurse observes her. Dasha resumes scribbling. 

Nurse: You’re very serious. So is your bridge. 

Dasha: I’m sorry. (sarcastic) Do you need me to use more colors? That’s what you did. That’s how I know you’re not serious. Or sad. 

Nurse: You don’t have to add colors if you don’t want to. 

Dasha: But you want me to. It’ll make you feel better. Give me a blue one. 

The Nurse hands her a blue marker. 

Dasha (With bite): What should I draw next? A rainbow lollipop? The Red Square? Some angels in the corner? You’d like that. Better than your dumb dog. 

The Nurse does not take the bait. He observes. A corner of his mouth twitches, betraying a frown. They didn’t prepare him for this in his psychiatry rotation. He presses on.

Nurse: You put waves under your bridge. Interesting. How far is your bridge from the water?

Dasha (Sarcastically): I didn’t measure it. Next time I visit, I’ll make sure to find out and speed dial you.

Nurse: Dasha, at any point, if I upset you–

Dasha: What did my mom say to you? 

The Nurse hesitates. 

Nurse: She was…worried.

A moment of tension. Dasha looks down at her paper and traces the space between the bridge and the water. Something about the Nurse’s response pleases her as much as it unnerves her. 

Dasha: Well, she shouldn’t be. I was just going for a walk. For fresh air.

The Nurse clears his throat and puts on a smile to bridge the widening rift. He appears empathetic, concerned.

Nurse (somewhat infantalizing tone): You know I like to walk too. (pause) Usually I tell someone though, when I go for a walk. In case something happens. So they know where I am and don’t worry about me. 

Dasha doesn’t appreciate the covert lecture. Her eyes are glued to her paper, to her bridge. 

Dasha: You look too young to be a nurse. 

Nurse (Chuckles, caught off guard): I’m twenty two. And don’t change the subject. 

Dasha: You’re only nine years older than me. 

Nurse: Nine years is a long time. I have a medical degree, in psychiatry too so–

Dasha: So you’re smarter than I am… Tell me: If you were sad and in a hospital and I asked you to draw me a bridge, like you just asked me, would you know what I was really asking you? 

Nurse: Dasha, come on, it’s just a simple exercise, a way for us to communicate. If you just tried– 

Dasha: It’s too late to communicate. You didn’t keep track of me. You didn’t watch me or any of your other patients. The world doesn’t just stop on Saturdays. People don’t stop thinking, doing things they’re not supposed to. I’m here drawing this bridge because you got lucky. My mom called and you showed up at just the right time, because you already knew what you were looking for. It could’ve been worse. 

The Nurse almost rises from his chair. He is unsure of what to do, but continues with the bridge charade. He won’t say what Dasha wants him to say out loud. He redirects.

Nurse: Is your bridge in America?

Dasha (nearly laughs out of frustration): Yes. God, Everything’s about my stupid bridge…

Nurse: It’s not here, in Moscow?

Dasha: No. I would have put snow and a picture of Lenin if my bridge was in Moscow. 

Nurse: So you do want to go home.

Dasha: I didn’t say that. 

Nurse (emphatically): Your bridge is in America. Mine is here in Moscow. You put your bridge where you want to be.

Dasha: And if I draw fire and devil horns around my bridge does that mean I want to go to hell? Maybe I just like to doodle!

The Nurse thinks. He searches for his next step. 

Nurse: You were on the roof today. I came up there looking for you and I saw you. Everyone was searching for you when you disappeared. Your mom calling and crying from five thousand miles away. What were you doing?

Dasha: Don’t ask me about that. Go back. Ask me about my bridge. 

Nurse: I thought you were tired of talking about your bridge. 

Dasha (More forcefully): Ask me. About my bridge. 

The Nurse looks at Dasha. Looks in her eyes. He places his hands on the table, halfway to reaching her. She doesn’t reach back.

Nurse: You can still dance if you go home back to America. You don’t need to go back to the academy. Your parents will still be happy. You’ve been hospitalized for two weeks, holed up in your room. You can barely walk and your roommates don’t know anything about you, your name, or if you can even speak. I know it’s hard for you. You’re skinny, you’re exhausted, you sit here lying to me, but not well enough to convince me to let you go. Well I can’t let you go. You can tell me if you want to give it all up and go home, you don’t need to show me or prove that you’ve had enough. It’s easy: just say where you are on the bridge. I need you to say it.

Dasha: I don’t want to draw anymore. Or talk. 

Nurse: I’ll have to keep you here, you know that don’t you? I’ll call your mom…

Dasha: Can I call her?

Nurse: Not until you’re open with me. For the medical report. We need to know what to do with you.

Dasha stands from her chair. She walks to the front of the room, slowly. Her back faces the Nurse, her front faces an audience. She spreads her arms out and lifts her head. From afar, her body mimics a cross. She speaks in this stance like she is proclaiming a prophecy. 

Dasha: You told me to draw a bridge. Not a house, not a boat, not a meadow. A bridge. You know why people go to bridges when nobody is watching them. Alone at night, in the dark, when their family sleeps five thousand miles away. You know where I am on the bridge. I don’t have to draw it and I don’t have to tell you. You know exactly where I am on the bridge and what I’m doing next. 

The Nurse runs to restrain her. He hoped it would not come to this. The waves under Dasha’s bridge come alive. They sound throughout the room and disturb him. He can hear them tumble, swallowing something human.

February 24, 2024 02:47

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28 comments

Cedar Barkwood
14:10 Apr 18, 2024

Wow, that was a mindful. You did amazing throughout everything. Your language was vivid, your description was spot on. You perfectly illustrated the harsh reality that exists in hospitals. Incredibly heartfelt, I'm sure that this deserved a win. Amazing job.

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14:03 Jun 07, 2024

Oh my god. I love this so much. You're stories seem to touch me in a specific way, I originally read your one on Beckett and now this... It's so moving, and capturing the experience in a psychiatric hospital through a dialogue format is something I never would have thought of, and it works perfectly. Well done!

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David Sweet
19:24 Mar 20, 2024

Wow! I can see why this was shortlisted. Great short script. Have you considered entering it into 10-minute play festivals? It develops nicely over the course of the plot. I turned one of my Reedsy stories (Cicero '59) into a script. A local college is producing it in April. Have you had a script produced? This is a first for me and a weird experience to see actors portraying characters you have written. So much in this story! We'll done!

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Liz Grosul
21:46 Mar 20, 2024

Thanks David! I didn't know about the festivals but they sound amazing! Congratulations on getting yours produced! I'd love to learn more!

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David Sweet
22:26 Mar 20, 2024

Not sure where you are attending university, but some universities have festivals. State level theater associations like Kentucky Theater Association where I first submitted my play will hold contests each year (check your state). Here is a list of possible areas you want to consider: https://playsubmissionshelper.com/10-ten-minute-play-submissions-opps/

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Liz Grosul
18:01 Mar 21, 2024

Thanks David! This is super helpful. I found a few that work and I'm so excited to submit. You're the best!

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David Sweet
19:16 Mar 21, 2024

Just trying to help a fellow theater person. I directed HS theater for 21 years and community Theater for one before I retired from that life. Trying to write more now.

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Liz Grosul
21:16 Mar 22, 2024

that's uber impressive! Looking forward to reading more of your works!

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15:13 Mar 20, 2024

Wow. I love the implied meanings that build up until the end. Favourite line: 'Dasha: And if I draw fire and devil horns around my bridge does that mean I want to go to hell? Maybe I just like to doodle!' I understood 'suicide' almost immediately - when the Nurse said "Where are you on this bridge?" Well done. Oh, and especially well done having it shortlisted! I'm not surprised. 😁

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Liz Grosul
21:47 Mar 20, 2024

Thanks Khadija! I'm so glad you liked those lines. It was certainly a journey writing this play.

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Martin Ross
19:18 Mar 11, 2024

Congratulations! A great example of economic writing that conveys rich suspense, character, power, and fantastic misdirection. Excellent work!

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Liz Grosul
01:02 Mar 12, 2024

Thank you for your kind words Martin!

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Joseph Ellis
12:08 Mar 11, 2024

Fantastic story Liz. Great sense of tension and such a clear narrative while sticking to the prompt that calls for obscuring what's really going on.

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Liz Grosul
13:29 Mar 11, 2024

Thanks, Joseph!

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Shirley Medhurst
17:18 Mar 06, 2024

Very powerful story, and a wonderful take on the prompt Well done 👏

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Liz Grosul
20:55 Mar 06, 2024

Thanks Shirley! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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Soha Rahman
03:56 Mar 06, 2024

I love how you used suspense techniques to draw in the reader. This is crazy good, your foreshadowing really builds suspense. And the cliffhanger leaves the reader wondering.....................

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Liz Grosul
16:45 Mar 06, 2024

Thank you for your feedback Soha!

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Soha Rahman
17:32 Mar 06, 2024

No problem!

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Soha Rahman
22:59 Mar 06, 2024

By the way, I have submitted a story on my profile!

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John Rutherford
09:29 Mar 03, 2024

Congratulations Liz

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Liz Grosul
16:43 Mar 06, 2024

Thanks John!

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Trudy Jas
21:33 Mar 02, 2024

Congratulations on your shortlist. Well done!

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Liz Grosul
16:44 Mar 06, 2024

Thank you, Trudy! Appreciate you reading!

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Sonia Parmar
18:25 Mar 01, 2024

Congratulations on the shortlist!! So well-deserved.

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Liz Grosul
19:47 Mar 01, 2024

Thank you, means a lot!

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Mary Bendickson
17:19 Mar 01, 2024

Congrats on this shortlist. Will have to wait til later to read it. A powerful story Nicely done.

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Liz Grosul
18:04 Mar 01, 2024

Thanks Mary! I appreciate it:)

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