? SLAB | Sound & Literary Art Book

Issue 8

Creative Nonfiction

Helen Ruggieri

The Waiting Room


My god, we are all terminal cases under the gruesome fluorescent light bouncing off the once creamy walls. The chairs are orange, designed in the fifties by an Italian who considered style more than comfort. The plastic heats up your fanny while you try to find a comfortable position. It’s four a.m. the doggie hours, the end of sleep approaching for sleepers, but for us—the start of a long day. The magazines reflect the doctors’ discards—Golf Digest, The Allergy Newsletter, Hospital Purchasing New, Forbes, and month-old TIME and Newsweek, capsulized data for chatter at the club. A girl rocks back and forth her arms wrapped around her stomach, her mother goes out for a smoke and returns trailing the odor of burned tobacco. We are waiting for news of my mother who got up to go to the bathroom and fell and broke her arm. She disappeared behind those doors some time ago. The girl with the stomach problem is making funny noises, a sort of singing groan. The doctor finally appears in flowered scrubs and takes her into the bowels of the emergency room. The clock ticks over the melted snow on the dirty yellow linoleum floor. The door outside door opens and two EMTs rush in carrying a board between them, a bundle, a pile of blankets. The doctor takes them right inside. A man and a woman follow. Her ankles are bare, hair flying, pajamas sticking out from under a raincoat. He wears a wrinkled pair of khakis under a Bills jacket. He wears no socks either. They too take a seat on the orange chairs lining the abutting wall. He puts his arm around her. She studies the puddles on the floor as if they were runes spelling out the future making a tuneless sort of noise, rising and falling, softly. The doctor comes back into the waiting room and demands in a loud voice, “What happened!” The questions come in a hard, insistent voice. They stumble, talking over each other, until the man takes over. The doctor is mad at them and they don’t know why. He answers, his voice rising with each answer until, “we found him in the crib.” And “crib” becomes a growl that breaks into a gasp a drowning man might make bobbing into air. The wife makes a terrible sound, a terrible moan that increases in intensity until she sinks to her knees, as if following instructions in the mass—let us all kneel there on the dirty wet linoleum. She makes no other sounds. Her husband lifts her; the doctor takes them back inside. We wait again, our silence different. We breathe back into the fluorescent gloom all that we can offer them.