The cliché about cold feet in bed, this is true; she has them, they find their way to my side.
I have no side.
There is another cliché. It is also true. No matter what surface she sleeps on, her body finds its center. Not merely its center, but the precise geometric location and distribution that leaves exactly not quite enough room for me to lie flat.
Perhaps this is why couples, when they have been together long enough, go to bed at the same time. One must define one's territory at the outset. Once asleep, the body establishes borders of personal preference. Coming to bed late is claim-jumping. There is no sharing. Communism does not sleep.
Space and heat. Every night, a practical lesson in thermodynamics. Entropy. Warmth transfers from the hot to the cold in search of equilibrium. Heat is finite. Cold is not. I am the sun, she is the expanding edge of the universe.
The universe is greater. It has greater needs.
But I am not a Communist. I get tired. My arm, where her head rests, needs blood. My legs, where her knees are, need room.
I will not move until she is asleep. I will rest, stilly, and let her draw on my reserves. She can have all my heat. Bleed me for it. Wedge slivers of ice into the warm places, by the arteries. Femoral, axillary. These are the best, she tells me. The highest volume, the most pressure. "Hold still," she says, as shockwaves progress up my spinal cord. "It's freezing in here." I joke about hypothermia, suggest that the key to cryostasis is the love of a good woman.
"You're so warm! Why are you so warm?"
She huddles nearer, locks me into place. Maximum surface area contact increases the rate of transfer.
She practices medicine. A doctor. An important one too, one of the few who does what she can. Anaesthesiology. Her days--so many of her nights--are filled with tubes and wires. Bags filling, emptying, liquid crystal displays with numbers in green red and yellow, respiration, heart rate, blood pressure, machines that go "bong!", but she doesn't know that sketch. Old-young-sick, expected to recover, expected to die. Who is he? A gurney rolls by. That? Never mind about that; that's just T. F. Bundy...
"How many tonight?" I whisper. Orange from the streetlight outside casts shadows of a spider-plant on the walls, long blue claws scratching at the paint.
"Only two," she squeezes my inner thigh. Pushes down, hard, by my testicles, they're just testicles to her, she's a doctor. I squirm. "That hurts doesn't it? Pressure builds in the artery when the flow is restricted."
Like a hose with a crink in it.
"Yes, that hurts. Only two?"
"Two that had had enough tonight. I think another three will have had enough tomorrow."
In the wind the shadows drum like fingers. Her breath, on my neck, feels cool.
"How was your day?"
I work in an office. I answer phones, take dictation. My chair has a high back and padded arm rests; it has to be comfortable because I spend a lot of time in it. Most of the time, in it. It's a nine-to-five job, the pay is alright. I try to answer people's questions when they come in. I try to help.
I'm a secretary really. Human Resources calls us administrative assistants and office managers. I'm not a receptionist. There is a receptionist up front; I get huffy when people don't make the distinction. I have my own part of an office and a view of the Hancock Building.
"Fine. The people there are idiots."
A toe finds a stretch of untapped skin behind my knee.
"What's that called?"
"Behind my knee, the soft part. Where your toe is."
"Part of the hamstrings."
"The back of the knee."
"What's 'hamstring' in Latin?"
"Are you doing sixteen tomorrow, or twenty-four?"
"Twenty-four. All peads. All eyes."
And just coming off a forty-eight. Filling in for someone, not supposed to, but with short staffing what can you do? The lights were off when she came in, but white walls made a silhouette with heavily slumped shoulders and the truncated steps of the desperately tired.
No fuel left for heat.
"One of them's definitely going to wake up blind. If it doesn't wake up dead. I hate eyes. They're the worst."
Her hand curls around my wrist. Two rough pads find my pulse. I can feel it push against her touch.
"You should get some rest."
"I'm trying. I can't believe you're not cold."
A five hour turnaround, then up to stick needles into tiny moving veins. I recall stories, lying there in the quiet with the creeping chill, stories she's told me about going into work drunk, or hung-over, or sick, shaking, delirious, no sleep, just caffeine and speed. And running a heart line into a seventy-year old man without a hitch. Adrenaline. Hers, not the patient's. Another dead man saved, she would say if he lived. If she had to say enough, stop, it was another dead man dead. A word with the fam, then home.
Where I would be. In bed, warm, stripped of my clothes and the day. Monday. No, Tuesday, actually. Or is it Wednesday already? Tomorrow isn't Saturday. Twenty-four or forty-eight, I'd ask her the date, but she wouldn't know.
It's not important. To her or me, for different reasons.
When her breathing changes, I'm still wide awake. The shivers stop, the grip relaxes, leaving only the weight of her body on mine. Limbs get heavy in sleep. The arm across my chest, the leg crimped around my calves. They rest.
She killed two people today.
That's how she says it. "No point fucking around. I killed them. I needed the beds, they'd had twenty units, weren't breathing on their own. So that was enough." Perhaps she saved two or three times as many. Those figures she never has. Only the death toll. Her death toll. She spoke to mothers, fathers, sons, daughters. Looked a chart, checked her watch, called the time.
She made choices.
I felt the last cup of coffee I had at my desk complaining under the pressure. Four or five cups a day, between setting up appointments and putting letters in the otugoing mail. Filing memoranda from upstairs, Good afternoon, ______'s office, can I help you? She's free at 1:30, you're free at 2:00? I can move the two to two-fifteen, can you come at one-forty-five? Excellent, no problem, happy to help, it's what I do.
I looked down my chest over her now limp arm to the dent she made in my abdomen. I could wait. Give her a few more minutes, she must be exhausted. She's falling deeper. The eyes will start moving.
Tomorrow will be difficult.
I have to keep her warm.