On Break

At 6:40pm the day before Tuesday, Linus wished an indefinite delay upon anyone journeying to the delicatessen he manned. The wallpaper in his private alcove was a sprawling sepia map of the NYC underground that abutted the horribly sterile whiteness of the broader hospital café.

Linus’s company visor itched his scalp. He jerked his head and removed one of the disposable polyethylene gloves, then absentmindedly he knocked off the visor and scratched his head with the gloved hand.

A raucous clamoring resounded from the kitchen. Linus sniffed and yawned incuriously, expecting the evening’s successor, who wouldn’t have arrived soused a first time.

No, not his replacement but two nurses in bouffant caps and periwinkle sanitary scrubs burst open the swinging door and barged onto the line. Between them they rolled a gurney, on which a middle-aged man lay strapped and intubated.

“Hey, hey!” Linus exclaimed. “What are you doing?”
The foremost nurse had nearly run over Linus before bracing back against the gurney and halting. He wiped his brow. “Hi, gimme an eight-inch sub on ciabatta. Two of ‘em.”
“Gotta be on that side,” Linus insisted, pointing across the buffet. “Man, over there.”
“What, why?” the nurse asked, immediately flushed.
“This is employees only,” Linus said.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” the nurse growled. Behind, the strapped patient craned his head and gurgled and looked maniacally around. The second nurse shushed him impatiently and looked bored.
“Go back through,” Linus urged.
He overheard the nurses grumbling in the kitchen as they trekked backwards, bumping the stretcher against the prep table.

“Rules for everything now, it’s a complete bureaucracy Hal,” the angrier nurse’s voice echoed. “I’m telling you, I’m telling you, you just gotta cut through all this red tape every chance you get. You just gotta cut through it.”
“They don’t make red tape,” the other man, Hal, said in a low monotone. “I’ve never seen it. I’ve seen blue tape. Black tape… White tape. There’s, you know, duct tape. It’s gray.”

Linus quit listening. He cursed quietly and wished the nurses would leave him alone as he flipped several notches along the glass covering above mucilaginous meats, cheeses and marshy vegetables. He wanted to be home on his computer, arguing with strangers online.

There was the sound of a door slamming, and the nurses reappeared around the corner and walked into the alcove, dragging the gurney. One of the wheels stuck and skidded against a tiled lip with a grating noise. The angrier nurse gave it a shove.

“What’ll it be?” Linus announced listlessly.
“Him?” the nurse Hal answered, suddenly animated. “Fifty-three, male. Pulmonary infarction, ‘e diagnosed ‘imself. We picked ‘im up over on twentieth, someone called anonymously but ‘e said could the dispatcher wait fifteen minutes. Ask me, I think it was ‘im, on account o—”
“Hal we’re not talking shop,” the other man grumbled. “I’m on break.”
“Oh right. You’re right, it’s boring,” Hal said, deflating.