Fiction by Diane Payne
Beatrice decides to walk home from work. Make it a habit. Karma. Maybe a good habit will replace a bad habit. While she ponders the notions of karma, she notices a truck pulled over on the side of the road. A man leans on the truck door. He seems to be in trouble. He’s covered with blood, and Beatrice’s first thought is that he’s been shot.
He tells her that he just left the kidney dialysis clinic. “Something’s wrong,” he moans.
She walks him to the passenger side of his truck and asks him how to get to the clinic.
The front seat is covered in blood. Beatrice is now covered in blood. The blood keeps gushing out of the man’s arm. She worries he may be dying.
The people at the clinic hardly react when she walks the bloody man into the building. Maybe everyone returns with this much blood after something goes wrong with a treatment. The man is whisked away, and Beatrice is left standing there, wondering what she’s supposed to do next. She explains how she just met the man, and then asks if he has family that can be notified.
“Oh, yeah. We’ll call his house. Don’t worry; you can leave.”
They want Beatrice out of the clinic.
She looks at the bloody man, unaware of the blood covering her own clothes and arms. It’s hard leaving him in the hands of these people.
“Don’t worry. He’ll be fine. You go on,” the receptionist says, ushering her to the door.
Beatrice steps outside. The fresh air is rejuvenating. The walk home will be much longer now. No one asks her why she is covered with blood. They just step aside when she approaches them on the sidewalk.
When she returns to her apartment, a neighbor sees the blood and shrieks. Beatrice explains that she wasn’t attacked. The neighbor looks momentarily relieved. Until Beatrice tells her the story about the bloody man.
“You may have AIDS,” the neighbor says. “That was careless.”
That thought has never crossed her mind.
The neighbor grabs the garden hose and sprays Beatrice down, while she stands there covering her head. “I hope this works!” the neighbor yells. “What were you thinking?”
She had been thinking about karma, how what comes around goes around.
The 2016 Luminaire Award for Best Prose
We are pleased to announce this story as a finalist for The 2016 Luminaire Award for Best Prose, honoring the independent press’ best short stories and hybrid prose works of the year. The winners are selected by an external panel that judges all pieces blindly and selects the full list of 12 finalists from hundreds of entries. Alternating Current does not determine the final outcome for the judging; the external judges’ decisions are final.
Diane Payne’s most recent publications include: Map Literary Review, Watershed Review, Tishman Review, Whiskey Island, Kudzu House Quarterly, Superstition Review, Burrow Press, Dime Show Review, Lime Hawk, and Cheat River Review. She has work forthcoming in The Offing, Elke: A little Journal, Souvenir Literary Journal, Outpost 19. Diane is the author of Burning Tulips (Red Hen Press) and is the MFA Director at University of Arkansas at Monticello.