Sunday, April 5, 2009

"The Ward" by Roger Thomas, Part Seven

Jillian was again alone with her indecision, and lights were going out around the wing. She put the paper on the bedstand with a surge of irritation – who was the doctor to be sending messengers to nag her? She'd told him she'd let him know, hadn't she? She looked at the bottle of pills – one in the morning and evening, it had said, and it was evening. Should she? She couldn't shake the notion that once she embarked on one of the treatments, she was irrevocably committed. She wasn't ready for that yet, so she put the pills on the bedstand unopened and crawled into bed. Sleep was long in coming.

The next morning the two items reminded Jillian of the decision that still lay before her, but she felt like some of the pressure had lifted. So she had two options before her – what was wrong with giving one a try? She could see how she liked it, and if it didn't work, she could try the other. She opened the bottle and swallowed one of the pills before she headed off for breakfast.

The only effect Jillian could detect throughout the day was a moderate restoration of the glowing feeling of well-being that she'd experienced following the nice doctor's visit the day before. Nothing seemed to worry her much – everything would work out. The prospect of having a minor and easily treatable condition seemed much easier to believe. Being released to Outside was an inevitability. As for the shadow of death, or the necessity of signing up for long, difficult treatment – well, it seemed impossible to get worried about all that. It was a trifle, a bagatelle. What had she been so worried about? She felt like she was floating along the hallways that just yesterday she had been plodding down.

As dinnertime approached, Jillian could feel the effect of the pill wearing off, which made her cranky and irritable. Dinner was tasteless, the conversation inane, and she once again felt as if everyone was staring at her and talking about her. She felt ready to burst into tears, and when Kim asked her if she was all right, she about bit Kim's head off. Fleeing the dining hall, she rushed back to her bedside to get another pill. But as she was fumbling with the cap, her eyes fell on the stern doctor's paper still lying unsigned on her bedstand. She looked at it, and then back at the pill bottle. It was clear that at least part of the nice doctor's regimen involved numbing her to certain things. With such vital matters in the balance, was that what she wanted? Resisting her body's urge to gobble another one of those pills, she put the bottle down and walked to the other side of the bed, out of reach of both items. Both doctors were right – she couldn't mix treatments. By nature, taking one meant turning from the other. From the craving she was feeling after just one pill, she guessed that taking a second would make it much more difficult to turn away from a third.

No. Jillian wanted to make her own decision about which treatment she'd select, not have the decision made by the treatment itself. She stuffed both the paper and the bottle into the bottom drawer of the bedstand and went off to refill her water bottle. She was very thirsty, but she wouldn't take any more pills until she'd made her decision.

"The Ward" is a short story by Roger Thomas, author of The Last Ugly Person: And Other Stories

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