#20 - Little White Mug

      You're counting change for the candy machine, when the Doctor comes around the corner. You have enough for a small bag of Doritos but after eating them for supper everyday this week you're considering your options. You're pretty much sold on the peanut butter cups but need thirty five more cents.

      Thirty five more cents means you will eat chocolate. This is very important right now. It won't be soon, and it's never been before, but right now, in this florescent lit waiting room, it is very important.

      When the doctor approaches you he asks if you are Mr. Whatever, whatever. He wants to make sure he's talking to the right person and that the news is being delivered accurately because it is not good news. And bad news is worse when wrongly delivered.

      He learned in school, that bad news is best delivered using the band-aid theory. That is to say, straight up, and quick with no hesitation. It'll seem abrupt at first, but is better than saying "Maybe you should sit down," or "I'm afraid Iíve got some bad news."

      So when the doc hits you with it it's like a punch in the face. He's true to form, quick and abrupt and almost rude about it. The kicker here is that he's foolishly handsome, so when he says the ugliest thing you've ever heard it's almost comical.

      You almost laugh.

      He follows up with more of the same; soft-spoken words and terms like "complications" and "spinal fluid".

      You're somewhere else now though, entering a tunnel. You're losing him, losing the connection to his voice and your surroundings. Everything is becoming dark but, with a glow, like a city at night, or a candle lit room.

      The doctor puts his hand on your arm and says something before turning to leave.

      When you come out of the tunnel everything, without warning, becomes very cold.

      Cold tile floors and cold plaster walls with cold stainless steel handrails. Cold, blue-plastic waiting room chairs.

      You stand at the candy machine and stare at the peanut butter cups. You lean in to the machine and the glass is cold on your forehead. Every item in it is unimportant, or out of stock.

      Thirty five cents. Peanut butter and chocolate.

      * * *

      It's all ceiling tiles and sprinkler heads when you wake up. Youíre lying in a small bed with a thick blanket covering you. The nurse walks in and says something you decide is either "How you making out?" or "Everybody, twist and shout."

      She is beautiful, and you wonder if everyone that works in this hospital is attractive.

      She is saying you went into shock and collapsed, that the doctor found you unconscious with your arm halfway up the candy machine. Her mouth moves and words come out and you notice she's speaking with a lisp. Her teeth and tongue work together and have the sort of relationship to be envious of.

      You remember now, and it all comes back again. It pours in like a child pushing a glass under water, bottom first.

      Your wife is dead.

      Your wife is dead and you are not handling it very well. Not like a man with responsibilities and obligations should be handling it. Not the way she would have wanted you to handle it. Certainly not the way she would have handled it.

      It's all ceiling tiles and sprinkler heads until you fall asleep.

      * * *

      It's raining when you leave the hospital. They kept you overnight to make sure you didn't get stuck stealing candy again, or drown in an ice machine. The rain is the first real thing you've felt since the doctor touched your arm. It is overwhelming and perfect.

      Your car has 5 parking tickets under the driver's side windshield wiper. You lift the wiper and take the tickets before unlocking the car and getting in. The first one goes down hard, but the rest are easier. You haven't chewed paper since making spit balls in grade six and it is less enjoyable than you remember.

      You drive home and everything is an afterhours television channel. All static, or some Indian-head test pattern. The streets are unrelentingly the same. The same names, and the same intersections and the same dead ends. The buildings and the sidewalks and the traffic are all the same. They don't know you or your wife.

      When you open the door and stand in the living room you immediately throw up. You smell her. You see the places she used to be and the things she used to touch and itís too much. The soggy pile of parking tickets at your feet is an uninvited guest.

      * * *

      Staring is your new deal. You stare at the dog, or the wall, or the unplugged television and they stare back the same way.

      Cards and phone calls come and they are all the same. You open the cards and you touch them and feel the paper. It's glossy or sometimes matted and sometimes impressed with swirling gold letters. You get cards from people you haven't seen in years, and some from people you don't know, or don't remember. You don't answer the phone, though you think that maybe you should. It is probably your parents or hers and you can't bear to do much of anything but stare.

      You feed the dog and he eats. He wanders the newly oversized house looking for her, then returns, laying on the floor with a defeated sigh.

      Oxygen starts charging and every breath is more expensive than the last.

      * * *

      It's all orange seats and ketchup bottles when you wake up. It's three years later and you're in an all night diner drinking black coffee from a little white mug.

      The waitress is the sort of startling, almost-beautiful that makes you want to know her name. Makes you want to make her laugh.

      She fills your mug then asks if she can sit across from you, if she can rest her feet a moment. It's all cold rain and doctor's hands. It's all peanut butter and chocolate.

      She looks out the window and says something about the rainy night; how lonely it all is and foreboding. Her voice is sad and distant and you want to never stop hearing it. She talks a while longer, then gets up to serve more coffee.

©2009 Broken Chair