22-Kim

Kim woke all at once.

She’d been having a nightmare — reliving one of her worst days during the pandemic when they didn’t have enough beds for all the COVID patients and people were dying in the hallways. In the nightmare — as in real life –, Kim was in the hallway checking the clipboard attached to each bed before sending it to the morgue. Then she read a familiar name on one of those clipboards.

When this had happened in real life, Kim recognized the name of one of their co-workers, an older nurse who’d been about to retire and was universally loved by the entire hospital. Kim felt like that nurse was the heart and soul of that hospital and her loss had been a real shock to everybody. In that moment in real life, when Kim read the name it was as if her consciousness had been instantly and forcibly ejected from her body. She suddenly felt like she was watching the scene from afar, as if it were an extremely dull TV program.

The other Kim just stared and stared at the clipboard for long minutes without moving, and all she could do, watching the scene as if on a screen from afar, was sit in horror as her stomach slowly tied itself into knots and her head throbbed in sudden pain.

In the dream that part of the scene started the same, the masked “Kim” character walked up the hallway with a small group of interns behind her waiting for her to nod at this or that bed, to let them know which to take to the morgue and which to leave. But this time when she looked at that particular clipboard, the name was different. The name was her own, and the shock woke her up with a start.

Kim laid there for a moment, curled up facing a shelf of books on a carpeted floor, with the baby lying within the curve, staring up at her making its sucking mouth, which she was starting to learn meant he was really hungry. Of course he was always hungry, but amazingly he never cried. She was starting to worry if he had been subject to some kind of brain damage, but everything else he did seemed completely normal. Not that she was a neonatal nurse by any stretch, but as far as she knew, he seemed completely normal — well, other than the fact that he never cried of course.

book shop
Photo by Dan Wayman on Unsplash

Kim got up and put the baby against her shoulder. She grabbed the bag of baby stuff and wandered quietly through the shelves towards the staff bathroom, wondering where Barry had run off to as she stepped over the occasional sleeping body. It was hard to tell what time it was, probably mid-to-late morning. It was a shame that there was nowhere to sterilize anything, but thankfully the hot water in the bathroom could get extremely hot for cleaning the bottles and nipples, but also when mixed with the right amount of water from the water cooler, it could be a pretty decent temperature for the formula.

She tried to turn the handle on the bathroom door, but it was locked. Somebody was in there, so she’d wait. She leaned up against the wall next to the staff bathroom and looked up towards the front of the bookstore.

When they were let in yesterday, once their eyes had adjusted Kim thanked the big bald man with the long, black beard. He responded “It was the right thing to do,” shooting an accusatory look at the man in the tweed sweater, then wandered through the door to what they discovered later was the rest of the bookstore.

So Kim turned to the woman in the yellow blouse. She wanted to thank her, but the poor woman was clearly in the middle of some deep trauma. Considering what they’d all just witnessed out there, Kim wondered for a moment why she wasn’t as big a mess, but she instantly realized she couldn’t think like that right now. There was just no time for any of that. She and Barry needed to know where they were and how safe it was here.

So instead she turned to the man in the tweed sweater and asked him where they were. He told them they were in the loading dock of a bookstore, and gestured through the door that the big man had just exited through. His name was Victor and the woman was his “best friend Rosa.” The man who’d just left was Garrett, but Victor had only just met him.

Apparently Victor worked at the bookstore, which seemed to be a bit of a throwback to the large fancy chain bookstores that used to be everywhere. Later Kim wondered to herself how this shop had survived the bookstore bankruptcies that Amazon had caused throughout America over the past decade, but all the University of Washington paraphernalia she saw everywhere gave her a hint at how they’d done it.

Victor brought Kim and Barry into the bookstore proper and introduced them around. Including herself, Barry and the baby, there were just shy of thirty people total — all in a back section of the store that wasn’t visible from the front, thanks to a convenient elbow design. Of course that blindness worked both ways and Victor was adamant about nobody sticking their heads around the corner to look until at least after nightfall.

So she and Barry found a small area in the kids section where they were far enough from the rest to feel like they had a little privacy, but close enough to hear that constant hum of human activity which seemed to give them a sense of safety in numbers.

Victor came over without Rosa at some point and asked how they were doing.

“We’re okay,” said Barry as Kim burped the baby. “Where’s your friend?”

“She’s finally asleep,” Victor sat down on the ground, leaning against a bunch of bright children’s books. He took a deep, exhausted breath, and Kim tried to gauge his age. He looked like he might be in his late 20s, but the events of the day had seemed to age them all at least a decade.

“So how’d all these people get in here, Vic?” Barry asked. “How’d this happen?”

“Well, our boss basically told us last night that if we didn’t come in today, we wouldn’t ever need to come back, so it was me and two of co-workers, but by mid-morning the traffic had gotten so bad we couldn’t see a single car move for maybe like an hour?”

“Yeah, we were in that too. My van is still stuck out there somewhere. Is that 45th out there?” Barry asked.

“No, that’s 41st,” Victor replied.

“What?!” Barry exclaimed, then looked at Kim who really could care less. She put a finger to her mouth because the baby had fallen asleep and she really wanted to let him, but Barry didn’t even notice. “How did we get so turned around? Barry asked, oblivious.

Victor just shrugged, and Barry’s curiosity caught back up with him, “Sorry I interrupted. How’d they get in?”

“Well,” Victor started back up, “One of my coworkers got some messages from her mom that really freaked her out, so she just took off and the other one left too. So I was like ‘to hell with it, I’m leaving too,’ but I gotta lock up first. I was almost done locking up when people started running through the cars. I don’t really know why but I started waving people over and telling them to go to the back of the store. Garret was I think the last one before I started to see people getting attacked. That’s when I just locked up and went back too.”

“But then Rosa called me screaming, saying she was nearby and that she was coming to the store. I told her how to get to the back alley and asked Garret to come to the door with me, just in case, and you know the rest.” Then Victor paused for a while, looking at the baby.

Photo by Hu Chen on Unsplash

Finally he asked, “What’s wrong with your baby?”

“Well,” Kim replied. First of all, he’s not my baby. Secondly, there’s nothing wrong with him. He’s perfectly fine.”

“Where’s his mom?” Victor asked.

“She died giving birth to him,” Kim replied.

“Damn,” he said, then trailed off. His eyes closed and Kim was certain he’d fallen asleep, but then with his eyes closed, he said, ”I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’m glad he’s so quiet, but baby’s cry. That’s like the one thing they all do, right?”

Kim didn’t know what to say about that, so she just shrugged instead. Eventually Victor woke himself up with a snore, then got up and wandered off without another word.

Later after the sun was long gone, Kim braved a look around the corner to the front of the store and was horrified to see that there was no security gate whatsoever between them and the open street. When she told Barry, he had to go see it for himself, probably hoping she was exaggerating, but then he came back looking a bit pale.

Over the course of the night, Barry alternated with her taking care of the baby to try to give each other time to sleep, but still the baby never cried. Even when it was super obviously hungry or tired. It just waited patiently to get fed, or to have its diaper changed. She knew she’d have to name him eventually, but it was a lot of responsibility. She was hoping they’d make it to some military base so she could leave him in the care of somebody better qualified, and she figured that person should have the right to name this child.

It was her responsibility to get him there, but she wouldn’t raise him.

She could hear through the door that whomever was in the bathroom was getting ready to leave, so she got up from against the wall and prepared to go in. The door opened, and Barry came out.

“Oh hey,” he said, seeing Kim there with the baby, “I think I know where we need to go. We need to get to the water.”

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Chad Kukahiko

Chad Kukahiko

Hawaiian designer / developer / producer / director/writer and professional slashy, Creative Director of Hustler Equipment & Director: Oceania of We Make Movies