by Eleanor Goldfield
The grim reaper is simple, elegant.
He doesn’t trade in suffering or make gains from the prolonged waiting of his prey.
He’s no capitalist.
But here, even he is subjected to the waiting room.
I feel him in corners,
so many crannies where not even dust can survive.
He is surrounded by paperwork
and fingering hospital bracelets on a patient wrist.
To those who eagerly await him, he is blocked –
the sanctity of life lays land mines ironically on the path to death.
To those who seek to avoid him, he sits as an uncomfortable installation in the museum of human folly –
a reminder of where you are: a place of healing.
If you can muster the wait, if you have the right forms, if you have the right card, if you have the time, the patience, the money, the life – to wait.
I don’t see him – he has no interest in seeing me.
But I feel him.
The pastel walls and vapid neon of magazine covers only bring out his presence more –
like a single blood stain on a white sheet.
He is the most lively one here.
At least he has purpose, his will pulses.
Perhaps in other circumstances, you could sit and talk.
Share a bottle of wine to pass the time and talk of awkward encounters, the pointless plod of a battlefield.
But here, there is no interest in life – just the sterile avoidance of death.
Void of philosophy, void of reason – a void so deep, it is all-encompassing.
You are alone and so desperately surrounded –
you are one in a sea of faceless needies – a chart.
You may enter as you but you are not what you seem –
and by the time you leave, it’s unclear who the you is who came to be seen.
It is not death that follows you – he’s in waiting room B.
It is a lack of life – the void of your being that echoes behind.
The funereal pastels follow like a trail on every sense.
Food tastes more bland,
my eyes blink in pain at the brightness yet see sallow in the dim light of home.
Sounds are monotonous and atonal –
like the tone deaf trying to transcribe a symphony through a white noise filter.
A name is called.
Someone gets up.
No one gets up.
I guess they gave up.
Or they got lost.
It’s a maze – a gauntlet thrown down before the weary obscured.
A corporate call center meets Survivor.
Wherever you are, you feel you’re in the wrong place.
And every place is the wrong place.
Chairs placed at awkward angles,
a closed door with no door knob —
an exasperated woman behind the counter paces
as if she’s been trying to figure out how to get out from behind there –
and all you want is to get beyond the waiting room –
a projection of wills clashes in curt questions and replies as you hand her one of the 20 pages of paperwork that you assume ends up in the same place that Jimmy Hoffa is buried.
Those waiting for Godot left ages ago – though it’s unclear how time passes here.
It is both painfully slow and immaterial –
if there is to be no end to your wait, why keep time?
There will be no one to share your feat with –
the specters in teal scrubs skim past like ghosts –
a flash that fixes your immobility – who are the others?
Existing outside of time and therefore outside of haste, lateness –
I melt into this stagnant mass whose faces blur and maybe change but somehow always stay the same –
a needy blob that cannot help itself.
People shuffle seats as more and sicker filter in.
A squeaking oxygen tank slices through sterile air,
carrying just as much death as life –
if not more.
I am the lightest person here –
a man looks me up and down as I shift the cross of my legs –
as if I’d paid for some alternative vacation experience: poor and black hospital visits followed by drinks on the roof and putt-putt golf.
The first indication that even his healthcare will now be gentrified.
A Starbucks card will come as a consolation prize in his goody bag of overpriced meds.
A 20-something in suspenders will guide him to piss in a cup.
The sound of a frothing machine and giggling orderlies.
This ass end corner of the back of the bottom of the hospital –
is separate –
by race –
but even more so by class.
The poor card trumps all colors, and I have one.
Sign this to acknowledge you received this piece of paper I’m handing to you –
you’ll need it to –
get treatment –
I need a copy of this card.
What about the other card?
A woman speaks up –
for another bowed woman sitting on a walker –
who sits calmly, not with patience –
more so a passive succumbing –
the kind of becoming
that fixes a soul at the back of a line always growing.
Oh she needs to go here –
the corporate call center shifts –
I swear I can hear the gears.
A choo-choo track, a board game for rich brats –
who forget us at the back of a play room –
surrounded by porcelain dolls and fisher price halls –
on a whim, slide the scrim –
Another woman throws up her arms –
as if on cue,
two more names are called.
A release valve – so we don’t boil and break –
that fourth wall of tame pastel weight –
unhinge from the tethers of a third world decorum.
It’s always rude when the poor ask for more.
Is my bladder full?
I was supposed to fill it.
I wasn’t told.
I’ll tell you whatever you need to hear.
I feel a sense of guilt standing to leave.
Was I the only one to feel camaraderie
with the outcasts in waiting room B?
Another walk around the hospital – are you airing me out?
She walks at a quick clip –
shuffling papers so no one will question her work ethic.
I pass a sign that says dialysis social worker –
with peeling paint.
My mind shuffles through images of what that job looks like –
partially from boredom,
partially to ensure I still have an imagination that hasn’t been snuffed out by bleaching light and the lingering smell of disinfectant and dystopia –
which smell much the same.
Another closed door accentuates the emptiness of the hallway –
neon post-its on the door
sidekicked by paltry motivational messages that inspire more depression than enthusiasm.
Another waiting room.
This one has pink accents so that my vagina knows it’s in the right place.
My mind protests but passively succumbs
and tries to block the inanities flowing from the tv.
The last thing it needs is to have less faith in humanity.
I catch a glimpse of myself in the changing room mirror.
The hospital gown –
which is an affront to the word gown –
is just another life-sucking service offered here.
Everyone looks dead in it.
I shake my head at such shallow contemplation.
But seriously – would it kill them to just have them in black?
This late 80s computer screen green combined with the power of a fluorescent sheen – is beyond description.
You have to see it to believe a light and some fabric could recess your soul.
The light from the x-ray screen almost like the promise of a small window –
how’s the weather?
The trees are bare –
and yet it’s said they are the earth’s lungs.
Lungs – deep breath –
hard to see the very rhythm of life so still – so desolate.
But there’s no life here – just avoidance of death.
A snapshot of what you’ve got – is it life threatening?
This will hurt a bit.
Well you’ve lubed me up well.
At this point, I’d take a needle in the eye just to have something happen –
just to be sure I can still produce the surface emotion of pain.
I don’t even really feel it.
Detached and disinterested, I lay back.
The grim reaper flicks his dull and drab scythe.
I can feel his boredom dancing with mine.
At least something’s alive.