” This story was relatively easy to write. It actually started coming to me on Tuesday when the Options for this assignment were being explained. It bothered me that I couldn’t write it down at the time, but I made sure to keep the idea in my mind until I could. The waiting room in the story is loosely based on one in Bozeman Deaconess, which I spent time in when I was younger when the artery in my dad’s leg collapsed and had to have a stint. He turned out fine, but I imagined what would happen if he hadn’t, and wrote this story. “
By Shiloh Miller
You sit quietly in the empty room, not really aware of your surroundings. You know you should be feeling something, pain maybe or grief, and that you should cry but you just can’t. The tears won’t come. You feel numb as you look up at the ceiling. There’s a T.V. mounted in the corner of the off white room, tuned to some midafternoon talk show. You turn your head to look at the clock on the left side of the room. It seems to tick slowly, each movement sounding so loud, almost booming as if it were giant and daunting in the quiet room.
You fidget a little in the chair, its wood frame creaking and the floral patterned cloth shifting uncomfortably under your weight. You get up and drag yourself to the elevator at the end of the room. Your body feels heavy like lead and just lifting your arm to push the button is a big effort. The bell dings as the door slides open, almost echoing through the room and you step inside. Soft music plays as you ride to the ground floor.
There is a small food cart set up near the entrance to the building, warm smells and steam drifting from it. You walk up to the cart and the guy behind it smiles at you as you pick up a poppyseed muffin. In the brief moment when your brain actually becomes conscious you consider buying coffee, but decide it would be a bad idea because it would give you jitters and just stick to the muffin. The guy behind the counter gives you your change and looks pointedly at a small plastic jar with a paper “Tips” sign taped to it. You shove all your change in it, not even caring that it was twenty bucks and a few quarters, and turn away as the guy stares at you in astonishment.
You get back in the elevator, sit back down in the empty room, in the uncomfortable chair, and unwrap your muffin. It’s golden brown with little black seeds and you stare at it intently. Your stomach growls, but you can’t really bring yourself to eat the muffin, so you pick at it instead, nibbling little pieces like a mouse. You try to pick each little seed out of the muffin, but it’s impossible and you put the muffin down and stare at the T.V. for a while. Your brain is so numb that you can’t really comprehend what’s happening on the screen so you just watch the shapes move on it like a handicapped chimp. A nurse walks by and you turn to look at her for a moment, only registering that she’s a nurse, not thinking about where she’s going or what she might be able to tell you.
After a while the nurse comes back, but she doesn’t stay and you don’t really care anyway. No one has told you anything since you arrived there a little after 3am. Your mind is reeling and memories flash in front of your eyes.
Dad is holding you, when you were about 5. He holds you tightly, but not too tight, as he swings you in circles while laughing and smiling. You’re riding on his shoulders so you can see above the crowd to watch the parade, the colorful floats and dancing horses filing past you. “Hey, buddy!” He calls, coming home from work. You smile and run to him, hugging him tightly. You’re 12 and the two of you are walking up on the hill you always hike on, looking for shed horns from deer. He’s delighted when you find one even though it’s just a little forked horn and there’s only one. You come home on your 14th birthday and he’s horrified to find that Mom has taken you to get your ears pierced. You punch him in the arm and tell him he’s being a baby. He curls back in mock pain and horror, never actually feeling your feeble punch. He’s too strong and tough for that. He sits in the 2nd row of the gym, watching as you receive your high school diploma. His face is beaming with pride. He visits your college dorm for the first time, cracking a corny joke about how messy it is.
You can’t imagine life without him. Your eyes begin to close and you fall asleep. When you wake up it’s a little after 2pm and the nurse is gently shaking your shoulder. When you turn to look at her she clasps her hands in front of her and looks down at you sadly. “I’m sorry,” she says. “He passed away just a few minutes ago. There was nothing the doctors could do.” You look down at the ugly carpeting and blink. Your brain is still numb and you haven’t really processed anything yet. The nurse sits down in the chair across from you with her hands in her lap. You sit there and blink for a few more seconds as your brain begins to click on and the words she’s just said make their way deeper into your mind.
Not just your mind, the words start to make their way deeper into your heart, your very soul, until they strike your center. With a wail like that of a wounded animal you fall from the chair onto your knees and tip over, curling into a ball. You clutch your chest and squeeze your eyes shut. It hurts; it hurts more than you’ve ever felt before. It’s like you’ve been impaled on a spear while at the same time a little black hole has opened in your heart and is slowly sucking up little bits of your soul. You roll with agony, wailing again as the nurse shifts her feet. You kick the table next to your chair and the muffin falls to the floor and bounces up to your face. You grab it, squeezing it tightly until crumbs fall from between your fingers. Mom comes rushing into the room, back from her phonecall and trip to the grocery store to get medication for her allegies. Despite being in a hospital, no one can give her anything to stop her nose running and her sneezing. She begins to weep and holds you tightly. A baby cries from one of the other waiting rooms. Finally…your tears come.
It’s been several weeks since your dad passed away. You see him in everything, every room of your house. The landlady has lowered your rent out of kindness, since you now have only one source of income in your house. You sigh and go about your way, scouring the Help Wanted ads for a job. Mom asks you to go get groceries. You get your keys and head out. You go through the list, putting only the necessary items in your cart. You stand at the checkout, staring out the big windows at the front of the store. A display nearby catches your eye. It’s a stand with a big sign that reads “Muffins.” You walk over to it as the cashier finishes scanning your items and pick up one of the prepackaged goodies, bringing it back over to the checkout line. As you place it on the conveyor belt, the cashier quickly picks it up and scans it. The monitor above her register reads “Poppyseed Muffin.”