The Nurse.

The Artist.

When Vincent walks into work that morning, he thinks it’s going to be another perfectly boring day. He doesn’t expect anything out of the ordinary, not in any way. He thinks that he’s going to walk through the automatic doors, clock in to his ten-hour shift, suffer through the busy hours, and then go home.

Which, essentially, is what he will do, though that summary is missing a few key points.

Vincent doesn’t walk into the hospital briskly; he doesn’t stroll. He plods along, his athletic shoes scuffing against the blacktop with each step. His windbreaker covers up the shirt he’s wearing, but does nothing for the scrub pants, which are baggy and painfully green. Vincent hunches his shoulders in a way that should be uncomfortable, but isn’t because Vincent has walked like this for far too long. He wants to keep his gaze trained on the ground but can’t help when it darts up, glancing at the people filtering into the same doors as him. His eyes are dark and intimidating, and none of Vincent’s co-workers spare him a greeting. It’s not that this is uncommon; after all, it’s a big hospital. But Vincent has always had an active imagination, and he imagines everyone, even the lab technicians, looking down their noses at him. He imagines they can see through his windbreaker and green scrubs, right through his skin and into his innards and soul, and he imagines them scoffing. Imagines them calling him lazy for not going after it, for settling. He imagines them judging with gender stereotypes in full force. Though he hardly recognizes a handful of them, he imagines them looking at his attire, his scrubs and his running shoes, and knowing, instantly, that he’s a nurse. A male nurse. Not driven enough, not smart enough to be come a doctor.

Well, did it ever occur to them that maybe Vincent wanted to become a nurse? But that’s just Vincent’s defiance kicking in. Truthfully, he didn’t. Vincent never wanted to be a nurse, and that only makes it worse.

It’s the running shoes, Vincent thinks. Who wears running shoes, other than nurses? No one. He begins to scuff them even more angrily against the asphalt, sighing as he does.

Vincent finally shuffles his way into the main lobby of the hospital, turning at once into the familiar hallway. Now there are a few people turning his way and giving him half-hearted waves, to which Vincent responds with a grim smile. As he rounds another corner, he catches a glimpse of another familiar sight. However, this sight is one he looks at with even more venom than the rest of the despised hospital.

For a split second, if one were to look hard enough, they might have seen Vincent’s eyes trade that jaded sheen for a desperate, longing one. But it’s only for a moment, and then it’s gone again and Vincent’s eyes are glaring with even more fervor.

If Vincent doesn’t hate the hospital, which he very nearly does, this painting is the thing he hates. It’s bad enough he has to work here, isn’t it, without a constant reminder?

It’s hard to place exactly what Vincent finds so offending about the canvas print. It could be the generic subject: some horses, some flowers, and a field. The color palette is nothing special; it’s lifelike, but there’s no highlight to it, no focus. The forms are drawn so precisely and accurately that most people navigating the hallway often mistake it for a photograph at first glance. It’s not the type of painting one looks twice at, which only enforces the misconception. It’s the type of painting that’s entirely unremarkable, that eyes simply skim over. The type of painting that doesn’t enhance the room’s décor, but simply blends in.

Vincent absolutely loathes paintings like that.

What a waste of time, he thinks, to put that much effort, every brush stroke and pencil smudge, into a work that is placed in a public building to be overlooked for all eternity. And the sad part is, the artist in question is probably proud of this accomplishment, proud he sold a large print to such a prestigious institute. The thought alone is enough to sicken Vincent. No creativity at all, he thinks, and passes by with his foul mood more firmly in place.

Vincent wasn’t always this bitter. It’s actually been quite a slow and steady descent. See, in high school, Vincent was a star. Not a sports fanatic or a leading role in the musical kind of star, one more noticeable, more likeable. Vincent was that guy who had so many friends he hopped from lunch table to lunch table just trying to talk to them all. The guy that was so outgoing and friendly, you couldn’t help but like him. He got decent grades, he was funny, and he was just a nice person to be around.

It was always Vincent’s easy personality that he was known for, the thing that set him apart. Until junior year.

Junior year was the year Vincent finally got all his gym credits out of the way, the year he opted out of study hall and decided to give Drawing One a try instead. Vincent always had uncommonly good penmanship for a guy, and his doodles, when he tried, weren’t half-bad either.

Vincent’s junior year was also the year Payson High hired a new art teacher. The tiny Mr. Lank had retired after nearly fifty years of teaching, and the new instructor was anything but the small, quivering, hearing-impaired old man she replaced. She was young and enthusiastic, filled with big city ideas and fresh out of college. She peeled the ancient artwork off the walls and replaced it with posters of famous pieces, blown up photographs and real canvas originals. There wasn’t a square inch of space left when she was done and there wasn’t a trace of the drab, grey, newspaper-y sheets, either.

When Vincent walked into that room on his first day of his junior year, the first thought that crossed his mind was that it smelled like heaven. The heavy, metallic scent of oil paint, the earthy perfume of clay. Vincent can still to this day remember standing there and inhaling the thick aroma until the bell rang. And that’s quite understandable, really, because every person on earth can recall the moment they found love.

In his last few years of high school, Vincent worked his way through all the art classes the school had to offer. He would come in after school to work on projects every day, and more often than not they were his own instead of the ones assigned. Once Vincent began, he couldn’t get enough.

To those who knew Vincent in his high school years, it became apparent within the last two that he was a man of great talent; that he’d attend a small, but not too small, liberal arts school to hone his abilities, tour Europe with his portfolio, and become famous worldwide. Or he’d skip college altogether and move to New York, become the starving freelance artist who eventually gets discovered by the biggest agent in town. Everyone agreed on it: Vincent Moose was going places.

But Vincent, currently drawing blood from an elderly woman instead of the next world-renowned piece, clearly did not go anywhere, unless the move from Utah to Seattle counts, which it doesn’t.

Vincent’s parents, both of them, were PhD’s. They worked at the University of Utah, one in research and one as a professor. Needless to say, they were both big into science, and they both had high expectations of their son, none of which involved New York or art school. They’d always wanted him to be a doctor; since he was a kid it had been the dream. They didn’t tell Vincent this outright; they weren’t bad parents, they didn’t want to pressure him. But Vincent knew anyways, it was impossible not to know. And Vincent was such a people pleaser, and they wanted it so badly. So instead of doing what he really wanted to, he enrolled in a university in Washington state for a degree in medicine. After all, his parents only wanted the best for him, and it wasn’t like Vincent was bad at biology. He swept his real passion under the rug and convinced himself that art as a hobby would be just enough for him.

Once Vincent started lying to himself, he couldn’t stop. Now he’s moved on to a man who needs his catheter changed, and he’s thoroughly miserable. Even Vincent himself can’t deny it anymore.

Usually during the workday Vincent turns off his cell phone, even though it’s not exactly common for it to ring in the first place. But today it must have slipped his mind, because just as he is finishing washing his hands after the catheter, it vibrates in his pocket. Vincent is so surprised, he answers it right there in front of the patient, so unprofessional.

The number is unknown to his phone and the woman’s cool, smooth voice speaking to him is unfamiliar as well. She asks him if he’s the son of Chester and Laura Moose, and Vincent says yes, because he is.

Then she says, “I’m so sorry, Vincent,” which Vincent thinks is pushing the first-name basis a little, since he’s never spoken to her before.

She continues, “Vincent, both your parents are currently in the ICU at Salt Lake Regional Medical Center. You were listed as an emergency contact. Is it possible that you could–”

“The ICU?” Vincent interrupts sharply, a panicked edge to his voice. “What’s– What’s wrong with them?”

“Your father, he has a concussion, and your mother has some broken bones, and… We need you here as soon as possible. In case anything happens.”

The implied meaning to her last sentence makes Vincent’s blood run cold. After that, Vincent doesn’t hear much. He can pick out a few snippets here and there: “critical condition… car accident…very sorry… driver ran a red light.” Her voice is calm and expressionless the entire time. That’s the thing Vincent focuses on as she speaks; instead of the words it’s the rhythmic sounds of her voice, the small inflections and unconcerned tone, anything but the words she is saying.

It takes Vincent entirely too long to realize the woman has apologized yet again and hung up the phone. Dazed, he too snaps his phone shut, pocketing it. He continues staring absentmindedly out the window with glazed eyes, before turning abruptly and bolting out of the hospital.

Vincent gets several questioning stares as he races to get back through the automatic doors, but he doesn’t run into his boss, so he doesn’t stop.

Once he’s safely in the car, Vincent drives a block, pulls over, and cries. He cries because, from what it sounded like the woman said, his parents could very well be dead by the time he got all the way down to Utah, and because he’s never been through anything like this, never stared death in the face so closely and personally. Vincent feels so completely overwhelmed, he can hardly discern the emotion rising underneath the grief until it’s too late and it’s overtaken him completely.

It’s hope.

Vincent’s tears dry almost miraculously, and he straightens up in the car seat. No, he thinks, I shouldn’t be happy right now. I should be miserable, not elated, not flying.

Something in the back of Vincent’s head tells him that he was already miserable, but Vincent stomps on it so hard it doesn’t even contribute a small whimper of pain to the internal battle raging inside of him.

Vincent loves his parents, he really does. All through his life, he’s wanted to please them, to make them proud. And one part of him is appalled, clawing at the wheel and begging him to speed off as fast as he can to Utah. But the other part, the one that is rapidly growing stronger, is telling him to just hold on for a second.

With his parents gone, it tells him, he has no one to impress. No one who’s setting standards for him. No expectations. Without his parents, Vincent could do whatever he wants.

It’s such a disgusting, selfish thought, and Vincent is hating himself for loving the idea so much. No longer would he be tied to the job he so loathed, the one he only keeps to keep up appearances for them. Right now, Vincent has never wanted something so much in his life. His heart, his dreams, shut up and kept silent for so many years sing out at last, yearning and pining for the passion he has pent up inside him for far too long. Painting. Drawing. Finally doing it again. Vincent can hardly imagine it, can hardly contain his excitement.

With his parents gone, Vincent could finally start living for himself.

Then the part of his mind that has been subdued for the first time in ten years bursts foreword again: how could he be happy over his parent’s death? They’re the ones that raised him, nurtured him, cared for him! They love him, and only want the best for him. Surely if their intentions were good, they didn’t mean for Vincent to end up this way. They were only looking out for him. They didn’t want him to end up broke and unsuccessful.

But the new, rebellious part of Vincent can’t help but think he’d rather be broke and unsuccessful than rich and unhappy.

He begins to argue with himself again, and all these emotions are starting to give him a headache when he realizes he’s getting way ahead of himself. Vincent’s parents aren’t dead. In fact, the chances are they won’t die, Vincent thinks. And this isn’t a matter of whether they are alive or not, anyway. It’s a matter of whether Vincent can stand up for himself.

That’s something Vincent hasn’t done for awhile.

And that’s when he realizes: even if it’s not today, not tomorrow, his parents won’t be around forever. Why live the way they want him to when it’s his life he’s living? And once they’re gone… what would Vincent have then?

With that thought firmly in mind, Vincent swings his car out into the street, U-turning illegally and speeding back into the hospital parking lot. He hurries up through the automatic doors, so different from the sluggish pace he’d traveled at just five hours earlier. As he walks up to the reception, he sees his boss leaning there, speaking with the secretary. Vincent approaches him, his steps not faltering as the man rounds on him.

“Moose! Where did you go? Your break isn’t for another hour, and we’re short-staffed! If you think you can just–”

Vincent interrupts the boss’ ravings in a very collected manner. “I actually need to talk to you. My parents are in the hospital, I just got the call… I need to go.”

Vincent’s boss blinks a few times. “Oh, dear, I’m s-sorry. I’ll just see if Jamie can come in instead… You go ahead, start driving. I hope they’re alright.” He runs a hand through his hair, looking a bit perplexed by this change of events.

“Thank you,” Vincent says, then clears his throat, gathering courage. “And I’d also like to put my–my two weeks in.”

At this, the man turns back to Vincent abruptly, face showing disbelief. “You mean, you’re quitting?”

“Yes, I’m quitting. I need a change of pace, I think.” Vincent smiles just at the thought of it. “I’ll see you Monday, sir,” he calls over his shoulder as he turns on heel and strides through the double doors for one of the last times, he hopes.

As Vincent saunters through the parking lot towards his car, his shoulders no longer slouch. Vincent’s back is perfectly straight and he is holding himself tall and proud. As he pulls out into the interstate, Vincent’s mind is racing with possibilities faster than the scenery flies by.
♠ ♠ ♠
2,676 words.
This was written for a short story assignment for school.

I worked pretty hard on the banner for this. I tried to edit it so it looked like a painting. Did it work?

I'd really really love to know what you think.