Life Giver

Sydney Brooman


Wren decided that he was going to marry a nurse. Nurses made good wives. His nurse-wife would have lots of work-related things to talk about, but not so much as to overwhelm him with her chatter. Nurses really knew their shit, like all the shit you would need to know to be a wife and a nurse. Wren didn’t know his shit at all—any of it. He wanted someone to know his shit for him. That’s what wives were for.

Rochelle was his Almost Girl. She was an intern at the hospital in the centre of the town, which made her almost a nurse, and they had kissed once in the triage parking lot after she showed Wren how to calm his bloody nose, which made her almost his wife. Her curly red hair made her almost pretty.

For their first date, Rochelle took him to Mr. Desperate’s for a beer. Green paint peeled off the wooden booth seats. Ragged cotton fluff peaked out from the cushions. Half the light bulbs were dead. Rochelle poured out sugar packets onto the table and lined up the crystals as if she were doing coke. She said she wanted to freak out the server. She liked freaking people out. She asked Wren if he was freaked out. He choked on his beer.

Do you want me to be?

Honest answer.

Um…a little? Not really, actually. Just a bit.

Freaked out like you want to leave?

Uh, no?

She pinched the pile of sugar with her fingertips and put it on her tongue. It dissolved like snowflakes.

I have a secret.

Wren blinked.

Okay?

I can’t tell you though. It’s pretty bad. You’d probably throw up if I told you—throw up and tell me to fuck off. Maybe even kill yourself.

Wren put down his beer in confusion and lowered his voice to a whisper.

Did you…murder…someone?

Rochelle shook her head.

Wren kind of did want to tell her to fuck off. She leaned in close with her elbows splayed out on the tabletop.

I told you—I can’t tell you what it is.

Wren knew that Rochelle was only trying to get him to ask about the secret himself—he kind of liked how manipulative that was.

He heard scratching at the door but ignored it. He drifted off into dreams so wild that they could only have been constructed by Rochelle.

She talked about the secret a lot, but never directly. She liked to call Wren on her break and tell him how excited he was going to be when she finally told him. I’m gonna fuck your world view so hard you’ll give birth to my ideas, she’d say. I’m gonna blow your mind into bits, little boy.

Wren kept changing the subject. He’d ask if she’d watched Jacob Jameson talk about the water on the Q101 local news. He’d say that he dropped his phone in his bowl of cereal and needed to put it in rice to suck all the milk out. It was hard to get her to stop talking about the secret. It even was harder to stop thinking about it.

They had sex on her apartment’s laundry room floor, and he told her that he thought he might love her. She picked off bits of dryer lint from her thighs and told him that he won’t love her when he knows the truth.

I promise, he said, I won’t care. I won’t care what you did. If you just tell me I swear I won’t care—not at all. I’ll care less than nothing.

She smiled.

Fine then. Let’s shower.

Wren gave her a startled look. Showering wasn’t something you did for fun in The Pump—you showered when you ran out of bottled water to heat up on top of the stove. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d intentionally let water from the pipes hit his body. Everything smelled like the lake. He wanted to be clean more than he wanted to be alive.

But Rochelle was the kind of girl who made you want to do things that you normally didn’t want to do.

The two of them stood in his grimy porcelain tub. Rochelle leaned over and picked up a little travel-sized shampoo container from her bag on the bathroom floor.

I want you to trust me. I like you a fuck ton and I want you to trust me.

Wren nodded. He didn’t have any particularly strong feelings towards the act of shampooing one’s hair. He moved the shower head to the right so that the water would stop hitting his body.

Rochelle squeezed the bottle and tipped it upward above her palm.

Blood came out.

It was like watching a movie. Wren didn’t speak. He stood motionless as she dumped the contents of the bottle on top of her head.

He had never seen her look so beautiful. Her hair was slicked back and flushed crimson, little red droplets running down her temples like tears. The house reeked like pennies. She rubbed it into her skin until she was satisfied, then turned the shower head back towards her to wash it off. A dark brown ring circled the tub. It was like watching a baptism—a rebirth.

Slowly she poured out a little bit more from the bottle and took Wren’s hand in her own. He jerked away but she held her grip and pressed the blood into his hand. He relaxed. She rubbed the blood up into the skin of his arm.

The two of them stood in the tub looking like they had come out of a massacre. Wren couldn’t stop staring at his fingernails. Rochelle softly gripped his chin.

This is helping you. Trust me.

I trust you. I really, really trust you. Like, completely.

She kissed him. The metallic taste was horrendous in his mouth but he wanted to enjoy it, so he didn’t pull away.

Afterward, they laid on the couch in their towels and Rochelle explained that the blood prevented her from getting sick. It keeps me safe, she said. But it’s gotta be from someone who wasn’t born here. Our blood’s too fucked up from—well, you know… I can’t explain the science, but you just gotta go for it. Here, take mine. Try on a little like coconut oil before you go to bed. You can wash your hands from the tap and everything.

She filled empty bottles with the stock inside the surgery theatres. She talked her way into getting every twenty-four hour shift she needed so that she would be the only intern on the entire floor. He liked that she could talk anybody into doing anything she wanted.

He tried washing his hands with it that night—scrubbed pale skin spots raw until he looked like he’d been finger painting. He only smelled the metallic scent of the blood—no lake water. No burning. No sores on his knuckles the morning after.

The first time she let him come along on her weekly heist, his body was overcome with an energy that made him want to skip down the halls. Both of their bags were filled with shampoo bottles. On their way down the elevator to the main entrance, Wren found himself looking at a poster for blood donation plastered above the buttons. The Power of Jesus Christ Runs Through Your Veins. Be a Life-giver. Donate Today.

Almost immediately, he went from using it once a week to twice a day. Rochelle kept track of the out-of-town patients who were admitted and filled bottles until he had too many to stack on the metal shelf in his shower. He’d wait outside for her in the hospital parking lot an hour before her shift ended because his body couldn’t physically be away from her any longer.

She couldn’t get the blood very often. During an ice storm, the Red Cross in Toronto called and said their truck wouldn’t be coming south for at least a week. The theatres were full of blood from local patients, but idiots from the city rarely came to The Pump for medical care. She came to Wren’s empty handed two Wednesdays in a row. Wren didn’t shower for the full two weeks.

One day, he restlessly paced around his apartment until he decided to walk down to the hospital to bring Rochelle lunch. He found her on the fifth floor, wiggling a broken hair pin into the slot of the vending machine. Purple bloomed beneath his bloodshot eyes. He let her talk about her morning until his brain pulsed against the inside of his skull and he found himself interrupting her to ask if she had any extra blood. I just need a little to get me through until after the storm. I’ll give you twice as much back when there’s more. Just a little bit just a cap full.

Rochelle snorted and shoved the pin entirely into the coin slot. She kicked the machine until a bag of trail mix fell to the bottom. She picked out the moldy peanuts and threw them in the closet recycling bin. Don’t have any for you.

He looked at her as if he didn’t recognize her.

Rochelle—you’re kidding me, right? This is a joke?

She drew her body closer until their noses almost touched. She smiled.

If you really love me, you’ll find your own.

She walked away. He half-jogged to the elevator so he could go down to the cafeteria. His heartbeat bellowed in his ears. He swore he could feel his dirty blood sloshing around beneath his skin.

He left the elevator and went to sit on the third floor. A woman with loud shoes bumped into Wren as he was standing up to stretch. Her scorching coffee poured over the aging green tile floor. She apologized, then asked Wren if he worked in the hospital.

He mopped up the coffee with an old HELLO! magazine and lied about how many patients he’d saved as a cardiovascular surgeon, because it seemed like something Rochelle would do.

She explained that her father was dying upstairs. I mean I love him and all but it’s really his time. He deserves a break from himself. We all deserve a break.

She said her name was Angie Morris. She asked Wren what there was to do in The Pump. My kids are fine upstairs praying or whatever the fuck—I’m not gonna keep walking laps and hoping I get some deadly disease by touching the wrong croissant.

Something in Wren wanted Angie’s blood more badly than he knew how to control. He spat out his answer without a moment to contemplate it:

Beaver hunting—you should go beaver hunting. Everyone down here does it.

He gave her the directions to The Fishing Co. where they sold oversized butterfly nets. Even kids hunt here, it’s like catching bugs really. They walk right over to you like cats. You’ll get enough in an hour to make you a nice hat—you know, for the shithole weather.

The sound of her heels echoed off the walls as she left through the automatic doors.

When she came back to the hospital a day later, her left hand was gone.

Dr. Flynn marked it in her file: HUNTING ACCIDENT. Everyone knew what it really meant. After she was cauterized and stitched clean like a doll, they put her bed in an empty storeroom on the second floor to make space for other patients. Rochelle tugged at Wren’s hair as they rode up the elevator for her night shift. She looked up at the poster and chuckled—her hot breath tickled the inside of his ear. Be a Life Giver

They moved the metal cabinet in front of Angie’s door. Wren bit off slices of his fingernails while Rochelle set up the needle and IV tube. He broke three pairs of gloves before she sighed and spilt half a bottle of antiseptic into his palms. His throat was dry. We’re only taking a little—just a little.

Just a little, she repeated.

Everything slowed down. The rain outside hit the glass of the window in intervals, like the fading beat of a drum. His feet almost gave way when Angie’s blood began to flow up the plastic tube and into the bag.

He thought about what it might be like to drown in that blood. To feel it gurgle at the back of his throat. A symphony of cells pouring out his ears. Peace.

Rochelle hooked up a new bag. Then a third. A fourth. Wren couldn’t stop looking at the door.

That’s a little fucking more than a little.

She licked her lips—grabbed his wrist and put the IV in his hand.

Time to save yourself, little boy.

The heat of the bag pulsed through his fingers. The pumping of her blood almost felt like the echo of waves in a sea shell. He closed his eyes. Held his breath.

A beeping woke him. The lines on Angie’s monitor above her bed began to stretch and touch the top and bottom of the screen. Rochelle put the blood in a cooler of ice. Wren kept filling new bags.

The beeping quickened. Angie’s face greyed. Sweat rolled down Wren’s hairline. A little more. A little more…

A little more.

A solid tone. Loud. Uninterrupted. Wren dropped the IV. Rochelle pooled the blood into her palms to save it from soaking into the sheets. She unplugged the monitor, covered the body, and moved the cabinet.

Wren stood still. He rubbed his fingers together. The lines between his prints darkened. He didn’t notice Rochelle’s hand gripping his shoulder.

It’s a hospital. People die every day. She shrugged.

She changed the file: BLED OUT DURING SURGERY. TIME OF DEATH—4:56. She drove them to his apartment.

Wren tried to wipe the blood off his hands. It streaked his pale shirt with bright handprints.

She filled a third of the tub with the blood. He sat cross-legged and in silence while she painted a lighthouse on his bare back with her fingers.

She slept beside him in bed. She snored and cocooned herself in the dark blue sheets while Wren laid stiff as a board.

Then, he heard the scratching.

He went into the living room. He hadn’t bothered to change his clothes; bloody handprints still adorned the front of his shirt. The scratching stopped, then started again. He opened the front door. Moonlight gleamed against his red-streaked face. The beaver on his doorstep twitched its nose—another poked its head. And another.

Wren tried to get his shirt off, but the blood was crusted against his skin. The first beaver stood up on its back legs and looked at Wren curiously as he struggled. It sniffed around his face and nibbled on a piece of dried blood in his hair. Wren did not scream.

The beavers gorged.





*Note: The omission of quotation marks in dialogue sequences is a stylistic choice by the author.

Sydney Brooman is a fiction writer and poet living in London, ON, Canada. Their most recent publication credits include American Chordata (forthcoming), Coffin Bell, The Gateway Review, and The Temz Review. Their short story “The Bottom” was shortlisted for The Malahat Review 2020 Open Season Awards. Sydney is a former Student-Writer-In-Residence at Western University (Honors BA 2018), a current Emerging-Artist-In-Residence at the TAP Centre For Creativity, and a current Human Interest Assignment Editor at Diply. They also wrote that thing you really like. No, not that one—the other one.

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