Seth Leamer and Brenna Crotty

Waiting  — RESPONSE
by Seth Leamer
(Oil on Canvas)


by Brenna Crotty

That there man, there’s something wrong with him.

I been workin’ my whole life on them cars at home, so I know when somethin’s broken and it’s him. A man coughs into his collar like that, he’s hiding somethin’. That’s real sick, there. Can’t even keep from coughin’ in a crowded room that’s got kids in it. There’s nothin’ wrong with me.

He’s two chairs away so I turn up the collar on my coat and turn my back to him so I’m facing my wife instead, who looks right at home here in this waiting room with her hair still died brown and sprayed up into a beehive on her head. Like we’re goin’ to the theater or somethin’. I can’t breathe this air too well in here. It’s like the inside of a can of paint.

Lights are too bright and the room is too small. Twelve people waitin’ in a room with fourteen chairs. That woman behind the desk don’t look no better off than me. Kinda dumpy and with that hair not even warshed. I bet she’s lookin’ at us and wonderin’ what we got. I ain’t the one coughin’, though. Since when do a swollen liver have anything to do with the prostate? It’s just from the beer.

Hell, I don’t even have lights this bright in the garage with all them cars. They’re what give you cancer, I bet.

I don’t like this waiting room. Don’t like magazines, and the only other things around are them colored wood blocks for little kids on the patch of carpet. Smells like that chemical cleaner’s been sprayed on everything, and I know what that means. It means people been sick in this room and they’re spreadin’ it to the rest of us, who ain’t even here for a reason. I try not to touch anything when I shift in my seat and fold my arms over my chest. The chairs ain’t big enough neither and the movement makes me need to piss again but I know it won’t be no use to try so I just sit in my seat.

“Laura May,” I say to my wife, but she’s listenin’ to some lady talk about her kid who’s got leukemia. They’ve been talkin’ like the kid ain’t there and neither am I.

“Ben’s been so brave, but we have to keep coming back for treatment and he just hates it here. God, I don’t blame him a bit.” Nice-looking woman, like my Laura May forty years ago, all smiling even when she looks like she’s hurtin’. Makes smiling look like weight liftin’. The kid don’t even fit in his clothes, he’s so thin. Bald head like my brother Clay had after chemo. Big eyes and just sittin’ there on the floor, watchin’ his ma talk about him.

Laura May looks over her knees at that kid like he’s one of hers. We got so many grandkids, but she’d always take another’n if she could.

“Hi there, Ben, you are such a big boy! My name is Laura, it’s so nice to meet you.”

All kids are three years old to Laura May, even this’n, who’s probably seven. Laura May adjusts all them rings on her fingers so the diamonds are straight up. Bought her one for every anniversary. She keeps the rest of ‘em lined up in a drawer, in their boxes, and looks at ‘em in the morning but never wears ‘em.

“I like that ring,” the kid says, pointing. Never mind he’s a stranger and we’re an hour and a half from home, she just twists the damn thing off her finger and hands it to him. The one with the rubies on either side of the diamond. The one that cost me a month’s pay at the garage. The one that I gave her for our 25th anniversary.

“Well here, you play with it, I don’t mind.”

“Laura May,” I say. “Come on, now, look where we are.” Those chemicals and them bright lights are hurtin’ my head and I can hear that man coughing and makin’ us all sick. I feel like I need to warsh my hands.

“You hush, Charlie, he’s not gonna hurt it.” She turns back to the tired woman in the hard chair. “My Charlie, it’s his liver, it’s all swollen. My oldest daughter, Jenna, here, see, this is her and her kids, she thinks we should get it checked out because I guess it might really be his prostate.”

Laura May keeps up that nattering and she’s gonna drive that woman right up the wall. Tellin’ everybody why I’m here, like it matters. It ain’t cancer. M’brother Clay had cancer from all them cigarettes for so many years and the cancer just ate him up. I watched it happen, and it wasn’t like this, which is just needin’ to piss all the time and sometimes havin’ blood in it. Day he come back from the hospital with his head all shaved under his hat I stopped smoking and never needed to since, so now I’ll just stop drinkin’ beer and that’ll be the end of that.

That kid is swirlin’ the ring on his pinky finger like a hula hoop. His eyes are bigger’n his head and he’s got no eyebrows. Skin like a Kleenex and all the bones in his skull comin’ through it. He looks at the ring for a sec and then pops it in his mouth and starts suckin’ on it.

“Hey there!” I say, ‘fore I can think about it. “Cut that out!” I’m just thinkin’ about his spit on it and the way my pa beat me once for puttin’ a whole mess of nightshade in my mouth like some fool, thinkin’ they was salmon berries or somethin’. How scared I was, not of him, but the look on his face, not knowin’ what I did and the way he opened my mouth with his thumb on my chin and put his other thumb inside my mouth to sweep out the berries. He tasted like dirt and sweat and the horse he used for plowin’ and I’d never been that close to him before. No one else but me knows that anymore about my pa and how close he was to me ‘fore he beat me. Pretty soon no one will know it at all. All that stuff that’s just me’ll be gone except them rings I gave to Laura May, and she’ll probably give them away. She don’t like fancy things.

Them lights are hurtin’ my eyes and makin’ em sting and that man to my left is coughin’ into his coat and Laura May and the woman are starin’ at me like they didn’t see me before.

“He’s gonna choke on it,” I say, and the kid spits the ring out, pttttb into his hand, with a trail of spit leading up to his mouth. No one says nothin’, and the kid’s just offering me this ring on his hand like it’s some great gift on a silver platter.

“That’s okay,” I say, ‘cuz his eyes are so big, or somethin’. Like one of them baby deer that gets crunched by a truck and then staggers off to the side of the road ‘cuz it don’t got enough sense to die right away. “You keep that. You give it to some girl you like when you get old enough.”

Kid just sits there with his hand out. Then his ma is talking about how they couldn’t possibly do that and Laura May is speechless for once in the 58 years we been married.

I’m feelin’ shifty again so I turn in my seat and suddenly I’m facin’ the guy who was coughing. He looks up and he’s young, years younger’n me and he looks okay actually, not real sick at all. He looks like he might smile at me but his face won’t work right for it. I know how that feels so I just give him a little nod and wait for the doctor to call my name.



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