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Fiction by
Stefani Nellen
Music by Paul A. Toth
'Pills'  2008 X-8
'Pills' by X-8

Emergence of a Nurse


Rita doesn't want to run her gallery anymore and claims the incense sticks are watching her. She refuses to dress.

Her daughter Christine returns to sleep in her old room. Christine's friend Tanja moves into the guestroom. One of Christine's paintings hangs on the wall. Christine hates to paint, and it shows. The painting looks like bloody hands beating against a coffin's lid from the inside.

Glass in one fist, bottle of pills in the other, Christine marches to her mother's room. Her skirt clings to her wide butt.

"Got something for you, mother," she says, brandishing the glass. She hides the pills behind her back.

Rita blinks. Her robe has fallen to the floor. Tanja stands at the foot of the bed. She doesn’t mind Rita's nudity. The large nipples look like cookies to her, warm and harmless. But Christine blushes and covers her up. "Really," she whispers. "You're not that gorgeous anymore."

Rita sits up, gazing at the glass. "I'm thirsty," she says. "Good child."

Christine nods. She opens the bottle and shakes three pills onto her palm. In the dim room they look like white arrowheads.

"Say ah," Christine says.


Christine puts a pill onto her mother's tongue and hands her the glass. Rita drinks and swallows.

"Say ah."


Glass, drink, swallow.

"Say ah."

"I already said it twice."

"Say it again. Say ah."


Christine pushes her palm with the last pill against Rita's mouth and grabs her neck with her other. She pushes back Rita's face. Rita's cheeks redden.

Tanja's legs twitch. "Stop it," she whispers.

Rita gags. Still pressing her hand against Rita's mouth, Christine reaches for the water and, in one fast motion, replaces hand with glass. Rita swallows, gasps, as if coming up for air. Her hair spreads over her breasts. She looks at her daughter, eyes wide, and hugs the blanket against her chest.

"What did you give me?"

Christine closes the bottle. "Nevermind."

Rita scrunches up her face and pounces the mattress.
"What did you give me?"

Christine tugs the sheet between mattress and bedstand. She smiles. Her face has never been flatter. "Something good." She shoves the pill bottle into the front pocket of her shirt and claps her hands together, swishing them past each other as if shaking off the grime of a job well done. "We'll do this every day now. Fun."

She rams her fists into her hips. She will not leave. Through pills and puke and dirty sheets, enemas and the final crack of both of their skulls she will not leave. Her life, future, and family drain from her and she becomes a nurse with thick arms and iron breasts.

Christine looks at Tanja. "You'll help me here or what?"

Tanja clutches the metal foot piece of Rita's bed. Finger by finger, she lets go. Her fingerprints fade from the metal. She tiptoes backwards until her feet warm up in the sunlit square thrown through the window, and she knows she is halfway out of the room. She exhales and turns around.


Tanja crouches on the dark stage. She can't see the audience. When she first started dancing she tried to see their faces and sense their reaction, but not anymore. She spreads her fingers on a layer of talcum. She inhales. The music rises inside her.

Tanja rises onto her tiptoes and spins. Her muscles firm. She is a braid flapping between the tanned shoulders of a running girl, a whip burning across a monster's spine, an uncoiling piece of rope at the beach.

The small crowd applauds. She accepts a bouquet of flowers. They smell as sharp as celery juice on the powdered stage. She hopes Christine is peeling oranges somewhere, a soft toddler clinging to her knees. Her gut, hollowed out from nursing her mother, will fill again with cashew butter and morning kisses.

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last update: February 29, 2008