Finley J. MacDonald


The story became a finalist of That’s Guangzhou 2020 writing competition

Pipes gurgle.

Seconds slip by as hyaloid globules that bloat and plop.

Upon bedside table rests a lemon for sniffing.

I bear a huge, steel thermos down the hall. Past interns dozing in a forest of hanging clipboards. I set down thermos in a welter of rice and take-out. I mingle scalding water with Evian in a paper cup. Droplets fall between dry lips. Her breath is quick, shallow.

Hao tong; hao tong, she whispers.

I’m so sorry.

I massage hot legs. Stretch out on the cot. Plunge fathoms below ordinary sleep.

Recounting the surgery in Mandarin, the surgeon pushed a bloody bowl under my nose. Then, we wheeled her, covered in a sheet. Beneath me, her eyes opened, childlike, just for an instant. The nurse and I waited for elevators that skipped our floor. While I bumbled alongside, poor assistance in her slide to the hospital bed, the two-striped nurse complained, something like, where on earth are her relatives?

At dawn, a woman in a mud-colored uniform advances swishing her mop. I slide curtains. Glass rainspeckled. A whir of cicadas from glossy banyans. The square too looks mopped. We watch candy-world locomotives slipping behind the Infectious Diseases building. Beyond the room’s second bed, barred pillars of light climb tiled walls.

My job: spoon-feed her congee. Keep an eye on the urine bag and drain it. Dump the cupful in the toilet. Monitor the drip. Call a nurse when it goes slack. Sponge her upper body, especially when her temperature rises. Rub her legs and feet, particularly the left heel, which goes numb. On the strip above the bed, smiley faces instruct us (I could be wrong about this) to defecate after an IV. Twelve nurses with caps striped or not trample in with clipboards, notebooks, and a rolling cart. What is your name? Have you had a bowel movement today? How many bags of urine? They check her pulse and change the drip, pink-hatted interns taking notes. Another thing I do is crank her bed up and down and fiddle with the single-station TV. A teenage kung fu show. Flashbacks introduced by a ssshhhhhhht. Voices going echoic. By the piano, you know how you ought to feel. “This movie,” she whispers, “just suck shit.” She hits her thigh. “That’s not pain.”

As she may have one dragon fruit, I make my way down the stairwell, past men with cigarettes slouching against broken windows. At each landing, some new medical horror is spelled out. At the ground floor, people totter like aliens learning earth’s gravity. After hunting parking lots and backstreets, I discover dragon fruit—scarlet and scaled rows below lychee bundles on a battered cart. Bearing it up to me two-handedly, the toothless vendor says: huo long gua.

I perch beside her reeled-up now on the bed and pry a leathery hood from a striated hump and carry the fruit—firm and sun-warmed and darker than a pomegranate—to her lips, and her teeth carve a path of slick, glistening, cinnabar grooves all the way down its length.

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