Selected Stories

“Believers” - Excerpt

Five Chapters, June 2010

It sucked. Caitlin had volunteered at the hospital mostly to avoid having to go home to Phoenix after spring term ended, to her parents’ new empty-nester duplex on the golf course in the barren Arizonan desert that she refused to get used to. She figured the volunteering would consist of working in the gift shop, ringing the cash register and stocking satin bed jackets and stale boxes of chocolate, never imagining that she would be placed under patient liaison, which mostly involved following around Ms. Giffin, a kind of floating goodwill ambassador, taking notes and gofering lattes for her at the closest Starbucks.

Caitlin hated the hospital’s long canyons of florescent-lit hallways, air-conditioned like a meat locker. She hated the pink polo shirt and white jeans and sneakers she was required to wear. She wasn’t even so happy about the suggestion to smile constantly at the sick people, who were surly and cloying, and mostly unpleasant to be around. For instance, Mr. Baker, 81, with kidney disease, who complained about his bed pan not being emptied fast enough every morning. Who wanted a toasted bagel instead of white toast. Who stared at the phone even though his grown daughter never called. Or Mrs. Califante, 58, who suggested that the sheets were being washed with a skin-irritating bleach. Who made Caitlin send out her wig every week to the salon for a shampoo and blow dry.

The job pleased her parents, who had secret aspirations of Caitlin being a doctor, although it should have been clear from her major, English Lit, and her grades, mostly Cs, that that wasn’t likely going to happen. Mostly, until that spring, she had spent her sophomore year at Farid’s apartment, in his bed precisely, driving toward a dark, erotic fate that she had never guessed at with her high-school boyfriends.
While she forgot about her classes at the crummy, second-rate Christian college, the only one that accepted her, set in the middle of the orange groves of Orange County, Farid was finishing his Master’s in engineering on scholarship at Cal Tech in Pasadena, ready to graduate with honors.

Caitlin didn’t know exactly what engineers did, other than built things like dams and bridges, except Farid built small things, tiny invisible connections hidden deep inside the bowels of computers, or at least this was as close as she could get to understanding it.

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