Nurse Abigail’s New Patient
by Jack Somers
A little after four in the afternoon, two frizzy-haired, mud-spattered boys carried in a young black man, and together we laid him on a cot in the back of the tent. He looked too thin with hips as narrow as a child’s and a bony, hairless chest the color of cream coffee. His clothing was wild, but no wilder than anything else I’d seen over the past three days—a white leather jacket with beaded fringe and blue velvet pants that hugged the thighs and flared out at the bottom. His eyes were closed.
“What’s wrong with him?” I asked the boys. “Is he on drugs?” All of these kids seemed to be on drugs. Of the five other kids in the tent, four of them were recovering from bad trips. Two of the bad trippers had been completely hysterical when their friends brought them in. Blessedly, every patient was asleep at the moment. Prior to the new arrival, I had actually been able to enjoy about twenty minutes of relative quiet.
“I think he’s just worn out,” said the taller boy on the left. “He collapsed as we were getting out of the truck.”
“Before he passed out, he told me that he hadn’t slept in three days,” added the boy on the right.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll take a look at him.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” they said, almost in unison. They backed away and ducked out of the tent.
I turned to the patient and looked him over again. Despite his gauntness, he was quite handsome. There was something regal about his neatly trimmed mustache, his high cheekbones, his strong, angular jaw. In my thirty years of nursing, I couldn’t recall ever encountering a patient who looked quite so dignified in repose.
Kneeling over him, I checked his pulse and listened to his heartbeat. I detected nothing that gave me cause for concern, so I would just let him rest. If he were still sleeping in an hour, I would rouse him and give him some fluids. I pulled a chair up to his cot and sat down with a grimy paperback one of the kids had left in the tent yesterday—some book called Siddhartha. I was on page forty-five. I wasn’t particularly enjoying the book, but there was nothing else to do during my downtime.
About three minutes after I began reading, the man started to move. His big hands twitched. He coughed hoarsely. His wide-set eyes flickered opened. I put down my book and leaned over him.
“Hello there,” I whispered. “How are you?”
The man raised himself up on his elbows. “Where am I?” he asked. His voice was deep and soft—a rich, gentle wash of sound. “What day is it?”
“It’s Sunday,” I said. “You’re in a medical tent at the Woodstock Music Festival.”
“What time is it?” he asked.
“About four in the afternoon.”
He seemed to relax. He laid back on the cot and folded his hands across his chest.
“Are you feeling okay?” I asked him.
“I’m all right,” he said. “Just a little run-down is all. Maybe I’ll just rest here a little longer, and then I’ll be on my way.”
“You can stay as long as you like,” I said.
It began to rain again, the fat drops slapping against the top of the tent. The music outside stopped. Whether it was because the band had finished or the rain had interfered with the performance, I couldn’t say.
“This rain is a real drag,” sighed the man.
“Most of the kids don’t seem to mind,” I said. I’d seen a dozen of them sliding down a muddy hill on their bellies that morning, roaring with laughter the whole way down.
“The musicians do,” said the man.
“Are you a musician?”
“You could say that.”
One of the other patients started to stir—a shirtless, bearded boy in frayed blue jeans, one of the bad trippers. “Nurse,” he groaned without looking up. “Could I have some water, please?”
“I’ll be right there, darling,” I said.
“You know,” said the musician, staring up at the tent ceiling. “When I first opened my eyes, I thought maybe I was dead. I thought maybe you were an angel sent down from heaven.”
“I’m no angel.” I laughed, standing up. “Just an old nurse.”
“What’s your name?”
“Abigail,” I said. “What’s yours?”
“Jimi,” he said.
“Well it’s nice to know you, Jimi,” I said.
The man smiled and closed his eyes, and I went to get the water pitcher from the table in the
center of the tent.
Jack Somers' work has appeared in WhiskeyPaper, Literary Orphans, Jellyfish Review, The Molotov Cocktail, and a number of other publications. He lives in Cleveland with his wife and their three children. You can find him on Twitter @jsomers530 or visit him at www.jacksomerswriter.com.