Here’s my second round entry into the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest last year. Again, the rules are 1,000 words, 48 hours to write an original work of fiction based on prompts for GENRE, SETTING and RANDOM OBJECT.
GENRE: Mystery (which I’d never written before)
SETTING: Physical rehabilitation facility
RANDOM OBJECT: Fried chicken (What is it with me and food?)
“Mr. Belardi, wake up. It’s time for lunch.”
A yawn stretched across the patient’s scratchy patch of white stubble.
“No, it’s Letty. Brought your favorite — fried chicken.”
“Who the hell are you?”
“Letty, the day shift nurse. Same as this morning. Same as yesterday. Let’s get you upright so you can eat. Kevin’s gonna work on your core today.”
Letty freed his left hand from the Velcro restraint and repositioned the bulky sling protecting his right arm. As the bed cranked into its upright and locked position, she pushed the tray table across his lap.
“Not here.” The forty-something black woman busied herself with the triptych of charts and monitors behind his head.
“What am I supposed to do with this?” He flicked the plastic spoon with his good thumb.
“Use it for the mashed potatoes. You can eat the drumstick with your hand.”
The purple starburst of bruise that surrounded his right eye contorted into an angry scowl. He stabbed the spoon into the sodden white blob.
“Can I at least have a goddam fork and knife?”
“Not after what you tried with Ben last night.” The nurse had a good thirty pounds on him — none of it fat. She wasn’t afraid of a scrawny, ex-mechanic with a broken wing. “You watch that language around me, sir.”
Outside the door of Room 418, a gold star identified Mr. Belardi as a fall risk.
A red stop sign warned visitors of his disposition.
As Letty emptied the urinal and checked the motion sensors tethered to his gown, the old man started to flop his legs beneath the white starchy sheets.
“What’s wrong with your feet?”
“They’re burning — I have diabetes!” He jerked his leg against the restraint in ratcheting agitation. “My left foot! It’s on fire!”
“OK, OK. Calm down.”
She held her breath, raised the sheet and unfastened the Velcro strap on his right foot. Untended talons of yellow toenail jutted from the gray twigs of flesh.
“I said my left foot, goddammit!”
“There’s nothing wrong with your left foot, Mr. Belardi, and don’t use that language with me.”
“I’ll say whatever the hell I want, you bitch!” He spat out the words with flecks of potato and half-chewed peas. “When the police come back, I’ll tell them what you’ve done to me!”
Dr. McCormick and his bleach-blond hair jutted around the curtain.
“That’s enough, Mr. Belardi.” The title in front of Rob McCormick’s name commanded immediate respect from a patient that was old enough to be his grandfather. “Letty, I need to see you.”
The plastic sippy-cup smashed against the doorframe as she followed him out. Mr. Belardi’s left arm worked just fine.
“Detective Perry is coming back today,” Dr. McCormick said. “Hold off on his next round of Percocet.”
“He’s in a lot of pain.”
“Yeah, he’s a pain in our ass, but he has to be coherent for the interview.”
A clatter of plastic and metal crashed across the white laminate tiles as the sensors shrieked in panic. A wet thud of flesh smacked the floor. Inside, Mr. Belardi belly-crawled toward them, his broken shoulder splayed out to the side. His hospital gown gaped like a noose around his head.
“My foot! My foot!”
The left stump hung limp from the tangle of sheets cascading over the bedrails. The flap of skin, smooth and brown, folded into a tidy crease.
“Anna! Anna! They took my leg! They cut it off!”
Arms beneath his waist, orderly hands pulled the gown back across his naked loins. He twisted and writhed, kicking the stump against the men that held him fast.
“Three, two, one, lift!”
His sobs dwindled down the hollow point of Letty’s needle.
The sergeant stood at parade rest outside the door with the gold star and red stop sign.
“There’s nothing more we can do for your father,” Dr. McCormick said. “We’re a rehab institute, not a memory care facility.”
“It’s gotta be the anesthesia — that’s why he’s confused, sir. The surgeon said it’d take a while for him to get right.”
Sergeant Drew Belardi followed in his father’s fleet footsteps, fighting in Golden Gloves before enlisting in the Army. In another twenty years, he’d have the same wispy smattering of hair across the crown of his head. In another forty, he might find himself lost in this same dark tunnel.
“It’s more than anesthesia,” Dr. McCormick continued. “He’s refusing therapy. He’s been abusive to the staff — tried to attack one with a fork. We didn’t report that when the police came.”
Sergeant Belardi dug his fists into his green Dickeys, his posture faltering.
“I hope you told them what happened,” Sergeant Belardi said. “That’s why I filed a report.”
“He lost his balance and fell into a concrete planter box in front of a dozen witnesses. It wasn’t elder abuse… Spatial issues are a symptom of Alzheimer’s.”
The men exhaled together under the weight of their generation’s new burden.
“I’m sorry I’m having a hard time believing you, sir. He’s a fighter… worked hard on his rehab when they took his foot two years ago. It’s gotta be the anesthesia.”
In four years as a physician, Dr. McCormick had seen this play out too many times: Patients rallied for favored sons and favorite nurses. Between deployments, Sergeant Belardi would get the good stuff, while Anna would suffer the daily decline.
He played his final card.
“Look, we can do in-home physical therapy for the shoulder. It makes a big difference for patients to be in a familiar environment with people they love. It’ll probably do him a world of good to be back at Glen Acres with Anna.”
“Yeah, he’s been asking for her every day.”
“My Mom’s been dead for two years. We lost her in the car accident that took Dad’s foot.”
Mr. Belardi returned to Glen Acres that evening with orders for an Alzheimer’s evaluation.