"B" Like Bravo
This piece originally appeared on Ink Consequential, an online literary magazine. If you're interested in viewing creative works by Adrianna or others, please visit Ink-Consequential.com.
“Please help. I’m a volunteer here—what? Yes, a volunteer, and they won’t let me leave.”
James’ hands sweated around a yellowed plastic phone. It was connected to the wall in a random patient room, but he stretched the cord as far as it would go so he could stand in the doorway and monitor the hall. Nurses in bleached uniforms wheeled carts down the halls but didn’t glance once at him. Frustration was bubbling in his chest.
The operator on the other end of the line was asking him useless questions. What was his name, what was his birthdate, could she speak with a paid staff member for a moment. James gave his full name—James Lee Carindale—and his birthdate—June twenty-first—but he clutched the phone even tighter, refusing to give it up. It was his only hope at this point. If he lost this one line of communication, he’d be stuck here for who knows how long.
James looked down at the cranberry sauce stain on his jeans: a deep, blood-like splotch in the denim from when he’d laughed just a little too hard at a friend’s joke at lunch, shaking his spoon and dropping gelatinous fruit into his lap. They’d sat in a group of eight, four on one side of the plastic cafeteria table and four on the other. James had purposefully sat across from Amelia Thompson, the girl with cropped, curly blonde hair and glossy pink lipstick, who had joined their volunteer group only a week prior. He’d hardly said more than hello to her since she came on the team, but he was intent on getting her email so they could communicate once summer was over. As for now, the fact that they wore the same mint-green T-shirt to the hospital each day made his heart flutter. Where was she now?
“Sir?” the operator on the line asked, her voice losing its patience. James wondered how many times she’d prompted him before he’d noticed. He kept remembering the sugary scent Amelia’s shampoo emitted whenever she walked by him in the hallway, pushing an IV cart or rushing to the fax machine to pick up patient records…
“I’m here,” James responded, struggling to keep his voice calm. He knew the moment he wavered, the operator would assume he was crazy. “Sorry. What was your last question?”
“What was your room number, sir?”
James peered at the plaque next to the door. Its white print was scratching off, making the 8 look like a 6. “B-eighty-two,” he said. “B like boy. B like bravo.”
“Perfect.” There was rapid clicking in the background, the sound of keys under long fingernails. “And are you sure there isn’t a paid staff member I can speak with? It’ll be just for a second.”
James shook his head, pressing his fingertips to his forehead in exasperation. “You don’t understand…” he began.
He didn’t understand, either. As soon as he’d noticed the cranberry sauce on his lap, his face had flushed, embarrassed at the possibility that Amelia could’ve seen his clumsy mistake. He remembered faking like he was digging something out of his pocket, scrubbing the sauce off his jeans as best he could under the table. “I’m gonna run to the restroom,” he’d told his friends, standing up, hovering one hand oh-so-casually over the stain. As soon as he’d turned, he’d shuffled head-down through the hall, lifting his gaze only to search for the cleaning supply closet.
Finally, he’d noticed an unlabeled door ajar, the smell of ammonia and wood polish wafting from the crack: the supply closet. He slipped inside and flipped the switch on the wall.
A fluorescent bulb overhead illuminated the closet. James had scanned the shelves until he found a bottle of carpet cleaner. “Good enough,” he whispered, pulling its dusty figure off the shelf and squirting some onto a rag. Before he could start scrubbing at the stain, the closet door swung open, making James jump.
“What’re you doing here, silly?” Amelia had asked, a bright, teasing grin on her face. She was stepping toward him, but her eyes were twinkling. “Leaving lunch to peruse the cleaning supplies, huh?”
James’ heart was pounding. There was no way of covering the stain without drawing more attention to it now, and he could smell the perfume from Amelia’s dainty wrists. Her blonde curls had bounced as she came closer to him. This wasn’t the one-on-one moment he’d always dreamed of before bed.
“It’s okay.” He could practically taste the artificial strawberry in her lip gloss. “Why don’t you come back to a room with me and I’ll help you clean that up myself, alright?” Amelia winked, holding out her hand for him to take.
It was either the fumes or the moment, but James’ heart had nearly exploded. He’d put a shaking hand in Amelia’s, allowing her to lead him out of the supply closet and into the hallway. Nurses smiled at them as they made their way through; they must have been in on his excitement, James had thought. He remembered Amelia pulling him into room B82, leading him toward one of the beds, and pushing him down onto it with a cute, sly smile. It was anything thereafter that he couldn’t quite bring back.
“Sir.” The voice on the telephone was no longer sweet and eager-to-help, the way it had been when he’d first called. Now it was tired. In-need-of-a-Bailey’s-laced-coffee tired.
“I’m so sorry,” James replied. He wiped a drop of sweat off his forehead. “Here,” he said, thinking he’d trade something in return for the operator’s exhaustion, “I found a nurse….”
James gazed desperately down the hall until he caught Amelia’s eye. He waved her over, his gestures furious. “Tell her I don’t need to be here,” he said, shoving the phone into her hands. Amelia smiled.
“Hello?” she said, thoughtfully winding the phone cord around her pinky. There was a buzzing sound from the telephone that James couldn’t decipher; he just wrung his hands, hoping the voice on the other end of the line could provide a ticket out.
“Oh, yes.” Amelia nodded, turning back toward the wall, getting ready to hang up the phone. “He’s completely fine. No, we’re a psychiatric facility, miss. Mister Carindale is okay, but he’s required by law to be here.”