Nurse Jackie

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Life in the Balkans
e, how he labors under a false cold sun. That thing that Grace feels slipping away, and the world going with it. And then there's Eddie, who supplies the other thing. For whom she takes off her ring, and who in turn feeds her body with pleasure and oblivion. Eddie who couldn't locate the Balkans on a map, but at least knows that they exist.

"Eddie and your husband decide to become friends. And they become friends, and the Titanic is sinking, and only one of them survives." That's the story Grace is telling, all the time, and nobody can decipher it. Kevin doesn't know what it means, and Jackie's not strong enough to hear it yet, because she is the Titanic.

"You are really a very mean-spirited woman," Jackie says, and then changes the subject. Or thinks she's changing the subject, when really she's just riding that train to its next stop. "I think Grace is starting to unravel a little bit," she admits. Unto admitting that it's starting to scare the shit out of her. The things, the bright Balkan things, she has to protect Kevin from. "If you need anything -- and I mean anything -- you better bloody tell me," Eleanor says, uncharacteristically clear-eyed, "Or I will kill you." Yes:

When we were talking about Kevin, about the chicken soup, the pancakes, that he brings them every second, she was picking at her fingernails, her nail beds, her cuticles, her thumbs and fingers, worn and dry from the constant OCD sanitation that keeps us alive. Now her hands flutter to her face, as though she is being attacked, and linger at her earrings:

"And then, she'll be motherless." (This with a gorgeous and evocative intonation somewhere along the semiotic lines of, Which will give her something to fucking cry about.) "And then I'll have to take her." Jackie shivers at that thought, from the bottoms of her feet to the top of her lovely head. She won't leave the earrings alone, can't do it, like sneakers that will never be quite tight enough. She forces her hands to her lap and changes the subject again: "You know you took my precept's stethoscope this morning, right?" Meaning, was this something you did knowingly, to be my friend the bitch, or is this something you did because you're a doctor. Eleanor giggles that she's been having "the most marvelous time" watching her muster the courage to ask for it back, and they laugh, and the fear goes away again.

(I think -- and it pains me to say this -- I think I would like to see Eleanor really screw Jackie somehow. Or if not betray her, at least show us the limits of this friendship. Because they're so kind and accepting and impressed with each other all the time that it's really comforting? But also kind of scary, because part of the point of Eleanor is that she's this Absolutely Fabulous Weapon of Mass Consumption -- prodigal to a cartoonish degree, exquisitely blasé, debauched in no specific way -- which, you'd do well generally to remember, can and will always go either way. Real folks who eat off other people's plates will eventually reach for yours, and you better love them enough to share before that happens, or they will cut you with their steely knives. We love our selfish friends because they make us feel less selfish but that doesn't change the fact that we're both selfish. So the idea of the abyss, although we have not seen it yet and maybe never will, makes me nervous, because at some point we're going to require a sense of where her honor is located for her to remain interesting, and I do so love her.)

Mo-Mo brings the labs for the Ohio couple -- "Wife ain't preggers" -- he says, but there's more to it. Jackie goes to the wife, alone, and explains the situation. Not pregnant, sadly: withdrawing from opiates. The girl protests when she asks for details, and she cuts to the chase: "If you bullshit me I can't help you." Welcome to New York. She asks how Jackie knew, and she fairly counts off on her fingers: "Cramps, sweating. And you know, it's my job."

Ohio Wife got her wisdom teeth out six months ago, and was given Vicodin, and she loved it. Incredibly easy to get ahold of, online. It was the most amazing feeling she'd ever had, like chicken soup: the most perfect day of your entire life. Which, she explains, is not an easy feeling to attain in Toledo. So what, Jackie asks, she ran out on their trip? Not at all: it's their anniversary. The real perfect day, the perfect trip. Why would she need it? Because you've found your way into the Balkans, where things have consequences; because you must now find your way back out again. Because this job is wading through a shitstorm of people who come into this place on the very worst day of their lives.

You can't just stop taking opioids just like that; you have to taper off. "You're on a slippery slope," Jackie says, and she recoils. It's not like she's addicted, after all. Jackie doesn't even bother, because they both know the truth. And incidentally, trying to get pregnant while you're taking painkillers recreationally is "not a great plan," to understate the problem somewhat. She shivers; the husband has an alcoholic dad and a pill-popping wife will kill him. She jumps, I mean to say, like Jackie in the morning.

Jackie heads out to get her a phone number, and when she reaches into her pocket for a pen to write down the number, she pulls out the eyeliner and gum, and the Vicodin stuck to the end of it. Pops the pill; why not? There's no time for irony.

Jackie and Mrs. Zimberg listen to the dry flatline whistle, looking down at him as the lights go out. Jackie sends the team away, so that it's just the two of them with him, and eventually turns off the machine. "I'm so sorry," she says finally, swearing that the chicken soup must have eased his suffering. "That's all I ever wanted," Mrs. Z smiles. "I knew he was dying, even though he didn't want me to know. Married a hundred years, how could I not know he was dying?" That's life in the Balkans, harsh and uncaring:

Mrs. Akalitus arrives, right on time, distastefully efficient, and gives Mrs. Zimberg an ugly apology. The curtain squeals, screeches, as she pulls it back. Mrs. Zimberg speaks quietly, says something in Yiddish, and Akalitus leaves again. She's not a happy woman. What did it mean? "Go shit in the ocean," Mrs. Zimberg grins, and Jackie smiles warmly. "Very nice."

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Nurse Jackie

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