(in this second installment of Mind Absent, a work in progress, we learn more about reporter Jed Berman’s whereabouts and what the immediate future holds for him)
The taller orderly read the information and shook his head. He looked at his partner and pointed toward Room X50’s wide, steel door.
“Wouldn’t want to be this guy.”
The shorter orderly responded in a tired voice.
“Yeh? Why not?”
“The guys told me the people we haul down to the O.R. never come back. I was just thinking that’s not much to look forward to.”
The shorter orderly snorted. “They don’t pay us minimum wage to think. We’re just supposed to do what we’re told. And I’ll take this over lobstering I used to do.” He thought for a second and then waved his hand toward Room X50. “Maybe they don’t come back because they take ’em to one of the regular wards, ya’ know?” He paused again, then added, “Besides, from what I’ve heard, this guy ain’t had much to look forward to for a long time.”
The younger man, new to the X-Ward and still curious about what went on here, persisted.
The older orderly snorted, then lapsed into a raspy cough.
“It’s none of my business,” he said, as leaned toward his partner, “And it really ain’t your business either, but somebody said he was a reporter down in Portland years ago.”
The new orderly lifted his right hand from the gurney’s push bar and scratched his head.
“Okay, what else do you know about him?”
“Not much. Been here five years, came in ’bout the same time I did, when they opened the place. In a coma, or unconscious,” he gestured down the long, dim hallway, “like all the rest of ’em. Don’t know nothin’ more than that.” He nodded toward the doorway. “So let’s get on with it. If we get him down to the O.R. a little early, we can step out for a smoke.”
The taller man wanted more.
“So why’d they bring him here? What do these X-docs do?”
His partner leaned closer and whispered hoarsely.
“Most people don’t know. They keep this ward pretty much closed off. But I know some stuff. And from what I seen and heard,” he raised a stubby forefinger in his partner’s face, “some of what they do around here ain’t right.”
“Ain’t right? How do you mean?”
The older man straightened up and brushed his palms together to signal his desire to end to the conversation.
“Okay, that’s it, that’s all I have to say and all you need to know. Let’s just do what we’re here to do and keep our noses out of it.”
He pointed toward the door.
“His wife might be in there, so don’t do any of that stupid shit you do, like strolling in there singing Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah or something.”
The taller orderly squared his shoulders and shuffled around the end of the gurney toward the door.
“I don’t do stupid shit,” he tossed over his shoulder. “And I like that song. I can handle his wife being in there.”
But his bravado faded as he reached the door. He looked back at his partner.
“So you wanna’ knock or should I?”
“Ah, get outa’ the way. You new guys are such chicken shits.” The veteran stepped around the gurney and elbowed the taller man aside. “Here’s how you do it.”
He balled his calloused fingers into a fist and landed three thudding blows on the hollow door.
“Orderlies. It’s time to go, Mr. Berman.”
He pulled down on the handle and leaned into the door. As it swung open, both men wondered if the computer had screwed up again. The scene before them was not what they expected to see in Room X50.