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It's not so rare for Meena to ask for me after she loses a patient; the trauma ward has always been a carnival of horrors, of course, but no nurse worth her salary really gets used to that. What's unusual, given that she did ask for me, is that she isn't on the verge of tears. There's a strange hard look in her eyes instead, too clean-lined for the crummy little break room. I initiate defensive contrition: "I'm sorry I took so long to get here, M," I say, and I'm about to lay it bare—I was catching a nap in the stock room, Marco couldn't find me—but she says "Did you?" and I sum all the vectors and estimate that I'm in the clear. I take a seat by Meena and ask what happened.

"The BP monitor broke," she says. "She was stable when she went to sleep. Never showed anything abnormal—if anything, her blood pressure was high when she was admitted. But then the monitor broke and she hypoperfused and died."

"What was she in for?"

"DV," says Meena, with a catch in her voice.

I shrug. "Internal bleeding is hard to catch, right? If she got beaten up..."

"Some DVs, the husband is a body kind of guy," says Meena. "When he wants to keep an image up. That was not this guy. This was the guy who wanted his wife to call in sick from work and stare at her fucked-up face in the mirror for a few days. If he even lets her work. She's on his insurance." Meena shakes her head. "Hematoma, I'd believe. Cerebral edema, maybe. But I will cook and eat my left fallopian tube if she bled out below her neck."

"What did the doc say was the cause of death?"

"Internal bleeding." Her tone accorded this diagnosis a medical status on the order of hysteria or the shakes.

"What do you think it is?"

Now she looks me straight on with rosewood eyes. "I don't know, Drake," she says. "It's just—it felt like someone had been there."

"It's a hospital." I notice a spot by her nose. I'd taken it for a mole at first, but I know Meena's moles and this is not among them. I point. "You've got something there."

She detaches it with her fingertip, then examines it. It's come away mostly intact, but her finger's left a thin smear in its path. She makes a disgusted face and a hawking noise deep in her throat. "Jesus," she says. The word cracks like a bullwhip, and I flinch. She looks at me apologetically. Meena thinks of pharmacists as misallocated geeks, not merely unequal to but actually uncognizant of the rigors of a hospital; she feels guilty for reminding me that blood sometimes leaves the body. "Will these hands ne'er be clean?" she says. A smile falters, then dies.

"We're all lucky that you're willing to get them dirty," I say. I lean in to kiss her neck—our favorite supply closet isn't far from the trauma break room—but she pushes me away. "Get off," she says. "I need to sanitize. Who knows where this blood's been?"

I should get back to work anyway. "All right," I say, and get up from my chair; but I plant a kiss on the top of her scalp when she isn't looking.

"Ow!" she says, and swats at me; I dance back. "You pulled my hair."

"Did not."


"Anyway, everyone knows boys only pull hair when they like someone."

"If they want 'someone' to like them back, they'd better ease off."

She's in no mood to play. That's the sort of thing I should know by now. "I'm sorry," I say. "I must have snagged it on my coat or something. I truly didn't mean to."

She looks at me with justifiable skepticism, and for a moment my perception shifts, as with a Necker cube; her eyes become flinty, crudely penetrating, her face slack and dumbly hungry. The powder-blue scrubs make her eyes clear and sharp and almost golden, like topaz or rye whiskey; the blood spot drums at my forehead. I shake my head and it goes away.

"Get out of here," says Meena. "The last thing I need is for you to get fired right now."

"I'll take that as a thank you."

"It is a thank you, dickface. Go away."

Before I get back to work, I visit the dead woman again. A couple of nurses are still there, tidying up. I don't see much blood, no evidence of spray or spatter. The dead woman's head and neck are mostly dark bandages under a shock of kinky pale hair. I can tell from a couple of exposed cuts that someone came at her hard with something sharp. I can tell from the way the bandages lie on her face that some have been removed and then replaced. When my hand comes away, two hairs rest in my palm, long and sinuous and light.

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