The nurse walks into Room 93 pushing a cart carrying a tray with a glass of water, a jar of capsules, a thermometer, and a file folder rest. She says “Good evening” and approaches the patient’s bed. He lies there with his eyes closed. She looks at him with no particular interest, consults the clipboard at the foot of the bed where the instructions are written, takes a capsule out of the jar she brought in on the cart and, as she picks up the glass of water, says:
“Mr. Rdz, it’s time for your pill.”
Mr. Rdz doesn’t move a muscle. The nurse touches his arm.
“Come on, Mr. Rdz.”
With the darkest of premonitions, the nurse takes the sick man by the wrist and takes his pulse. There is none. He’s dead.
She stores the capsule in the jar, pushes the cart to one side, and leaves the room. She runs over to the nurse’s station for her wing of the hospital (D Wing) and announces to the head nurse that the patient in room 93 is dead.
The head nurse looks at her watch. It’s not at all convenient for a patient to have died on her at that very moment. In a quarter of an hour she’ll be off and today of all days she is interested in leaving on time because she has finally managed to get her best friend’s boyfriend to ask her out, precisely on the pretext of having a talk about her best friend. Even though she knows (thanks to the same best friend’s confidences) that this is a man who wastes no time, who couldn’t care less about talking, and who most likely has only invited her over for dinner in order to bone her a few minutes after she arrives, right there on the table, in the middle of the candles and plates of spaghetti, if he has prepared spaghetti for dinner, as (according to her best friend) he almost always does. And she awaits the moment feverishly. This is why, if she announces that the patient in Room 93 is dead, whether she likes it or not she’ll have to stay quite a bit longer, even if the next shift, which comes on in fifteen minutes, has arrived. The dead mean paperwork. These are not things that can be resolved in a hurry. And that means she’ll be late for the date. Of course she could call her best friend’s boyfriend, explain what’s going on, and propose that they get together later or another day. But experience has taught her that postponement of the first date is almost always the kiss of death. When you put off a first date for one reason, the next date gets put off for a different reason. And between one thing and another, the postponement becomes final. Besides, it’s been an awful day and she’s really desperate to get off, go over to his house, and let him do the deed.
If she knew her (the nurse who found the patient dead) better, she could ask her to pretend she didn’t know. Then one of the nurses on the later shift would find him, and the ensuing complications could be taken care of by the next head nurse. It would be all the same to the staff on the next shift. They would just have begun to work, and finding a dead man wouldn’t ruin their schedule. And that way she could be rid of the whole thing and arrive on time for her date. But she hardly knows the nurse at all. She’s new and there’s a danger she might yet harbor some devotion to ethics as newcomers sometimes do. Or, maybe she isn’t harboring anything but she could still make a mental note of the affair and use it to her advantage when the occasion rose.
The head nurse looks at her watch again. She’s getting more and more nervous. The hands are moving inexorably toward quitting time, toward the date she doesn’t under any circumstances want to miss. What should she do? She has to decide quickly, because the nurse who discovered the dead man is starting to stare at her as if she didn’t understand why she’s sitting there, openmouthed, not coming to a decision. She tells the nurse she’ll deal with it herself and to go on with her rounds.
She can’t ask this favor of the head nurse on the next shift, either. Not because this woman has any issues with ethics but because, unfortunately for the resolution of the bind she finds herself in, they have borne each other a mutual hatred from the day they met.
If she doesn’t find a solution, should she just take it lying down and forget the date? God forbid. But she’s nervous, and she isn’t thinking clearly. Things are looking bleaker and bleaker all the time.
Just when they are bleakest, when her brooding is about to eliminate the last possible strategy, she sees the solution walk through the door. It’s the new doctor, who hasn’t been working long at the hospital and who always smiles at her, a suggestive, questioning smile. He’s her only chance. She’ll go up to the young doctor, explain that she has an unavoidable engagement, and ask him to do her a favor, to take care of the dead man for her. Even though she knows that, in exchange for the favor, the suggestive smiles will turn into concrete propositions. But would she like to entertain concrete propositions from this doctor? She had never given it serious thought. At first, she wouldn’t have thought so. On forming a mental picture after another look at him, though, why not? Besides, if she really weren’t into it, she could always say no. People do favors for nothing. If a favor has to be paid back, it’s not a favor.
But the more she thinks about it, the less she wants to say no. In fact, she wants to say yes. Not only that, she really wants him to proposition her. So much so that she’s thinking less and less of the man she’s arranged to meet later and whom she imagines laying her on the table, amid the spaghetti.
She goes up to him, opens her mouth, and forces herself to speak. The doctor’s lips are driving her crazy. They’re fleshy, and firm. She would nibble on them right there on the spot. The doctor smiles at her and tells her not to worry, she can leave with a clear mind. He’ll take care of everything. The head nurse walks down the hall and, on her way into the dressing room, turns one more time to look at him and make sure that, indeed, he too had been looking at her. He’s still looking. They smile at each other, and she goes into the dressing room. She changes quickly—she should have left ten minutes ago! She goes out into the street. She raises her arm to hail a taxi, but thinks better of it, lowers it, and stands there stock-still for a moment. Then she starts to walk, looking for a phone booth and, as she calls her best friend’s boyfriend to mumble a barely credible excuse, she begins to calculate how long it will take the new doctor to proposition her, and what she’ll do to egg him on, if he takes too long getting around to it.