“The Old Guy in the Waiting Room” a short story
I got stuck at the hospital waiting for my mom to pick up me and my brother. My brother was eight and he had just gotten his tonsils out. I was sixteen and normally could’ve driven us both back to the house already but the old junker I’d bought had broken down again.
My brother was back there somewhere coming out of anesthesia. I didn’t know when they were going to bring him out and say it was ok for him to go home. I knew my mom must’ve gotten loaded somewhere and forgotten about me and Pinky. Can you believe that’s my brother’s name? Well, actually it’s Pinkney. Supposed to be British or some shit. We all just call him Pinky. Which is hardly better. His dad (we have different dads) was some drunk Englishman who stuck around just long enough to insist mom name the kid “a family name”, then he split.
My name is Rick which at least is better than Pinky. My brother doesn’t mind so much though. He’s a happier, better person than me. Whereas, me, I wouldn’t really care if everyone just took a shit and blew up. Is how I feel about stuff mostly. That’s why when some older guy sat next to me in the waiting room and started talking to me I got pissed and was thinking to myself “Oh fuck man. I just want to get Pinky and get the fuck outta here and Now I got to listen to some old guy talking bullshit come on.”
The man looked about sixty, pretty freakin old, and he had on an old pair of jeans that looked like rats had babies in them and an old sweater and glasses and orthopedic sneakers. He was clutching a paper cup with coffee in it and something about the way the veins in his old hands stood out holding the cup made me sad. So I just shifted my weight and tried to look like I was interested in the cooking show they had on the TV bolted to the wall.
But then he said “Who are you waiting for son?” and I wanted to pretend I was deaf or something because I really didn’t want to interact with another person right now. I was worried about my brother and worried he was gonna be bummed when he found out mom had ditched us and I was worried the hospital wasn’t going to discharge him to me and also that we had no way to get home (we only had the fucked up poor people insurance and does it look like I have enough money for a cab ride?) Oh yeah, I haven’t described myself yet. I also was wearing a pair of jeans that looked like some rats could’ve laid their babies in, plus an old gray hoodie and some torn up sneakers).
But then the old guy asked again “Who are you waiting for son?” and so I had to answer.
“My brother sir” I said. I say “sir” like a dumbass I can’t help it. I grew up in the south (Mobile for a couple years, and then Knoxville and then up to North Carolina outside of Asheville before mom moved us out west) and the sir and ma’am shit is like engrained. I keep waiting for the supposed sexy southern accent to get me some pussy but it hasn’t yet. I mean don’t get me wrong, I have slept with 2 chicks so far which I suppose isn’t too bad but it certainly wasn’t because of my accent. I think they were just bored.
“Is he alright?” the old guy asked.
“He just had a tonsillectomy” I said.
“Oh yes” said the old guy, “I remember that. You at least get to eat lots of ice cream” he said.
“Nah dairy makes him throw up” I said. Ugh! Just like so many old people he had the mind control powers where they can force you to talk to them.
“I’m waiting here for my wife” said the old guy. I knew it. I knew it was the wife. Next he was gonna tell me how she was dying.
“She had a stroke” he said. “They said it was a bad one, but they’ve stabilized her and she’s out of the woods now. She hasn’t lost any motor or speech function, she’s doing really well.” He smiled at me.
“That’s good” I said. “I’m glad she’s ok.” And I tried to turn my body ever so subtly in the complete opposite direction of him. I don’t like sitting right next to people. It’s like I can feel their vibes or something. Which are often not great. He wasn’t actually too bad though. I tried to really get into the fat bitch on the TV telling me how to cook Cornish game hens or some other little creatures she had stuck out on a platter. That’s what they looked like. Little baby chicks or baby parrots goin in the oven. I hate that people eat animals. I think it’s fucking barbaric. They should just eat each other. Did you know that there are these cannibals in some south pacific island region and you know what they call people? Like what their word for people is? It’s long pigs. Heehee. Long pigs.
The old guy was now clasping and unclasping his hands around the cup. I could see him doing it out of the corner of my eye. He was gearing up. Man. One time this gross lady sat next to me on the bus and starting crying and laid her head on my shoulder and I wanted to push her head off me but what could I do I had to help her and after she was done crying about something and going on and on she fell asleep leaning against me. I wasn’t into it but I just let her sleep. Actually what is kind of funny is I think I fell asleep too.
“I met my wife when we were in the fourth grade, can you believe that?” the old guy asked me.
“Hm” I said. I was suddenly feeling so tired. I didn’t know when they were going to wheel Pinky out. I was feeling anxiety I was going to have to say there was no one to get us home. I’d seen it on TV how they just kick patients out of their beds and leave them out on the sidewalk in a wheelchair if insurance won’t pay anymore. Fucken corporate scumbags. “Excuse me sir” I said to the guy and I got up real fast to catch a nurse as she was tearing by.
“Excuse me ma’am” I said, “Can you please tell me how my brother is doing?”
She asked for Pinky’s full name and mine and said she would send someone out to tell me.
I went to sit back down and as soon as I did the old guy looked over like we were going to continue to nurturing a blossoming friendship.
“How’s he doing?” he asked me. I told him she was going to come out and tell me. He said that there was nothing to worry about now that he’d come through the surgery fine. And that waking up from the anesthesia was a breeze. You just maybe feel a little nauseous and dry.
“That’s good” I said. I actually was a little comforted. No one had told me that. I didn’t know what was going on with the Pink Man back there. I hoped he wasn’t going to throw up. I didn’t want his throat to hurt. I had tried to read a little bit about it on the surgery in the library at school but I had a hard time concentrating and it was making me worry more. I just ended up taking a walk instead.
“Mabel had her tonsils out when she was a kid” said the old guy. “She said she remembers being afraid. I couldn’t imagine her being afraid of anything. Do you know she saved my life?” asked the old guy. I turned over instinctively and looked at him. I couldn’t help it, he’d asked me a question. And of course I did not know the answer to it but he didn’t wait for a response anyway.
“Wait til you hear this one” he said, and he was already chuckling. “Mabel and I lived in the same neighborhood and as such rode the same school bus and walked the same road home each day. I liked her a great deal but I only knew how to show it by throwing some little rocks at her.” He smiled at me and crinkled his eyes. “Imagine throwing rocks at the woman of your dreams” he said.
I made a noise like heh just to be polite.
“It was just another afternoon and I was walking behind her and calling out Mabel! Mabel! Like I always did and then pitching a few pebbles at her. She didn’t like me too well and ignored me. If she ever so much as turned around and looked at me I was thrilled. But she hadn’t even let on she knew there was another breathing soul behind her. It was a hot day. Our road had recently become a busy one as they were rerouting traffic through it while they completed some road reconstruction at a big intersection nearby. She heard the car before I did and I remember her screaming at me to get out the way. A big truck came barreling out of nowhere and hit me, fishtailed, and then kept going. They later caught the guy, he was a drunk driver in a black out. I was on the ground bleeding and I remember seeing it squirting out through my dungarees.
Mabel began screaming her head off “Police! Police!” and then”, he paused and looked at me with the crinkly eyes, “keep in mind she was only nine years old going on ten, and just a skinny little thing. She dragged me out of the road. I was blubbering and she told me to shush. She said it’s going to be alright. And then she elevated my leg against a mailbox and told me to press down where it was bleeding. She took off her sweater and tore the arm right off it. She tied it around my thigh and said she was going for help. I passed out and came to in an ambulance. Mabel had gone to a neighbor and called the police on their telephone. And she was riding with me in the ambulance. I can see it all. I have a vivid picture of it in my mind. I can see the glass IV bottle. In those days son, everything was glass. They didn’t have plastic IV bags. It looked like an upside down milk bottle.
And little Mabel is sitting next to me on the bench opposite my stretcher and I can see her face and she is looking at me very earnestly. I of course was already in love with her but I was hers after this. Absolutely hers.”
He stopped and looked at me. “Some story huh?” he said. He put his coffee cup down and wiped his palms on his jeans.
Ha I’d actually listened to that one. “It is sir” I said.
“We got married while I was in college on the GI Bill” he said. “She got away for a few years after high school” he smiled at me conspiratorially, “This was the late sixties and she was a flower child. She actually was living in San Francisco with flowers in her hair when I tracked her down.”
“She sounds cool” I said.
“She is”. He picked up his coffee again and sucked on some.
“How long you been here?” he asked “Have you had anything to eat?”
“Oh I’m fine” I said hurriedly.
At that moment a nurse came round the corner and up to me. Most nurses are cool. I know they are so overworked. This one wasn’t bad but she seemed real tired and impatient. I stood up and she said that my brother was ready to go home and that my mom just needed to sign a few things. I turned red I couldn’t help it. I had to tell the nurse my mom wasn’t here. I didn’t want to say she was running a little late and bide some time because I knew she probably wasn’t going to show up at all. If mom finds someone at her bar she goes home with them and sorta camps out for a few days.
“Well he is ready to be released and an adult has to sign the forms” said the nurse.
“I just told you there is no adult. I want you to release him to me” I said to her. I looked at her real hard in the eye.
“I’ll find out” she said and she went away.
I’ was thinking about how I was going to get us home. I’d figure out a way to pay the cab once we got to the house. I could give him something from the house. My stereo was worth way more than than the fare could cost. I’d give him that. I couldn’t have Pinky waiting for a bus in the cold after he just got operated on. “Here” said the old guy, and he leaned over and there was fifty bucks magically in his hand. “For a cab. I’d give you and your brother a ride home myself but I can’t leave”.
“Uh no I couldn’t” I said. But he’d already tucked it in my shirt pocket. I didn’t want to take it but he looked at me and I looked at him and I guess I said thank you in my brain before I could say no.
“I’ll pay you back” I said, “What’s your address, I could mail it”.
“Nah” he said “I appreciated your talking with me”. The nurse came back and said Pinky was all packed up and ready for me to take him home. She smiled a little bit. I thanked her and I called a cab on the payphone.
Then I had to go use the bathroom quickly and when I came out they were wheeling Pinky around the corner. I went to my seat to grab my hoodie and the old guy got up and I heard his knees crack. He held out his hand and we shook hands then he gave me a hug. I was embarrassed because my eyes teared up a little. Not so anyone could see though.
“Hey thanks man” I said. “And I hope your wife feels better real soon.” Thank you he said and he left to go check on her again, he nodded and smiled at Pinky as he walked by.
I got Pinky and wheeled him out of the hospital. He looked funny. He was scowling and his hair was sticking straight up like a haystack and he had a red jello lipstick stain all around his mouth.
“You look like the Joker” I said.
“No you do” he said. Pinky was glad to see me. I put him in the cab and we went home.
Copyright © 2013 by Kim Campion
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