About the Author

Nancy Lee

Books by this Author
Dead Girls

Dead Girls

edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback
tagged : literary
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Excerpt

At the edge of the parking lot, a group of skate kids sat huddled on a low railing, hunched over cigarettes, their feet on their boards. Scrawny junior–high boys with long hair and baggy jackets, drawn like insects to the glow of the gym. I loitered near the doorway, gripped the metal bars of the emergency doors, indecisive. The open night pushed gently at my back, reminded me of cool sheets and the limitlessness of sleep, while waves of indoor heat, heavy with cologne and sweat, rolled against my face. The bass beat of dance music shook the wood floor, made the painted red and blue lines jump like pick–up sticks. The walls were alive with swirling coloured lights. My equipment bag felt full of bowling balls and rocks.

The centre of the gym was a dense and elastic mass of moving bodies, each back flagged by a thick black number on white paper. Small groups of teens gathered around the perimeter, their frames slouched and curved into apathetic question marks. Girls and boys sipped water from an array of containers: sports bottles, spigotted strap–on reservoirs, spring water bottles, thrift store canteens. It was almost too much, the relentless beat of the music, the careful attention to water fashion. I had just finished another double shift at the hospital, my ears trained to the quiet moans and requests of patients, my eyes on the keys to the pharmacy cabinet.

Up in the bleachers, the supervisory fathers stuck out like a herd of buffalo, sturdy ungulates in cotton pants and expensive sweaters. They were gathered together, mouths yawned wide in over–enunciation, heads nodding slowly.

I spotted Janet barrelling down the bleachers. Tonight she wore a rippling silk creation, a tent of a thing, with flowing, trailing pieces, all in a kaleidoscope of blues and greens; around her neck, a massive garland of seashells. It was either the pills or the lights playing off her fabric, but she looked like a giant tidal pool moving across the room. She opened her arms and splashed against me. The seashells scratched my collarbone, dug into my chest. She wiggled my paper hat, “This is great!”

Janet took my hand and dragged me across the gym floor. The heels of my duty shoes stuttered along the wood as I tried to keep step. She hauled me up the bleachers and I watched my feet as they dipped in and out of the alternating slats in a haphazard pattern. I was sure I would fall, take a header into the bleachers and be the first to require medical attention. Things like that happened to me. Things that made my face burn red, my saliva taste like lighter fluid.

The parents stood as we approached. Janet introduced me as “Mary, the single nurse who lives next door.” The pills kicked in and for a second the world tilted away, the entire row of parents tipping back so that I overshot a handshake and poked a rotund father in the stomach. I apologized and said something about cholesterol; he flushed with embarrassment.

I said hello to a petite woman with short, black hair and Scottie dogs on her sweater and my peripheral vision flared, a huge spotlight turned on behind me, my throat pulsed. I talked myself through the usual fears, I will not have a heart attack, I will not stop breathing, any moment now this will feel good. And even as I said it, the high broke out across my body like a prickly white sweat. Everything around me looked suddenly brighter. I held it together, except for the sweating – I had no control over that. I shook hands with my arm pressed firmly to my side and silently cursed polyester.

I had struggled out of my unit scrubs and into the white tights and traditional white uniform in the front seat of my car. A conversation piece, an ice-­breaker. The uniform was snug; I hadn’t worn it since the Halloween before nursing school, back when a stranger told me I looked good as a nurse, a compliment that led me to consider the profession. The costume included an old–fashioned paper hat and a “Florence Nightingale” name tag.

“Do you wear that to work?” the woman beside Janet asked, her finger waving in the air.

I shook my head.

I could tell the mothers hated the outfit. They gave me that disapproving mother look, the look that said, I was once spread–eagled in front of strangers with piss and blood and amniotic filth squirting out of my body, but this, this offends me. The fathers seemed somewhat more appreciative, though none of them appeared to be the skirt chasing, sports car driving type. These were men who had reached the fork of middle age and taken the high road. They were fact collecting types, men in comfortable sweaters and cushioned shoes whose lust for information, statistics, and useless trivia replaced a waning libido. These men were history buffs.

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