One Hundred Years of Filth

In the hallway outside radiology I try on a nurse hat I found squashed behind some file cabinets. Manny, cleaning a vent nearby, laughs at me and calls me asshole. A few hours earlier I was sent down to this basement level to clean up. I feel it’s discriminatory. The women cleaners get the easier work. Pulling out these file cabinets is a back breaker. Nobody has cleaned this lower level in at least a hundred years. A cement plaque stuck in the bricks near the hospital entrance tells it: Erected in 1916. Do they have to use that word? I can’t remember the last time…Oh, what’s the point? Anyway, the filth behind these cabinets is fucking incredible. Not to mention the roaches. This is s’posed to be a sterile place. One hundred years of filth is my guess. Nobody has worn a white nurse hat for at least fifty of those hundred. This one has a big red cross on the brim.

Manny jabs me in the shoulder. “Mami you lookin’ sweet in your hat,” he says making smooching noises. “Prepping for surgery?”

It’s turned dirty yellow-brown from being back there. I picture a hot blonde wearing it on her curls while giving me a sponge bath. “Oooooh,” I groan.

“What’s it gonna be today, a heart transplant?”

“Today? I’m gonna cut your balls off, Manny.”

The second I put on the hat I felt myself turn into a nurse. I felt my authority over life and death.

And just try and stop me, I’m thinking, pushing open the swinging doors to radiology.

“Get him out of here!” screams a bulky guy in green scrubs.

Raising my arms in defensive mode, I say with quiet authority, “Force will not be necessary. This is not an operating suite.” Sniffing, with a quick glance around, I disparage the space.

The guy in green scrubs heads toward me.

“I been to Iraq. Can you say the same?” I ask.

That stops him dead in his tracks. The other techs, two men and a woman, keep silent. I can feel their brains going tick tick tick tick tick tick.

“I lived through it, man. Could you? You got any idea what it’s like over there? The fucking noise from those explosives? Do you people know the stats on brain injuries?”

“Nurse,” one of the male techs says in a soft voice, “your cross is a little crooked.”

I straighten the hat so it sits more secure on my head.

“Is there anything else we can do for you?” This time it’s the woman tech speaking. She’s not bad looking.

“This room is cold,” I say. “How can that be good for my patient?” I point at a woman with froggy eyes, on her back on the table.

“OK. You need to get out of here right now.” Mister green scrubs raises his gloved-hands.

“Easy does it. First I have to clean this area.”

“Someone call security,” he says.

The woman begins texting with her gloves on. “Down in a minute,” she tells the others.

On the table, the female patient in her paper gown starts sniveling.

Mister green scrubs moves closer. “I don’t care what happened, or where, you are so screwed,” he says.

I yank the fire extinguisher off the wall and aim. “Not yet,” I say.


Susan Tepper is the author of seven published books of fiction and poetry. Her most recent is a novella set in the South of France titled Monte Carlo Days & Nights (Rain Mountain Press, NYC) which was just chosen by North of Oxford as one of fifteen most popular books for 2018. An award-winning writer, Tepper took 7th place in the Zoetrope Prize for the Novel, has received 18 eighteen Pushcart Nominations, Best of the Net, Wigleaf longlist, a Pulitzer Prize nomination for her epistolary novel What May Have Been (Cervena Barva Press, 2012), Second Place Winner in Story/South Million Writers Award, and other honors. FIZZ her reading series at KGB Bar, NYC, has been sporadically ongoing these past 10 years.

Chad Parenteau is Associate Editor of Oddball Magazine. He contributes photography from time to time.