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Fiction #380
(published May 1, 2008)
by Benjamin Torbush
I first fell in love with the field of medicine in high school Biology class. Hearing the names of those mysterious parts of the body—like incantations—holy words for processes that I could feel going on within myself. Like duodenum, a word that I adopted for the pit of the stomach. It was a place where you could feel the food you had eaten four hours before as it passed into liquid nutrition. It was the place where I sensed a physical reaction to love, fear, and emotional hurt. Like the duodenum had functions beyond digestion into the realm of human feelings.

Mrs. Barnes, the only Biology teacher at Tyrone High School, pronounced it like the words duo and denim shoved together. Then we watched a film strip where a British guy called it Do-odd-numb. The word comes to us from Medieval Latin—back when they were first taking apart human corpses and labeling the bits they found inside with Latin names, because doctors then liked to believe they were better than everyone else. My, how things have changed. Duodenum is a shortened form of a phrase meaning—and I dare say I'm paraphrasing—the section of the small intestine that's about twelve fingers in length. Suffice it to say that it's one of those things inside us we would be hard pressed to live without—unlike the gall bladder, the tonsils, the foreskin, or the soul.

I went to college in Atlanta mostly to get away from the little town I grew up in, but my grades shunted me off the path of practicing medicine. I found myself in the unenviable position of needing to finish some kind of college degree before the money ran out. So I became a nurse. I assure you I say that without the slightest disrespect for those who choose that particular career. It's messy, thankless, stressful, and downright degrading at times. You try wiping shit off a 70-year-old woman who is perfectly capable of getting herself to the bathroom, but prefers to make you do it out of sheer meanness. Then there are families desperate for information about their loved ones' conditions who blame you for not telling them what they want to hear. And the doctors—shit—don't get me started. Suffice it to say that if I ever harbored dreams of meeting Dr. Right, they were certainly quashed by Dr. Ego, Dr. Irresponsible, and Dr. Complete Asshole.

But I digress. I used to work for a while at an "extended care facility," what we call an old folks' home. There were ten beds in my unit, which wasn't too bad most times. I was working nights then, so most of the patients were asleep for my shift. Even if they weren't asleep, many of them were old enough or terminal enough to stay put. I just had to make the rounds, checking on the old folks, taking care of basic needs here and there, and dispensing medication when their charts said to. I wasn't experienced or highly trained enough to have to deal with the tough situations. If a serious problem came up, it was my job to call someone else.

One exception to the most of them were asleep thing—Mr. Reeves—the old guy never seemed to sleep. Every time I went in to check on him he had something smart to say.

"Good evening, sugar. I didn't think you were ever going to get here. I been wanting to tell you about a wet dream I just had about you."

He was a pain in the ass but mostly harmless. When I first started the other nurses had warned me about him—mostly talk—but every now and then he'd try to put his pale raisin of a penis into my hand or grab some part of my anatomy. I had learned to take it in stride, ignore him or whatever. I had to hand it to him—he was at least persistent, and livelier than most of the folks in the unit.

The real trouble was keeping him in bed. He had just returned from the big hospital down the street for a series of hernia surgeries and the sutures on his abdomen hadn't healed. The doctors had ordered bed rest while he recovered, but he didn't much care for letting us bring the bedpan. I can't tell you how many times we caught him returning from the bathroom or trying to sneak out for a stroll down the corridors. And the pain meds he was on made him just loopy enough to forget right away—or maybe they gave him an excuse to pretend to forget. He always seemed elated to be caught in the act of getting out of bed.

"Hey sugar, I was just looking for you."

It was one of those nights when he had been up and down for hours. I don't know where he got the energy. The last time, I came out of another patient's room to find him emerging from the stair well. So I threatened to get one of the orderlies to restrain him. That seemed to quiet him down. He had been in his room without a peep for thirty minutes, and I guess that made me a little nervous. I decided to check on him. I was just going to look in, stand in the doorway for a second to make sure he was asleep. Then I noticed something odd about the position of his body on the bed. He was turned away from the door and propped up on his left arm like he was reading, but the lights were off.

"Mr. Reeves, you've got to get some sleep," I muttered, pretty exhausted myself.

His tone was, as always, genial but sly, "Sugar, you know I can't sleep knowing a beauty such as yourself could walk in here at any moment. And I told you, call me Richard."

"Fine, Richard," I didn't bother to hide the exasperation in my voice. "I won't be back to check on you 'till tomorrow night."

"If you don't mind, sugar, can you do one thing for me?" There was an odd quality to his voice, not like his usual mischievous self.

"What do you need?" I was getting that feeling, the tension in the pit of my stomach, my duodenum. I moved around to the other side of his bed.

"I want you to feel this." His voice dropped to a hoarse whisper.

Oh, that's all it was—just one of his usual tricks. But it had worked. His tone had drawn me close enough to him that he had hold of my hand and was pulling it down toward his abdomen. I regretted my gullibility instantly as he wrapped my hand around that flaccid extension of flesh. I could feel bile rising in my throat in response to the texture of it—still slimy from whatever he'd been doing when I walked in. I thought for a second that it'd serve him right if I yanked on it, gave him a little pain, maybe teach him a lesson. What a fucking pervert.

I pulled on his dick and it gave way—extended a little further from his body than it had a moment ago. Something wasn't right. It was too wet, and frankly bigger than I'd remembered it being. And it was too high on his abdomen. I hit the light switch by the bed. He recoiled from the sudden brightness. And I recoiled too—from the sight of the bloody loop of his small intestine in my hand.

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