The Waiting Room

Kathryn Lapin

Someone new arrives in the Waiting Room. They take a number and move to find a seat. The newcomer sits closest to the door. This is a smart decision.

A woman nearby eats her fingers one by one. She crunches down in anticipation. Her cheeks are full. Her lips glisten. She refuses to swallow.

Heart rate monitors sound loudly from down the hall. They beep in disunity, producing short and long tones indiscriminately. They are sending out a message, a warning. Nobody listens. Nobody knows the code.

A man pats his pockets in search of car keys. He can not find them. Surely he did not walk here. He can not remember where he was before this. He can not remember who he was with. He can not remember anything but the Waiting Room.

Bored, a child adds to the number of tallies she’s drawn on the wall. One of her arms hangs limp by her side. It sways gently as she moves. Her mother checks the date. How long have they been here? Her daughter looks bigger, taller than she remembers. The child’s arm, now seemingly longer, still dangles.

A number flashes. Nobody gets up. The number continues to flash brightly, blinding those who look for too long. Still, nobody gets up. The patient is eventually found hiding under the last row of chairs. Patient 99 does not get up. Eventually, someone covers him with a jacket.

The newcomer looks around for someone, anyone to be of help. There are no staff in the immediate vicinity. There are no staff in any visible vicinity. The empty reception desk looks on apathetically, unable to answer questions, unwilling to be of help.

A lone nurse finally appears to whisper something in an old man’s ear. The Waiting look on expectantly. The man begins to weep. “Thank you.” he says, though he is not thankful. “Thank you.” he says, though he does not mean it.