Immortalis Caris – Chapter 1

He eased out of the access door onto the roof, careful to shove a tightly folded paper into the jamb to keep it from closing and locking him out. Hospital security did not appreciate having to retrieve smokers from their aerie.

It was colder than he had anticipated. Scrubs provided little protection outside the climate-controlled halls of Los Alamos Medical Center. His view of the sunny world from any of the weather-sealed windows gave the impression it was a hot summer's day on the mesa.

The vegetation never changed from season to season, neither did the colors of the landscape. The shades of the New Mexico desert, tawny inorganic beiges and blue organic greens, were minimal, intimidating yet transcendent. Only water or fire could truly transform such incomprehensible, impenetrable, ferocious beauty. Rain was so rare, he could remember only a handful of occurrences in the 3 years he'd been here - dense blue-gray clouds pressing down on newly soaked earth, the fragrances of the high desert pungently intensified with the miracle of moisture. But the queerest desert occurrence was the one impending. Snow. The fresh, charged air painfully brushing his exposed skin clearly announced its imminence.

He looked into the vast horizon, letting the jagged, fast-moving cloud formations fill his vision. He imagined the elusive faces of the elemental spirits of the Cochiti and Jemez Pueblo Indians in the shapes of the clouds. The visual features of the land and sky were well represented in tribal art; conversely, the icons of Indian legend were, to his eye, superimposed on every natural feature.

He pulled the menthol smoke into his lungs with the frigid air, fingers already numb, torn needily between another satisfying inhalation and the warmth waiting just inside the door. It would be 2 hours before shift change, and he would be too busy doing meds for two units to be able to slip out for another smoke. He'd be out the door by 3:30pm.

Don't know why I rush – nothing to do at home anyway… Maybe I'll go for a beer…

He wandered to the edge of the roof, leisurely cat-walking the perimeter. The sharp wind cut into him without the protection of the rooftop maintenance structures, but the discomfort was worth it. He had about an inch of cigarette time before his hands were too frozen to hold it and he would have to retreat to shelter.

He cursorily scanned the hospital courtyard below, then raised his gaze to the luxury "Doctors' condos" in the next lot. There were doctors who resided there, of course, but many other kinds of people as well - probably those guys from the labs. The condos were the latest thing in convenience technology, meaning the one thing everyone there had in common was money. Lots of it.

The rows of windows yielded nothing today, and he dropped his eyes guiltily as he recalled the times he had spied something, or rather, someone, of interest during his rooftop breaks. He relished these secret glimpses into other people's worlds, worlds he would never know or share, lives of ample money, desirable women, confident men.

LVNs didn't make the money RNs did, and certainly nothing near what doctors made. He could have been an RN if he hadn't spent the tuition money partying. But, hell, I deserved to live it up a little when the old man croaked, right?

He lived in the oldest part of Los Alamos, not far from the national labs, in the military-style housing swiftly erected in the late 1940's for staff ancillary to the notorious Manhattan project. The houses had been badly built then and 70 years later were pretty much held together with paint and spit. He could afford the rent on his wages though, and to live without a housemate was a definite priority - worth other sacrifices.

God knows why he'd chosen to be a nurse. Truth be told, he liked people. They interested him, but he never felt comfortable around them. "Normal" was an act he'd never understood or mastered. He could work as a nurse because it gave him a uniform, a role – and people just saw what they wanted to see. He could get girls to go out with him, but couldn't keep a girlfriend. Once they got to know him, they realized he was too different to accept and too difficult to change.

He consciously realized his eye kept coming back to one particular window on the third floor corner. That condo had been vacant for a long time. Then suddenly, two weeks ago, curtains had gone up. Once up, the curtains had never been opened in the daytime. He had worked a double shift a few days ago, so he had been up here on break after dark. He had seen a slim figure holding the drapes aside to peer out onto the unsleeping city that was the hospital complex. Though the figure had been in silhouette there was enough backlight to reveal red hair – long, flowing – and the fair skin of an exposed arm and hand perched on a graceful hip.

There had been someone moving behind her. Indistinct. She had turned her head to address the person. She seemed agitated. Suddenly she was roughly jerked back into the room. He'd held his breath and urgently plotted how long it would take him to get over there.

By the time I get all the way down to the hospital ground floor, cross the space between buildings, get into that fucking building… no way. They probably have state-of-the-art security over there, I'd never even get in…. Jesus, should I call the police?

And then, just as suddenly, she had reappeared. She just stood there arranging her hair as if the wind had blown it slightly out of place, but she seemed alright. He breathed deeply, trying to calm down. She's OK? Really? As if to reassure him, she slid one hand higher up on the edge of the curtain, a pose of exaggerated relaxation.

He breathed in sharply, as if to capture and hold that loveliness in his forceful inhalation – a snapshot composed of oxygen and adrenaline, printed on his mind. Longing had overwhelmed him for a moment; he had had to move away from the precarious edge until he regained his presence of mind. And in the brief second he had turned his focus to assure the safety of his stance, she had vanished.

He could still see her now, an afterimage burned into his retina, and he found himself desperate to see again that flame-haired vision, to pair it with memory, to reinforce its reality.

But today, as usual, the eye in the edifice stayed stubbornly closed.

He took the last decent drag from his American Spirit then crushed it against the access door. His paper doorstop fell, as did he - back into the bowels of the hive, back to warmth, to work, to a different kind of numbness altogether.

…..ll x ll x ll x ll…..

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