She was smiling. Kelly always smiled, but this was his favorite photo of her. They had gone to the pier after the beach. It had been his day off. No one was there and the attendant at the Ferris wheel seemed less than thrilled to get any customers, but Nathan hadn’t let anything ruin that day. They went simply because they could. They had lived in the city for a decade and had never gone. At the top, she pulled out her phone and snapped the picture.
He still looked at the photo every day even after he began seeing the numbers. The first time he saw them was during his last night shift in the ER. An elderly man came in complaining of dizziness. He was on several medications, but Nathan knew Hydralazine would stabilize him. There was absolutely no doubt. He calculated it perfectly. 10 cc’s. Not a drop more. The numbers appeared as he pushed the drug into the man’s arm. They ticked down, and when they reached zero, the old man’s eyes grew vacant and left his body behind.
Nathan wandered to the pier every morning on his days off. He would stare out at the ocean and take in the salt-sprayed air for an hour or so. He’d buy a ticket to the Ferris wheel from a bored attendant. They were different each time, but now they all had numbers. The young man this time had a healthy 63 years, 22 hours, 41 minutes, and 36…35…34…
He didn’t know what it was or how it came to him, but he kept the numbers secret. He knew the idea of them would sound insane to anyone else. At first, he thought they were a punishment, a sign that whatever he did meant nothing, but he realized they were a blessing when he pulled a young boy out of anaphylaxis. He watched the minutes rise one by one as the boy’s breathing returned to normal. He knew the urgency of each patient with a simple glance. He started his rounds with the patient with the lowest number and ended with the highest. The nurses found his method sporadic, but he was always where he needed to be. They gave him nicknames that he tried to ignore.
At the top, where he could see most of the city, he would pull out his phone and stare at the photo of his wife. The zeroes above her head were daggers, but he taught himself to look past them and see her smile. The smile that reminded him of the day they spent at the beach six years ago. When they had gotten out of the water, plopped down on their towels, sprawled out on the sand and Kelly told him she was pregnant. She said it so bluntly he’d almost missed it. She had looked at him with that beaming smile and started laughing.
It was infectious, even across the years. Nathan found himself smiling when he got off the empty ride and onto the vacant pier. He headed into the city of a million people.