"THIRD SHIFT" [A SHORT STORY]

Give me a few minutes, give me a few lines. How much can I tell you in a brief amount of time and small amount of space? That's one of the things I love best about microfiction: I love the challenge of saying something meaningful with (usually) only one page.

I wrote this story about loss (boy, doesn't it seem like a lot of stories are about that?), using 499 words, back in the fall of 2005. I wouldn't say it's the best thing I've ever written, but I often think about it. I think I'm really drawn to the quiet, solitary aspect of the protagonist's pain, despite being surrounded by genuinely caring, compassionate individuals. Maybe we do the most important things in life alone: we are born alone, we die alone, and maybe we sometimes grieve...really grieve...alone.

THIRD SHIFT

By Steve Pool

(c) 2005

Ron walked by white rooms and laboratories, over highly-polished tiled floors, under flickering fluorescent lights, alongside highly-stylized modern art pieces, through bleached and sterile corridors towards the shiny-steel elevators. A man in green scrubs nodded politely as he walked by. Ron smiled politely back and gave him a quick “how ya’ doing?”

“Good,” the man said as he moved on.

Ron reached the elevator and punched the down button. There was a pause before the door opened. He shifted his weight a bit between his right and left foot. A bell chimed overhead, and the elevator doors opened for him. A kindly-looking older woman wearing a blue, knit sweater and white uniform leaned against the steel handrail. She smiled warmly as he entered.

“Going home, Dr. Moreland?” Her tone was friendly but non-committal.

“Yeah. It’s been a long day,” Ron replied automatically, in that pre-programmed question and answer manner we are all taught, the one which provides a semblance of friendship towards peers that we never see outside of work except at yearly Christmas parties. He pushed the starred L button that led to the street level exit. The elevator resumed its descent.

“How’s that cute little dog of yours doing these days?” the kind woman continued.

“Juno? Ah, well I gave her to my sister a few weeks ago. The kids love her to death, and I really haven’t been able to take proper care of her lately. I felt like that would be better for her.”

“Oh,” the woman replied with a pause. “Well, I’m sure you did the right thing.” Looking up towards the ceiling and away from his gaze, she continued on, still trying to be a helpful Christian woman. “It’s tough getting over the loss of someone close. I think about my Hector every day.”

The elevator car came to a stop. Grasping absently at a beautiful rosary hung around her neck, she patted Ron’s shoulders and assured him that she was always remembering him in her prayers. The doors closed and she was gone.

“Thanks,” he replied in the empty space, to no one in particular.

Ron rode the last two floors down alone. It was so quiet and cool. Before he could think any more of it, the doors opened out into the stark-white hospital lobby. The sterility of it all muted any remaining feelings and thoughts he had. No one moved in or out of the main entrance at this early hour. The information kiosk sat empty. The only sound came from down along one of the adjacent hallways; the squeaky rubber wheel from a stainless steel gurney eked out a little warbling ditty. Hours before, this place was bursting with energy from people with big needs and others paid well to take care of them. Without the crowds, however, the lobby changed. It stopped being a place of healing; instead, it became a place of harm, using memories and loneliness to steal away a person's life in small bits at a time.