"The world sometimes feels like an insane asylum. You can decide whether you want to be an inmate or pick up your visitor's badge. You can be in the world but not engage in the melodrama of it; you can become a spiritual being having a human experience thoroughly and fully."
"After much consideration, I find it more appropriate to employ the head nurse externally." As soon as the words left 's mouth, Monika was furious. After all that work – All that effort just to talk Feliciano into killing the woman in the first place, all of that for what? So she could immediately be replaced by a stranger?
"We cannot just constantly rotate head nurses. We need someone who knows what to do right now who will stay here for a long time – An external nurse would have a learning curve to overcome and we just haven't got that kind of time, it's unreliable and inefficient." He sighed.
"Nurse Héderváry's disappearance is strange. I think you would know that more than anyone else," The unmoving stare he directed at her was met by a cold exterior. "I think it would be too much of a risk to promote you."
"You're clammy. Are you nervous to promote me or are you due for another night of choking down pills?" She scorned. "I do hope it's the former – Just think about all of the allegations that could come out of this if it wasn't."
"You would lose your job." She smiled.
"Good, so would you," Shaking her head, she approached his desk, placing a hand on the edge of the mahogany. "I think you would know that it's unwise to argue with someone who has nothing to lose. Nobody would want to hire the likes of you. At least I would be the nurse with integrity. I'm the one who would survive here, not you."
"I will not accept-"
"You will accept blackmail because you have no choice," She removed her hand from his desk as if it were a hot iron. "I don't trust you enough to be competent but just once is all I ask."
"You weren't like this when I first hired you. If I had known, then I never would've gone through the trouble." Frustrated, he reached into his pocket to grab a lighter. The stress was evident on his face, it wasn't the first time Monika had felt like the source of everyone's problems, but she embraced it.
"I haven't changed. It's just that now my ambitions are inconveniencing you. In such a short period of time, I have created change – Real change. It's best you don't get in the way lest you disappear too." He sighed, the smoke from his cigarette coming from his nose.
"Go, I have patients," He shooed her away with a flick of his hand. "I hope wherever Elizabeta has gone has been kind to her." Personally, Monika didn't believe that Elizabeta was in someplace in the clouds, but it was comforting to some people she guessed. Death wasn't exactly kind – It just made all that suffering in life seem all the more meaningless.
"I would hope so too. Good day." She almost struggled to contain her frustration, wishing that some people just knew when they weren't in the position to refuse her requests.
As the bandage unravelled, Feliciano grimaced. He couldn't help but look at it from time to time – Monika would probably warn him that infection was still a possibility. It did look painful, especially for something like a bite from a person but at least he could touch his thumb to the rest of his fingers, even if it did irritate the wound slightly. Losing something like the nerves in his hand would be quite the punishment for an artist and it may have very well of been deserved had it not been for God's mercy, that's what he liked to think at least to make it seem better than it really was.
He heard a click, grabbing at the bandage on the vanity to try and pretend he hadn't been looking at it. Slipping from his grasp, the bandage had fallen onto the bathroom tiles pitifully. Muttering some less than desirable words, he took the bandage and wrapped it around his hand frantically and messily before it was obvious, he had been caught.
"I see that needs changing." Monika remarked. He caught a glimpse of her in the mirror.
"I was just…" He sighed. It wasn't worth lying. "Okay." He could smell food but wasn't quite sure what it was. It certainly wasn't like anything from home, some of the food here made him feel ill to look at but some things like wurst were acceptable in taste at least.
"Come, sit down then." The aggressive tone of her voice didn't exactly instil any sense of ease. However, he could tell it was unintentional by now. This was truly just the way she was. A true orderly.
He couldn't help but drag his feet towards the edge of the bed, watching as Monika removed a bed tray of food to place beside him, he wasn't particularly hungry but he had to eat in front of her. Her orders. It was strangely considerate but there was probably some other reason he assumed, protocol maybe. Before he could eat the mystery meat and peas, he became curious over the absence of something.
"There's no medicine?" He looked up to her incredulously. Distracted from reorganising her trolly she paused.
"No, I suppose not. I decided that it would be redundant…" She side-eyed him before wheeling the trolly at the end of the bed. "Can't imagine it's particularly good for you to keep it up. Especially if you're going to be on your way soon."
He took some time to process the words, "Soon?" She nodded. "What do you mean soon?"
"You cannot possibly stay forever. I just have some housekeeping to do before it can happen. , as expected, hasn't taken too well to the empty role of head nurse," She shrugged, surprisingly taking her nurse cap off. "I predict that I may have to fight to be promoted. Not the first time I suppose." Coming from her, that idea sounded quite sinister.
"What if you fail?" She stared at him.
"Then I have another way. It would be much easier for me to have your brother and you discharged as head nurse. You would be easy but given the nature of your brother's turbulence I doubt would be easy on him." He frowned, fiddling with his bandages.
"What of Antonio?" She frowned.
"I suppose he could come too… Although, I don't know why you would encourage that," There was some surprise in her voice. "It was expected of Lovino but from you it makes me wonder if you're just dense." She raised an eyebrow at his suggestion.
He shrugged, "Lovino was happy for a while before he came here… I would think some of that was Antonio's doing – I didn't know of their proximity until recently," He smiled sadly, probably too recently. Maybe he could've done more to prevent this, to stop his grandfather's poor decision to have him admitted over such a trivial thing. "I think I could tell, at least a little bit… If that's the reason he's here, then it's all the more reason for him to leave." He only wished he hadn't been kept so in the dark.
"Right, well, I didn't intend for Antonio to be a part of this," She frowned. "It wasn't like Lovino would agree unless he thought Antonio was coming."
"Maybe that just means he has to…" Feliciano felt the nerves building up as he thought of how to break things to Monika. "If it was ever a problem, having so many people leaving at once that is, I could stay."
"Stay?" The idea seemed to intrigue her.
"Yes. It's what I deserve given what I've done." Despite the immense amount of guilt in the tone of his voice and expression, she scoffed, dismissing his words.
"Given what you've done you deserve the electric chair in the eyes of the law," She shook her head. Yes, technically that was true. But this was much more preferable compared to death at least. "I notice it, you do know that?" He furrowed his brows as she shuffled through a first aid kit, pulling out a roll of bandages.
"What is it you notice?" She sat beside him, reaching to take his injured hand.
"Your hands," She removed the old bandages he had messily wrapped. "It's a nervous reaction for them to shake… And less so, I suppose, is the callus on your middle finger."
"Callus?" She nodded. When he looked, he supposed there was a slight bump compared to his other fingers. Maybe it was the years of gripping onto his pencils and brushes as if his life depended on it.
"I didn't expect you to be a writer." He shook his head.
"Probably because I'm not. I paint, mostly. I was never good at writing coherent sentences," He joked. "I get distracted too easily to write." Writing and reading was terribly boring to him – Too much attention and focus on abstracts. At least with painting, there was a visual to work with.
"Are you good?" The genuine interest was unfamiliar to him. "My brother had an interest in the arts. Even if he wasn't so good himself." Uncharacteristically, she sounded unassertive in her words.
"Brother?" She hummed unforthcoming before he remembered the question at hand. "O-Oh, I don't know," He couldn't help but be embarrassed by the question. Whenever it came to skill he wasn't nearly as good as he wanted to be but that was just the nature of any passion. "I've mostly only heard my brother's comments. You know how he is though." Looks like shit, was Lovino's favourite phrase to say in passing. Even if he still 'borrowed' a few paintings of his for his own.
"I see… They're unusually steady," Confused he stared at her waiting for further elaboration. The silence seemed to gain her attention. She had to do a double-take, eyes moving back towards his hand. "Your hands."
"Oh, I guess they are." He smiled tersely when he noticed. She finished wrapping his hand before looking back up to his face.
"Have you ever sought treatment for that?" He shook his head.
"I wouldn't know of any other than painting… I only ever had this happen-"
"After the war. Yes, I know. It's no coincidence, my brother and I had similar reactions…" He could tell she wanted to add more to that. "Terrible infliction it is."
"What is?" His mouth going dry.
"Memory. We would be better without it," It was probably one of the most common thoughts he had, wishing to erase entire sections of his memory to make things easier but he had never heard anything similar come from another, especially not her. She stood abruptly. "Make sure you eat. It's probably getting cold by now." Picking her cap from the top of the trolly, she made sure to pin it back securely on her head.
"Delicious…" He mumbled with a tinge of disgust. "I wish I could just cook my own food." He whined.
"Maybe someday," Monika frowned, wrapping her hands over the trolly's bar. "If you change your mind," She stressed it as a suggestion. You should change your mind. But he couldn't tell, it was clear something was causing her some stress anyway. Everything was supposed to fall in place by now and he hoped that there wasn't more that he would have to do. He hoped that it could all just be over, knowing his brother was safe was his only concern right now. "Take care."
He nodded, "Take care."
The sound of heels stopping precisely in front of her made Monika look up only to be met with a buxom woman, perhaps disgustingly so as her mere existence was enough to make her want to avert her eyes.
"Yes?" She raised an eyebrow. The woman, surprisingly managing to be taller than her, looked down with a smile.
"I'm Yekaterina Braginskaya, the new nurse. I'm here to see a ," She removed her glove to shake her hand. "We'll be colleagues, yes?" She didn't reciprocate the pleasantries as Braginskaya lowered her hand dejectedly. "What is your name?"
"Nurse Beilschmidt." Braginskaya seemed amused by this, it brought Monika some irritation to hear. She picked up her pen and began to write down her name for the logbook.
"Is your first name nurse?" Her jokes weren't appreciated in the slightest. It was, frankly, insulting.
"No, but it is to you," Frustrated, she looked around to find someone else to deal with her. Of course, Erika was always a short distance from her. "Erika?" She called. It was obvious she didn't hear her as she continued to work on the appointments. "Erika." She called louder.
The girl turned, seeing the stranger on the other side of the desk, "Is this the new nurse?" She jogged over to the desk, almost too happy to see a new face. Braginskaya reached out to shake her hand, this time, however, Erika took it with a shake.
"Yekaterina. Kat is welcome," She smiled. "What an adorable face. How old are you?"
"Seventeen," She paused, embarrassed. "And a half." Monika wanted to sigh. The only people who said and a half showed their youth. Nonetheless, it was… Endearing.
"My goodness, that's enough to make me feel old," Braginskaya chuckled. "When I was your age, I had no idea what I was doing let alone training as a nurse. How admirable." Monika gave a glance to her side, the smile on Erika's face – It was mocking her.
"Right, well, Erika," The girl turned to her with a perplexed expression. "I was just going to tell you to tend to the patients. I'll deal with the paperwork here."
"But-" Monika gave her a dead stare. "Well, alright, Nurse Beilschmidt," She gave Braginskaya a wave. "It was nice to meet you." Braginskaya nodded before directing her attention to Monika.
"Sweet girl." God, that face.
"You may go to 's office, he has no appointments for the next hour," Braginskaya didn't move. "For you."
"Thank you, Nurse Beilschmidt. I look forward to working with you." That face – She wanted to break it.
"That whore," Feliciano had never seen such a thing. Monika was seething. "He's a dead man."
"Who?" If looks could kill, he would be the dead man right now.
"The new nurse. She's vulgar," No, not seething – Unravelling. " wants a glorified prostitute to fill the position of the head nurse." It wasn't exactly good news to hear from her. He needed her to have that position - Sooner rather than later of course but coming from her, he wasn't sure if it would involve blood being spilt.
Nonetheless, Feliciano frowned, confused, "What's wrong with her?"
"What's wrong is your brother would be tracked down if he left this place now," He fiddled with his wrist. That wasn't an answer to his question but he thought he already had some idea of where her anger was placed. Or misplaced. "Do you understand or are you just going to sit there?" He'd always been slow, but now that slow.
"I just don't know what you want to hear – I can't do anything about it." His eyes darted towards the trolley. A leather bag sat on the undercarriage of the cart. As soon as she noticed him staring, he looked away.
"There's a reason that's there." He smiled coyly.
"I guess everything has a reason to be here." She sighed.
"It's for you," She was quick to take the leather bag, placing it on the end of the bed for him to collect himself. "I stopped by the city centre, yesterday. Saw a sale."
"A sale?" She nodded.
"It's easy to sneak anything in here – Your brother has an entire radio from... Well." Her lips became taut. He unwrapped the cord and laid it out across the bed.
"Must've been some sale, huh?" It felt like a joke, he almost wanted to laugh. Expensive. That's what this was. Paints, brushes, pencils, paper – Everything he needed. Hell, he would've been happy with just the pencil and a clean surface.
"It's bad form to lose practice," She seemed stiff. Stiffer than usual. "I used to play chess but now I can't tell a queen from a pawn." Funny, so loose. Conversational almost. There was still something orderly about her - Never taking her guard down.
"Somehow I can believe that – So much thinking." Monika sighed, reluctant to speak but building the courage to do it anyway.
"I'd like proof, you know," Feliciano blinked a few times before she spoke again. "I would like to see what you do. Apart from mopping, of course."
"And do I get anything? That sounds an awful lot like a commission."
"I didn't know you were one for negotiations." He laughed. He could tell she hated that. Forcing herself to be a diplomat when she would like nothing more than to have it her way all the time but he guessed it was rare for her to fail in that regard.
"A favour will be enough." Not as if he earned much money usually anyway.
"What favour?" The sceptic in her came out full throttle.
"I don't know yet," He shrugged. "Isn't that the point of a favour? Seals a deal for the future? I don't have to know right now but..." Her gaze was cold, her eyes to match.
"I don't like to deal with unknowns." She crossed her arms.
"You like to do it to me. Don't like it back?" Taking off her cap she gestured for him to move aside. Picking up the painting set, he made a space for her to sit.
"I don't appreciate the attitude," She frowned. "Too much like your brother."
"I don't think it's attitude… Just an observation," He picked up one the pencils. "What would you want me to do?" She looked around. "It doesn't have to be here."
"Just do what you want. I'll watch." He laughed.
"An audience. I don't usually have those," All she did was watch. Well, he couldn't say he wasn't told that's what she'd do. "Why did you stop playing?" He asked, flipping to the first blank page.
"My brother taught me," She straightened her back. "He liked beating me as a child. I only stopped because he couldn't play with me any longer than he did."
He smiled, "Sounds like something a brother would do…" He frowned. "I don't think I ever caught his name."
"…Gilbert," She looked at the page before he moved it up, out of her eye-line. Looking up, he raised an eyebrow, wanting to know more. "He's dead." Well, that deflated any sense of fun to get anything from her.
"I'm sorry." He said, going back to the task at hand.
"No, you're not," He furrowed his brows. "Not for him anyway." It was as if she had heard enough of those two words, she had already had that at the ready to deflect his sympathies.
"Any other family?" He grimaced when he took a glance at her silent frown. Cringed may have been a better word. "Sorry-"
"My father should still be alive. Not that it matters… What about you?" Well, at least he wasn't another dead relative. The wind hadn't completely been knocked from his sails.
"Just Lovino now – I have a cousin in Brooklyn… But so does everybody back home," He smiled. "You travel?"
"No. I've never left here." How unfortunate, he wanted to say.
With a little more hope in his voice, he asked, "You want to?"
"Yes," She shook her head. "But not Italy," Perhaps it wasn't the best move to laugh. It only seemed to irritate her. "What?"
"I never said Italy. Just a general question," She sighed, averting her eyes. The line between her eyebrows made it clear to him that she was doing a lot more than just blushing. "It's okay to be embarrassed without being angry."
"Embarrassment implies I've lost. Of course I'm angry." It was as if she didn't know anything else.
"Lost? My God, seems like you never stopped playing chess," He continued his strokes on the page. "So stiff." Even as soon as he had said it, he had regretted it. Knowing she didn't take kindly to such insults.
"So I've been told," He looked up, expecting her to thwart him in some way. Instead, she stared back at him as if she were confused. "Continue." But it never came.