The Owl His Anthem

The Owl His Anthem

by

Phillip McCollum

Ernie smiled at the pinhole patterns on the drop ceiling and if he squinted just right, he could see at least six faces smiling back. A hint of bluish moonlight streaming through the tiny barred window put all of the shadows in the right places. Two of the faces were long and gregarious, one squished and wrinkled like a rotten plum. The others were just ordinary.

But they all smiled.

A tune had been running through Ernie’s mind since yesterday and he hummed it as best he could. He couldn’t recall where or when he’d first heard it. By repeating it aloud, he hoped to discover not just its source, but what made it so memorable. He picked it apart like a complex mathematical formula, figuring out how each variable served some purpose in a grander scheme.

A door handle twisted and clicked. Ernie stopped humming immediately and looked. Chilly air slammed into his exposed face while the rest of his body sweated beneath an itchy wool blanket.

“Ernie,” a woman said in a harsh voice.

He ignored her, content to watch the faces.

“Ernie, I’m going to turn on lights,” she said in that vague, Eastern European accent. Ernie tried to remember where she told him she had come from. Maybe she hadn’t. He thought Yugoslavia or somewhere like that, but he was pretty sure that was no longer a place. Then again, he wasn’t sure of much these days.

A flicker and then there it was–the hum of fluorescent bulbs. Ernie didn’t even close his eyes. He let the brightness blind him. It was a challenge to fight the sting. He liked challenges, most of the time.

Kolinda sat a tray carrying two tiny paper cups on the bedside table. As Ernie’s vision returned, he craned his neck toward her. She leaned over him and pressed a switch on the bed to incline his torso. On the way up, he caught a noseful of rosewater perfume. His eyes met the top of her breasts which were slightly exposed by the cut in her uniform.

She looked up and caught his eyes. An irritated look swept over her face, but she stood up and straightened out her top. She wasn’t young and had a big nose, but Ernie was never a picky man and he wasn’t going to start being picky under the current circumstances.

“Open,” Kolinda said.

She placed one tablet and a large pill onto his tongue. Always bitter and Kolinda was always slow to give him the other cup of water to wash away the flavor. The one and only time he swallowed his medicine without waiting for water, the back of his throat burned for days on end. She didn’t seem to be changing her attitude now, taking her sweet time to get him the water.

“Good,” she said. She crushed the paper cups in her hand and her tennis shoes tapped lightly against the floor as she beelined for the exit.

“Nurse Kolinda,” Ernie said. The scent of rosewater was fading and his throat felt rough.

“What?” she said, still facing the door, impatience in her voice.

“Can you please leave the lights on?”

She remained silent for a moment. “What, you afraid of boogeyman?”

Ernie said nothing, only looking at the back of her graying brunette hair tied up in a bun.

“How is it boogeyman afraid of other boogeyman?” she asked before flipping off the lights and shutting the door behind her.

The deadbolt clicked into place a second later.

If you’d like to finish reading this story, along with many others, I’d be ecstatic if you’d consider purchasing one of my books.

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