It Should be Magical (Niki contemplates her marriage)

Chapter 6

At dinnertime Simon pops the macaroni and cheese into the oven to bake. I helped Maddie finish her homework, and then she helped me set the table. Simon reentered the kitchen briefly to sauté the broccoli lightly in olive oil. Transferring it to a platter, he sprinkles the broccoli with a couple of tablespoons of slivered, dry- roasted almonds, and lemon zest. Satisfied with his effort he returned to watch the rest of the game on TV.

Every now and then I jumped when Simon shouted out over a play he felt strongly about, and Maddie would giggle. “Dad,” she says, shaking her head knowingly.

I poured myself a second glass of Chardonnay before the three of us sat down for dinner.

“How’d the interview at Woodman go, Simon?”

“Oh you know. It’s always the same:

‘We’re looking for someone with more experience,’ or, ‘We’re looking for someone with less experience, this position has a limited pay scale.’ It’s all just bull-, oops, sorry Maddie. Don’t use bad language; it’s a sign of poor upbringing.  Anyway, there were a dozen other teachers interviewing for the job. At least I have something respectable to write on my unemployment paperwork this month.

“Well, you put it out there. That’s all you can do, isn’t it?”

Simon was laid off seven months ago from his teaching job, because of budget cuts. Seemingly, education ranks right along healthcare as a national priority.

We met in college. Simon was an anthropology major with a minor in education. I studied early child education, and minored in children’s literature. I switched to nursing when I realized I needed a master’s degree in order to earn enough money teaching preschool to make it worth what I owed on my Bachelor’s degree.

We married after graduation with the understanding I’d work as a registered nurse while Simon completed his Master’s in education. Once he hired into a university, I’d drop down to on-call, raise our children, and start a second career from home writing and illustrating children’s books.

It would have been magical.

Unable to get more than substitute teaching assignments in the beginning, Simon dropped out of the Master’s program when I got pregnant with Maddie, and she was born prematurely. Although my health care benefits from the hospital covered most of it, a 20% deductible for emergent obstetrics, and four weeks of neonatal intensive care is a pretty big chunk of change on a mostly single income.

Eventually, Simon found a job teaching social studies in a nearby middle school. His job lasted two years before the budget cuts. The parents of his students signed a petition begging the administrators to keep Simon, but like they say, “It isn’t personal.”

After dinner, Maddie, and I watched a movie on the laptop. Then I read her a chapter of Henry and Beezus before tucking her into bed and kissing her goodnight.

Simon was so engrossed in the game he was watching, he hadn’t turned on the lights in the family room. In the eerie glow of the television, the features of his face appeared alien.

“Is Maddie in bed?” he asked.


He got up to go kiss her goodnight, and then resumed his perch on the sofa.

Despite sleeping most of the day, I retreated to our bedroom at eleven. I’m lucky; I’ve adjusted to twelve-hour night shifts. Many nurses never do. I read a chapter of E.M. Forester’ A Room With a View before falling asleep.


Simon spooning me from behind wakes me from a sound sleep. Wordlessly, he fumbles at pulling my oversized T-shirt above my hips in the dark. When pretending I’m still asleep doesn’t work I become irritated.

“What are you doing?” Even I’m surprised by the fierceness of my tone.

“I’m loving you, baby. You’re so damn sexy. I can’t keep my hands off of you.”

“Simon, what time is it?”

“What does it matter?  It’s not like you have to get up early. You don’t leave for work until tomorrow evening.”

“I’m tired Simon. I need to get some sleep.”

“Just a quickie? C’mon, you know you love me.”

Silently, I wonder if I still do love Simon, but I let him have a quickie. It’s the fastest way to get back to sleep, which is what I do as soon as he finished.

Little Earthquakes (Niki has a stress dream and learns about earthquake kits)

Chapter 5

I pulled into the driveway of our rented house. Simon’s left, so I park in the garage, closing the door. I removed the groceries from the backseat and set them on the washing machine before sliding off my scrubs, dumping them into the laundry hamper. I’m always worried about bringing home germs from the hospital, and spreading them to Maddie. I put on the robe I keep on a hook before entering the kitchen with the groceries.

Simon’s left the dirty dishes from last night’s dinner in the sink, and the wastebasket is brimming on the edge of overflow. Its contents defy gravity. Although exasperated, I admire Simon’s flair for sculptural design.

He’s left a sticky note in his methodical printing on the counter:

“I’ll take care of the dishes and trash when I get back.”

I put the groceries away, and then wash the dishes, but leave the trash. I’ll sleep better the less Simon clanks around in the kitchen. I’ll clean the rest of the house tonight when I wake up. Last night was my third twelve-hour shift in a row. I’m off tonight.

I take a quick shower, towel off dry and practically fall into the unmade bed in our darkened bedroom. In minutes, I am unconscious.

I dream I’m still at work. The monitor and pulse ox alarms are going off in a patient’s room. I go in and look at the baby lying in the warmer. He’s naked and uncovered. His skin is blue. I am terrified that I forgot he was my patient, and ignored him all shift. I can’t revive the baby, and the alarms keep ringing…

My heart is pounding from the dream when I wake up at two-thirty. It takes a minute to realize I’m not at work. In the still darkened room I feel around the foot of the bed, groping for the soft grey sweats and tee shirt I left there yesterday. I put them on, sliding my feet into rubber flip-flops before traipsing into the kitchen. The trash is still there from this morning. The sink is again full with the dirty utensils Simon used to make macaroni and cheese.

I maneuver the teakettle around the dirty dishes, filling it with water before setting it on a burner, and adjusting the blue flame to high. I drop a teabag, fragrant with cardamom, into my favorite mug and wait for the kettle to boil.

In the family room, I hit the random play button on the CD player before settling into the old rocker recliner. Rocking gently, sipping tea, my brain slowly rises from its fuzziness, much like the Southern California coast has emerged from the morning fog, which I notice burned off while I was asleep.

Twenty minutes later, Simon’s car pulls into the driveway. Two car doors slam shut, and I hear Maddie laughing as she runs into the house.

“Mom! We practiced earthquake safety at school today. We crouched under the desks and covered our heads with our hands. I have a note from Mrs. Marrs. Everybody has to bring an earthquake kit to school.”

“What’s an earthquake kit?”

I set down the mug as Maddie holds out a piece of folded paper. Sure enough, it’s from her teacher, explaining that every student needs an earthquake kit at school, in case of emergency. Each kit must be packaged in 2-quart Ziploc bags, double-bagged. The bags can’t be larger than 2 quarts because of space limitations in the classroom. The required contents of the kit are listed in bullets:

  • A lightweight hoodie sweatshirt
  • A packaged (not homemade) granola bar or snack
  • A juice box
  • A list of allergies, if any
  • Your child’s name, and the address of both parents, including home, work, and cell phone numbers on an index card
  • The name and cell phone number of a local, alternative emergency contact

I cringe; thinking, “Would I be able to get to Maddie if an earthquake happens while I’m at work?” then quickly dismiss the thought. I set the paper next to my mug on the table, reaching for Maddie to give her a hug.

Maddie cuddles into my chest. I touch her cheek with mine before kissing the top of her head. She says, “I can always tell when you worked Mom, because you wear the same old crusty clothes, drink tea, and rock.”

Call 911 (Niki comes to the aid of a family in distress at the grocery store)

Chapter 4

The rest of that shift was uneventful. Once dayshift arrived, I gave report on the new admission, and my other patient too. I wash my hands, use the restroom, and wash my hands again.

Never get into a car with a full bladder.

I leave the hospital by the ER exit on my way to the parking lot.

From the driver’s seat, I wrap my stethoscope back in its place of honor around the rearview mirror, lowering the driver’s side window so the cool morning air can keep me awake on the drive home.

It’s seven forty-three am. Simon is getting Maddie ready for school about now, I think to myself. The morning sky is overcast, good weather for daytime sleeping. I can get in a few solid hours of sleep before Maddie comes home from school.

While sliding the key into the ignition, my cell phone rings. It’s Simon.


“Hey Nik, it’s me. How was your night?”

“Uneventful. What’s up?”

“”I made Maddie pancakes for breakfast and used up the last of the eggs and milk.  Would you pick up some on the way home from work? Oh, and some elbow macaroni too. I’m going to make macaroni and cheese for dinner.”

“Why can’t you do it after you take Maddie to school?”

“Because, love, I have a job interview at Woodman at 10, remember? I need to come home and dress the part.”

“Sorry, I forgot. What about after that?” I whined.

“No good. I have to get home and put together dinner before picking Maddie up from school. The play-offs start today.”

“Can’t you record the play-offs and watch them later?”


“Okay, I’ll stop at the store on my way home. Milk, eggs, and elbow macaroni, right?”

“Oh, and get some cheddar cheese. I just looked in the fridge. We’re out of cheddar cheese too.”

“Anything else?”

“Broccoli? Yeah, broccoli. Maddie needs to eat more vegetables. See you when you wake up, Hon. Love you!”

“Yeah. Okay. Me too. And Simon, good luck with the job interview. I know you’re the best candidate.”

I start the ignition, and drive home the long way, so I can stop at the store, feeling guilty I forgot about Simon’s job interview this morning. I should try to be a better wife.

Entering the grocery store, I perk up thinking that the good thing about early morning shopping is that there’s not a whole lot of people. The lines are short, and I can get in and out quickly. I grab a cart, mostly just to have something to lean against while going up and down the aisles after standing most of the night.

A distracted woman is pushing a cart with a boy sitting in it who looks about two years old. Alongside trails his brother, who looks about four. The kid in the cart is playing with a can of spray paint.

I know what happens next before it happens.

The two year-old takes the lid off of the can and in doing so sprays black paint all over his face. Screaming, he drops the can to the floor where it spins around on its side like one of those pinwheel fireworks, spraying black paint instead of sparks everywhere, because its nozzle is broken.

Now the woman and both her children are screaming and crying. The store manager appears, and disables the can. Someone yells, “Call 911!”

I go over to offer help. I’m wearing scrubs, and identify myself as a nurse. The two year-old is crying, but otherwise he’s not in visible distress. Most of the paint is on his chin and neck. Little was ingested, but I don’t know if inhaled fumes are dangerous or not.

I tell the store manager, “Call the poison control center number printed on the side of the can. They can advise us what to do.” The grocery store has a pharmacy, and if Poison Control advises vomiting, I figure Ipecac is probably available. My own phone is in my car.

The store manager stares at me blankly.

Turning my attention to the two children and their mother, I try to calm them. This turns out to be impossible. They continue to scream and cry.

Then a man runs up informing us that he has called 911.

By now a small group of people have gathered and are staring.

Relieved, I hear the sirens of the fire truck bringing the paramedics as it pulls into the parking lot.

I roll my cart to the checkout line. There’s nothing more I can do.

I overhear one of the paramedics ask as he arrives on the scene, “Has anyone contacted Poison Control?”