Fluorescent lights flickered as Adie walked down the hospital hall. She carried a milky bouquet from a dead patient's room to the front desk. She felt bad for sterile flowers, hybridized to be barren. Other institutions banned lilies, their swollen stigmas coated with mustard yellow pollen.
A half hour ago, dieners wheeled the body of an elderly woman from the hospital room, placing the white linen sheet over her head.
The woman had moments of lucidity in days prior.
"You have as much time in a day as you need," the woman said, vitreous dripping from the corners of eyes. "If you make the time."
Adie replaced the woman's intravenous fluid, and made a joke about all the time she didn't have to do the things she wanted.
"No," she said, touching Adie's wrist, "you don't understand. We make time." The woman's eyes were like lagoons diffuse with blood. Sun and grief carved grooves into her face like rivers. Flesh bespoke thirty-five thousand days of weather. Each solitary and different. Her gnarled fingers reminded Adie of oak roots.
Adie equated working with the elderly to walking through a dying forest. Bodies felled like trees. Their stories were swarms of beetles and birds without nests.
The woman rasped something about makers. "You'll never do it if you don't make time to do it."
Adie felt her energy, a weak warmth cooling. The woman fell back into her pillow and closed her eyes.
From the hall she could hear her coworkers discuss their menstrual cycles. Adie recalled the scent of copper and liners in the trash. The data from menstrual apps said women's periods didn't sync. Not with each others, or lunar cycles. The math didn't align.
Her colleagues fell silent as Adie entered the break room. The older women censored themselves around Adie, their voices quieter, their speech clipped as if she were an enemy spy.
Adie didn't know what was true. For months, she noticed her period fall out of rhythm. The more she tried to please the other nurses, the worse it got. She tried to be friendly, make conversation, but her efforts were met with either silence or contempt. Eventually she gave up.
She hung mugwort from her ceiling. Its silvery green leaves curled and dried from the rafters. She drank the herb as a tisane, infused it into vinegar and oil, used it in the bath. The aromatic plant belonged to the daisy family.
Adie stood in the mirror and rubbed oil over her pelvis. She imagined torching an ugly portrait in the gloom.
Her period went back to normal.
The nurses held her to an impossible standard. If she had a bad day, or expressed emotional boundaries with patients, they became enraged, implied she was selfish, speculated on her sincerity and dedication.
So she read books about emotional labor. Feigning feelings one didn't have for the sake of social norms. Sometimes she just couldn't smile. Sometimes she sat at the bottom of the shower and wept.
Medications, schedules, bills, headlines, politics, cooking, cleaning, exercising, commutes, infinite details populated the days. Life kept coming at her. She felt helpless. Each dish in the sink felt like an impossible task in an endless line of tasks. She ground through them, imagining the days she'd live and the ones she'd lived before. The pressure in her head constricted. The voice in her mind narrated too many timelines at once. Former selves dead and dying. New selves birthed and breaching.
Adie grabbed her lunch out of the fridge and left the break room.
"The portal is open!!!!" An elderly patient exclaimed running down the hall.
Adie smiled, because it was.
Adie washed her hands in the bathroom. A deeper meaning sunk into her forebrain. The deceased patient's suggestion that time was elastic, dependent on a will to do. Searing pain sliced through her pelvis. She doubled over, blinded by white light. The sound of running water faded.
Adie awoke in a hospital bed. Soft bleached white sheets.
An arrangement of dahlias sat on her bedside table. Peach, yellow blossoms. Weeping orange petals on stalks. An emotionless card from her coworkers accompanied the bouquet.
A surgeon entered the room with a chart. He smiled. Adie became suddenly aware of soreness and incisions on her lower abdomen.
Memory of explosive pain came back to Adie. The bathroom, the sink. Cold, electric sweat.
The doctor explained the torsion of her ovary. A cyst had caused it to swell. Left untreated, the torsion would have resulted in tissue asphyxiation and organ death.
"You were lucky," he said, scanning through her charts. "The pathology lab is doing a biopsy for cancer cells. Do you want what's left?" The doctor asked.
"Of the cyst?" Adie asked.
"Yes," he said, dryly. "We have no other medical purpose for it."
Adie nodded and signed the paperwork.
She left the hospital in a daze. She held the bag with the container of tissue and clutched the bouquet. The sun beat down. Clouds rolled overhead.
At home, a wind chime blew in an open window. She dropped her purse and grabbed a handful of drying mugwort from a beam. She walked out the back door into the sunshine.
A breeze rustled gold grass. Adie dumped the bouquet into the field. She sat amid dead thistle and hyssop weaving a wreath. She plucked orange and yellow dahlias from her bouquet, arranging them around the circle.
Goldfinch and siskin flew overhead. A beetle landed on a violet blossom, unperturbed by lancelike spines.
Adie opened her bag and took the cyst from its container. The flesh felt tender and cold. She placed it in the center of the wreath. Clumps of hair grew from pink tissue, red veins interspersed with nails and teeth. Blood stained her fingers. A raven cackled in a neighboring elm.
The mass of cells and enamel shivered in the midday light. She wondered who it would have been. She took out her phone and gave her two weeks notice.
Gabrielle Griffis is a mutli-media artist and musician. She studied creative writing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she has also worked for the Juniper Writing Institute. Her fiction has been published in or is forthcoming from XRAY Literary Magazine, decomP, Cease, Cows and the Blue Lake Review. She works as a librarian on Cape Cod.