A number of months ago I entered the Canadian Writer’s Guild Short Story Contest with this piece. I heard about the contest with only a few days remaining until the contest end date and so armed with only those few days, I prepared this story and sent it in. Obviously I had no belief I would win this contest with such little time but I was recently informed via written letter that I did make the apx. top 100 cut. I couldn’t have been happier. Please enjoy this Top 100 short story from Canada’s unprofessional writers 🙂
He sat hunched over in the thinly padded tweed chair of the doctor’s office staring blankly at his scuffed black shoes. He should have been embarrassed with their shoddy appearance but he hadn’t the energy or desire to care this past week. Having buffed shoes was such a trivial, vain thing anyway. He probably would never care about such things ever again.
To an outsider he probably looked like he was mindlessly waiting, bored, like everyone else in this waiting room; but that couldn’t have been further from reality. His mind was swimming in turmoil, noisily, tortuously, putting him back in the birthing room with his wife. She had been so grateful and proud that he had managed to stick it out by her side for the whole event. Even though she was the real hero he had felt like one telling her that it was almost over, that she was a champion, a real rock star.
But then his son, his beautiful, perfect son, stopped coming out while the contractions continued. His wife’s incredible warrior screams transformed into pure agony and the doctors and nurses shoved him aside with force suddenly talking a new language of “doctor-ese” leaving him very confused, very afraid, and very much in the dark about what was happening. Stuffed powerless into the corner he was haplessly forced to watch his son strangle himself on the same cord that, moments before, had been life to him. One complication led to another and by the end of it his son was dead and his wife wouldn’t stop bleeding. The events unfolded one after another before his mind’s eye in what seemed to be eternal purgatory.
He had failed both his son and his wife. He was the worst hero ever.
That’s as far as he ever got in his thoughts before they quit on themselves. The lasting image that stayed with him, the one that kicked him in his gut, was catching a glimpse of his boy’s blue body through the white coated arms and bodies of the attending physicians.
He pinched his eyes tight to press out the tears before they could fall and he huffed out a cough to release his constricting throat. With a single, strong sniff of his nose he raised his eyes to look up through his eyebrows and scanned the room. No one had paid him any attention. They were all focused on being shut up behind stupid magazines or their stupid phones. What a waste of time. These people were wasting their precious gift of life on such stupid, meaningless wastes of time….!
His grief councillor had warned him about this, that he would start getting mad at people for leading their shallow, ignorant lives, so he dropped his eyes and stared at his scuffed shoes again instead. But there was no relief to be found there. From the pale color swirls in the linoleum flooring he saw his boy’s name pop out like 3D- Trevor James MacMillan. It was chiseled there in the floor just like it was on his little grave plaque.
A shudder ran through his body, the trusted warning that he was about to hopelessly lose his semblance of composure so he forced himself to shakily exhale out loud in counts of five to curb his breakdown. The sound of his uneasy breaths evoked memories of the sounds his wife had made after….after she was told. She had been too exhausted to cry.
Thinking of his wife caused him to instinctively raise his head again to look at the doctor’s door she had been admitted to for her checkup: still closed. The doctor needed to see that her body was properly recovering from all the damage. She had lived but only thanks to some miracle. The doctors never were able to stop the bleeding on their own.
It was then that he noticed a movement by the entrance as a perky young lady entered the waiting room humming along with her iPod. She sat next to him with one chair separating them honouring the unwritten rule of public seating etiquette. She smiled sweetly at him as she sat down but as their eyes made contact she saw something else other than what she was expecting and her smile fell. Her blue eyes became sympathetic and not wanting her to speak to him he dropped his eyes back down to his shoes before she could said anything because she looked the type to do it. The only people he talked to anymore were his wife and his grief councillor when he had to; the only two people who knew his pain.
“Hey there, Jackie!” The receptionist’s greeting cut through the air like the music of an irritating ice cream truck. The young lady beside him sent back a quick wave. “He should be out in the next five or ten minutes.”
“Perfect! Thanks!” She responded, her cheeriness showing through in her reply.
He was irritated as the two of them conversed back and forth like two cute birds. Why did they have to sound like that? There were birds in the nearly leafless branches of the trees when they had put…..when they gave…………when they had showed little Trevor the underside of his name plaque.
He pinched his eyes again and this time his foot started tapping. He didn’t want to be here anymore. He just wanted to go home. If he just cleared his mind and purged his feelings he could get through this. It was the best a failed hero could do.
Jackie parked her car in the last available spot in the parking garage and gave herself a pat on the back for grabbing it first. She rocked! The fact that there was a whole other level to the complex riddled with empty spaces was not particularly relevant to her self-congratulations.
A favourite, high energy song was ending on the radio so she idled the car singing along to it while she sent a quick text to Mike telling him that she just arrived. She added a heart at the end of it and those silly looking kissing lips then sent it with a quick, accentuated tap from her finger. With the final notes of her song being played she quickly assessed her reflection in the rear-view mirror practicing her cute smile of greeting-the same one she’d give that handsome, brainy boyfriend of hers, and turned the car off, her song over. Without missing a beat she had her earbuds in and her iPod on singing her a soundtrack for her wonderful life.
It was such a gorgeous day out. The season was late fall but the temperatures had been surprisingly warm these past few days and so she was going to have lunch with Mike on an outside patio café before everyone closed their patios for the season. She didn’t know which café they were going to go to today but Mike always had a good selection of places from his doctor buddies.
Zipping up her black leather jacket, not because it was cold but because she preferred how it looked that way, she entered the building and effortlessly found the waiting room where she would wait for her wonderful man.
It was a fairly full room but she found a good spot beside a tired looking man which gave her a full view of the patient rooms any one of them able to open up at any moment and- the man beside her had woken up from his doze and was staring at her. Had she been singing out loud again? Oops. She couldn’t help it! Life was just so good, it was hard to hold it in.
He was a young man, all the makings for being stylishly well dressed but he had somehow missed the mark. She smiled at him hoping a cheery greeting from his doze would get him off to a great start. But then she noticed the glaze over his tired eyes, the completely worn lines in his face, and a scruffy beard that was probably about a week old. She pieced the picture together that this couldn’t have been a part of his style. The poor man. What had he been through?
Madeline the receptionist called out her greeting having just replaced the phone in its cradle and Jackie returned her grateful thanks. She was such a sweet lady. She even gave Christmas cookies to Jackie last year, as well as Mike, though she teased that maybe this year she’d only have to give one batch instead of two. Madeline was a great cheerleader for them.
With a few minutes to spare until Mike finished with his patient she turned on her phone to check the latest news. She always confused people with being a political junkie. They never expected such a serious interest from someone as cheery as her but what could she say? There was more to her than what met the eye.
She had only gotten a few paragraphs into her article of interest when she noticed the poor man beside her slowly, purposefully writing on a note pad he had pulled from the inside of his jacket. Whatever he was writing was his business so she returned to her reading, but she got no further than one more short paragraph before her inquisitiveness spurred her to at least try to find out why this stylish man was writing with traditional pen and paper and not tapping it out on his phone or tablet. She didn’t intend to be nosy but his intense focus compelled her to at least try and sneak a peek.
As subtly and respectfully as anyone could whilst reading over a stranger’s shoulder, she stretched her eyes to make out his man scribbles taking place on the paper.
This is your Dad. You got to know your Mom pretty well but you never met me. The grief councillor said it sometimes helps to write a letter. You fought like a pro little man. You made a proud Daddy out of me.
Your Mom and I went to see you this morning. She laid a dozen roses out for you to smell. I gave you that little backpack of mini-balls. I didn’t know which sport you’d like so I got you a ball and puck from all of them.
Jackie saw the pen stop writing and, afraid that she’d been caught, shot her eyes back to reading her phone like she had never stopped hoping that she had been quick enough. She waited a moment and then, risking a side glance at the man, she saw him staring at her with those sad, exhausted eyes and she knew that she had been found out. The easy thing would be to pretend nothing had happened but that’d be rude so she plucked out her earbuds and half turned to him in the restrictive chair.
“I am so sorry.” She said guarding her voice. Waiting rooms were always so quiet and she didn’t want to attract attention. “You don’t see too many people writing with paper anymore and it just caught my attention. You really are a great dad.” She kept her smile reserved so as not to crush him with her clashing positive emotion. He didn’t say anything or give any indication that she was forgiven for trespassing but kept staring up at her, hunched over like gravity was too much weight for him.
“Do…do you mind me asking what happened?”
Maybe she imagined it but it looked like his face softened if only for an instant before his facial muscles began to tighten and he turned away from her again.
Just then the door to the patient room on the far left clicked open and the man beside her suddenly sprang to life; “sprang” being relative to his current state. He made a beeline over to take the arm of the pale young woman who came out.
“Dr. Litchen.” Was all he said in acknowledgement of the doctor but Jackie’s ears perked up immediately. The doctor was still in the room out of sight from where she was sitting but that was her Mike, Dr. Mike Litchen.
“Your wife will be physically fine Mr. MacMillan.” Mike said emerging from the room using his best doctor’s voice. “The side effects she was complaining of are expected and there are no signs of scarring. Unless anything else comes up, I won’t need to see her again.”
Mr.MacMillan nodded his thanks to Mike and with his wife leaning on him the two sullenly passed by Jackie as they took their leave just as Mike called out to her. Mr. MacMillan caught her eye as she stood up and she kept his gaze until he took it with him past her. It was a revelation to the both of them it seemed that both love and death were found with the same doctor. Life could be so strange.
Mike met her half way through the waiting room smiling lovingly at her and took up her hand in his as they walked back into the room he had just come from. Like many times before he would quickly clean up the room and then they’d be out to lunch. She wanted to ask about the couple he had just seen but as she passed through the door he closed it behind himself. Coming up to her he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her close, his smile taking on a different, more private colour. And just like that Mr. MacMillan’s mystery was one that no longer needed solving.
So maybe they’d be a bit late for lunch today.