... Human Pastoral
Sibyl Nightingale by Joe Giordano
by Joe Giordano
I'm going to tell you a secret." The nurse leaned forward, and her tone was conspiratorial. "I'm from the future."
Had Marta not been intubated, lying in an ICU hospital bed, stricken with COVID-19, feeling like a hippo squatted on her chest, she might've gasped. High fever jumbled her consciousness, and her face showed doubt if she'd heard correctly. The woman's words were partially muffled because she spoke through a mask and face shield revealing only green eyes. Shapeless in blue scrubs, her nametag read "Sibyl."
The nurse smiled. "I can see that you don't believe me."
Marta raised her palms in protest.
"Don't be concerned." Sibyl sighed audibly. "It took me a while to understand my condition." Her gloved hand took one of Marta's, and she said, "I'm not upset by disbelievers," even as her grip tightened.
With a plastic tube down her throat, Marta could only return a nervous nod.
Patting Marta's hand, Sibyl said, "I understand. Having your nurse declare herself to be from the future disquiets you." She pressed Marta's shoulders back onto the bed and said, "Why don't I tell you how I discovered my situation."
Helpless, Marta blinked a few times.
"Things came into focus after my car accident. My head struck the side window and I was unconscious for three days. When I awoke, I didn't immediately notice anything special," Sibyl paused, "until I went to the Miracle Market." She chuckled at the memory. "In the cheese section, a woman stared at the offerings and my brain played a grainy movie of her selecting a chunk of mozzarella." Sibyl smacked the bed. "And she did. Well done Karnack. Driving home, a doe shot in front of my car, but I'd braked, anticipating her appearance and avoiding an accident."
Marta's breathing quickened.
"Playing poker with the nurses, I won so much money, they accused me of cheating. More disbelievers," Sibyl said with a frown. "They won't play with me anymore. Well," her eyes turned evil, "their day will come."
Marta began to wheeze as she labored for oxygen.
Sibyl ignored Marta's distress and continued. "I had to prove a point, so the next day I went to the racetrack. To avoid betting favorites, I didn't check the odds, instead imagining a movie of each winning horse crossing the finish line before making a bet. I celebrated my winnings at the best restaurant in the city, then posted a beaming selfie on social media. All the nurses were jealous. To hell with them."
Marta's eyes darted about the room and Sibyl took notice, saying, "There's no call button. If you're watching the clock, my shift won't change until morning. All the doctors and nurses are scurrying to attend to the spike in new patients. Bed space in the ICU is critical." She squeezed Marta's hand again. "I'm the only person you'll see for the rest of your life."
Marta gulped and attempted to sit up, butSibyl tucked the sheets tightly around Marta's shoulders, swaddling her.
Sibyl continued. "I'm not some sort of narcissist ready to assign myself extraordinary powers. I consulted the doctor who treated me after the accident, but he saw nothing in the X-rays that would explain my phenomena, saying only that coincidence does not imply causality." Sibyl shook her head. "Another disbeliever. Don't some people possess incredible abilities, the geniuses, or the athletes performing at superhuman levels? Then, it hit me. I wasn't predicting outcomes, the movie replay in my head proved I'd already seen the result, which could only occur because I came from the future." Sibyl's green eyes brightened, recalling the self-discovery. "People who've been reincarnated recall previous lives. I'd been transported to an earlier existence."
Marta continued to squirm, trying to free herself.
Sibyl tucked her back in, saying, "Marta, you have a secret also, don't you?"
Sibyl continued. "Before you contracted the disease, you faked having COVID. All that sympathy from neighbors and acquaintances made you feel special, less alone. You even got them to shop for you, cook for you." She shook her finger. "Naughty girl." Sibyl leaned back. "They found out you were faking, and they shunned you. Then, you really got sick, and here you are alone again. Even if we allowed visitors, nobody wants to see you. You only have me as you die in a hospital bed. Ironic, don't you think?"
At the word "die," Marta's eyes widened. She'd already sweated her sheets dank, and a wave of trembling overtook her.
"You've guessed why I told you my secret. You're intubated and can't tell anyone. Plus, I've seen your future."
Marta became agitated, gesturing under the sheets, and Sibyl understood she wanted to communicate, so she withdrew a pad and pen from her scrubs and freed Marta's hands to write.
Please don't hurt me. I want to live.
Sibyl read the words and sighed. "Sorry," she said in a sympathetic tone, "you can't control your destiny."
Sibyl blew out a frustrated breath, again swaddled Marta so she couldn't move, then reached for the oxygen valve. "I knew you were a disbeliever." Her tone became stern as she shut the flow. "There's no point in prolonging the inevitable."
Marta tried to cry out without success.
"Don't you see?" Sibyl asked, as she watched Marta struggle to breathe. "There's no point denying others this bed when I've seen your fate."
As Marta choked on her last breaths, Sibyl held her down until she stopped struggling. The monitors attached to Marta screamed with alarm that her heart had stopped. Sibyl stepped aside as a doctor and nurse rushed in and applied paddles, trying in vain to revive Marta. When the doctor declared her dead, he ordered Sibyl and the other nurse to move the body so another patient could be accommodated.
Sibyl observed the look of pain frozen on Marta's face and sighed at a thought. Being from the future wasn't always a gift.