It was well past midnight and the hospital department, where comatose patients lay, was sodden with silence. The hospital attendant, a young man called Simon, had just finished mopping the corridor and was now resting on a wooden couch. Born in Eastern Europe, he moved to the US a year ago, because he realized he won't be able to raise a family with a teacher's salary. The life was hard but he could at least pay his bills, which was very important to him.
Simon didn't like the night shifts, though there wasn't much work then. Leisure allowed loneliness to creep in.
After cleaning the toilet, Simon headed toward the balcony, intending to smoke a cigarette there. Then he noticed that the door of ward 8 is ajar. Nurses' carelessness maybe. He knew who lay in ward 8 – a girl in her early twenties who had the misfortune to be run over by a pickup truck. Simon hesitated for a moment. Deep in the recesses of his mind a strong impetus was urging him to peep in. He had seen her once but desperately wanted to see her again, a fact that he found quite disturbing.
Simon peeped in. She was lying motionless on her bed, as could be expected of comatose patient. Her face was pale, drawn, but beautiful nonetheless, her brow scarred. The white sheet, draped over her midsection, was just partially covering a hideous metal frame the purpose of which was unknown to Simon. But he was sure that some of those shiny rods were inserted in her pelvis and lower back. A month ago he had heard a doctor mentioning that her spinal cord was damaged and she was paralyzed from the waist down.
"Poor thing, comatose and paralyzed," mumbled Simon, and then wondered why his pity distinguished this particular patient from all others, which were equally unfortunate.
Simon couldn't avert his gaze from her left leg that was elevated above the bed by a system of pulleys and ropes. The white plaster cast, encasing it from the middle of the thigh to the ankle, was enormously thick, making her bare foot look childish. He scratched his head thoughtfully. No point wasting money on fiberglass when she will never be able to walk again. Of course. Moreover, she may never wake up from the coma. This tiny foot will never touch the ground again. Lifeless, it will stay frozen like that forever. The symbol of her paralyzed self. And eventually the muscles would wither and shrink, the nice curves vanishing completely.
The door of the nurse's room was closed; there was no one to be seen around. Simon slipped into ward 8 and cautiously closed the door. Moonlight was bathing the girl's calm face with yellowish light. Her full lips were slightly parted, her white even teeth gleaming underneath. Absolute sleeping beauty.
Simon looked at his hands that, to his surprise, were trembling slightly. His famed calmness seemed to have deserted him.
He moved closer to the bed and stared at the bare foot protruding from the cast. His attention was focused entirely on it. He bent down and sniffed the short plump toes. Pleasant leathery smell tickled his nostrils. His nose followed the graceful arch of the foot, then lingered over the round, pinkish heel. He could see the delicate ankle and the padded edge of the monstrous cast engulfing the calf, knee and upper part of the leg.
Now, for him, the comatose girl was reduced to an adorable foot that existed by itself, apart from the living body. Not that her body could be called "living" anymore.