AW Flash Fiction — 12/13/09 — The Return

Flash Fiction = 90 minutes from the reveal of the theme (“the return”)  to write, edit and post story online at AW.


Harold mopped the ward floor with his usual attention to detail at six o’clock on the dot this morning like all the other mornings. The new hospital administrator, Marcus Smith, had noticed Harold’s punctuality and meticulous ways within minutes of spotting him on his first tour of the hospital some two months ago. Harold was a likable guy but with the budget cuts, he would soon be a luxury the hospital could no longer afford. Marcus was on his way to present his suggested cuts to the board. It wouldn’t be pretty but some things were necessary no matter what.

Taking his seat at the table across from the members of the board, Marcus shuffled his notes and cleared his throat. So far, all his ideas had been well-received. He knew he’d been offered this job because of his ability to find the fat and ruthlessly cut it out. He wasn’t a popular administrator with the staff but he had run some of the most profitable hospitals in the country and now Legacy General of Bremerton would join the elite ranks those hospitals occupied.

“The last item on my agenda concerns the janitorial staff. I think we can safely cut approximately three FTE without any sort of detrimental impact to the hospital’s sanitation or perceived cleanliness.”

The board members exchanged a few glances and Mrs. Rogers interrupted and asked, “Which staff in particular were you thinking about cutting, Mr. Smith?”

Marcus shuffled his notes and peered at the names written there. “Lavon Marshall, who works graveyard, Jason Whitaker, who works swing shift and Harold Legacy who works the early morning shift. These three gentlemen have a combined cost to the hospital of approximately eighty thousand dollars per year, including benefits.”

“Harold? You want to layoff Harold?” The question came from Dr. Scott Toomey. “You can’t layoff Harold.”

Marcus noticed that several of the other board members nodded.

“Why not?” he asked. He’d checked all his figures several times, computed the required number of janitorial hours required using the latest time and motion studies and knew that three FTE was the correct figure. Two of the three selected had low performance scores and the hospital didn’t need an early morning shift on the heels of the graveyard shift. It was all by the book.

“Because Harold is a member of the Legacy family, Mr. Smith. Surely you’ve been told his story by now?” asked Mrs. Rogers. She removed her reading glasses to regard him with a dubious air.

Marcus panicked. Harold’s last name was Legacy. The hospital’s name was Legacy. But Legacy wasn’t a family owned hospital. There was no “family”. “No ma’am, I am not aware of Mr. Legacy’s background or history with this hospital other than his shift is rather redundant with the graveyard shift and therefore that position was deemed an unnecessary expense.”

“Mr. Smith, we are aware that you are new and ambitious and indeed that ambition and drive to make this hospital more profitable is why we hired you. But Harold is not up for negotiation.” Dr. Toomey delivered his message to the unanimous nods from the board.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t understand,” Marcus said.

“Yes, I see that you don’t,” said Dr. Toomey. “Harold is a ‘return’.”

“A return?” Marcus had no clue in the world what they meant.

“Harold was born in this hospital twenty-five years ago but things didn’t go so well at his delivery,” said Dr. Toomey.

Mrs. Rogers piped in, “It was a very difficult birth. No one could blame them for returning him.” She scanned the faces of her peers.

Marcus noticed a few of the other board members shifting in their seats. They appeared to be avoiding eye contact with her.

“Returning him?” Marcus asked. This was very confusing. How could a baby be returned?

“Yes, his parents returned him when he was four months old, poor little guy,” Mrs. Rogers said, shaking her head.

“So are you trying to say that Harold Legacy is a ward of this hospital? That the hospital is somehow responsible for his welfare?” Marcus ran his fingers through his hair, scanning the faces of the board members. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

“Oh yes, this hospital takes care of its own,” announced Dr. Toomey with a proud note in his voice. “That’s why Harold Legacy, June Legacy, Wilhelmina Legacy, Fred Legacy and Marshall Legacy are not eligible for layoff…ever. Didn’t they explain this to you when you started?”

“Uh, no they didn’t,” Marcus replied. He picked up his pencil and scratched through Harold Legacy’s name. The whole “return” policy of Legacy General Hospital would be the next on his to-do list to examine and redraft.

As he left the board room, ninety percent of his cuts well-received, he passed Harold.

“Afternoon, Mr. Smith,” Harold said. “I done finished cleaning your car while you was in the board meeting. I hope you like it. It sure is a pretty thing.” He grinned broadly, his gleaming white teeth and clear eyes the picture of health.

“Thank-you, Harold. I’m sure you did a great job.” Marcus clapped Harold on the back and continued on his way to his office.

“Hey, Mr. Smith!” June Legacy shouted from inside the gift shop as he passed. June ran out after him and handed him a steaming hot cappuccino. He purchased one from her every morning but because of his board meeting hadn’t had a chance to swing by yet. “I knew you’d be wanting your usual. Have a nice day!”

“Thank you so much, June. Th-that’s very thoughtful of you.” Marcus wrinkled his brow as he took a sip and continued down the hall.

Marcus peered out his window after he entered his office and closed the door. Below in the parking lot, his BMW glistened in the sunlight, immaculately polished as if fresh from the showroom floor. Perhaps revisiting Legacy’s “return” policy could wait a bit. There were certainly much bigger fish to fry at this place, he thought, as he took a sip of his cappuccino and booted up his computer.