Ceilings Don’t Get Dirty
by Foster Trecost

I made the appointment a month ago. My plan was to lose it in daily routines, but it didn’t work. I leave my office and trickle along like a slow leak, a notch above meandering. Gravity has become a lateral force that pulls me forward. Mid-day heat collects sweat across my brow and I want to stop, peer in a window, sit, see a movie. But gravity keeps me going.

I see my destination long before I get there, the building jutting above the others like a pyramid in the desert. When I sailed to Spain, I woke one morning to a thin strip of land separating sea from sky, and knew I wasn’t ready to get there. I feel this way again when I see the hospital. The receptionist asks if I have an appointment and I say I do, that I made it a month ago.

*     *     *

Most everything gleams because gleam means clean and hospitals are supposed to be clean. My doctor won’t let me leave. That’s a bad sign and he knows it, but it’s out there, he can’t reel it back, so in some sort of med-school compensation, he offers a nicer room. I take the deal but the new room, a slightly larger version of the old room, isn’t any nicer, so ask if I can go for a walk. He says okay, just don’t go far. Another bad sign, but he already played his ace. This time all I get is a crumpled smile.

I set out in search of the cafeteria. I’m not hungry, just curious if it gleams like everything else. In the hallway white scrubs jostle toward me and I ask for directions. She tells me to take the elevators down to the first floor and follow the signs, but I’m so twisted I have to ask about the elevators. She answers with a gesture I interpret to mean down the hall and to the left but I’m not sure, so I keep walking. I pass a man twirling a mop. The name Clarence is stitched on his shirt, but he doesn’t look like a Clarence. Clarence’s wear thick glasses and have mustaches that curl over the top lip. I turn to the left but read her gesture all wrong because there aren’t any elevators.

I know why he wants me to stay. It’s like when a policeman wants to ask a few questions. He already knows the answers but asks the questions anyway. Cops and doctors are a lot alike. I track wet floor back to Clarence, who has mopped himself clear down the hall. “Where are the elevators?”

“You’re almost there.”

I look left and there they are. I ask how often he mops and he says non-stop. “When I finish here, I go up to the next.”

“That’s all you do, all day?”

He says he cleans bathrooms, too, but I think he’s being sarcastic. “It’s a hospital. That’s what we do, we clean things.”

“What about ceilings?”

“Ceiling’s don’t get dirty. Nobody sees them, anyway.”

That’s not true. Patients wheeled to surgery see them. How depressing if the last thing I saw before surgery was a dirty ceiling, but I keep this thought to myself. “You’re right,” I say instead. “Nobody looks up.”

The cafeteria no longer interests me, so I wait in my room. When the door pushes open, a clipboard enters followed by my doctor hiding on the other side. The clipboard clamps down on what he already knew. He starts talking but I can’t hear him. Or maybe I just don’t want to. 

*     *     *

I leave and let gravity reverse course, but this time it allows me to stop if stopping is what I want, but it’s not. I only want to sit behind my desk, surrounded by familiar things. I walk in to find my secretary, trying hard to be more than just my secretary. She asks how it went, but I don’t answer. I step to my office and shut the door, then walk back to where she’s sitting. I say her services are no longer needed, that I’ll mail her check. It’s the only fair thing to do.
At my desk, I stare at a globe and think about the time I sailed to Spain. Then I look at the ceiling and think about Clarence.

“It’s a hospital. That’s what we do, we clean things.”

But not everything.


Foster Trecost writes stories that are mostly made up. They tend to follow his attention span: sometimes short, sometimes very short. Recent work appears in Harpy Hybrid Review, Right Hand Pointing, and Bombfire Lit. He lives near New Orleans with his wife and dog.