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Authors: Alice Zorn

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BOOK: Five Roses
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And here was José, trotting down the hallway to the change room. “José! Your patient in 23A went to the OR with dentures.”

“Wasn't me, I just got here.”

“Right, but she's your patient.” And has been for the last half-hour, buddy boy.

José whirled around and saw Royal, who shrugged and walked to the stairway. Nice, Fara thought. He wouldn't go when she asked, but he did it for another bro.

“Farahilde?” Claudette had what Fara thought of as a pencil-sharpener voice. She held the pay envelopes.

Fara opened her hand. “Thank you.”

“I thought you were called Farrah for
Charlie's Angels
.”

“It's not spelled the same way and no one remembers that show. You're dating yourself.”

Claudette leaned on Fara's shoulder to look at the envelope again. Fara flipped it over and answered the phone.

Fara had been named Farahilde after her father's mother. A good German name. When she was a baby, her parents called her Hilde, like her grandmother. Then Fara's mother heard how the French-speaking neighbours pronounced it
Ilde
. She didn't want a child called Ilde. Fara became Fara. Three years later, when her sister was born, their parents were more familiar with the idiosyncrasies of language in Quebec. The new baby was named after her maternal grandmother, Klara, but they spelled it Claire.

Rose

People had surgeries where they could never eat again. Throat cancer or stomach cancer, Rose wasn't sure. They had to get liquid nutrients through a tube plugged into their stomach. No more tart autumn apples, oatmeal cookies warm and crumbly from the oven, barbecued chicken, corn on the cob.

But surely being fed through a tube was better than dying? People should be grateful they were still alive. Perhaps at the beginning they were, but as the months wore on, not being able to eat made them feel diminished. Less human. They resented pizza commercials on TV. People walking down the hallway eating a chocolate muffin. One patient scowled when he saw Rose pushing her cart of tube feeding. You ever tried that shit? It doesn't even go in my mouth and I can taste it. He smacked his lips with disgust. Whatever they put in it is gross. I
hate
it.

When Rose had first applied for a job in the hospital, she expected to work with patients. Changing dirty sheets for fresh ones she pulled taut. Bracing a frail waist. She had a broad back and strong legs. She liked helping people.

But not sick people, she realized. Patients who banged their bedside tables, flaunting the right to be miserable — the only power left to them. They loathed their disease, and by extension, anyone associated with it. Even helpless and in bed, they were bullies, rude and demanding. Not
all
the patients, no, but enough of them to make work as a nurse or an orderly demeaning. Rose saw how the nurses fled certain rooms, their mouths pinched with exasperation.

Rose worked in Dietary, delivering tube feeding. She started her shift by counting out cans she packaged in paper bags labelled with the patients' names and room numbers. She measured formula into Styrofoam milkshake cups. The different tube feedings had different ratios of protein, electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals. Rose checked the dietician's list once. She checked it twice. An earnest Santa Claus.

Her trolley loaded, she wheeled it to the elevator, which she took to the fourteenth floor. At the first nursing station the coordinator verified the number of bags and cups Rose carried to the med room. At the second nursing station the nurse in charge signed without even glancing at the cart.

When Rose felt a tap on her right shoulder, she already knew to look to the left.

“Can't fool you anymore.” Kenny grinned. He had freckled teddy-bear cheeks and a teddy-bear belly. He worked as an orderly on Six South.

“What are you doing here?” She was glad to see him — a friendly face in a not-always-friendly hospital — but shook her head in reproof.

“Have to borrow an IV pump.”

“From here?” He'd used the IV-pump excuse before.

“Twelve, eleven, ten … it's faster to take the stairs than wait for the elevator.”

Not if he stopped to look for her on every floor. She pushed her cart to the next nursing station. Even as he joked and clowned, she kept a few steps between them.

“Hey, man.” An orderly coming out of a patient's room touched knuckles with Kenny. “You cruising this babe on my turf ?”

Rose ignored them. She waited for the coordinator to finish on the phone and sign her list. Only two bags of cans. Rose left her trolley at the desk and carried them inside the nursing station.

Kenny was gone when she returned, but an hour later she saw him on the fifth floor ambling down the hallway with a bag of blood.

“Don't you have to get that to the nurses?”

“It's got to warm up first. Think about it. Whammo! Ice-cold blood — direct from the fridge into the veins. You could kill a patient.”

She clicked her tongue in disbelief.

“Some old geezer? You bet.” Kenny liked to talk as if he understood anatomy and procedures simply from working in a hospital. She'd heard him once, explaining the risks of surgery to a man on a stretcher.

“Listen,” he said now. “When are you taking a break?”

“I'm behind today. I'll just have time to get back to the kitchen.” When she finished delivering tube feeding, she carried late supper trays to the patients' rooms.

“How about when you're done, are you free? I can take my supper late. I've got news for you, kiddo.”

She stopped pushing her trolley. “About a place?”

He winked. “Told you I'd find one.”

“Where?” She watched his face as if she could decode the answer in his freckles.

He held up his bag of blood. “Gotta get this upstairs. Meet me at seven-thirty at the Vietnamese place across the street.”

The restaurant was small with tables pushed close together. People sat with their heads bent over noodles they poked and scooped with chopsticks. The air was damp and warm, and smelled of fried fat, bouillon cubes, and green onion.

Kenny waved from a table by the wall. As Rose sat down, the waiter slapped a plasticized page on the table before her. “Have a Tonkinoise,” Kenny said. “It's good here.”

She didn't know what that was. She'd never used chopsticks. And did she have enough money to eat in a restaurant? “I'm not hungry. I ate in the kitchen.”

“Leftover mashed potatoes?” He groaned. “Rose, Rose, Rose.”

He poured tea into tiny bowls and started complaining about the charge nurse who'd expected him to do four bed changes before he left for supper. Four! She wasn't the one who had to push the beds, the patients, and their belongings from room to room. He tapped a chopstick on the table like an angry finger.

Rose waited. He always talked in circles. Eventually he would land on what she wanted to hear.

A few weeks ago, when he kept asking where she'd lived before she came to Montreal, she told him about the cabin in the woods.

“Oh yeah? Where?”

“Near Rivière-des-Pins. About an hour north.”

“A cabin in the woods.” He whistled through his teeth. “By a river, eh?”

“More like a creek.”

“I'll bet there's speckled trout.” He began to talk about fish and lures and the best time of day to catch those babies. “We can drive up on the weekend. How far did you say, an hour?” Then he noticed her face. “What's wrong?”

“I don't want to go back.”

“Why not? If I had a cabin in the woods, I'd be there all the time.”

Rose hesitated. “I lived there with my mother. She died.”

Kenny blushed and mumbled, “I didn't know. Sorry.”

Except for her roommate, Yushi, Rose hadn't told anyone in Montreal about Maman. There was no one else to tell, but also no explaining how, without Maman, the air in the cabin was too still. Everything had lost its pulse. Maman's chair at the table. The spoons and knives and forks in the drawers. The wood stove. The dishes. The woven rag blanket on the bed in the attic where Maman used to sleep, and where her parents had once slept. Rose's bed was the sofa where Maman had slept when she was growing up. Rose had always felt comforted by these routines, repeated through the lives that braided around hers. She hadn't known what to do — alone, without Maman.

Even now, in the city, it hurt to think about her. Her wan cheeks and how she'd had to sit to catch her breath. Or in the night, when Rose heard her choking. In the morning Maman never mentioned it, so Rose didn't either. She washed the bed linen, scrubbed the blood spots from the pillowcases, didn't ask what they were.

Sometimes, though, Rose let herself remember the forest. The breathing silence between the boles of the trees. The gritty slide of pine needles underfoot. The warble and twitter of birdcall. The intense flavour of a single, wild strawberry. She held the essence of those memories deep inside. She didn't have to go back to relive them.

Where memory didn't help was with weaving. Her body missed the dance step of her feet on the treadles. The wondrous meld of the fibres — colour and texture — becoming cloth. Even here, in the city, across the distance, she could feel how the loom in the shed next to the cabin waited. Sometimes she dreamed that she sat on the bench before the span of hundreds of threads fed neatly, all in order, through the heddles. Or she walked down a street and stopped before the window of a yarn store, transfixed by the soft nests and skeins of colour.

If only she could bring the loom to Montreal. But even if she found a way, which seemed impossible, where would she keep it? A loom was all angles and frames, as wide as a double bed. It couldn't be pushed into a corner. She had to be able to walk around it — with added space for equipment. A loom needed a room of its own.

The apartment she shared with Yushi was already crowded. If Rose put the loom in her bedroom, where would she sleep? She had nowhere to keep a loom in Montreal, but once she started thinking about it, she couldn't stop.

For a few days after she'd told Kenny about her mother, he didn't mention the cabin in the woods. He clowned the way he always did, walking ahead of her down the hallway, hands cupped around his mouth. “
Mesdames, Messieurs!
Get your Osmolyte here!”

She was standing before the elevator with her cart when he sidled up, carrying a stuffed net laundry bag over his shoulder. “Hey, Rose, I was thinking … I know you don't want to go to your cabin, but what if we went to the river and caught some trout?”

“It's not a river, I told you. I don't think there's trout.”

“We could still look.”

“There must be lots of places where you can go fishing.”

“Where other people go. This is different. It's where you grew up.”

“The only reason I'd go …” she began.

“Yeah?” He hefted the bag on his shoulder higher.

“Would be to get my loom.”

“A loom … like for knitting?”

“For weaving. Making cloth.”

“So let's get it.” He jiggled his legs.

“It's too big. I'd need a van.”

He grinned. “Van can do.”

She couldn't tell if he was serious. A teddy-bear joker.

“My buddy's got a van.”

She stared at a yellow poster for an EKG workshop. Getting the loom was only half the problem. “There's no point. The loom won't fit in my apartment.”

“How big of a place do you need?”

“Right now it takes up the whole of a shed.”

The elevator binged and the doors slid open. Rose wheeled her trolley on, expecting Kenny to follow. But he headed off down the hallway, the laundry bag on his shoulder swaying to the roll of his walk.

Rose hadn't eaten at the Vietnamese restaurant and now, in the bus on the way home, she was hungry. All she'd had since noon was a crumbled edge of shepherd's pie that was too small to serve a patient. She hoped Yushi had cooked.

She and Yushi lived on the second floor of a brick duplex. No matter how softly Rose climbed the outside metal stairs, her steps reverberated like a giant's trudge.
Kabunk-nk
-
nk
-nk
.
Kabunk-nk
-
nk
-nk
. She kept expecting the downstairs neighbours to burst out of their apartment and glare. After all these months in the city, she still wasn't used to hearing people talking, their music — and even more private sounds — through the walls and the floors.

She found Yushi in the front room sitting cross-legged on a chair at the table, a food magazine open beside her empty plate. The table was an enormous rosewood oval with a scrollwork apron and carved legs. Yushi had inherited it from her great-aunt, who'd brought it to Canada from India. Yushi's grandmother, the great-aunt's sister, had married and moved to Trinidad, where Yushi's mother was born. The elegant table didn't match Yushi's cropped hair and washed-out T-shirt, but she felt fierce about its
herstory
and that it was hers now. For lack of space, it was pushed against the wall across from the sofa.

Without taking her eyes from the page, Yushi said, “There's bean ragout.”

Rose padded down the hallway to the kitchen. Even before she lifted the lid off the pot, she could smell fresh rosemary. Yushi had made a stew with fava beans, tomatoes, and mushrooms. She used to work as a cook in a restaurant in Toronto. Now she had a job as counter help in a patisserie at the Atwater Market. Rose wondered why she wasn't working as a cook but didn't ask. She'd never understood how people pushed for details beyond what was volunteered.

She ladled stew onto a plate, poured a glass of water, grabbed a fork and a placemat. She always sat at the short end of the table so she could see Yushi. Nudging out her chair, she said, “I'm coming to the market tomorrow. One of the orderlies at the hospital knows a place near there where I can keep my loom.”

“One of the orderlies at the hospital.” Not a question, a statement.

“You know I want to get my loom. I told you.” With her fork she prodded the curved layers of an unfamiliar vegetable. “This is good. What is it?”

“Fennel.” Yushi stretched against the high back of her chair, eyes on Rose. “How will you get your loom to Montreal?”

“He offered to get it. His friend has a van.”

Yushi's level gaze and crow-feather hair. Thin and brown as she was, she in no way resembled Maman, but her precise, unhurried manner reminded Rose of how Maman always thought before she spoke. “He likes you,” Yushi said now.

“He's crazy about fishing. He wanted to go even before I told him about the loom.” Rose thought of the wayward hair that sprouted from the neckline of Kenny's blue uniform. How the hang of his tunic didn't quite mask his soft stomach. Sometimes her arm brushed against his. She never felt excited or wished he would move closer — the way she had when Armand strode through the trees toward her. Years ago, but she still remembered how her blood thrummed with expectation. How she'd longed for the slide of Armand's fingers under the edge of her clothes.

“I think you like him, too.”

Rose didn't look up from her food, afraid that her memory of Armand's hands on her body might show on her face. Armand was a secret then. He was still a secret now.

BOOK: Five Roses
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ads

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