By Gracjan Kraszewski
Most of all she loves magnolias, the leaves properly soaked by torrential rainfall under orangepurple twilight, prodigiously wet, the drops big enough to stand beneath and quench a parched palate. The true delectables hit the middle of the tongue and speed down the gullet.
She’s not taken. No man or kids of her own. And yet it gives her pleasure to be out here in the wilds in between her shifts, donning not much more than cut off jeans and a sleeveless ruffled blouse—a canary yellow blouse she rarely washes, thankful that women really do smell good no matter what—while she rounds up her younger sister’s children and her older sister’s boy and even next door Nana Williams’ granchirren all of whom have been playing crab apple dogeball while she’s been dewsipping. (Nana Williams is batshizzle crazy, so goes the grapevine scuttlebutt). For her, this is bliss, a welcome reprieve from the hospital.
Last night she had a twelve hour 9 PM in/9 AM out that at one point, right around 2:43 A.M., saw her sitting feet up on her desk flicking a blue rubber band off wall. Her feet were bare, the line of demarcation between her skin and her black capris easily visible. She wore a black, three-button shirt beneath her white coat.
She doesn’t know if anyone would care should they discover that she likes to place her bare feet on her desk next to some ostensibly important documents. She does not care; if she is headstrong she it too much so to name it. It serves her well. Especially that time she disregarded Opinion 8.19 of the AMA Code of Medical Ethics because, well, dammit, the man was dying and she had worked on such a case just as this during her residency. She went into the operating room and performed the cholecystectomy.
She is good looking to the point of physical discomfort. A love-struck fellow medical student thought nicknaming her ‘Butter Medusa’—“because you, you like are so gorgeous that any guy who looks at you is like overwhelmed by your beauty and turns to stone and then melts…you know?”—was something like a pickup line. She punched him square in the Adam’s apple.
She knows she’s single because she wants to be. She doesn’t want to be, but where are the decent men? Football players are imbeciles even if they attend Ivy League schools. She doesn’t like shy guys. A real man has confidence. She doesn’t like wannabe artists, writers, actors or, especially, fellow doctors. She once dated a different kind of doctor, a professor of linguistics who was 30-something, maybe 32, five years older than her and this was now five years ago. He turned out to be Grade A milquetoast. Why are most men today such little bitches?
Last night she flicked the blue rubber band off the wall thirty-four times in a row before settling down to her seventeenth medical form of the night. What kind of form? What information, exactly? Ha ha. They say you can make a difference, help people, all that. Almost never; most of the time is spent on paperwork and telling old women to keep their feet elevated while they watch TV.
She knows that her life—she herself, actually—is a bridge between two worlds; on one side the hospital, the jargon and the Midwestern dialects; on the other the splintered and paint-chipped rocking chairs, the drawls, the dogs and the whole storage shed full of guns. She’s good at compartmentalization. But Johns Hopkins and being Jumpin’ Bo-Johnny’s daughter isn’t a typical mix and sometimes the one side comes over the tracks for a visit, and vice versa.
Kind of like last night, although she never does this, and never at the hospital, when 2:43 eventually became 3:17 she threw in a really fat lip and pulled out a ¾ drunk bottle of coke and kept those feet bare and the spit-stream straight. After a while it was hard to differentiate the coke from the juice. It was the third time in her life she had dipped tobacco and swore once more, never again.
She is a size 4. She is either 5’8 and 7/8” or 5’9 and 1/3.” She can sprint one-hundred meters in 11.75. She can throw a football properly, thirty-five yards in the air. Her eyes are the color of an acorn, a pecan in a different light. Her childhood dentist, the only dentist within a hundred miles of their backwoods boondocks hamlet, always told her she had the nicest set of teeth he had ever worked on.
He asked her out two days after she turned eighteen, right after an appointment. It was the first time she ever felt real stomach nausea. It was the first time he ever thought another person might try to rip him limb from limb right then and there.
When she lived in Baltimore she did some modeling. She dated the fourth outfielder on the Orioles up to the point she found out that he had “other girls” in other cities. If there is one characteristic that marks her as a southerner it is her old, even antebellum understanding of duty. People should do what they are supposed to do. There are no ancillary considerations or mitigating factors; personally, professionally or otherwise; do what you’re supposed to do.
Infidelity, even in an entry level dating position, is for her intolerable, a near unforgivable sin. He begged her, in a downpour and down on his knees, to take him back. He swore that he had changed, that now he saw the error in his ways. She didn’t say anything. She walked away leaving him kneeling in a puddle with his pathetic atonement bouquet damaged beyond repair and looking ever bit the .191 career hitter that he was.
Tonight she is home. The air is warm and heavy with moisture. Her uncle plays the fiddle. They all sit and eat sweet potato pie; they drink coffee. Then, inevitably, someone from the television, the outdoor one propped up on the tree stump, calls foul. It is a man in a suit speaking in a specific kind of dialect she knows all too well from her undergrad years in New Haven. The South in general, Mississippi in particular, that kind of thing.
“Oh, how I’d like to slap him,” Emma Kate says, wringing the foamy suds from her hands. “Now, now,” Uncle says, “be a good girl, Emma Kate. Be good. That's it, that’s my girl.”
Emma Kate drains the bucket. “Don’t talk to me like that, you old bastard. If it wasn’t for me you’d be in a real bad way; bedridden and unable to speak let alone play your music or fill cavities. I’m thinking dead is more like it. Don’t you forget that.”