Page 72 - Vol. VII #8
P. 72

The Evening of His Last Visit (continued from preceding page)
gaze, but Megan was engrossed in conversation with a man sitting next to her. He turned to me and extended his hand.
crippled niece. I felt as if I couldn’t breathe inside that room with its ugly green cinderblock walls plastered with dire warnings about AIDS and drinking during pregnancy and an outbreak of spinal meningitis in Cape May County. I pressed my eyes together as tightly as I could and inhaled the antiseptic wash of hospital air. The odor re- minded me of the hospital where my mother died. She’d called me up that morning with her usual list of complaints. I’m tired, my arm hurts, and so on. I only half-listened while I poured my morning coffee and nursed Joe. Once last month I actually reached for the phone and almost dialed her num- ber before I realized my mistake.
 “Alvino,” he said.
“Meredith,” I replied. “And my husband, Michael.” I nodded to my husband, who was leaning against the wall singing lullabies to Joe under his breath. Alvino extended his hand, but Michael ignored him. I could feel my face flushing.
“It’s nothing,” Alvino said, patting my hand. “I’ve been married a long time myself.”
“Is your wife . . .”
The thing I hate most about hospitals is that you are at their mercy. The whole of life might pass before you in a single night, and what can you do about it? Nothing.
“Ana’s getting tests,” he said. “I don’t know. I found her in bed when I came home from work. Her neck was so stiff she couldn’t move. As soon as we got here, they took one look and—BAM! Sent her right in for a CAT scan.”
We waited an eternity to be called into the emer- gency room. Every cubicle was occupied, so we had to sit on hard plastic chairs lining the hallway. It was not the place I would have chosen to bring my children. Thankfully, Joe had fallen asleep on Michael’s shoulder, but Megan was staring at an old man in the cubicle across from us. His face was the color of ashes, and his catheter snaked along the floor to a plastic bag filled with pale red urine. A woman sat on the bed, holding his hand, her face close to his. What a picture, an elderly couple clinging to each other like that.
“I’m sure she’ll be fine.”
“It wasn’t like Ana to be in bed before dinner.” He paused, then looked at Megan’s bull’s-eye rash. “My niece had the same thing, you know,” he said, pointing his right index finger behind his raised left hand at Megan’s knee. He leaned over to me and whispered, “Her parents waited too long. Crippled by it, she was.”
I opened my mouth to respond. Nothing came out. I turned to Michael hoping he’d share my outrage, but he simply buried his face in Joe’s stomach.
I looked over to Michael, who seemed to be dozing with Joe. My boys, I thought.They could sleep through thermonuclear war.
An orderly called Alvino’s name, and he got up from his chair and left. I took his place. till that old woman stared, and I reflexively stroked Megan’s bad knee. More time passed, hospital time, in which a minute meant an hour.
I tried to talk to Mom about Michael and me, but she’d always tell me the same thing. Marriage is a struggle. Then she’d launch into the tired story I’d heard a hundred times before. Remember when your father quit his job and joined the army without con- sulting me? Volunteered—she said the word like a curse—and left me alone with the three of you to take care of? How did I ever manage on a private’s salary, the twins’ diapers to wash by hand, and you with your constant earaches?
When the nurse called our name, I took Megan into triage. Triage! It looked like an old broom closet. The nurse closed her eyes and massaged her temples. “It’s been a crazy day,” she said. “This hospital’s designed for the town’s winter population, not this.”
She waved her hand toward the lobby, where yet another patient had arrived and loudly demanded attention. The nurse sighed. “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to wait. I’ll try to squeeze you in as soon as possible.” She patted Megan’s hand, then pointed down the hall.
The question was rhetorical. I was all of three and loved the idea of my father, even if I only saw him once a month for years.
In the waiting room, I picked up a Reader’s Digest and leafed through the pages. The words tumbled by in
a blur as I tried to block the picture of Alvino’s
I leaned over to Megan and whispered, “You know what Mommy told you about staring.”

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