I awoke to sunlight streaming in through the windows. I stretched lazily. There was nothing more blissful than waking up to bright, warm light on your face after a long shift. This was why I always opened the curtains before crawling under the covers. That, and there was something reassuring about waking up in the night to see the lights of the city outside. It helped with the loneliness.
My shift! OMG.
My heart leapt into my throat and I sat bolt upright in bed. I had picked up an extra shift. I was supposed to work today.
Why hadn’t the alarm gone off?!?!!?!?
I distinctly remembered setting the alarm. Did I do something wrong? The new phone lay on the empty pillow next to me. I snatched it up and after hitting the button over and over again found that it was dead.
I checked the power chord. It was plugged into the phone and the wall properly. Last night should have been a clue when email wasn’t working, I realized. I picked up the land line phone beside my bed. I needed to call in but there was no dial tone. I punched a few numbers and clicked the receiver a several times. Nothing. I slammed the receiver down in frustration.
Skidding to the bathroom, I flipped the light switch but no light. I tried every damn light switch in the apartment but none worked. The clock on the microwave was a black, empty space. The TV would not turn on. Soon it was clear that the power was off completely.
There hadn’t been a storm, had there?
I checked out the window. The streets looked dry.
The clock on the wall in the kitchen read 9:18. I wondered if it was right or not but remembered it was battery operated. I was so miserably late and this time I did not have a Good Samaritan excuse. They probably wouldn’t believe me about the power.
I threw on some clothes. I had a habit of sleeping naked. It felt good to strip off all vestiges of the day and lie beneath clean sheets but now I felt terribly vulnerable.
What was going on?
I would have to sort out everything later. The first order of business was getting to the hospital.
Brushing my teeth helped. So did splashing water on my face. Quickly, I pulled my hair back into a ponytail. There was no time for make up. I shoved my make-up bag into the satchel next to my computer and headed out the door. Maybe I would have time later to apply something. I didn’t want to scare the patients…
Without my phone, I could not summon Uber. I was going to have to use the train. I zipped around other people as I ran two blocks to the nearest station. I flashed my card at the till but the light did not turn green. I tried again.
Still red. I was getting frustrated and contemplated just hopping over.
“Hey, lady, do you think you could maybe go through or get out of the way?” The voice behind me was irritated. I turned to see a blond twenty-something in a light gray suit wielding his briefcase with an air of self importance. He glared at me. He was probably running late, too. So was the middle aged woman behind him and the older woman behind her.
He rolled his eyes and reached around me with his card. The light turned green and he pushed past muttering obscenities under his breath.
The woman behind him did the same. I tried my card again but still got a red light.
The bodies behind me were pressing forward. I backed up from the turnstile pushing past the line that had accumulated behind me and did a quick visual search for a kiosk.
Something was wrong with my card. Maybe I had lost track of how much was on it? I found one of the vending machines and attempted to load more money onto it but the message flashed that the card was invalid. I tried to purchase a regular ticket using my bank card but it said that card was invalid. Then I tried my credit card but received the same message.
Precious minutes were wasting! I fished out some cash and purchased a ticket that way, then made my way to the platform.
I found a seat in the corner of the train and stewed. How could it be possible that all of my cards were dead? I watched the faces of the other commuters, wondering if any of them was experiencing something similar. No. They all seemed calm.
I decided to distract myself by putting on some mascara and lipstick.
At the next stop a woman settled into the seat next to me. She looked like a talker. I scooted closer to the wall and crossed my arms across my chest, hoping the body language would send the clear message to leave me alone. I couldn’t bury my head in my phone since it wasn’t working. I felt exposed again.
Clearly, she had not gotten the message.
“Morning,” I muttered.
“You look like you are having a bad day.”
I glanced over at her and raised an eyebrow.
“My daughter, Cordelia, does the same thing.”
“What?” I was puzzled.
“Wrinkles her forehead like you do.”
“Oh.” I hoped the clipped response would shut down the conversation.
“I work in real estate as a paralegal. It is the most dreary office ever, so small you would think it had once been a closet. I feel the life sucked out of me a little bit each day.” My brain flashed to the scene in The Dark Crystal where the Skeksis drain essence from the Podlings, leaving them dessicated, mindless zombies. “Where do you work?”
“In healthcare,” I said carefully. Admitting that I was a physician always opened me up to awkward questions.
“Oh how nice! What exactly do you do in healthcare?” She smiled.
“I’m in housekeeping at the hospital.” It was sort of true.
She squinted at me, then laughed. “That’s funny! I would have put you in management. You just never know about people.”
“I get off up here,” she said, digging her purse. She handed me a business card. “If you ever need to buy some property…” She winked as the train stopped, then was gone.
I tucked the card into my bag next to the accident victim’s card, shaking my head. What a 24 hours this had been.
The rest of the trip passed in blessed silence.
At the correct stop, I exited and ran the remaining few blocks to the ER at Northwestern. I stoppped at the nurses’ station to catch my breath and survey the lay of land. I could see they were fully staffed. There was Dr. Prick, I mean Dr. Waters, back again to make everyone miserable. There were three other physicians seeing patients but they and the rest of the staff pointedly avoided making eye contact. I checked the board. I was not on the list for today. Then I realized my name had been erased from the rest of the week, replaced with Dr. Waters’ name. A sense of foreboding came over me.
“Dr. Benton!” It was the ER director, Dr. Boyack. Someone must have alerted him to my presence. “Why don’t you step into my office?”
I followed him into the tiny office around the corner. He settled himself behind the desk, motioning to the chair across from him. The room was sparsely decorated except for an ivy plant by a window that looked out onto a brick wall and a framed illustration of a busty female robot stood on the corner of the desk. Eccentric was the word for him. He studied me for a moment, probably for dramatic effect, then leaned forward, steepling his fingers in front of his long beard.
“We have decided to let you go, effective immediately.”
I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. A million panicked thoughts were racing through my brain. When I didn’t respond, he continued.
“You have excellent patient satisfaction scores. The staff loves you. But we need someone more reliable.”
Wait! I wanted to scream at him. This isn’t fair! But in his defense, I had a habit of running late. Getting used to the unpredictability of Chicago transportation had been difficult. If I had not already established a pattern of behavior, we would not be having this conversation. So instead I just nodded.
I was not sure this day could get any worse but at least now I had time to figure out what was going on with my bank and credit cards and to try to get the power back on at my apartment. Oh, and the phone. That goddamn stupid phone that I had been forced to get after the men in suits had stolen my original. I fingered the cold screen in my pocket. I wanted to take the cursed thing out and stomp it to pieces right then and there.
But I didn’t.
He pushed a long, white envelope across the desk. “Your last paycheck. I’ll need your badge and keys.” He smiled sympathetically.
I dug the items out of my bag and dropped them onto his desk, giving a satisfying clang as the metal and plastic hit the fake mahogany surface. I opened my mouth to speak but thought better of it, choosing instead to leave the office without a word. As I reached the door he called out to me.
“Hey, Dr. Benton?” I paused, looking over my shoulder. “Good luck. I have a feeling you are going to need it.”