The Nice Shirt by Brandon Ogborn

Jacob Sanders (c) 2016

He came out of the room and approached the nurse like a squirrel. One of the nurses, any of them – their shapes melted into pale blue dots. “I’m sorry,” he said, his voice cracking. “Could you get her some more Jell-O?” He paused, as if to add what seemed like the discovery of an ancient civilization, “She likes the Jell-O.”

The nurse pointed her shoulders and tightened her jaw. “Sure,” she said coldly, with a clown smile. “I’ll get her more Jell-O.”

“Thank you,” he said neutrally, not catching an ounce of her sarcasm, her irritation. He went back into the room.

“If he asks me one more goddamn thing for her, I’m going to lose it,” the nurse said to the other one, both in pale blue. Both tired and exhausted, both trying to make it to the clock in an hour, the last case of their day.

Inside was his girlfriend, sixteen. Dishwater blonde. Holding a secret inside of her, despite her parents, despite her teachers. They knew it was a mistake, an accident of hormones and love and idiocy. They’d done it, in the dark of an alley or the back seat of a car or upstairs on the rough carpet after a nice family dinner and could hardly wait. But this happened – the thing they’d heard about, the one in a thousand chance, the one in a million nightmare, The After School Special. And they had the gumption, the gall to tell their moms and dads and their teachers. That they were keeping it, having it, raising it.

She was sixteen and he was a year less, fifteen. And he put on the nice shirt, the tie. The shirt from T.J. Maxx, that bleak purple-salmon, who knows what color it is, and the big tie, even worse and it all hung off his shoulders and bones like bags but he held his head up and pretended to be an adult. He was playing dress up.

“Maybe just try and be nice,” the nurse said to the other nurse. “He’s trying the best he can. He put on a nice shirt.”

Inside the room, he touched her cheek and changed the channels for her on the TV to something reality, reality TV, where someone in a shiny restaurant asks another person that looks similar about their hairline and says its weird, its ugly, the hairline.

He stroked her hair, the girl – his girl, the dishwater girl, like he had seen on a movie, some movie where a guy who looks good in a shirt strokes the girl’s hair.

Nobody knew yet but them, and the nurses, so he pressed on with the hair thing and said, “I love you,” and they believed it. And both of them thought about being 35, when they’d look back at this as they fell asleep in bed with other people and wouldn’t know each other anymore. Because only they knew now, and only the nurses an hour before, that the baby inside her was dead.

It was just tissue. But she would have to deliver it, their broken dream – eyes swollen closed, bones lathered and loose, frame forgotten. The names they’d picked out in the rush of rebellion, the violation of youth, all sad shadows now.

Their parents, all of them, the divorced ones that made it work. Their teachers that cared, cold on fading furniture in the green room of a show that will never air. Maybe wrinkled folks from the Church. Young friends with hats and acne and loose jeans, pretending to understand its gravity. All of them out there, hearts sunk to the ground, holding the wound. Tears swelling in silence, learning the long war they signed up to fight was already lost.

She would push, the girl, and he, the boy, would sweat along with her. He would mask her cries, hiding all the voices of all the ghosts of this little story.

Afterwards, the Jell-O would come. More than she could eat. They’d remember all the Jell-O. And that one Nurse who was so mean but then became kind.  Because he put on the nice shirt.

Brandon Ogborn is a writer, performer and occasionally funny person from Chicago. A transplant to Los Angeles, he is the author of the play The TomKat Project and co-creator of the Young Couple series.