Chocolate Pudding | Teen Ink

Chocolate Pudding

January 26, 2022
By mondande86, Oak Park, Illinois
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mondande86, Oak Park, Illinois
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Author's note:

I'm 15 and I wrote this piece for my English Literature A class. I really like stories and writing stories, but never put this much effort until now into actually making a story. 

“I really do hate vanilla pudding.”

The beeping gave me a headache, soothing my worries that his heart is still beating, while simultaneously making goosebumps crawl on my arms. I wonder if he doesn’t notice the scratchy inseam of the hospital gown. It was an ugly color. The spotted squares don’t make it any better either. 

“Do you want me to get you chocolate instead? 

“Oh no thank you, dear. Hand me the remote will you?” 

His voice was so raspy, but no matter how hard the nurses try, he’ll only drink milk. Every day Nurse Shelby places a new glass of cold water on the nightstand, and every day he doesn’t give it a second glance. He knows it doesn’t make his coughing fits any better - only worse - and yet no nurse has been able to convince him to have water instead. I’m not going to deny a man his milk. His hands were so shaky and wrinkly I almost assumed he would drop the remote. But in the same way that he holds my hand, his grip is firm. 

“Want to watch a movie, Jean?”

It’s sweet that he offers, but his eyes will be closed not even 30 minutes in. He needs the rest but is too stubborn to admit it. If he had the choice he wouldn’t even take his afternoon nap. But he doesn’t, so every day at 1:30, his IV is changed, and his eyes start to droop. His breathing mellows out, still raspy, but not as jagged. His snoring offers more comfort than the heart monitor. 

Before we could choose a movie, Nurse Shebly comes in with her rolling stand of supplies for vital checks. She wears bright pink shoes and no matter the weather, they always squeak.

“Oh, why hello Jean! I didn’t know you were here today! Coming to keep your grandpa company huh?”

Her giggles are just like her shoes, loud and squeaky, but thankfully she’s the nice nurse. She always tells me to call her Shelby, and she even made herself a new name tag that has “Hollow” crossed out. One of the old ladies down the hall said that she and her husband separated, and she’s trying to distance herself from being associated with Mr. Hollow. Unlike Nurse Johnson - the mean nurse - she is sweet and smells like apple pie. 

“Yes ma’am.” 

The velcro on the blood pressure monitor is stuck. As a child, I wondered if the bag would pop if I pumped the inflation bulb too much. It would tighten around my skin so strongly that I thought it was trying to make my skin tear. But she’s gentle with grandpa, grasping his arm softly and fluffing his pillows as he sits up before she works on him. 

The vase on the side table starts to tip as Nurse Shelby’s elbow nudges it to make room for her fuchsia water bottle. It stands out in contrast to the white walls and table. The white bars of the bed and blue bed sheets have become wrinkled beyond repair underneath my grandpa’s deteriorating frail body. The water sloshes and makes the stems of the lavender flowers collide together. Mother says that flowers should be still and pretty. She says the same things about me. Nothing but reprimands come out of her mouth every time I speak of words she deems “unladylike.” There is only 1 lavender left that hasn’t wilted and started staring at the ground. I bet they wished they stayed in the ground, their home. 

“I’m gonna go get something from the vending machine, I’ll be back in a minute, okay?”

“Go on now dear, this is boring stuff anyway. We’ll watch a movie when you come back. And grab an M&M bag, we can split the colors, okay?

“Alright, grandpa.” 

The hospital door is heavy but closes silently. I wonder if it’s designed like that in courtesy of other patients. Grandpa’s cheeks have hollowed in and you can see his green and blue veins all over his hands, topped with purple and yellow bruises. He doesn’t know how to cover his bald spots, so he just combs lots of hair over the top of his head. The hallways are empty of people, only filled with more rolling supply stands and emergency beds. 

I don’t go to the vending machine. 

The maple tree is surrounded by unoccupied birdbaths, filled with water and leaf soup. It’s a pretty garden, filled with a diversity of flowers and plants. To my surprise, most of the flowers haven’t wilted, instead, they stand tall surrounded by bumblebees and monarch butterflies. When I was eight, Grandpa and I watched from the patio as the cocoons formed and butterflies sprouted, flying around his garden, feeding on his milkweed plants.

If the gardeners had taken out all of the dead or dying plants I would have never known. But if they did, they missed one. A single standing lavender surrounded by an army of tulips. The stem wasn’t snapped but instead bent over like a weight had been laid on its back. There were empty spaces where lavender petals should have been attached, but instead were parted and laid on the dirt. Eventually, it would seep into the ground and deteriorate, but the petals - no greater than the size of my nails - just laid there, staring back up at its former home. 

“You’re not a resident. Who are you? Why are you here?”

She stood tall, her back slightly hunched over in favor of grasping her crutches. The clasp bunched up around her shirt, wrinkling the fabric. The bottom half of her crutches were covered in doodles, and her feet twisted slightly inward. Balance did not seem to come naturally. Her voice was clear speaking, hushed, almost as raspy as my grandpa’s. 

“No, I’m not. I’m visiting my grandpa”

My knees cracked as I stood up, sounding eerily similar to the clicking of her crutches against the brick pavement. There was no more than a foot between us, giving access to every crease and detail on her face. It’s decorated with freckles, meeting every wrinkle from furrowed brows to smile marks.

“You never answered my question. What’s your name? I’m Stella.”

She looked directly at me, her eyes of brown and green staring. Unwavering. I couldn’t tell whether she was staring into my soul or analyzing my heart. Maybe it was neither. I’d never know. 


“Pretty.” She paused, letting the silence emerge once more. “Come, take a walk with me.”

Without waiting for an answer she turned and started walking with uneven footsteps away from me, not looking back once to see if I was following. Her voice sounded so confident, so adamant that I would follow. She assumed that I would.

And I did. 


Maybe it was the way each foot hit the ground, lifting up and right back down, never dragging or going limp. Even though her back hunched over and her arms strained, veins sticking out as she held onto the handle of her crutches, her head was held straight, eyes never wavering towards the ground. Her eyes met with every person who walked by, presenting a smile. I don’t do stuff like this. Follow strangers, I mean. But I wanted to know more about her. Why are her framing strands platinum? When did she get her cartilage piercing? Is the heart on her ankle a stick-and-poke? She stopped in the middle of the window hallway and turned, staring out the window. I followed. It was silent and peaceful. I know nothing about her, and yet I don’t think I’ve ever felt as at ease as I am right now. 

“Can you drive Jean?”

“Yeah, why?”

She didn’t look at me. Just continued staring out the window at the parking lot, watching ambulances rush in and cars be driven away by valet men with sleeveless suit jackets as red as the blood held in IV bags. There was a crease in her face, by her lips. It turned into a dimple when she smiled. When she looked back at me, the dimple appeared. 

“You’re going to drive me somewhere. Just you and me.”


Her smile grew wider. “I don’t know. Somewhere. Anywhere.”

I don’t know her. Mother wouldn’t approve. She’d just click her tongue and shake her head. Her eyebrows would make wrinkles on her face, furrowing them so tightly she’d form a unibrow. What if I get in trouble? I would have to steal one of the cars. And I’d have to put my phone on silent. It would be blowing up with calls and texts from her. When I would get home she’d probably scold me. No hugs or tears. And where would we go? What would we do? There were 2 pros. 1) I could be free. Mother wouldn’t know where I was and I could explore without having her bearing down my back. 2) Stella. Just Stella. 


Our footsteps echoed throughout the stairwell, and the clicking of her crutches became enhanced. The stairwell was empty beside us. My heart drummed so hard I could hear it in my head. My hands left a trail of sweat along the railing. I thought the alarm would have gone off by now, but it was silent. There was a cockroach in the corner of the stair landing. I can’t tell whether it’s dead or alive. I hope it’s dead. 

“What room is your grandpa in?”


He’s been here for 2 weeks, so Nurse Shelby made him a door name. It was a green truck, identical to the one 3 doors down. I think it was supposed to be meant for the more permanent kid residents, but she told me there were no more circle tags. Either way, it made grandpa happy. He wanted more decorations, so every other day, I brought another trinket from his apartment. It adds another 20 min of riding the train, but he doesn’t know that, and I’m not telling him. He won’t admit it, but I think the trinkets bring him a sense of comfort. He probably wouldn’t have even let himself go to the hospital if it wasn’t for Mother reprimanding him about it all the time. The first thing I brought him was his picture frame of him and grandma. He kept it on the nightstand by his bed at home. He puts it in the same place here. He sat it down in front of his flower vase and hasn’t moved it since. 

“Want some pudding?”

Stella is leaning by the snack table. Her lips crack a brief smile. I would have missed it if I wasn’t paying attention. Her eyebrow stays raised, creasing upwards at the middle, waiting for my answer. She stares at me the same way she first did, eyes not moving. She only has one double lid, above her green eye. 

“Yeah, chocolate.”

She throws the pudding at me the same way that you would throw a ball at a child. A gentle underhand throw. The pudding is cold, despite sitting at room temperature. She pockets a York Peppermint Patty. 

“Good choice. Vanilla leaves an aftertaste.”

Our walk down the hall is silent, aside from the sound of our footsteps and the nurse’s gossip. Nurse Shelby leaves grandpa’s door open a crack, using the chain lock as a door stopper. I thought he would have chosen a movie already, but with each step closer to the room, the silence isn’t broken by the TV, but by a high-pitched beeping. It still gives me a headache, only this time, it doesn’t soothe me. 

“Grandpa? I’m back. I brought a friend.”

He lay on the bed with the remote still in his hand. His hair had fallen back, exposing the bald spot he tried so hard to hide. There was no breath coming out of his open mouth as it should have. He didn’t blink. Just stared out the window. And his chest didn’t rise. Every time he breathed he let out a raspy noise. This time, there was no rasp. 

Nurse Shelby’s voice became muffled. When did she get here? Stella’s mouth moved, yet no sound came out. Her nails dug into my arm, breaching through the thick fabric of my sweater. She was putting all her weight on one crutch, so much strain that I could see the vein marks on her arm up to her collarbone. 

The heart monitor became nothing more than a perpetual straight line. He used to like how it would move up and down. One time he made it skyrocket on purpose, and Nurse Shelby came running in only to find him laughing. She scolded him for a while, but all he would do was laugh, and eventually, Shelby’s giggles would join. No one was laughing.

“Hey talk to me, Jean.”

Nurse Shelby was still shaking my arm. It was starting to ache from the manipulation. But, Stella’s eyes weren’t the same anymore. They shimmered with unshed tears, and her eyebrows made creasing lines all over her forehead. She didn’t say anything. That was fine. I didn’t need her to.

The last lavender on his nightstand had wilted. I wonder if they were sad too. They drooped towards the ground and the stem wasn’t sturdy anymore, instead, it was covered in dark green and brown lines. My grandparent’s picture still sat on the nightstand, unmoving, like it was supposed to. 

The frame was a golden color, with a smooth metal feel. It became slippery under my clammy hands, and for the first time since my grandpa set the picture down, I moved it. In its place, I put down the chocolate pudding. It had sat in my hands for too long, now resting at room temperature. The Nurses will clean out his room soon, and throw away the pudding, but for now, It’ll stay, as he would have preferred. 

Nurse Shelby and Stella were across the room by the door. Stella’s eyes went back to normal, staring at me, unwavering. She turned, the same way she did in the garden, walking with her back hunched, into the hallway. And I followed. Leaving behind the chocolate pudding, grasping the golden picture frame so hard it made indents in my palm. Eventually, our feet synchronized and the silence we produced returned. 

“Let’s go to the vending machine.”

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