NURSE BECKER by K. Uffelman
Dina sat in a stall in the teachers bathroom, dragging hard on her cigarette. What a fine mess. She blew a stream of smoke toward the cracked window, but rather than escaping to the outside, it hung like a cloud above her head.
A door opened with the long squeak of dry hinges.
“Becker, is that you? Jeez, it’s like one of those smoking lounges in the Las Vegas airport.”
“Yeah, Gladys, it’s me. Sorry, it’s been a long day.”
“It’s barely past lunchtime.”
Dina emerged from the stall, and stuffed a lifesaver in her mouth.
“The kids can smell it on you, you know. As the school nurse, you might try to set a better example.”
“I don’t think they can. Really, Gladys, it’s the first cigarette I’ve had in days.”
“What’s up? Why the drawn face?”
“I don’t know. There’s a lot going on.”
“Gladys, you’re been married a long time?”
“For 31 years, believe it or not.”
“But no kids, right?”
“I’ve been a school teacher for almost as long as I’ve been married, have taught almost every grade in this school, the little kids and the teenagers, and early on I figured I’d be doing enough parenting without messing with kids of my own. Can you imagine? It’d just be too much.”
“And your husband – he never wanted any?”
“Nah. I mean, I think there was a time that he was more interested. That he thought about it, anyway. But, you know, we women ultimately have a lot of control of what happens. Or doesn’t happen.”
“Hmm. That doesn’t seem so fair, does it?”
“Fare is what you pay the bus driver. I’ve gotta’ go collect my class from the gymnasium and you probably need to get back to your office, no?”
“Yeah, we better get a move on.”
Dina stopped to wash her hands.
“Everything okay with that boyfriend of yours, Becker? That fireman guy?”
“Oh, him? Yeah, fine, fine.”
Dina followed Gladys out of the bathroom, and hurried down the hallway. She had been gone too long from the nurse’s office, and wasn’t sure she had remembered to lock the door. She hoped no one was waiting for her. But before she could find out, old Mortie stopped her in the hallway.
“Nurse Becker, I was just about to come looking for you.”
“Oh, hi, Principal Morton.”
“Jennifer Wilkins said that you were sending her home sick, but that you hadn’t called her parents and you’re allowing her to walk home on her own.”
“She’s fifteen, Principal Morton, and she lives, like, what, four blocks from the school.”
“Well I don’t think she’s going to get kidnapped, Nurse Becker, I just wonder at the wisdom of sending a sick child on a four block walk in the cold. That is, if she is truly sick.”
“She is most definitely feeling unwell, Principal Morton, and if you like, I can call her mother when I get back to my office.”
“I think that would be prudent.”
Old Mortie nodded and continued on his way.
What a prick, thought Dina, rushing down the hall. She had definitely been gone too long – there was someone in her office.
“Marjorie? What are you doing in here? Are you feeling sick?”
“Oh nothing. I’m not doing anything.”
Marjorie was behind Dina’s desk, stuffing something in her pocket, but Dina couldn’t tell what. She probably found Dina’s stash of lifesavers. Marjorie was a precocious third-grader who didn’t get enough attention at home. Dina knew that the constant stomachaches, light-headedness, and other ailments that plagued Marjorie had more to do with her desire for Dina’s company than actual illness. Dina often let her prattle on about how crazy her mother was or what she wanted to be when she grew up, but today she didn’t have the energy for it.
“You should get back to your classroom, Marjorie.”
Dina knew she was disappointing Marjorie, but she had some serious thinking to do. Marjorie claimed that she had been waiting in Dina’s office for almost an hour and would need a pass to get back into her classroom without getting into trouble. Could Dina have been in the bathroom for that long? She finally agreed to write the pass – sketchy, she knew, and Marjorie eyed her slyly as she wrote it – and then hurried Marjorie out the door. Once the door clicked shut, Dina counted to 10, opened the window and lit another cigarette.
…to be continued.