winner of the 2015 UC Irvine School of Medicine Creative Writing Contest

would you like a cup of water, I asked her
so sorry to wake you, it's time for your father's CT
one more signature before he goes upstairs.
exhausted, I think about them while nursing a coffee mug.
forms and perfunctory midnight kindness.

two weeks later, I'm happy they're back -
that cruelest of hopes, to see a patient again.
more water for her, coffee for me,
her father's bum hip paying for our friendship.
we talk about the weather, our dreams, his schizophrenia.
as she speaks, I fall through a trapdoor in his mind
feel the fear greasing the white tile walls.

they come again within a week.
water. coffee. hip.
we three know each other better now.
the ice breaks easily as I help him into bed.
maybe today he sees my true face:
an agent of the government, a tormentor, a fellow acolyte.
she stares at the ceiling's fluorescent crucifixes.
later, eyes covered, she asks,
how much can God ask a family to bear?

soon after, another night of acrid chemical prayers.
he comes in alone, she's off at a wedding.
no water, I guess. the coffee and hip stay the same.
as the night quiets down, I sit on the end of his bed
we talk about the winter cold, our dreams, his fears.

he looks softly at me.
I was a cop, right out of high school, he says
won some awards. saved some lives.
couldn't work once I saw baalzebub sitting on the ceiling fan.
rain falls outside in the ambulance bay.
jesus, I say.
he smiles sadly.
shifts are hard when you can't tell what's real.

I rest my hand on his.
apologies. smiles. frozen time.
my heart breaks.
we are numb ships drifting on a windless sea.

then I'm off in my cyan armor
other ships in other beds to drift by.