Dead of Night

Franklin pushes the handle of the mop submerged in the suddenly heavy mop bucket filled with water and floor cleaner past the nurses station into the emergency room, feeling like sitting down in one of the plastic seats. He doesn’t do it because he’s a little behind schedule after spending fifteen minutes in the custodian room at the beginning of his shift, recovering from the ten-minute walk from the bus station to the hospital. Arriving at his destination in the vending area, he begins to mop the floor stained and sticky from coffee and soda as the emergency room explodes into activity.

Several gurneys are wheeled in by orderlies with doctors and nurses appearing suddenly to attend to the half-dozen men and women suffering from gunshot wounds during a gunfight less than a block from the hospital. He’s seen this enough that he keeps working, until he recognizes one of the victims’ pleading voice as his son’s. He drops the mop and hurries after the group that has gathered around Joseph, sixteen-years old and a good student, who isn’t involved with gangs.

“He’s my son,” Franklin tells the nurse as she tries to prevent his entering the room where Joseph is being moved from the gurney to the bed by two orderlies, a nurse, and a doctor. He is pushed away from his son’s bed by the sheer volume of the doctors and nurses trying to save Joseph’s life. He resigns himself to waiting in the hall and continues mopping the floor, which is better than the large group gathering in the waiting room, some of them covered in blood. He doesn’t like the look of some of the young men he notices as he takes his bucket and mop to continue his work in another corridor. He’s accustomed to changing his mopping schedule in the inner-city hospital where people seem to find ways to injure themselves, even without guns, in the middle of the night.

Franklin forgets to call his wife and tell her about Joseph’s arrival at the ER because he’s distracted by the pain in his chest and his arm. “It doesn’t matter,” he tells himself. “There’s nothing she can do for Joseph and I’ll call her with the good news when Joseph is recovering.” Thus consoled, he finds that mopping the floor keeps his mind from wandering to the room where Joseph is lying unconscious, so he forgets about the nightmare he is experiencing. When he finishes mopping the floors in the rooms connected to the corridor, it’s time to replace the antibacterial mixture in his bucket. He’s dreading retracing his steps back to the custodial closet, past Joseph lying in a bed, and past the noisy group still gathering in the ER waiting room.

He enters the ER and goes to see how Joseph is doing. He has no problem now that there aren’t so many nurses and doctors getting him stabilized but when he looks behind the curtain, Franklin discovers that a young girl has replaced his son on the bed. She has tubes connected to her arm and an oxygen mask, but none of the machines is making a disconcerting sound, so he quietly slips out and goes to the nurses station, where Mary greets him with a worried expression.

“I guess Joseph is out of danger and in a regular room now,” he says with relief.

Mary shakes her head imperceptibly and, with tears filling her eyes, says, “I’m sorry, Franklin…I’m so sorry. I can’t believe it…I just can’t believe it…”

Franklin stumbles backwards and falls to his knees but doesn’t collapse from the pain in his chest. Mary rushes around the counter and asks him if he’s feeling ill and, as she helps him back to his feet, he stammers, “It’s such a shock to lose Joseph… I have to call my wife and tell her about it. I’m going to do that now.”

Mary watches Franklin ponderously push his mop bucket past the waiting area as the noise of the crowd suddenly increases in ferocity. Franklin is awakened from the stupor brought on by guilt and pain and looks up as several male voices make challenging and even threatening statements, which are answered by shrieks and profanity from the people closest to a young man who suddenly pulls a large pistol from his pocket and points it at an older man standing in front of him.

Without thinking, Franklin pulls the mop out of the bucket and ignores the pain in his chest as he raises it over his head and rushes forward. The heavy, wet mop sends the gun crashing to the floor as Franklin falls in a heap to the linoleum tile. He smiles as the gunman is knocked down by the force of the crowd.

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