Thanks to Edna and her loathing of maraschino cherries, I rushed into room 406, bright red spots marring my scrubs and far later than I should have for the evening med round.
“Hey there, Hector,” I said as I cleared the threshold.
“Don’t let the days go by.” His voice sounded like a rusty tin can being opened–all metallic scrape and rasp–but he didn’t look at me when he spoke.
His words were so unexpected and startling, my hand convulsed around the styrofoam cup I carried. Water splooshed through the now-cracked sides, wetting his paper-thin pajamas and the tiny paper cup of pills I held in my other hand, dissolving them almost instantly.
I should have been more worried about what the Sadie, the charge nurse, would say when she found out I’d screwed up the med schedule, but it was the first time I’d ever heard him speak. I’d been working in the head trauma unit for nearly four months, and he’d never uttered a word the entire time. He just watched the sharp angles of sunlight travel across the gray wall, slowly turning his wheelchair as he marked the progress. On overcast days, he just stared at nothing. Or maybe it was something. I wasn’t in his head, so what did I know?
“What did you say?”
He lifted his head and stared woodenly at me, blinking slowly, as if he were looking straight through me. This was more like the guy I was used to.
“Cathy?” And just as quickly, he changed again.
“Nope, I’m Dani.” I grabbed a towel from the bathroom and dabbed at his water-soaked knee. “I’m really sorry about this. I’ll get you some fresh PJs.”
His fingers, dry and papery, but still surprisingly strong closed around my wrist. “Could’ve been easier on her.
“On Cathy?” The question was out of my mouth before I could stop it. We weren’t supposed to engage about anything that had the potential to upset them, and the way his hand tightened around my wrist, I knew I’d just blown that directive.
“Tell her I’m sorry.” He stared into my eyes then his hand finally fell away from my skin. “I couldn’t change.”
“I’m sure she knows you tried.” I glanced at the clock on the wall behind his head. Shit. I was almost twenty-five minutes behind schedule, and I still needed to get him fresh meds. “I’ll be back in a few, okay?”
I needn’t have bothered speaking. He was already back to staring through me. While I waited for Sadie to sign off on a new med cup, I asked, “Hey, who’s Cathy? Hector mentioned her.”
Sadie’s eyes widened. “He spoke?”
“Yeah. Said he could’ve been easier on her or something.”
Sadie counted and recounted the pills in the paper cup. “Cathy was his daughter. She didn’t make it.”