Princess and the Pea

A chapter of a book that begins, "Once upon a time it was..."

Once upon a time there was a princess. She was lost. Or at least she didn’t know where she was. Or maybe she did know, and it was just too much work to figure it out at this juncture.

She found herself just passing from the state of sleep to the state of wake. Is it night or day, she thought. Did I just fall asleep or have I been sleeping for hours? Or even days? Where am I?

Clawing through the remnants of sleeping, her mind hit the bumpers of all of her senses like a metal ball shot from the chute and making its way down the lane. She waited and then hit the flippers to keep the ball in play.

She didn’t hear any bells, but there was the steady drone of machinery and the recurring squawk of a police radio. That radio was loud. Maybe that’s what woke her up.

It was dark, but there was a frame of bright light that must be from a door that was barely ajar. On the other side, in full light was the sound of the woman’s voice–the dispatcher–repeating the number ten. 10-12. 10-22. 10-23, stand-by. There were tall shadows of nothing or maybe something. On her right was a small round light hanging mid-air. Looking more closely the point was in some box on some type of pole. There was a window just behind her, to her left. She could see it at the furthest edge of her view, but she couldn’t see through it. Not that it mattered because it was dark out there, too. She was in a room. It wasn’t big. But even though the light on the other side of the door was bright, it didn’t illuminate her surroundings by much.

She licked her lips. They were dry, as was her mouth. She didn’t think that she brushed her teeth before she fell asleep. Her mouth tasted a little stale–maybe because of the dryness. Maybe, though, it was because she had thrown up. She wanted some water. Was there water?

A waft of staleness caught in her nostrils. That might be her. It wasn’t like work out sweat, but more like it had been a long warm day. In a ring or two outside of her, she could smell some chemical smell. It wasn’t like the astringency of Pine Sol, but it wasn’t far from that. There was less complexity to the caustic bouquet. It was less like northwest hops and more like laundry detergent with whitener. It wasn’t overwhelming, and she wasn’t either.

She did okay moving her head from side to side. She realized that she wasn’t lying down, more like half way between prone and sitting. She tried to sit up for real, but she couldn’t lift her head. Couldn’t lift her head. Why didn’t this concern her?

The door swung inward, and a shadow blocked much of the light. There was a clock above the door. It was 3:20, likely 3:20 a.m. The shadow pushed the door behind her. The shadow was accompanied by a rolling cart that she steered by a long pole. She approached the princess with a smile. Her greeting revealed her West Indian roots. She placed a cuff around the arm of the princess and put a probe under her tongue.

“Got it!” The princess knew she was in the hospital and was woozy from either the residuals of morphine or the peak of the percocet. The morphine did make her vomit. She remembered now. She asked if she was due for the anti-nausea meds. The shadow was named Carla and she said she would check with the nurse. She was the tech and was worried about the snow that was blizzarding down. She might have to work a double shift if the forecast held.

Carla checked the bulbs that hung from the princess’s neck. The bulbs were glued to two incisions to collect some post operative fluids. Carla was having none of the way they were hanging. She emptied them, after measuring the output and making positive clicking noises. She walked behind the bed and opened one and then another and then a third drawer. She searched in the dark and found some safety pins.

Carla walked back to the princess and pinned the bulbs to the princess’s gown. “This way they won’t pull. I didn’t like how they were.” She smiled again and helped the princess to the bathroom.

The princess felt queasy, so she swallowed to keep things down. “Is there a toothbrush?” Carla handed her one. She brushed her teeth and drank some water. After all that activity, she was tired. Or she was sore. Or maybe she was just high.

She shuffled back the seven shuffle-steps to the bed with her own pole-cart in tow. Carla had straightened her sheets. She backed into the bed and swung her legs up, schooched back and instead of leaning into the pillow her head dropped like a rag doll’s. She placed her hand on the back of her head to prop it up. She then used her hand to lower her head on the center of the pillow.

Her mind was clouded, but at least she knew where she was, now. She felt webs criss cross across her brain, behind her eyes and thought that she fell back to sleep. She wasn’t a princess. 

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