The bed was trembling. The woman in the bed woke, swung her hips around, and touched the tips of her toes to the cold tile floor. Finding that the floor, too, was moving ever so slightly, she pulled herself back to the center of the little twin bed to wait it out. Her supervisors would have to be patient. From her vantage point under the covers of her bed in Nursing Complex A, she watched her neatly ordered hairbrush, pack of cigarettes, cold cream, latex gloves, and syringe packet shimmy a few centimeters to the left, and then stop.
The woman in the bed, Rose, was both a nurse and an extremely practical person. She had a body of average build topped with a nominally plain, rather square face of no consequence surrounded by brown hair. When she was a little girl, in the times before the world and everything in it became so confusing to her, Rose had dreamed her hair might be called chestnut or chocolate or mahogany but it was none of those things. It was a brown of the most devastatingly exact kind, like the crayon called brown or the brown in an child’s art kit. Rose hated it, had always hated it, and dealt with that hatred by simply ignoring it, treating it to no more maintenance than was absolutely necessary, and pulling it back in a tight and efficient bun. Rose worked at the Edwin B. Williams General Hospital and Terminal Care Facility in New Hope, Long Island, New York.
The minor quake lasted until approximately ten-thirty in the morning, which was one hour after Rose was to have been at the hospital. While she had lain in her bed, Rose had thought about her childhood, her adolescence, and her adulthood, how her life had seemed to be nothing more than an excursion from points A to B to C, all of which were clearly marked and clearly led to some fixed but mysterious endpoint. This thought often weighed on her mind. At one time, she had imagined that a career in nursing would mark that endpoint but now she wasn’t sure.
When she was a child no taller than the waist of a man of average height, Rose had occupied herself on the long dull rides in the tube or on the mono with her parents by reading the adverts on the walls of whichever car they happened to take that day. There had been the usual colorful posters meant to give riders a foretaste of the joys of this or that liquor or supplement. There were posters for services that had been incomprehensible to Rose the girl and often still baffled Rose the woman. And, frequently, there had been the cheerful white and red posters that said, in blocky letters: The World Needs Well-Trained Doctors And Nurses Now, More Than Ever, as well as things like Keep It Clean: Red Is Raging.
On her tenth birthday (which fell during the same school term wherein her class learned about Red Tuesday), Rose received a child’s nursing play set with a stethoscope, a toy syringe, a white starched hat, a thick plastic thermometer, a clipboard, and a bottle of candy medicine. When she was in her freshman year at Abbey High School For The Gifted, a nursing group visited the school and gave a presentation that urged each girl to consider nursing and each boy to think about becoming a physician. The updated state-approved vaccination schedule and required medical bracelets had always been a source of exposure to the one thing that captivated Rose: medicine. In this sense, she was lucky for having been born in the dark years following Red Tuesday.
At eighteen, Rose’s nurse-in-training application was approved, and she was recruited by one of the local Sergeant-Doctors. Two years later, in the town’s grand courthouse of stonework and somber wood, with friends and family proudly looking on, Rose, along with a group of forty-five other young women, was sworn in as a Grade Three Medic in civilian service of the United States medical-military sector. Immediately following the ceremony, there had come the speeches.
“Morning, Rosie. Catch the shakes when you woke up? How ya’ feeling?” shouted a green-scrub clad orderly as he wheeled a comatose patient down the hall and out of sight.
Edwin B. Williams General, or EBW General, was the largest hospital and terminal care facility in the state and was still expanding on a regular basis, as necessity demanded, which it did nearly every year. EBWG employed two-hundred and fourteen full-time doctors, six-hundred and three nurses who operated on a unique shift schedule that had become the blueprint for hospitals across the country, three-hundred orderlies, a full-service cooking staff, a compliment of maintenance men, and the usual quota of Monitors by ratio, which in this case was fifteen.
Signing in at the front desk, Rose was informed that there were forty-five Regs scheduled for their yearlies, two doctors already waiting in 2B for their dailies, four nurses out sick, and ten new terminals that needed to be processed whenever she found herself with a free moment. She asked the nurse on duty whether there had been any earthquake related injuries. The nurse shuffled through a stack of paper as thick as two phone books before saying no.
Rose stepped through a pair of doors marked Employees Only, walked one flight up to the first floor, passed eight doorways with small, square darkened windows, and slipped in to the women’s locker room where two nurses in typical crisp white uniforms were pouring themselves mugs of coffee.
“Did you hear about Doctor Marcus?” the first said.
“No, what about Doctor Marcus?,” said the second.
“Terminal,” answered the first. “They say he was found out after curfew wandering around and looking into windows.”
The second clucked her tongue, frowned. Rose had a good imagination and could imagine that the woman had perhaps spent some time, off shift, with Doctor Marcus, perhaps without Monitor approval. Could imagine the woman leaving the locker room, finding an empty room, and inoculating herself, just to be sure. Rose, not given to flights of fancy, wouldn’t point out this possibility to her direct supervisor unless there was something to report. Both women left as Rose slipped into her uniform. She stowed her street clothes in a locker, grabbed her clipboard, stethoscope, clipped a pin reading CONFUSED? ASK YOUR DOCTOR to the cloth over her left breast and another reading FEAR FIGHTS RED! SEE IT? REPORT IT onto her sleeve, and made her way to 2B where the two doctors were already stretched out on wheeled cots.
“How are you feeling?” Rose said.
“How are you feeling?” the two doctors said in tandem as she checked their medical ID bracelets, swabbed and injected each of them, and then stood nearby, watching as they drifted off into unconsciousness.
Rose checked off the appropriate boxes and dates on sheets clipped to the clipboard, and then pressed a button on the wall that would summon an orderly to bring the two men to a recovery room. Next on her list were six groups of two children each and Rose sighed. Children tended to cry when they saw the needle, to fight unconsciousness, to ask why and what and how, to struggle. Once Rose had been bitten by a toddler whose milk teeth felt like sharp little daggers and she’d stood there, bleeding, unsure of what to say to the child’s parents, who repeatedly apologized. Sometimes Rose wished she could remember what it was like to have been a child and wished she could at least understand them. She wondered at the talent most of the other nurses had with children.
Nineteen white unassuming rooms later, twice that many wheeled cots, sleeves rolled above elbows, swabs and injections, it was two o’clock in the afternoon and Rose’s turn. She ate her lunch and then made her way to 6L, where she laid down on a well-worn wheeled cot and tugged her short sleeve up a bit further. A few moments later, a nurse appeared in the doorway, looked at the empty cot beside Rose’s and shrugged, then cheerfully asked how she was feeling.
“How are you feeling?” replied Rose.
“Oh, you know how it is, obviously,” said the nurse as she swabbed and pricked Rose’s arm, “State of emergency, and all of that. Too much paperwork, not enough computers to go around. Remember when computers were everywhere, not just in some Monitor’s office? Well, between the earthquakes, the filing, and everything else, huh, but better dead than red. You know?”
But Rose’s mind had already begun to wander dreamily back to the wonderful speeches.
“Of course, it bears repeating so that we might never forget, this history lesson that every schoolchild knows from memory,” said the speechmaker. “First, there was AIDS. Researchers were as diligent as they could be in those times, which wasn’t very, thanks to low funding promised by what had appeared to be little potential for profit. A lot of money, however, was spent on weaponry, technology, textile and automobile innovations, even cures for baldness.”
Here he paused for the crowd’s laughter, boos, and catcalls. Children were taught in school and by their parents that it was mistakes like these that led up to Red Tuesday. This is the mantra they were taught: On a Tuesday in October, some scientists were tinkering in a lab, playing with the most dangerous diseases. While they played, all of the toughest bits of a disease called AIDS (the ones that weren’t hurt by medicine) were suddenly able to stay alive in the air. Those bits infected one scientist and then another, and a third brought the new AIDS home with him, to his wife and son. And soon, every time someone sneezed, coughed, shook hands, or hugs, there was a good chance they were giving someone nearby a very nasty present called the Reds.
“The only initial symptoms,” continued the speechmaker, “were a slight reddening of the eyes and a general confusion, which sometimes, but not always, became a more serious psychosis. The first cases, outbreaks, and epidemics spurned an ear of great fear and repression, but also one of great medical innovation. Only three years passed before the vaccination was released, unchecked and untested but absolutely necessary to halt the infection of a panicking populace. The infected were naturally sedated and locked away, in medical facilities like the ones these graduates will soon be working at.”
The speechmaker began to slur and to shout: “People were once again free to go about their business, with a freedom within reason, as day by day more were vaccinated and those with no hope were now dying not on the streets, but in hospitals where they belonged. Confused? All of us are, all of us, the dead, are asking our doctors about babies left in the streets, adults carried away while their families looked on, crime, rebellion, and the shedding of innocent blood. It all means something, sure, but if you’re confused, you might as well just get locked up because you’ve probably got it, got the Reds, got em’ bad. Don’t step outside, it’s advisable not to breath, in fact, don’t blink, washing hands saves lives, and the life you save may be your own! Watch what you say, because a word today could be worse tomorrow! Just ask your yearly prick!”
“Wake up, Rosie,” said an orderly. He was gently patting her hand.
She sat up, shook her head, groggy.
“I had the strangest dream,” she said.
“Yeah, we all do,” he said. “I mean, this life is kind of like a dream.”
“What?” she said.
“Like the curfews and always being afraid of getting infected,” the orderly continued. “So many people, never going to wake up, sleeping until they’re dead, and then more coming to take their places. It feels so unreal.”
“I’m not sure,” she said.
The orderly nodded. Frowned. Walked away. Rose sat up and rubbed the sleep from her eyes, cursing the daily waste of two hours that came with the daily inoculation required for all Medics. When she felt strong enough to get up, she went to the nursing station and wrote up the standard report on the orderly on duty, writing ‘Probable infection,’ in small, careful script before submitting it to the head nurse. The orderly would be examined, tested, inoculated, and sedated if any signs of the Reds were found.
Still slightly shaky, Rose had a cup of coffee before taking the staff elevator up to the seventh floor for her next round of Reg vaccinations.
“And how are you feeling?” Rose asked, stepping into 7C.
“And a hearty hello to you, too,” the man stretched out on the cot said. “What’s you’re name?”
“I asked how you were feeling,” Rose answered.
“And I asked you to tell me your name,” he said, pushing his chin into his chest to look up at her.
“It’s Rose,” she said quickly as she swabbed and injected him.
“Well then goodnight, my beautiful rosebud,” the man said and, as he fell unconscious added, “That schoolmarm bun is going to give me good dreams.”
The next afternoon, in the 24-hour recovery ward, Rose, unable to even ask herself why, went in and out of the gloomy sparsely lit recovery rooms seeking out the odd man. When she found him, she gently grabbed his wrist and examined his bracelet. It told her only his medical ID number, date of birth, and that his name was Sam Mulvaney. She repeated the name out loud to herself in syllables so as not to forget, feeling somewhat peculiar but reasoning that it had been an entirely peculiar pair of days.
She located a stool, pulled it up adjacent to his cot, and sat down, shooing off orderlies who generously tried to tell her, as if she didn’t already know, that the Reg dose was stronger so Mister Mulvaney wouldn’t be up for another half hour. Prepared to wait, Rose studied the man with a nurse’s eye more than a woman’s. He looked healthy and well built enough, all things considered, she thought, for a man of thirty-five. There was more pepper than salt in his black hair and the beard and moustache that nearly concealed a set of generous ruddy lips. She grabbed his wrist again, looked at his hands and thought, good oxygen-rich coloration of the nail beds.
As she considered this last point, Sam Mulvaney shuddered and stirred, falling out of the strange and vivid dreams that tended to occur during the period of unconsciousness which followed vaccination. He opened his eyes, searched for a moment, and settled on Rose’s face in the dimness.
“Rosebud,” he said.
“How are you feeling, Mister Mulvaney?” she said.
“Call me Sam, not Samuel, just Sam,” he said, “and I feel like taking you to dinner.”
Before leaving EBW General that day, Sam was marked as “clean” by a doctor, briefly questioned by a Monitor, and pronounced, once again, a free man. During that time, Rose conducted a short meeting with her immediate supervisor in which she requested authorization to see Sam Mulvaney in a social sense. When they met that evening in the hospital lobby following Rose’s shift, each was prepared with the usual series of inquiries designed to help two people slowly learn about each other. Rose learned that Sam was a singer in a band but proficient in various instruments and she declared that she had never before been acquainted with a professional musician. Sam asked Rose why she had chosen to become a nurse and was treated to what he found to be a very intriguing lecture on the possible nature of fate.
Their dinner turned into a series of dinners, which in turn became a regular habit of lunch dates, dinners, trips to the cinema, walks in the park, drives, and jaunts around town, with which, eventually, came other, more physical pleasures.
“Rosebud, the earth is sick,” said Sam, on an afternoon they met at a diner for coffee.
“Don’t tell me that you’re one of those crazy pollution fanatics,” said Rose, holding up both of her hands.
“No, I’m not one of those crazy pollution fanatics,” Sam replied.
Rose breathed a inconspicuous sigh of relief.
“But I do know what I know,” he continued, “and part of what I know is that Long Island is not supposed to be a hotbed of seismic activity. You know what I think? I think we’ve done something wrong, fucked up somehow.”
“Heavy,” said Rose, forcing a little laugh. “But things change with time, geologically.”
“It’s dying,” he said gravely.
“You don’t get it,” Sam said. “Let me ask you a question. Haven’t you ever looked around, looked at the world, and just known somehow, like instinct, that it isn’t right?”
She shrugged, and then winked and said, “I know one thing that’s still right with the world.”
They took the mono downtown and walked hand in hand from the station to his apartment. They had sex. They cuddled briefly and then smoked cigarettes sitting upright in Sam’s king-sized bed. When both had stubbed out their cigarettes in a souvenir ashtray that read NIAGARA FALLS, they dressed and sat in the living room.
“This was my grandmother’s couch, you know,” said Sam.
“Oh?” Rose patted the upholstery. “It’s held up remarkably well.”
“It should considering it didn’t see much use,” Sam said. Rose waited for him to continue. “They took her. Just opened the door, barged in, and grabbed her while she sat right where you’re sitting now. Just another screaming old lady to toss in the van.”
“That’s horrible,” sighed Rose, looking at her watch. “But standard procedure in pre-vaccine days, to prevent further neighborhood contamination. We could get a bite to eat before my shift if you want.”
After a pause, Sam, all frost, said, “She wasn’t sick.”
“Sam, Red isn’t symptomatic until months after infection and even then it only manifests itself as a case of redeye and a little confusion,” Rose recited. “The only way to know would have been through testing.”
“That’s just it, Rosebud,” Sam said. “My grandmother was not the kind of woman who visited doctors and let herself get tested for anything. Not once. She even had her babies at home.”
Rose looked around the apartment, uncomfortable with Sam’s ferocity. He was looking at her with intense eyes, as if there were more he wanted to say or something he wanted desperately to find in her face.
“It smells in here,” Rose said and caught herself. “I mean it smells good, but I don’t know what it is.”
“This was her apartment, too,” Sam answered with a catch in his voice. “No matter how many times they shoot disinfectant into the ventilation ducts, it still smells like her cooking. Smells like home. Do you know what I mean?”
He was still searching her face.
“Not really,” she hurriedly answered, standing up. “My shift starts sooner than I realized. I better go.”
Rose continued to see Sam against her better judgment but considered herself somewhat lucky when it felt like the spark between them was finally gone. They continued to act friendly, cordial, respectful, polite, and even, occasionally, playful toward each other, but to Rose it was just as well that they gambled at love and lost. Sam was odd. Not, she reasoned, odd enough to report or to consider a possible Terminal, but creepily on the cusp nonetheless. She knew that Sam was frustrated by her always gracious replies to his rebellious opinions, by her attempts to change the subject, and by what she considered to be her obviously forced laughter. She also knew that the truth behind everything, maybe even the failed spark, was that he frightened her by making her wonder if she, too, might be odd. They parted amicably.
And Rose worked, taking on extra shifts and dutifully writing up everything strange that came her way as she inoculated Regs, doctors, and nurses, occasionally wondering about Sam and pulling her no-nonsense bun even tighter against her scalp to match the strange pull of fate. Her daily dose came and went, came and went, came and went, until one day.
Something was wrong. Rose could feel the cool dimness of the recovery room but could sense a light beyond her eyelids. Knowing, whether by conditioning or training, that she should have been unconscious, she froze, keeping her breathing deep and steady. She knew that the monitors would eventually pass by, would then ask her why she wasn’t under. Hadn’t she gotten her medicine? Perhaps it’s not working, they would say, faces grim, marking her chart, perhaps further investigation is necessary. Rose knew that the monitors would question Sam and would interpret his oddness as her own. She knew this because she had seen it happen, over and over, though she never thought it could happen to her.
Rose squeezed her eyes shut and willed them not to blink. The Monitors were so close she could hear the scratch of a ballpoint pen on a clipboard, feel their hazy shadows warped against her skin.
“A couple in this batch are going to be pronounced terminal next week,” said one.
“Talk?” said the other.
“Yep,” replied the first. “Questions about Reg dosages, order, Red Tuesday rumors, terminal examinations.”
“The usual,” said the other.
“Yep,” said the first.
“Better dead than red,” said the other and they both laughed.
Rose listened as their footsteps retreated, as the two Monitors closed the recovery room door behind them, and she waited, counting silently to one hundred before rolling out of the cot. She crouched on the floor behind an unconscious man, not knowing what the Monitors had meant by questions or talk or rumors, but feeling with certainty that ominous tension that she knew must come to good citizens when something not right has been hinted at. She crawled around body after body, always staying low but glancing periodically at the bright square window in the door. Finally, she sat with her back against an occupied cot, breathed out roughly, undid the tight bun at the back of her head, and began combing through her hair with her fingers.
“This is a restricted access area, miss,” called an orderly. “You’ll have to go back downstairs.”
Rose walked slowly to the elevator and seductively tossed her hair over one shoulder, giddy and frightened in the black and white checked mini-dress she’d stripped off of a Reg who wouldn’t discover her nakedness for another hour and a half. The dress was almost but not quite too short for Rose’s tall frame and it tickled the backs of her thighs in a way that made her want to tug at it. But she did not touch the dress, did not turn, did nothing until the elevator doors closed behind her.
Then, she burst into tears.
Fifteen minutes later she threw open the door to Sam’s apartment without knocking.
“Rosebud!” cried Sam, putting his guitar gently aside and standing up from the couch. “What a great surprise. I didn’t think you wanted to see me anymore. But, well, look at this, you’ve been crying, haven’t you, girl. What’s wrong? What’s happened?”
“I-I don’t know,” Rose answered.
Sam put his arms around her and she let him, practically fell into them. And when they sat down she told him everything, from nursing school to how he’d piqued her interest and then frightened her with his radical ideas, Doctor Marcus and all of the other Terminals sedated and locked away in their wards, how she’d found herself awake only a half hour after her injection and the strange words of the two Monitors who were checking up on them, and everything else she could think of, down to the packaging differences between the daily vaccine and the yearly vaccine.
Sam listened attentively, gently wiped away Rose’s fresh tears with his thumb, and gave her hands a squeeze.
“That settles it, then,” he said, suddenly standing. “We’ll go to the country or an island, an island paradise, maybe someplace remote in South America. We can pretend we’re going on holiday and then just disappear. How does that sound, my Rosebud?”
“What?” Rose said.
“I think it’s obvious that you can’t go back, not now,” Sam answered. “Not after it looks like you purposely evaded treatment.”
“I mean, this is a fantastic chance for you, for both of us,” he went on. “Haven’t you ever wondered what it might be like not to be a nurse?”
Rose shrugged. It had never occurred to her to think about anything like that.
“We could live on a farm, be farmers, or open a shop,” said Sam. “I’ve got some money socked away, we could invest it, and never have to work again. It’ll be great. Don’t you see? It may seem like a bad stroke of luck, but really it’s a real opportunity.”
“I’m confused,” Rose said. “Maybe I should just go.”
“Go and what, ask your doctor?” Sam said.
Rose shrugged again but made no move to leave.
“Come on, Rosebud,” Sam said. “You and me, we could make a great team, make a great little lives for ourselves somewhere out there. Never have to worry about Red Tuesday or curfews or getting approval to socialize or anything like that, ever again. What do you say, girl? Give it a try?”
Finally, after more prodding, there was Rose’s exhausted acquiescence. I’ll just go to the hospital, Rose told Sam. She told him that she’d be quick, that she didn’t want anyone to wonder why she wasn’t at her shift, to come looking for her or to look into this morning. No one would have been alerted yet, she’d said, not with the routine backlog in the nurse’s files. She’d tell them that she was sick and was afraid she might infect others. She’d tell them she would be in tomorrow, bright and early. Sam hadn’t wanted her to go, but had relented in the end, seeing the rightness in her logic. He kissed Rose sharply, hard, letting his fingers linger between hers, staring into her eyes in that unique way of his, before letting her go.
“How you feeling, Rose?” asked a woman seated at the nurse’s station, peering over the top of a very matronly pair of bifocal eyeglasses. “You don’t look so hot.”
“Just a touch of a cold, Glen” Rose answered. She wiped at her eyes, knowing they looked puffy, red, and tired, her easy gesture of proof.
“Maybe you ought to stay home today, with a pack of grammar school kids coming in for their yearlies this afternoon,” said the nurse. “It’s like a school trip. But with your weakened immune system, who knows what else you might catch from them.”
“Yes,” said Rose. “That’s just what I came in to tell you.”
The nurse looked down at a the papers stacked in front of her in haphazard pile.
“Oh, but one more thing before you go,” she said. “I have a memo here telling me to tell you when you get in that a Monitor wants to meet with you in 4C-10 sometime today. If you want, I’ll buzz up and say you’re coming so you don’t have to stay around any longer than you have to.”
“Sure,” said Rose. “Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it,” said the nurse while she dialed. “And get yourself some chicken soup and a lot of bed rest. Nurse’s orders.”
Rose took the public elevator up to the fourth floor and walked past door after door of rooms filled with patients who had been hospitalized for normal everyday things like burns, transplants, organ failure. Not one case of the Reds, no treating the Reds. She turned left into corridor ten, pleasantly and impersonally tiled in white. There were no decorations, no flourishes. Rose took a moment to breathe in slowly, to take some of that cleanness into herself, before knocking on the door of 4C.
“Come in,” said a voice.
Rose opened the door and stepped into a cramped office dominated by a folding chair, a large desk, and the thick, droopy Monitor with rheumy eyes who sat behind it.
“How are you feeling, Rose?” asked the Monitor.
“How are you feeling?” replied Rose.
“Come in, have a seat,” said the Monitor.
She did, noting the desk’s relative emptiness. Weighted beneath the sausagey fingers of the Monitor, who appeared to be sweating under the strain of shifting his great bulk, there was a thick manila folder.
“Now, I hear there has been some talk,” the Monitor said, smoothing his hands over the folder, “of ineffectual treatments and of people waking up during the sedation period.”
“No,” said Rose, tugging at the ends of her still loose hair, “that would be impossible. I mean, one of us nurses would have known about it, seen something. All of us are very thorough when making sure the patients, not just Regs, but doctors as well, are fully under before having them transported to recovery.”
“Still, there has been talk, and not just about the vaccine, Rose,” the Monitor continued. “There are some people at this hospital and elsewhere that would have you believe that the Reds do not exist. Some people even want to believe that Red Tuesday never happened, that it was just some sort of fabrication by the government designed to control people.”
“Well,” said Rose weakly, “we all know that that’s just plain silly.”
“Of course,” said the Monitor. He picked up the edge of the folder between his thumb and forefinger, lifting it off the desk and letting it fall. “Tell me, do you know what this is?”
“A file?” she said.
“Not just any file,” the Monitor answered, “but your file.”
She nodded, trying to look calmly and casually at the folder, as if she didn’t care one way or the other what might be inside. But what she really saw in its beige plainness, what she knew without a doubt was hidden within, was her straight and narrow life, always leading to something just out of sight, toward some endpoint, which she now knew had to be this very moment. Sam was in the folder, and his guitar, his grandmother, and all of his crazy ideas about life and freedom, Rosebud, his island paradise…no, their island paradise, it was in there, too, but behind it were Rose’s year’s of nursing, her dream of joining the Medics, her nights spent in study, and the millions of lives that, in her dreams, had cried out to be spared. All of existed at that moment under the fat, twitchy fingers of the Monitor wedged behind the desk and Rose understood without any doubt that what she wanted most was for him to leave the contents of her file unmolested.
“As I mentioned,” the Monitor was saying, “some people don’t understand what it is we Medics are trying to do. They don’t understand that we are public servants like any other public servant. We were founded in blighted times but we were founded under ethical guidelines. Our job is to protect people, now isn’t that right, Rose?”
She nodded again, watching the Monitor’s fingers play over the cover of her file.
“Some people have said that you seem confused,” the Monitor continued. “That you’ve been acting strangely, maybe even terminal. But your personnel records are very clear about your being an excellent nurse. An upstanding public servant.”
He paused, letting Rose stew under the weight of his watery eyes.
“Mulvaney,” she whispered.
“Excuse me?” said the Monitor. “I didn’t quite catch that.”
“Sam Mulvaney, not Samuel, just Sam,” said Rose. “He lives in New Hope, in an apartment complex downtown. He, like you were saying before, believes in silly things. He’s a Reg. He had his yearly about a month ago and will still be on file. He’s a pollution fanatic and I think he’s planning to run away, to the country or something like that.”
The Monitor wrote something on a small notepad he’d pulled, with a deftness that contradicted his girth, from his shirt pocket. Then he replaced the pad and stood up, nodding to Rose that she was to do the same, and motioned to the door. Seemingly as an afterthought, he cleared his throat and, when she turned back toward him, asked Rose how she knew so much about “this Mulvaney character.”
“We just had coffee a few times,” she answered. “That’s all.”
As she walked into the empty white-tiled corridor, anticipating the comforting feel of the pressed and starched nurse’s uniform against her skin and the cool, familiar scent of the antiseptic, she thought she heard the Monitor mutter, “An upstanding public servant indeed.”