Working Hours

For the second round of our contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction that begin with this sentence: "The nurse left work at five o'clock." The winning story was "Last Seen" by Cathy Formusa of Port Townsend, Wash. You can read her story and more of our favorites on our Three-Minute Fiction page.


A person underneath a sheet. iStockphoto.com i i
iStockphoto.com
A person underneath a sheet. iStockphoto.com
iStockphoto.com

The nurse left work at five o'clock. My heart stopped beating at 5:01.

This can't be good, I thought. This probably requires a nurse. I pushed the call button, but the nurse had left work at five o'clock. And now it was 5:01.

Little puddles of gray oozed up and settled at the bottoms of my eyes. They were mice, soft gray mice, and they came out of my eyes and ran over my shoulders and arms and stomach and legs, their delicate feet tickling on my skin. The nurse is away and the mice will play, I thought, and then the laughing started. High-pitched laughter, very cheerful, very carefree. I looked around to see if it was the mice. They were gone, and they had left myriad tiny holes in my arms, and the laughter was coming from the holes. So I went inside one of the holes to see what the laughter was about. A big party was going on there. The cells were all being released from their bonds and were doing polkas up and down the arteries. Oh, it was mayhem. The lid was off. The nurse would never have allowed this. This disorder. This spinning out of control. The nurse would have put the lid back on in a hurry and stopped the exhilarating ride, up and out and away, the rising fumes and butterflies, the ruffling wind, the sun on the sea, the secrets of my life spurting out from the white caps and vanishing forever, the opening up wider and wider of the microcosm and the macrocosm and the mad dancing of the electrons pouring out of the holes in my skin.

But the nurse had gone. The night nurse started work at 5:04. I watched her when she came into the room and checked the pulse in my neck, and opened one eye and then the other, and then, ever so gently, pulled the sheet up over my face.

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