The Secret Keepers
The first time it happened was at Grandfather’s funeral. As the minister prayed, Mama held my hand tight.
“Mama,” I whispered, “you’re hurting me.”
She squeezed until everyone echoed, “Amen.”
That’s when Grandpa said, “Goodbye, Janie. Be a good girl and take care of your Ma.”
Mama stared at the coffin and let go.
Afterwards we went to the Five and Dime for a sundae. In hushed tones, Mama told me she heard voices, like Grandpa telling me goodbye, and did I hear them too? I shoveled ice cream into my mouth and shook my head. Even at ten, I knew when to keep my trap shut.
When I was fifteen, my cousin begged me to go to a psychic. She had $20 burning a hole in her pocket and Madame Rose was having a 2-for-1 special. Rose slid her finger across my outstretched palm. She stopped, tilted her head up.
“Ouch,” I said, as she bore her nail into my flesh.
“Get out, now! Both of you! And never come back!”
We laughed it off, but secretly I was intrigued. I’d be lying if I said her hostility didn’t surprise me. I never did trust those carny-types though.
After that I hung out at the local cemetery. The recently deceased welcomed me and led me into adulthood with their advice. So much wisdom lying six feet under. Jillian Curtis, 2000-2020, met her end swallowing too many pills. She instilled in me the importance of protecting my heart. Donald Wilson, 1968-2020, who died of colon cancer, taught me to live life fully and retire early. But perhaps my favorite was Mildred Mason, 1938-2020, whose heart simply stopped. She convinced me to become a nurse.
Dixie Cross had been in a coma for a month when I transferred wards. Our first conversation was lighthearted: Are you dating? What’s happening on The Walking Dead? By week’s end our chats turned morbid. Dixie was desperate to die. She pleaded for my help. Studying her chart, I could see why, but I’d taken an oath. I couldn’t just trip over a cord and call it a day.
After a restless night I went into work expecting to tell Dixie, “Sorry, but no can do.” I walked into room 205. The bed was empty.
The head nurse explained like a typewriter rattling off the latest news. The nightime cleaning staff found the ventilator unplugged and rushed to alert someone. The nurse’s station was empty. A doctor was found, albeit too late. All parties were still being questioned in the conference room. Heads were going to roll.
I did my rounds, checking the door to the conference room between patients. Finally, a middle-aged woman in a purple uniform emerged from the room. An EverReady Cleaning patch graced the shirt pocket. As she passed by, she glanced at my name tag. Stopped.
“Dixie asked me to say goodbye.” She winked and continued on her way without looking back.
I work in maternity now.
Sally Simon lives in the Catskills of New York State. Her writing has appeared in Hobart, Truffles Literary Magazine, After the Pause, Flash Fiction Magazine, and elsewhere. She recently finished writing a novel. When not writing, she’s either traveling the world or stabbing people with her epee. Read more at www.sallysimonwriter.com.
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