Monday, May 7, 2007

Working Stiff

This is from Lucas's "first line challenge." I hope you enjoy.

Beyond all I've seen, this was the worst. Trust me, that's saying something. In the six years I've worked for Midregion Hospital--four of them in the morgue--I've seen some bad things. But the sight of Dr. Miller, President and CEO, onstage with a singing chicken and six-foot dancing polyp had to be the strangest.

I adjusted my camera and zoomed in on the doctor. The hot lights melted his makeup a bit, and as the singing chicken drew nearer he started to sweat. Under the streaky orange panstick, his skin had a greenish cast, giving his face the appearance of a rotting squash. If he didn't get off stage soon, his face would melt off completely. I checked my watch--five minutes until break--and got the powder puffs ready. He'd be in soon for a touch up.

Through the zoom lens, I could just make out the face of the girl in the chicken costume. Melanie, Dr. M's secretary. I was only slightly surprised he'd put her in the role. The bigger surprise is that she'd even stayed over a year as his secretary. Dr. Miller tended to chew up and spit out pretty young things like her before breakfast. None of his assistants ever lasted long.

Heck, in truth, I'm surprised I've lasted this long. After a couple of years of trying to acclimate to "life" in the morgue, my ideals and morals slowly becoming twisted, I knew had to get out of there before I lost what humanity I had left.

It was in the morgue that I learned the truth about healthcare. We weren't there to help people get better. We were there to help them die more comfortably and line our own pockets while we did so. After all, if everyone got well, the hospitals would be out of business and the doctors would starve. Can't have that, now can we?

So after an unsuccessful job search elsewhere, I finally put my secondary degree to work and made a lateral move from the morgue to the Audio/Visual department. Now I spend my days in such exciting ventures as filming our CEO dancing with polyps during Healthy Diet and Colon Cancer Awareness Week instead of poking around stiffs.

Ah, speaking of stiffs, I could see the gruesome twosome--Bill and Todd, former coworkers from below--headed my way. Even if I hadn't seen them, I would have known they were there. The air around me grew cold as they neared. Working in a refrigerated room left one with a chill that never seemed to leave.

"Hey, bud, you joining us for lunch?" Bill clamped a cool hand on my shoulder. "Dr. M's giving away free eats."

"Nah, I think I'll just hang out here and get some work done."

"He thinks he's too good for us working stiffs now." Todd laughed at his idea of a joke.

"You can run, but you can't hide--you'll always be one of us," said Bill, stretching out his arms and wiggling his fingers in my face in a bad Frankenstein impression.

"Yeah, yeah, whatever." I turned my attention back to the camera. I was so not one of them.

"Suit yourself, that's more food for us." Bill shrugged and left with Todd.

The scene wrapped up and Dr. Miller came in for a touch-up. "I do hope you'll join us downstairs for lunch. I've a special treat planned," he said, his dead eyes trained on mine.

Crap. Now I'd have to go. I usually avoided the basement cafeteria because it was on the same floor as the morgue. Now that I'd moved out of that department, I didn't want to run into the old gang.

"I'd be happy to, thank you." Crap, crap, crap.

Two hours later, I knew I had to at least make an appearance. I took the elevator down, deciding I'd stay for a minute, make sure Dr. Miller saw me there, then leave. I was greeted immediately by a huge buffet table and the gruesome twosome.

"The high and mighty arrives! So glad you could join us!" Todd's false jollity grated my nerves.

"Told ya he couldn't resist," Bill joined in. "Here, have some chicken fingers and join us."

He handed me a plate and my stomach rumbled. I looked around. The food did smell wonderful. I took the plate and followed them to a table by the kitchen, spearing a baked potato on my way.

Todd laughed at me as we sat. "Don't tell me you're still trying to go vegetarian?"

"I thought this was "Healthy Diet" week?"

"Chicken is healthy, didn't you see one on stage? Dig in." This from Bill.

I looked at my plate, a mental war raging with my stomach. The aroma was heavenly and the food looked fresh. Just one bite wouldn't hurt, would it? I grabbed a piece of chicken and chomped down.

"I thought this was breast meat?" I said when I hit bone.

Bill laughed. "Are you kidding? Dr. Miller got all the breast meat. We get the rest."

"Figures. So what's this?"

"Fingers and toes." Todd jerked his head toward the kitchen. I followed his motion and saw the trash can that now held Melanie's costume.

My gut jerked and rolled. I closed my eyes against tears as waves of shame rolled over me. It was a long moment before I could finally speak again.

"Do we have any barbeque sauce?"