The aquamarine paper mask obscured the bottom half of the nurse’s face, but her eyes sparkled brown beneath ink-coated lashes. The doctor regretted not weeding his salt-and-pepper monobrow. The top of your face assumes so much responsibility for expression when you work in a hospital.
The man on the table was mumbling—something about needing to stop. Not many people enjoy a rubber tube up the ass, and even fewer must like it when it’s a welcome-to-middle-age medical procedure.
The doctor wondered what the nurse liked. He wondered if she loved her new husband—the man wasn’t much to look at, the doctor thought, but packed a lot in the wallet.
So many marriages are forged out of something other than love.
He wondered if he still loved his own wife, if there was a point to their communal existence now that the kids were grown and gone.
“Leave it alone!” The man on the table was yelling now, not unheard of, but the doctor was intrigued by the unexpected. The nurse increased the dosage of the twilight drugs then quieted the man with a pat on the back and a shushing sound. The doctor imagined her lips in the shape of a kiss as he maneuvered the tube deeper.
“Looking good,” the doctor said, tilting his head toward the screen televising the man’s lower intestine. The nurse met the doctor’s eyes, then looked away.
His heart lurched, and he imagined them together, smuggled in a mothy, anonymous freeway motel. The thrill under covers.
An aeolian moan escaped from the patient’s mouth. He was bald except a ring of white hair around the base of his skull. With the glow of the florescent lights, it looked like a halo.
The nurse cleared her throat, her eyes angled toward the screen. A polyp pulsed red and menacing. The doctor welcomed the opportunity to brandish his electric wire. “It’s pretty beastly. Can you bring me the snare and cautery?” He hadn’t meant to rhyme and winced at the echo.
“What euphony,” she said, bringing him the mirrored tray. He tried to convey a smirk through his eyes, a return of her witty flirtation. But also to play it safe. Coded flirtation may not be flirtation at all, but the doctor knew from experience that it usually was.
The man on the table was mumbling again, fidgeting too. Reluctant to begin the polypectomy with such a mutinous patient, the doctor opened his mouth to call for nitrous.
“Stop that right now.” The patient’s words were sober and clear, punctuated like the bullet points of a lecture.
The doctor heard the words, and the patient exhaled and lay still.
When the doctor handed the nurse the seared polyp, she sealed it in the orange bag and asked him where he was eating. The doctor pretended not to hear, said goodbye to the sleeping patient with his eyes, and left the room. He was going home to his wife for lunch.
Sarah Schiff earned her PhD in American literature from Emory University but is now a fugitive from higher education. She writes short fiction and teaches high school English in Atlanta. Her essays and reviews have appeared in such journals as Modern Fiction Studies, American Literature, and Arizona Quarterly.