The Waiting Room
fiction by Shelly Lynn Stone
The Waiting Room
My wife is dead and my daughter won’t stop crying. I sit in the waiting room at Lynn Family Medical Center while my crying daughter talks to a therapist who has the same wide hips as my dead wife and I feel numb. I flip through a Sports Illustrated and watch patients with drippy noses and weird rashes check in with the receptionist. I don’t care if they catch me staring. The nurse with the clipboard wears Disney scrubs. When I was young, Dumbo made me cry. As a grown man, I’ve cried three times: when my wife was diagnosed, the day she died, and when I walked away from the open casket. I haven’t cried since. My stomach growls and I want coffee though it is four o’clock and will keep me up all night. If only I could sleep and dream of a life where I could touch my wife. I shift in the metal chair, the type my wife would’ve hated, the type that squeezed her into a space not made for her body. When my daughter comes out, she gives me a hug and the therapist asks me if next week is good, as if I would have anything else to do.
I sit in the waiting room and a young woman in the chair beside me smiles so I tell her that my wife is dead and my daughter is talking to the therapist. I tell her it’s my fault my wife died because I didn’t go to her medical appointments and I didn’t sit in uncomfortable chairs with her until it was too late and I had to wait for them to tell me she was dying. If I had been better informed, had questioned the doctors, googled the symptoms, she might still be alive. The young woman tells me it’s not my fault. This makes me feel better. We talk about my wife until the nurse in puppy dog scrubs brings a boy over. I assume it is the woman’s son, though I haven’t asked. Maybe his parent has died. I hope the woman comes back next week.
The chairs in the waiting room are full and I talk to a gentleman who waits for his wife. Don’t take her for granted I tell him. If my wife were still alive, I say, I would treat her better. I would tell her the bleeding and pain needs to be addressed. I would drive her to the city for a second opinion. I would be a better advocate and love her more. At least you have your daughter, he says, but this does not make me feel better. When he goes in for his appointment, I look for someone else to talk to. No one makes eye contact.
I sit beside an elderly woman who knits a scarf. When my daughter leaves to talk to the therapist, I tell the woman my daughter is losing weight and the pediatrician didn’t even mention it except to say she was still in the ninetieth percentile. The old lady asks what I feed my daughter and if she has an appetite. I want to scream at her, the way I should’ve screamed at my wife’s doctor when he told her to try walking. Instead, I leave the waiting room to get a Snickers bar. The candy bar gets stuck and I pound the vending machine until my fist aches. My daughter’s favorite purple-star pants are falling off her body and my wife is gone.
When the therapist gives me the reminder card for the next appointment, she touches my hand. Her skin is hot and her swollen fingers have manicured nails like my wife’s, so long and pointy I imagine if they scratched my skin pain would ooze out. We chat about my daughter’s progress, the therapist looking at me with genuine warmth. I tell her that even though she deals with brains, I wish she had been my wife’s doctor because maybe she would’ve caught the cancer instead of recommending gastric bypass. I don’t think you need to lose weight, I tell her, in case she has misunderstood me. She asks me if I want to make an appointment. No, I say, I’m not worried about cancer.
I wait in the parking lot because I want to be alone while my daughter meets with the therapist. I don’t want to talk to the people in the waiting room. I want to talk to my wife. I want to talk to her about dinner and my dirty socks and the traffic on the commute to work. I sob alone in the car.
I read Sports Illustrated in the waiting room until my daughter is done. I ask the man next to me about the weather. We make small talk and then I go back to reading until my daughter, who is crying less these days, skips out. The therapist gives me an appointment card, smiles at me and squeezes my hand. I want to follow her back to her office, to watch her wide hips lead me to a place where I can be with my wife.