By Chris Pais
The nurse left work at five o’clock. While this might seem like the most pedestrian of occurrences, it was five in the morning. She got into her car and drove on the interstate towards the sun that was just rising. In a little while, she will be welcomed home by the smell of soiled diapers and the yelping sound of twin toddlers. I’m home, she’ll say and proceed to take off her white nurse outfit, held together lightly by Velcro closures. She’ll hear the familiar crunching, tearing, jarring sound as she rips open her uniform. She’s heard these sounds several times over the course of the night – night after night – and they have come to define her existence. She’ll throw her white stilettos in the corner and hang her fake stethoscope on the coat rack. She’ll get into the shower to wash off her cheap make- up, the pungent perfume and the manifold odors of strangers, and she’ll wonder how it ever got this way.
Ever since she was a child, she wanted to become a nurse, just like her grandmother. To give comfort – the old lady used to say – is comforting. A few years ago, she married her high school sweetheart. He was honorably discharged, but the stress of three overseas assignments rendered him incapable of holding a job. He took several naps during the day, and often woke up in the middle of the night, dripping with sweat, screaming for help. She was always there to comfort him. He was a good man, she thought, and she loved him. Then, he left.
The twins soon came along, and she dropped out of nursing school to support the family. After working the cash register for three weeks at the local super-market, she realized that the wages were just not sufficient to support a family and save for nursing school. Her friend told her about this place off the interstate where she could make a decent living serving drinks. She learned quickly that she could make more money if she showed more skin. There was even more money to be made if she chose to dress herself in uniform – schoolgirl, nurse, soldier, pilot – and cater to the voyeuristic tendencies and quaint desires of her customers, peeling off layer after layer of clothing over the course of the night. Of course, she chose to be a nurse.
Who are these people who come to these establishments, she thought? There were married men in business suits, itinerant truck drivers with callused hands, college boys with acne, laid-off union workers, immigrant farmhands, the odd hobbling septuagenarian, and the occasional couple on an experimental binge. She wondered if they were there for love, or for comfort. Were they there to immerse themselves in service of a fantasy, to bathe in the presence of beauty and danger, to confirm they were still alive, or for the loud music and the cheap bar-food? Talking to them made her realize that they were there for some of these and many other reasons, but mostly for the comfort.
Each night as she put on her outfit and wrapped her stethoscope around her neck, her dream of becoming a nurse seemed more and more distant. Why am I here and what am I doing, she thought. Did I choose the right profession? She did not hate the men that seemed to claw at her with their pungent breath all over her body. She often felt nothing and sometimes felt pity towards her steady clients who clearly found comfort in her company. As she drove into the distance towards home through slumbering small towns that were slowly waking up to dawn, she wondered if there was any truth anymore in what her grandmother used to say.
To give comfort is comforting. Really?
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Chris Pais grew up in India and came to the United States to pursue graduate studies in engineering. His work appears in Poetry India, The International Journal of Heat and Mass Transfer, Wingless Dreamer, Wild Roof Journal, The Literary Bohemian, Defunct Magazine, and elsewhere. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where he works on clean energy technologies and tinkers with bikes, guitars, and recipes.