Short Fiction

Cracked and Broken by Andrew Campbell

They tell me I’m not OK, and I listen. They say, “Take it easy for a while,” so I do. But even so, things don’t change. When I do nothing, I end up here, and if I do too much, I end up here. Is there a line? Maybe I’ll find it, but not while I’m laying in this bed, scribbling on this paper, and staring at the cold concrete wall beside me. They say, “You need to stay in a stress-free environment while you recover.” This place is stressful. But I’m here anyway.

I complained to my doctor about how I get so bored. I told him that I want to read, but I don’t have any books with me— I brought a few, but the nurse that admitted me said that they’re too dark and tossed them in a plastic bag. I hope I get them back, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she keeps them. They’re good books.

When I brought the complaint to my doctor, he nodded his head the way he always does when I say something and said that the hospital had a library and asked if I wanted to see it.

Of course. I wanted to read. I wanted to come back to my room and forget about the hard bed, concrete walls, and cold floor. I wanted time to pass without trouble, so I could get back home and hear my daughter say, “I love you, daddy.”

He talked for a few more minutes. Nothing important. But as soon as he finished, we walked out of the office. He whispered something to the nurse I named “Sweetie”— because that’s what she calls everyone when she talks (and she talks a lot). She stood up and walked to me, “Come on, Sweetie. Let’s go find you something to read.”

We walked down a long hallway. There were no rooms or windows. There were no people. It was just me and her, and her heels that popped the floor in a rhythm that I followed. At the end of the hall, there was a door to our right. She went ahead of me, and a light came on as I turned the corner and stood in the doorway.

I looked around. There was a small table in the center of the room with two chairs perched high on top of it. The tile floor was scarred with black marks that stretched across the room, and the walls were bare— except the one furthest from me, which had a small bookcase, the size of a toddler. Its shelves were mostly empty, but there were a few, sad books lined in the center— their covers were stained yellow and their spines were cracked and broken.

I looked at Ms. Sweetie. “Is this it?”

“It used to be a little bigger, but people kept leaving with the books,” she answered, smiling and walking around the table.

My stomach sunk low. I felt tension in my toes, and I felt it crawl across my feet, up my leg, and through my back. My throat felt thick— I couldn’t swallow— and my arm raised in the air. “These aren’t books,” I started, turning away from the room, “Why did you bring me here?”

Ms. Sweetie turned to me, “I’m sorry. The doctor said reading might help.”

Heat rushed to my face. I started toward the bookshelf. “Did he want to see how I’d act when I didn’t get what I wanted? Are there cameras? Is he watching right now?” I grabbed the corner of the shelf and pushed it to the ground. The books fell across the floor. “Is this what he was looking for?”

I stepped backward, and when my back slapped the wall, I slid to the floor. I couldn’t breathe. My face stung. My hands shook. I felt water on my cheeks. “If I don’t read, I won’t get home. I won’t see Katie. I won’t hear, ‘I love you.’”

When I looked up, I saw Ms. Sweetie’s face inches from mine. Her hands held my arms.

“It’ll be OK,” she said.

Worthless words.

And here I am, laying on a hard bed, looking at a concrete wall and not wanting to get up because the floor is cold, and I’m not wearing any socks.


Andrew Campbell

Image by Rick Roberson of Pixabay


6 thoughts on “Cracked and Broken by Andrew Campbell”

  1. Sounds like this guy has had a number of relapses. It’s a pretty bleak situation. We’re not sure how he got into it, we know his perceptions. Generally, if you can focus enough to read, you’re getting better. It’s quite symbolic and tragic when he knocks the book case over.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Andrew,
    For me, there are three sentences that aren’t together but stand out as meaning to your MC:
    These aren’t books.
    Worthless words.
    If I don’t read I won’t get home.
    This is like a barrier of conditions he has given himself as reasoning for the way he is.
    I really enjoyed this, there is much to think on.
    All the very best my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

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