The Things In the Chairs

An E.R. story by Lizo

The souls have all gone somewhere else,
a parallel place

where blades don't come from the ceiling
and harvest the things in the chairs
  - from Workroom by M. F. McAuliffe


She moves, has always moved, with a surprising grace. The crutch serves as a balancing point, enabling her to dart in and out of traffic in the crowded hallway. She slid between nurses and patients, between gurneys and walls, finally disappearing through an elevator door as it slid closed.

I have never been able to decide if I am afraid of or in awe of her. She has a fierce intelligence and an even fiercer determination, both anchored by ambition. But her compassion with the most fragile of her patients pulls me back, makes me want to know her, to understand her.

Then, there is the beauty. It's an uncommon mixture of bone structure and coloring. Her features are almost delicate, her skin porcelain, her hair now a curtain of dark auburn almost hiding eyes that flash green and gray. I find myself wondering how others cannot see it.

"What's with her?" Malik asked as we both watch the elevator doors close. "She sure took off fast."

"Probably some meeting or another," Susan answered as she juggled a handful of charts and a cup of coffee. "With Robert gone, she's Chief of Staff and ER Chief both."

The ER is, surprisingly, unchaotic. There are only a few people in chairs. Triage is done and Susan has been zipping through charts and histories at breakneck speed. Her hair has slipped from its makeshift bun and spills over her collar. She keeps checking her watch.

"What?" she asked as I watched her.

"Nothing," I answered. Then, I caught her eye and asked the question. "What case was Weaver on?"

Haleh stopped at the desk to return a chart. "Mr. McPherson has begun making urine output. Do you want to change the dosage?"

"No," Susan answered. "But, keep an eye on the output. If it continues at the present rate, cut the dosage in half in an hour."

"Dr. Weaver was in with the girl's parents," Haleh added before she walked toward the lounge.

"What girl?"

"Serena Phillips," Susan answered without looking up from the note she was making. She tapped her pen against the folder and met my eyes. "She hanged herself in her dorm room. Her roommate came home from the movies and found her. We notified the parents. Kerry was the attending who called it."

"How did the parents react?"

"How else? Puzzled, angry, heartbroken. The mother kept saying that Serena seemed fine, that she was fine."

"And Kerry?"

"Professional as always," Yosh said. He had slowed to hear the conversation. "I was in the room with her. She was calm, reassuring, offered counseling help. The usual."

I drifted away then, going back to check on my patients.

The wind cut through my lab coat as I stepped from the elevator onto the roof. The sirens disappeared into the night, punctuated in their eerie melody by the muffled bass of hip hop coming from the car parked in the alley. Two weeks earlier it had been fall, but the lingering warmth was gone. I could smell snow coming. My breath crystallized and faded, and I rubbed my hands together and breathed on them.

She stood on the other side of the helipad, leaning against a waist-high wall. Her crutch lay slightly behind and to her right as though she had dropped it in her flight toward the wall. I could see her shoulders slightly hunched. Her posture spoke volumes.

"Abby," she said without looking as I neared her.

Her voice held no emotion, no sorrow or anger.

"Abby," she said again, this time slightly turning to see me. "Is there a trauma? You could have just paged me. I never leave it behind now."

On that her voice hesitated. There was no break, just a minute pause.

She finally turned completely, and I could see in the low light of the emergency lights that she had been crying.

"Abby," she said a third time. She stumbled slightly forward and I bent to retrieve the crutch. She didn't hold out her hand for it, so I leaned it against the wall between us. I placed my elbows on the wall and stepped back, creating a steeper angle. She mirrored my movement.

"Why here?" I asked as I fished a nearly pristine pack of cigarettes from my coat pocket and fumbled for the lighter. She watched, unblinking, as I lit the cigarette and inhaled. I held my breath, waiting for her. When she didn't answer, I exhaled the smoke and watched it mingle with the mist.

I turned, balanced on my right elbow and faced her profile. After I had finished the cigarette and thrown the butt toward a trash can, she spoke.

"I never know what to say when they ask me why. I can explain the physiological reasons for the death, but I never know why." Her voice wavered only slightly as our eyes connected.

Her hands were planted squarely on the wall, and she began to move them up and down as if stroking the concrete warmed them. Her hands were as small as the rest of her, as delicate as her features. The cold had leeched all the color from them, and the nails glowed pink against the white of her skin.

"It never seems right to talk to them, then go back to another patient or another parent. It's as if none of it matters, as though their loss is the same as someones migraine or gallstone."

I had laid my hands on the wall as well, and she absently touched my left hand with her right and began moving her thumb slowly against its back. Her skin was iced silk against mine and I held my breath again.

She didn't notice and the movement continued.

"I never know what to say," she repeated as she turned her head toward me again. The green of her eyes glistened and glinted against the muted light.

"Robert Frost," I said.


"Most people might quote Robert Frost. "'And they, since they were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.'"

"Appropriate, but a bit trite, don't you think?"

"I like Frost."

"So do I, but not right now."

"What would be right right now?"

Her thumb stopped moving for an instant as she thought. Then she slid her fingers under my hand and tightened them against my palm. She looked at me again. This time her eyes held mine.

"'The souls have all gone somewhere else,/a parallel plane/where blades don't come from the ceiling/and harvest the things in the chairs,'" she whispered.

Her hand tightened around mine, her thumb slipping underneath as I folded my fingers to grasp hers.

"Abby," she said for a fourth time.

I tilted sideways to face her, never breaking contact with her hand. Then her beeper sounded, its measured shrillness echoing across the roof.

She stroked the skin on the back of my hand one last time before breaking contact. Then, she reached for the crutch.

"Back to the things in the chairs?" I asked as we crossed to the elevator. "Turning to our affairs," she answered as the elevator doors opened and we stepped in.



Feed the author!

Return to Stories by Author, Stories by Fandom, or Stories by Poem.