The morning light pours into the bedroom. Paul is late. He checks for his wallet before heading out the door. The flaps of his coat sway as a cold wind blows down the street. Paul waves for a taxi, as he gets in he says, “Saint Anthony’s Hospital, on 43rd.” The taxi ride back to the hospital is a long and silent one. The driver tries to make small talk, and so does Paul, but “yeah” and “uh-huh” don’t make for good conversation. Damn it, he thinks as he feels for his keys. He looks at his watch, the very watch that she bought him.
“Because you’re always late,” she told him. The gold watch reflects the afternoon sun. It’s odd. You would think of all days, today wouldn’t be such a beautiful day. He is already late and half way down the block. Shaking the exhaustion from his shoulders, he straightens up in the backseat. The faint smell of thousands of riders before him and an old air freshener calm him, a familiar scent in unfamiliar times.
“Forget it, I’ll take care of it tonight,” he whispers.
“What was that,” the driver asks?
“Sorry, Just talking to myself.”
The cab driver laughs, “I do that all the time. Are you a doctor?”
Paul frowns at the confusing question, “No, why?” The cab driver chuckles nervously, “Oh, I mean you are going to the hospital. I just assumed.”
“Oh, no,” Paul replies and then stares out the window. A grave understanding falls over the driver and the rest of the ride continues in silence. Paul stares down at his watch.
Two women are standing near the waiting room as he walks into the hospital. An older woman in a grey pantsuit and shawl with a stern look on her face. Also, a much younger woman still wearing the college hoodie she had on the night before.
“Hey, how is she doing?”
“You are late,” said the older woman. The disdain for him was even more pronounced than usual. “I know, Evelyn,” he said through gritted teeth, “I just went home to grab a change of clothes and shower. Jo was with her while I was gone,” he says, nodding in the young woman’s direction
He turns to walk to her room, but the older woman stops him. “My daughter went into surgery already about an hour ago.”
“What,” he glances at his watch.
“They told me she would be going in at 10:30.”
“It’s way past that, isn’t it,” Evelyn spits.
“Mom, stop it,” said Jo, “we just came from her room. They wheeled her into surgery earlier than expected. She is going to be fine.”
“I know that. I just wanted to see her before she went in.”
“She told me to tell you she loves you,” Jo says with a weak smile on her face.
The old woman scoffs and walks back into the waiting room.
“She will be out in a few hours and we can see her then,” Jo says, trying to reassure herself more than anyone else.
The three sit in the waiting room, wrapped in their own thoughts. The constant tapping coming from Evelyn and her phone make Paul shift uncomfortably in his seat. Is now really the time to be working? As he is waiting for the doctors to come walking down the hall, he sits and stares at the cup of coffee sitting on the table. The heat had long since escaped. The coffee has started to seep through the paper cup and there on the rim of the cup was a fly. It was balancing on the edge like a tightrope walker. It begins to circle the edge; its front legs rubbing together as if ready to eat. Jo gets up from her seat, “I am going to grab something from the cafeteria. Do you two want anything?”
“I’m fine,” say Evelyn.
“Paul?” She squats down to meet his gaze, “Paul, do you want something to eat?” The fly lifts into the air in a flash.
“What,” he shakes off the hypnotism, “I’m good- thanks.”
The stench of sterilized beds, the constant beeping of monitors, the occasional squeaky wheel, and the faint cough that comes down the hall fills the waiting room. The sounds seem to press in and he slips into a trance. For a split second Paul thinks he smells smoke. Before he can process any of this, a large woman in a bright patterned shirt shouts from behind the front desk,
“Ma’am, you can’t smoke in here.”
He turns to see Evelyn leaning up against the wall with a lit cigarette in hand. He hadn’t noticed her get up from her seat. She shrugs to the nurse, “oh well,” and tosses the newly lit stick in the old coffee cup. The last bits of smoke fade into the air. Paul checks the time.
Barely any time has passed and Paul is getting antsy. In his exhaustion, unwillingly, he leans back in his chair and closes his eyes. Before long and before he knew it, he was dreaming. Dreaming of the moments leading up to this. The day in his office that his wife told him she had cancer. The lunch they shared in his office after the doctor gave her ten months to live, give or take a few weeks. The call he got a few days ago from his sister-in-law telling him there had been an accident. His cell phone begins to ring again. This time an unfamiliar tone fills the hazy dream office and he stops to think if he should answer the call this time. Maybe it will be a different call. Maybe it will not be his wife’s sister telling him that there was an accident. He hesitates. The strange ringing sound turns into a voice,
“Hello?” he looks around frantically as he comes to reality.
“Paul, the doctors are coming,” say Jo.
He peeks at his watch.
“It’s too early. Dr. Andrews said the procedure would take at least 3 hours. He is out too early.” he says while shaking his head.
“Just wait here,” Jo says, “I’ll find out what’s going on.”
Jo stops the doctor just out of earshot, Evelyn joins them. Paul is sitting in the lobby chair, knowing what the doctor is saying. A defeated shadow falls upon the doctor’s face. Paul can hear Evelyn’s breath catch as she begins to cry, falling back into the nearest chair. Jo turns to look at Paul and tears have already filled her eyes. She shakes her head. Dr. Andrews makes his way to Paul, but before he could speak, Paul looks up and chokes back a shy sob.
“Can I see her?” the faint cry of a grieving mother echoes down the hall.
“Paul, I am so sorry. There was a complication during the surgery and she-“
“Can I see her, please?”
Realizing defeat, the doctor turns and raises his hand to say ‘after you,’ Paul follows him into the operating room all the sounds he expected were not there. Machines beeping, staff talking all fell silent as he sees his wife shrouded in a blue sheet up to her shoulders, medical tape still stuck to her face. Yet, she is blissfully asleep, not dead, but asleep. Before the nurses could get to her, he gently removes the tape from her face and kisses her one last time. The doctor and nurses move out of the room to give him a moment. As he sits there the world goes silent, the only thing he hears is the ticking of the golden watch. He stares at her, waiting for her chest to rise, waiting for it to match his own deep breaths. The only thing that breaks the peaceful moment is the sound of the nurse speaking just outside the door,
“Time of death, 11:43 A.M.”