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Fiction #302
(published November 2, 2006)
Before Visiting
by Colin Fleming
So much for shifts. That was our plan, like we were on a stakeout or something. But my wife, because she is my wife, is home sick in bed. She's supposed to be here tonight. Last night was my turn and here I was. Right here. Same as now. I never even lost my couch. My father did not have a couch when he was doing this with my mother because he was bedside. I am officially waiting to visit. After it happened I never asked my father what his time was like because he would have just stared at me and I think you can practically choke on those kinds of looks. And I don't go asking a lot besides. I have not and won't call to ask my wife just how sick she thinks she is. I cannot use the laugh. Hardly anyone says anything here except if they whisper. Some people try and sleep the whole time. I watch the television. You can watch one show turn into another and sometimes you don't even know they're different. I like the commercials if there's a few in a row and you look at the clock on the wall and see the next show is about to start because I have had enough of all of the free magazines you can read. I can almost get sick off of them by now. They don't have any medical magazines. But there's some coloring books on the table with everything else even though hardly any kids come in here. I've only seen the two that were here yesterday. They sat at the table by the vending machine and didn't say a word, just colored. I do not know why I was watching. Like their parents couldn't have left them at home like the rest of them. Grandchildren scribbling their cards and wr iting Get Well like that's all anyone has to do and somebody's going to get better. Just dry your eyes love. Stroke it children, I say. I could never think like that. The rooms in here must be covered with little hopscotch drawings and smiley faces. Our kids are in school. Thank God for that. We just aborted one of them. Right here in this same place. It was down a floor though. One of the pamphlets they had downstairs at the nurses' station was nice enough to tell me that there is love even in loss. And to think I was wasting my time doing crossword puzzles.

I've read every magazine here dog-eared and I won't watch the news. The news is on I think six times a day or maybe eight. You should have heard that doctor though. "She's going to be extra emotional," he said. "For I don't rightly know how long," he said. That rightly, like he had just come out of someone's barn. When he said what he did I swear I thought he was talking about one of those vacuum cleaners you use for your pool, only smaller. So maybe I'd be home sick in bed too. But why wonder. They shut the television down late at night and there is not much to see. I do not want to look at the woman who says she's been here since Wednesday because when I look at the woman from Wednesday all I hear is her voice saying the same thing she always says. She says she's been here since last Wednesday to be with her husband. I don't know how she thinks she's with him sitting out here. She didn't ask about me so I didn't tell her about my wife's mother and of course not abo ut my wife. But she did say I was a dear because I got her some bottled water out of the vending machine. She offered me change but I paid myself. People make the biggest deals out of the smallest things. By the looks of her she is about my father-in-law's age and she dyes her hair, but my wife dyes her's too, and she isn't nearly so old.

My father-in-law is not here right now and I do not think that he will be. I have argued about him. I talk to my wife once a day when I call out on the wall phone. I call to tell her that the only news I have is that I have no news and that the doctors still don't know how this could be going on for so long and I am sorry. I say I am sorry because I am and I remember how it was for me afterwards even if I didn't ask my father what it was like for him having to be there and watch. And I ask my wife about my father-in-law. She asks me how I would feel if I were him and I tell her the best I can. I tell her I would feel like a prick who wouldn't know a ticking clock if it bit him on the ass. Those are not my exact words. But I am only answering her question. I think he should be here and I cannot believe that he's home with my wife. I should not need to tell my wife this but this really is their thing much more than it is mine. Then my wife sounds horrible and she tells m e that she will talk to me later.

The last time we were on the phone my wife told me about the arrangements and that she has a suit pressed for me and I haven't talked to her since. My wife told me Friday if it happens tonight, Saturday if it's tomorrow, but if it's the next day everyone waits until Monday. You'd think some things would be above having to wait for Monday. You'd think after you waited for a long time you'd be done waiting and I get tired thinking about all of this and I am not even supposed to be here. I don't sleep at night, but I have a hard time staying awake during the day. I walk blocks sometimes going around this floor. I go by where I think the operating rooms are and I run my hand along the wall. My right one for awhile, then my left the other way, because I like to mix things up and turn around after a few blocks. The woman from Wednesday is up at night too. There is always the sound of her moving in her chair like she is reaching for something or can't get comfortable. She has everything she has here in a black cloth bag and she puts her feet up on a hassock that is cracked down the middle and beige. Late at night she twists her mouth into an ugly shape and looks up at the ceiling and breathes hard, but only when everyone else is asleep. She has no idea I am looking at her now and I am sure that if she did she would not say anything. I feel bad for her when she goes to get chips and candy out of the vending machine because she coughs all of the time and I wonder if she is sick or just a smoker, and eating out of a vending machine can't help. I do not eat out of the vending machine but I have made a game for myself. My game is to count with the clock. I swear the only reason you can't hear the clock in this room is because it's digital. Each number is made up of little red bars that are notched on the end to fit into other red bars. They are small, too small to see from here. Whenever I want I can look at the clock on the wall and try and guess how many bars there are altogether in all of the digits in any time it says. Then I walk across the room and get up close to see if I am right. It is not the greatest game. The woman from Wednesday sometimes stares at the clock like me, but I do not think she is playing. And I know my wife would want no part of my game, even if she was here. I can tell you that eight past twelve has the most tiny bars in all, twenty to be exact, but my game gets old and it doesn't take long. I can watch the woman from Wednesday in her chair rubbing her eyes and I move on to that. Sometimes I feel like I am inside of her head with her and we have an agreement. All I have to do is cough when she turns in her chair and we start from there every time. We have it so she will tell me how she thinks she is with her husband when I go by to walk another block, and I'll give her the same look that says nothing each time I come back. Right up until the morning and she's still staring at the ceiling.

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