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by David Rachels

When the woman comes into my hospital room, I know right away that she’s not really a nurse. I can’t explain it, but I know I may have to kill her.

She says, “Good evening, Mr. Long,” which isn’t my real name. “I’ve brought your medicine.”

She hands me a small paper cup with a round white pill in it. I look at the pill and look up at her.

“What is this?” I say. “Cyanide or something?”

I’m looking for a reaction, but she doesn’t react much. She’s good. “It’s acetaminophen-codeine,” she says. “Dr. Baxter prescribed it for pain.” So she knew my hospital alias, and she knows the name of my doctor. She says, “I’m not leaving till you take your medicine.” She sounds tired, impatient.

I say, “I haven’t been taking any meds orally. It’s all been in my IV.”

“And now it’s a pill,” she says. “Take it.”

“But I’m not in pain. How about I keep it, and I’ll take it later if I need it.”

She shakes her head. “You want to keep the pain from starting,” she says. “Once it starts, it’s harder to stop.”

This woman is quite attractive, and now I realize how I know that she’s not really a nurse. It’s her clothes. The real nurses have been dressed in hospital scrubs in all sorts of colors. This imposter, though, is dressed in an outfit like you would get from a costume store: short white dress, white stockings, white shoes, white cap. She looks like she’s going to a Halloween party.

I would kill her now, but I’m not sure if I’m capable of getting out of bed, and even if I did manage to kill her, what would I do then? I can’t run away with all these tubes in me. If I could run away, I would already have done it.

I say, “How did you manage to get in here dressed like that?”

“I’m a nurse,” she says, as if saying it makes it so.

I say, “What do you call one of those gizmos that you use to take someone’s blood pressure?” as if proving that she’s not a nurse will accomplish something.

“A sphygmomanometer,” she says, and for a moment I think she might really be a nurse. Then she says, “Is that really how you want to do it? I guess we can use a thigh-size cuff.”

She comes right up next to my bed, and I reach for her, but when I try to defend myself, she punches my kidney, my throat — I’m weak and I have no chance.

She wraps the sphygmomanometer cuff tight around my neck. I’m on the verge of blacking out, and she hasn’t even started to pump it up.

I manage to whisper, “At least admit you’re not a nurse.”

She says, “How long have you been suffering from hypertension?” and then she starts pumping.


David Rachels’ short fiction has appeared most recently in The Potomac Review, Shotgun Honey, Near to the Knuckle, and Pulp Modern. His most recent book is an edited collection, Redheads Die Quickly and Other Stories by Gil Brewer (UP of Florida, 2012).

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