The Next Day
Rachel Thomas tossed and turned in her queen-sized bed. She didn’t get much sleep last night because her anxiety was working overtime. At eleven o’clock she would at last be interviewing for a real, professional job with decent pay. Her social work job at the nursing home barely paid the monthly bills.
Fidgety and wide awake, Rachel laid on her back and stretched her legs. She wiggled her toes and repeatedly yawned, each yawn louder than the last. She drew circles with her index finger around each red dot on her pajamas, a nervous habit she’d had since childhood.
She rolled over and sat on the side of the bed. Her eyes drifted to the alarm clock on the nightstand glowing in the dark, and the time was five minutes to eight. Rachel never set her alarm. She relied on her internal clock and the grace of God to wake her up on time every morning. Because of her faith, in God’s timing, she was never late for work. Rachel scooted across the bed and switched on the lamp. Her dark brown eyes settled on a photograph of her and Picasso Cooper, her ex-fiancé. They look happy together, hugged up in front of the Golden Gate Bridge with Picasso planting a kiss on her cheek. She could still feel his warm lips and tight embrace. Rachel smiled as she reminisced fondly over the memory. Soon her smile dwarfed into a frown. Sadly, they parted ways because of his infidelity.
Although he hurt her badly, she kept the photo of them together next to her parent’s picture on the nightstand. An only child, after all, she considered Picasso to be family. She had known him most of her life. They met in high school, and she thought they would be together forever, but it wasn’t in the cards.
Rachel stood on her feet and trudged over to the window. She opened the blinds, and noticed the clouds were dark and angry, threatening rain. She wondered if the rain would even come because it had been bitterly cold for the past few days. Rachel hated the rain, a common occurrence in Seattle, especially during the winter and spring months. She preferred the dry freezing winter weather of her native California.
When the sun was out, Rachel could see Mountain Rainier from her one-bedroom fourth-floor apartment. Although having the view made her rent more expensive, she had no plans to give up her place. Her bedroom was her favorite refuge, her escape. African art decorated the walls and green ivy plants hung by the bay window. In a corner next to her full-length mirror sat her favorite red velvet chair with fluffy black pillows.
Disappointed, she couldn’t see the mountain, Rachel turned away from the window and hopped onto the bed. She grabbed the remote from the nightstand and turned on the television. A reporter on KIRO News was reporting on Salter’s Point Regional. A patient with a history of suicide attempts had escaped from the locked unit. Rachel’s mouth sagged open, and she sat straight up on the side of the bed. She turned the volume up and listened more intently. “My word, this is terrible!” she gasped and shook her head. “I hope they find her before she ends up killing herself.”
Rachel sighed heavily and turned off the television. In preparation for her interview, she’d read about the hospital’s sordid past. In the 1940s, Salter’s Point Regional had a reputation for performing frontal lobotomies and using ice baths and electric shock treatments on their patients. Although in later years the hospital had cleaned up its act, Salter’s Point Regional remained a horrifying place to be admitted. Rachel wasn’t bothered by the hospital’s history and reputation. Her career goal was to add mental health experience to her resume. One day, she hoped to start her own mental health practice.
Rachel looked at the clock, and she panicked. Time was ticking away. It was eight-thirty, only two and a half hours until her interview. Rachel leaped to her feet and darted around her apartment. She ran to her closet throwing suits, dresses, and sweaters on the floor. Fifteen minutes later, Rachel finally settled on a cream blouse, a red suit, and two-inch brown pumps. She stood there for a minute, admiring her selection, and remembering when she wore red, compliments would follow.
Again, Rachel glanced at the clock. It was now eight forty-five. She ran to the bathroom, turned on the shower, and moved to the sink. She carefully unraveled the rollers from her hair, placing them in the vanity drawer. She slipped out of her pajamas slid on her shower cap and stepped into the shower.
Twenty minutes later, Rachel was out of the shower, drying herself off with her fluffy red towel. She wrapped the towel around her slender, curvy body and stood at the sink staring into the mirror. Rachel twisted her long black curly hair into a bun leaving a dangling curl in her face. She later wrapped the curl around her right ear as she hurriedly applied her make-up, being extra light on the foundation. Rachel applied bronze eye shadow and deep blue mascara to bring out the dark brown color in her eyes. She topped off the look with a hint of blush and smiled, admiring herself.
Rachel hurried out of the bathroom and down the hall to her bedroom. She looked at the clock again, and it was now nine ten. She hurriedly dressed, slipped on her heels, and gave herself an inspection in the full-length mirror, spinning around three times to make sure every wrinkle was smoothed out. After a close examination, she dashed to the kitchen. Her upcoming interview came to mind, and she felt her stomach getting jittery. “I need a strong cup of coffee to calm my nerves,” she muttered out loud.
Rachel made herself a pot of Starbucks Verona coffee, and she microwaved a Danish cheese roll, her favorite. Within minutes she was sitting at the table, a graduation gift from her parents, enjoying her meager breakfast. By nine-thirty, she had finished eating, so she rose from her chair and placed her dishes in the sink. Rachel dashed to the bathroom and hurriedly brushed her teeth. Once she finished, she applied her red lipstick. A brief glimpse in the mirror made her chuckled to herself. Although she was determined to nail the interview, she was nervous as hell. It felt like her heart was about to burst out of her chest and she stood over the sink, breathing deeply.
Fifteen minutes later, she felt calmer, checking her watch for the time. It was ten o’clock. Rachel rushed to her closet and opened the door. She snatched her raincoat from a hangar and slipped it on. Next, she grabbed her handbag and umbrella, and satisfied she had everything with her, Rachel opened the door and walked out.
As Rachel cranked up her red Toyota, the grey sky opened up, and hail the size of mothballs bounced off of her windshield. Backing out of her parking space, she whipped the car around and drove out of the apartment complex. Even with the windshield wipers switching back and forth in full force, the icy slushy maze zigzagged across the front window, hampered her view. The traffic was tight, bumper to bumper as she crept along the highway, taking the Interstate Five exit. As she merged into traffic, the rain and hail assaulted her window.
Rachel kept a steady snail-like pace as she cruised along the freeway. She turned on the radio and Prince’s hit song “When Doves Cry” blasted over the airwaves. Rachel sang along with the song, bopping her head to the music. Soon the freezing rain tapered off into a drizzle, making it easier for Rachel to see. She stepped on the gas and zoomed down the freeway.
Thirty minutes later, a sign scripted with Salter’s Point appeared on the highway. Rachel exited the freeway and made a quick right. She drove down a long stretch of highway crossing over railroad tracks, and soon the road snaked along Puget Sound. The water’s rough waves splashed up on the rocky beach below. On Rachel’s left, tall evergreen trees lined the road. The trees’ green needles dusted with silver-white dew glistened on the branches. The sky brightened as the sun’s red rays burned through the clouds, chasing huge clusters of grey away.
Up ahead, a man wearing red sweats, a knit striped hat, and brown-tinted sunglasses rode a ten-speed bicycle. When she whipped by the man, he didn’t seem to notice her, he was too focused on the road ahead.
It wasn’t long before she was driving up a winding mountainous terrain. Rachel struggled with the stick-shift as her Toyota chugged uphill around the sleek curves. Evergreens were everywhere. Their majestic beauty decorated the mountain embankment, and the sun’s intense warmth dried out their water-logged branches.
“So beautiful,” Rachel whispered to herself as she took it all in.
After a while, a few yards up the road, Rachel saw the iron gate of Salter’s Point Regional and a guard dressed in black stood in a glass booth trimmed in black wood with an archway. He caught Rachel’s attention as she near the entrance. Dressed in a black uniform and clunky combat boots, the guard looked like Darth Vader. Rachel smirked to herself, amused by his peculiar, dark look. His bushy gray eyebrows hung over his deep-set blue eyes, and the fixed lines in his face disappeared into his thick gray mustache. The lines on his face reminded Rachel of one of those complicated Atlas road maps back in the day.
The guard signaled Rachel to stop. She stomped on her brakes, bringing her Toyota to a screeching halt. Rachel turned off the ignition and rolled down the window as the guard approached her vehicle. Rachel smiled, but the guard’s face remained hard as a rock. Tension rumbled in her stomach.
“Good morning, sir,” she greeted him in a breathy, quavering voice. “I’ve got an eleven o’clock interview with Beth Jones.”
The guard poked his head in the window, and Rachel could smell tobacco on his clothing. She leaned back, shifting in her seat, surprised by his lack of personal space.
“You here to see who?” he asked in a gruff voice.
“Beth Jones,” Rachel repeated, wide-eyed.
“Young lady, I need to see your ID!”
Rachel carefully pulled her wallet out of her handbag, unzipping it and taking out her driver’s license. Her hand trembled as she handed it to the guard. He snatched it from her, flashing her a look of disdain. The guard whirled around and hiked back to his glass booth. Rachel watched him as he made a phone call. As her heart quivered in her chest, she contemplated whether to ask him for directions, scared of what he might say. However, by the time he returned to her vehicle, she had mustered up enough courage. With her voice trembling, she asked, “Sir, do you mind directing me to South Campus?”
Frowning, the guard handed her back her license and turned around, glaring ahead. Pointing his thick crooked finger at the gate, he growled, “Go through this gate and past North Campus Hospital. When you reach the top of the hill, you’ll see a gray building on the right. That building is South Campus Hospital. Now get!”
The guard backed away from Rachel’s Toyota, turning around and heading back to the booth. He stood in the archway, flipping a switch and the gate slowly opened. The guard beckoned for Rachel to go through, and with her face twisted up, Rachel muttered, “What an asshole!”
Once she drove through the gate, Rachel noticed red and black rose bushes blooming on each side of the road. On her left, there were clusters of white cottages scattered on the well-manicured green lawn. On her right sat Salter’s Point Regional, a massive brick building with the words North Campus on the front. Above the roof, a clock tower trimmed in gold loomed over the building. The clock’s huge white face had black hands and large roman numerals. It reminded her of one of the clocks in the olden days. The clock’s impressive architectural design added to the hospital’s mystique. Amazed by the hospital’s glamour and lush landscape, Rachel declared, “What a beautiful campus!”
She drove over the hill, and her eyes rested on South Campus Hospital. It was a large gray stone building, not as pretty as the North Campus building, and it was nestled in a grove of evergreen trees. Two men dressed in blue overalls stood outside in front of the hospital’s entrance smoking cigarettes. Jittery, with her heart pounding in her chest, Rachel carefully checked the men out while she parked her Toyota. She sat there for a moment, fiddling with the dangling curl in her face. She slapped down the sun visor and checked her makeup in the mirror. Satisfied with her appearance, Rachel slapped the sun visor in place. Grabbing her shoulder bag, Rachel opened the car door, eased out, and slammed the door shut.
Rachel strutted to the entrance in a clipped pace. The two men, quiet as church mice, moved aside without looking at her as she stepped to the sliding glass door. Rachel tapped the button, and the door slid open. Relieved, Rachel hurried inside. Her eyes grew big when she stepped to the reception desk. In front of her on the counter sat six white wig heads wearing black witches’ hats. They were sitting in a perfectly straight line with thick yarn for hair. Each wig head had large black dots for eyes. Below the eyes, someone made a red smudge for a nose and drew two crooked lines creating lewd, sinister grins. Rachel chuckled, amused by the scene.
On the other side of the counter, a woman with a beehive hairdo sat with her back to Rachel tapping away on an Emerson typewriter. Oblivious to Rachel’s presence, the woman’s stubby little fingers clicked keys on the typewriter in a staccato tempo and her silver hoop earrings jingled with the rhythm. The receptionist wore a plain white blouse and her black polyester pants fit snug on her full behind. Clearing her throat, Rachel took a deep breath. “Um…Madam, hello?”
The receptionist, still consumed with her typing, didn’t hear her, so Rachel snapped her fingers and shouted in a high voice, “Hello there, my name is Rachel Thomas!”
The receptionist spun her chair around so fast she almost flipped out of it. Her brown eyes darted back and forth like a wild animal as she patted her chest. “Oh, my goodness…I’m sorry, have you been standing there long?”
“No, I just got here,” Rachel smiled warmly. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I’m here to see Beth Jones.”
“I’m Joyce Smith, I’m the secretary here.” The chair squeaked as she shifted her plump bottom. “Please have a seat. I’ll tell Beth you’re here.”
“Thank you.” Rachel turned away and found a seat on the sofa in front of the bay window. She gave the lobby a once over, deciding the place was as drab as a prison. The white walls were void of pictures and there were black marks on the tiled floor. The lobby was sparsely decorated with four end tables with ashtrays filled with cigarette butts, and a sofa and four fluffy tan chairs sat in a rectangle on the opposite side. Messy! Rachel thought as she scooted back on the sofa.
Three male patients dressed in tee-shirts, jeans and sneakers with no shoelaces came through doubled doors on the left side of the lobby. Mumbling to themselves as they paced back and forth like robots, each soul methodically paraded in front of her, the smiles on their faces permanently wiped away by the drugs they were taking. Rachel cringed, and her stomach bubbled. She wondered if she made the right choice in accepting an interview at such a peculiar place. She decided it was. After all, the job paid well, and the extra income would come in handy.
Rachel glanced to her right and noticed steel gray double doors with the sign Admissions Unit overhead. It wasn’t long before she heard a lock click and a woman came through the doors. She was short and chunky and wore a free-flowing glittered orange dress and flaming green high-heeled shoes. Her thick curly gray hair cradled her round chipmunk face, and round framed bifocals sat on the tip of her pudgy nose. The bifocals magnified her big green eyes, and she looked like a jaybird staring through a window. At first, Rachel thought the woman was a patient, but when the woman wobbled over to her, she wasn’t sure. The keyring on the woman’s belt jingled like a pair of cowbells.
“Good Morning, I’m Beth Jones. You must be Rachel Thomas,” she grinned.
“Yes, I am.” Rachel offered her hand and smiled. As the two women shook hands, Rachel worried her hand was clammy with perspiration, but Beth didn’t seem to notice.
“Glad to meet you, young lady. Follow me.” Beth took off, waddling like a duck through the lobby and Rachel, two steps behind, followed her.
Beth stopped in front of the steel gray doubled doors and snatched the keyring from her belt. She flipped through the keys like a deck of cards until she found the one, she wanted. Beth leaned into the door while jamming the key into the lock, turning it until it clicked open. With a slight shove, Beth opened the door and stepped inside the unit. Rachel followed her inside, and Beth allowed the steel door to slammed so hard and loud, the weight of it rattled the walls.
Thick grey cigarette smoke greeted them in the hallway, and huddles of patients stood nearby staring at them and puffing on cigarettes. With no fresh air to speak of, Rachel gagged and coughed. Beth didn’t seem bothered by the smoke, and Rachel wondered how she could stand it. Beth apparently read her mind.
“The patients are entitled to four smoke breaks a day,” she explained. “I’m a smoker. The smoke doesn’t bother me.”
“I see,” Rachel coughed.
Beth’s office was a few feet from the steel doubled doors. Patient bedrooms lined each side of the hallway, and Rachel saw patients moving in and out as she waited in front of Beth’s office. On the door hung a large black sign with words scripted in white ink Enter at Your Own Risk. Amused, Rachel wondered what could be so risky in Beth’s office. Beth quietly unlocked the door and slowly pushed it aside as if unveiling something scary. She stepped inside. “Come in,” she demanded.
Rachel followed Beth in, and her eyes grew big. She slapped her hand over her mouth as she viewed the messy, cluttered scene. Books, papers, and patient charts were stacked high on one side of the desk. Cardboard boxes sat in corners with empty Coca Cola cans scattered on the floor. Anchored on the wall behind Beth’s chair was a dear head with a snide toothy grin. White panties and pink socks hung off the deer’s antlers. And the stench, oh it reeked like of rotten eggs. Stale cigarette smoke took Rachel’s breath away, and she wanted to puke.
“Miss Thomas, have a seat,” Rachel heard Beth say. Speechless and queasy, Rachel found an empty chair and sat. As soon as her bottom hit the seat, Rachel lurched right up. She looked down and noticed fine cracker crumbs all over the seat. “Oh my,” she gasped, but Beth didn’t say a word. Rachel discreetly wiped the crumbs off the chair and sat. With her handbag in her lap, she stared at the supervisor as Beth lit a Marlboro cigarette. Beth reviewed Rachel’s resume, puffing on her cigarette until it was spent. When she was finished, she placed the cigarette on the edge of the ashtray, then opened up her desk drawer and took out a Snickers candy bar. She tore the wrapper off with her teeth and gobbled it up in a matter of seconds. Beth’s fat cheeks bulged like a chipmunk as she chewed, swallowing and licking her thin lips. After the candy was gone, Beth peered over her bifocals, staring at Rachel with intense scrutiny. Bewildered, Rachel held her breath.
“Honey, why do you want to work here?” Beth asked in a sharp tone.
“Um, um.” Rachel cleared her throat. “I’m very interested in the mental health field. I think this hospital will be a good place to get some experience.”
“You don’t say.” Beth reached for another cigarette and lit it up. “Tell me why you think so.”
Beth puffed smoke rings into the atmosphere while Rachel told her story. Beth’s fiery green gaze in the haze of smoke made Rachel so nervous that she thought her heart was going to jump out of her chest. “After I finished graduate school, I decided to stay in Seattle. I like the area and I thought I could begin my career here.” Rachel ‘s voice trembled.
“I see you graduated from the University of Washington.” Beth stated in a gritty voice.
“What makes you suited for this job?”
“Well, I worked in a nursing home and I ran a caregiver’s support group while there and I also took psychology classes in college,” Rachel replied. Beth snuffed her cigarette out in the ashtray and dove out of her seat like a jack in a box. Rachel lurched back, blinking her eyes erratically.
“Honey, this is no nursing home! These folks are off their rockers! Are you willing to work with a bunch of crazy folks?”
Shocked, every nerve ending in Rachel’s body twitched, and she longed to leave. Too scared to move, Rachel sat there, at a loss for words. Beth cocked her head to the side, looking like a big jaybird with glaring big green eyes.
“Honey, does the cat got your tongue?”
Rachel fidgeted in her seat, and her face was warm with embarrassment. “I’m sorry…yes, ma’am, I can work with crazy people.”
Beth grinned, clapping her hands. She swayed back and forth, from side to side like an excited fan at a football game. Rachel cringed. Beth’s demeanor scared her as she waited for the woman to stop clapping. Finally, Beth settled in her seat, grabbing Rachel’s application. This time, she studied it. After some minutes, Beth popped out of her chair again, and Rachel patted her chest with her mouth sagged open, frightened.
“The salary is forty-five thousand a year. Honey, do you accept this salary?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Rachel replied. She was burning inside. She resented Beth calling her honey.
“Very well then, you can start in two weeks on Monday morning at eight,” Beth said.
“You will work with Doctor Michael Louis on the admissions unit,” Beth clarified.
“Great, I look forward to working with you and Doctor Louis.” Beth’s thin lips parted into a sardonic smile as she stepped to the door. Rachel took this as a clue the interview was over and was relieved. Beth swung the door opened and stepped into the smoky hallway. Rachel followed her out, and Beth locked her office door. When they both reach the unit exit, Beth unlocked the steel doubled doors and shoved it open.
“See you November 5th, Monday morning, eight o’clock sharp,” she grinned.
Rachel stepped out into the lobby and smiled at the supervisor. “I look forward to it.”
Beth released the door, and it slammed shut, rattling the walls. Alone in the lobby, Rachel sighed with relief. She strutted toward the exit, shaking her head at the craziness of it all. Glad to be free from the smoky environment and Beth’s nasty office, Rachel wondered if the second-hand smoke would make her ill. Lord, I don’t want to develop lung cancer. It was an awful thought that she immediately put out of her mind.
Suddenly, Rachel heard a man yelling in the reception area. She stopped in her tracks and whipped around. A hippie-looking, middle-aged man with a red, bloated face was cursing and pounding his fist on the counter. He looked scraggy with his long matted blond hair hanging on his shoulders and a prickly mustache and beard covering his bulldog face. On the tip of his nose, he wore wired framed glasses, and the sleeves on his wrinkled white shirt were rolled up to his elbows. Hanging on his back was a twisted striped tie, and he wore tan high-water pants with black loafers. The man wasn’t wearing any socks.
Joyce, teary-eyed, stood crunched over the counter with the wig heads, tolerating the man spewing obscenities in her face. “Hell, stop crying, woman! What’s wrong with you? Hiram needs his damn patient report!”
Joyce mumbled something that Rachel couldn’t hear. Out of the blue, the man punched each wig head onto the floor. He jumped and stomped on each one as tiny pieces of foam flew in the air. Joyce ducked for cover underneath the counter, and Rachel, who had enough of this unseemly crazy place, made a mad dash to the exit. Two security guards rushed through the main entrance from outside and ran past her. They pounced on the man and wrestled him to the floor.
“Get the hell off Hiram, you sons of bitches! Get the hell away!”
“Hold down that son of a bitch!” yelled one guard. “Hold him down!”
Rattled and outdone, Rachel made it to her Toyota. She unlocked the car, threw in her handbag, and climbed in. She cranked the ignition, backed up, and whipped her car around. She sped out of the hospital parking lot as fast as she could. Once safe on the main road, Rachel wondered who the looney man was, and why he was so angry.
As always thank-you for reading, comments are welcomed.
Categories: Short Stories