Contrary to her family’s expectations, Nine had made herself at home in the sterile, freakish underworld of St. Mary’s Hospital. She liked the crinkle of the accordion tubing and sacks that wheezed and sighed as often as she did. The rubbery footfalls of the nurses and the snatches of their gossip and gripes she’d gathered since her arrival provided a great distraction from the constant cinema flickering inside the dark cavern her brain had become. Nine also enjoyed the metal clack of her chart whenever the doctor opened it, the perfunctory snap of the occasional latex glove, and the understanding that, ever so often, needles and chutes were curled into her veins like crochet needles, eliciting a pain that would be excruciating if she were still able to feel it. While, for others, the constant drip of saline may have seemed ominous, she rather relished the music the liquid created. And the warm sponges squeezed into basins beside her daily reminded her of a woodland stream and, by extension, she often imagined a red-cloaked heroine in the Hans Christian Andersen tradition, foolishly courageous, skipping through a slalom of tall, barren trees.
But there were also sensations she did not favor. She did not, for instance, enjoy the company of visitors and willfully closed her ears to their nervous chatter. She did not like their nostrils and the suddenness with which they honked or slurped back snot. She detested the soggy, germ-soaked Kleenex they left to harden in her only wastebasket. She did not like the smell of the carnations they left behind, once the water grew murky and the velvety petals browned. And there were other agitations, far less superficial and more alarming than these others: the strange awareness that preceded her heart’s intent to stop; the sizzle of defibrillator panels as they shot electricity through her greasy skin; the jolt of expectation to open her eyes when her sluggish heartbeat reluctantly returned; the firmness of her boyfriend’s touch, waning with each increasingly infrequent visit.
These were the occurrences that reminded her. There are decisions to be made, came a voice over the PA system of her subconscious. The store is closing.