next.

by saracrolick

next.

One. 

She avoided eye contact with the patient patients who stood next to the “Please Wait Until You Are Called” sign. She hid a figure full of baby weight, though the baby had come months ago. She hid a scowl full of condescension too, though the feeling swelled around her as patient patients swayed uneasily in their neat little line. “Next” she spoke with unfeeling to the non-feeling keyboard before her; unwilling to reach out to those patient patients with her eyes.


Two.

The mother stepped forward to greet One with all she knew how to give: warmth. “Hi. I’m here with Three. He’s here to see Eight.” She glanced across the barren waiting room to her child.


Three.

Three backed clumsily into the only single seat in the waiting room; the only seat his mother couldn’t share with him. He locked eyes with the images that bled across the wall; quickly-moving hazels, quickly moving pictures. He dropped into his single seater, lifting his gaze only momentarily to look for Two, who was still exchanging words with One, who he supposed didn’t like her job here much at all. He smiled sweetly, a side effect of his mother’s warmth, and dropped his gaze yet again to his book.


Two. 

Two tried not to watch him for too long, she knew he liked small statements of independence—like bringing his own reading material and single seaters. She broke her gaze to return to One, who was doing an excellent job of wearing umbrage like a broach. She doesn’t like me, Two thought to herself. She doesn’t like me at all. 


One.

One spoke as few words as possible. She spoke through her computer monitor making Two lean forward inch by inch to gather words from the air between them. She dampened her language; squeezed so reluctantly from a swollen jaw. Her days were long here and even though she only vaguely recognized this woman who sat before her, she couldn’t stand her sight. This little bitch with her sweet, shy smile… Bullshit. 


 Two.

Two could feel her patience waning with each reply so-begrudgingly fired from the other side of the desk, intensely aware that her welcome had somehow worn out. She signed by the X, dated by the O and wrote “mother” next to the last empty line. Finally.


One.

Finally. 


Three. 

Three didn’t stop reading when his mother took the nearby two-seater; he would finish the paragraph first. “Done, Mommy,” he said to Two, closing the book and offering it to her in one sweep. He wasn’t close enough, he knew this. But he reached anyway.


Two.

He wasn’t close enough, Two knew this. But she reached anyway.


Three.

Three reached as far as his nine-year old limbs would allow him to, missing his mother’s reach by less than an inch. In one brave move her tossed the book between them, releasing too late, sending the book quickly crashing to the floor. “Oh,” sounding far-more surprised than he should realistically be. “I’ll get it.” He jumped from his seat in erratic hurry and handed the book to his still-reaching mother.


Two. 

I knew he was going to do that, Two thought to herself, trying to keep the annoyance from creeping across her face. I knew it. Once the book was safely in her hands, she watched her oldest fall back into his single seater and she tucked the book into her bag.

She looked around the office, trying to replace her unpleasant experience with One with something. Anything.


Four. 

Four wobbled across the shiny floor. His laughter filled the echoing room. There were people—new people—sitting in this great big white space and he loved people. Especially new people. His steps were stiff and clunky, still not entirely his own. He smiled at the sensations, so many sensation, lighting his little body up. There was the slap, slap, slap of his tiny sneakers as they hit the unforgiving linoleum. There were the humming lights. There were the pictures—quickly moving pictures—that seemed to dance like magic from the wall. The only places he had seen pictures like that were at home; but this couldn’t be home.

Four slap, slap, wobbled to a halt as he screamed in elation, unable to control his little voice.

Da-da! Here he comes! He’s going to GET ME!


Five. 

Five picked his pace way up as he saw little Four making another break for open linoleum. She’ll kill me if I bring him home from the doctor’s with an injury, he thought. He saw Four stiffen up his body preparing for the dramatic scoop. “Gotcha!” he yelled as his little boy squealed yet again in delight. He exchanged a knowing smile with Two as she watched him turn on his heels back to their seat.


Two.

Two could feel her heart making space again; she could feel the trauma of One subsiding as she watched the young father keep his little one safe and happy all at the same time. She glanced again at Three, who had enjoyed watching Four’s father scoop him up; and she couldn’t help but miss her little ones being little.


Six. 

“Four?”


Five.

“Here we go, Four. It’s our turn now.” He gathered the diaper bag his wife had over-packed for him, his coat and his son, marching them all past a gently smiling Six.


Two.

Two sat silently as Five walked past her again; admiring his child-collecting time; watching him disappear with Four until the door clicked closed behind him.


Seven.

“Three?”


Two.

“That’s us, Babe. You ready?” She collected his things in much the same manner as Five and guided Three through the door.


Seven.

“Alright, Mister. Go ahead and stand on that Mickey face over there. We’re going to check your eyes first.” She spoke in an overly-rehearsed way, but could hardly help it at this point. Her life was passing her in this hallway, administering these tests, checking these vitals. She wondered about Two: she seems nice enough, but young. Was she really old enough to have a nine year old?

She walked Three through the vision test, giving Two stray glances. It was obvious Two hadn’t taken him to have his eyes checked recently. She pushed down the urge to categorize her as a bad mother.

“Has he had his eyes checked recently?” She feigned kindness.


Two. 

Two could feel what was happening behind the question and felt compelled to over explain. She wasn’t a bad mother; why were people always assuming she was a bad mother?

“He sees his eye doctor annually; his next appointment is actually in March. Three weeks from now.” She could feel the desperation creeping up her throat and she felt small again.


Seven. 

“Alright, Mister. You ready? I’m going to have you take off your coat and shoes. We’re going to weigh you next.” She used “mister” ornately and could feel its artificial taste in her mouth.

She didn’t have anything to say to Two, so she focused her friendliest efforts on the child.


Three. 

Three allowed himself to be ping-pongged between each machine, noting to himself the numbers flashing on each new screen, as if their significance was not yet apparent. But would be.

Seven led him down the hall and he imagined his friends, who were still in school, playing Follow the Leader behind him. But it was just Mom behind him.


Seven. 

Seven led Three and Two to an uninspired exam room and began firing questions to Two.


Two.

At least she’s making eye contact with me. Just keep smiling. She might not be so bad.  


Seven.

At least she knows his history. Just keep smiling. She might not be so bad. 


Three.

“Mom, do you have any snacks?”


Two.

“I don’t, honey; didn’t you have your snack before you left school? I packed you almonds. All I have in my bag are ginger chews, how about one of those?”


Seven. 

Oh.. Almonds.

“Sounds like Mom packs you a nice snack!”

And just like that, Seven and Two weren’t at odds any longer.


Three.

Three squirmed on the table, enjoying the scratch of the paper and the darting looks of Two. He knew he was well-acquainted with the micro-leverage he wielded when they were out in public like this.


Seven.

“Alright, Mister. Dr. Eight will be in to see you soon!”

She stood up, rolling the stool back under the desk. “Enjoy the rest of your day,” she said to Two; and she meant it.


Two.

Two sat opposite a large rectangular mirror while Three crinkled away the minutes on the exam table. Her lips were freshly done in red-tinted glass and her jeans were free of cat hair. A success story on any given day. Her eyes told another story—sadly, an accurate one. How she hated the mirrors in this place.

She pulled her gaze from the mirror and refocused on her patient patient. “Do you have any questions for Dr. Eight?”


Three.

“Hmm. I’m not sure. I’ll have to think about it.” He was used to asking questions. So he was confident he could come up with something when the moment was right.

He filled the space between them with “I’m hungry” and went back to his crinkling.


Two.

Outside the door, two heard the sound of a file—Three’s file—being removed by Dr. Eight. She felt the urge to seem busy rise up in her chest; she’d hate to be waiting, staring, as soon as he opened the door. She began digging through her purse for one of her ginger chews.

She heard the click of the door and the familiar voice sing a gentle “hello.” She waited half a second longer before she swiveled her head in fabricated nonchalance. “Hi, Dr. Eight. So nice to see you again.”


Eight.

Eight pulled the stool from under the computer and sat, smiling. He was always smiling. “How is everything with Three?” He turned to Three, still busy crunching the paper under his little seat, “You’re sure getting big, buddy.”

Eight turned his attention to the computer screen, nodding and smiling as he half-asked questions. He was familiar with Two. He was confident in her parenting; he knew they didn’t let the their children play video games, he knew they ate well, he knew the family was active and wore seat belts; he knew she’d refuse the flu shot again.

He was bound by protocol, but her kindness made it feel like much less of a chore.


Three.

“Dr. Eight,” Three piped up, “I have two questions. First, what is your favorite part of being a doctor. Second, what is your least favorite part?”


Two.

Two smiled to herself; not exactly the kind of questions I had in mind, but that’s Three. Always curious. Always asking.


Eight. 

Eight chuckled to himself; he was as familiar with Three’s inquisitive nature as he was with Two’s parenting.

“Well,” he thought out loud. “My favorite part of being a doctor is helping kids get well when they come into the office with a problem.” He looked over his shoulder to watch Three nod—he found this to be an acceptable response. “And my least favorite thing? Well, sometimes it’s very sad when I try to help and kids get very, very sick. I don’t like to see that happen.”


Three.

Three nodded along until Eight finished his thought. “I thought you’d say that,” he replied. “I was just curious.”

He watched the doctor make a few final notes in his file before standing up to meet him at the crunchy table. Dr. Eight wasn’t very tall, which made Three feel safe. He was one of the shortest kids in his class and made a point to tell people so. At Eight’s request, Three took deep, meditative breaths.


Eight.

“Heart and lungs sound good!”


Three.

Three followed Eight with his eyes as he moved to each side of the boy, first checking his eyes, then his throat and nose and finally his ears.


Eight. 

“Looks good, Three. Looks good.”


Three. 

There was an inexplicable pride swelling in Three’s heart; he wasn’t sure why, but Eight’s praises made him feel as though he were a superior specimen in this moment. He had good working parts.

At Eight’s request, Three reclined on the table, finding the least awkward place for his hands he could come up with; arriving at a position which made him feel much like a pencil. He watched Eight as as he moved back to his right side.


Two.

Three was about to erupt, Two knew it. She braced herself for the impact of Three’s laughter and wished she had some way to warn Eight. She watched as he put his healing hands on the boy’s stomach.


Three.

“HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA! THAT TICKLES!”


Two.

Two laughed to herself and met Eight’s smile with one of her own; she was so grateful to have found him. A gem in this backwards little town.


Eight.

“Everything looks great, Mom. We’ll see him in another year unless anything comes up. You call us at anytime.”

And he meant it.

Eight said goodbye to Three, reminding him to keep eating good foods and playing soccer. Waved over his shoulder and shut the door with a gentle click.


Two.

“See? You survived.” She waited with a patient smile on her face as she watched Three struggle through retying his laces. When he was re-bundled, she opened the door, leading him back down the follow-the-leader hallway.

Two saw Seven standing next to Nine near the nurses station; she thanked her, smiled, and walked back through the door.

Before leaving, Two knew she had to approach the receptionist area one last time. She managed to make eye contact with Ten, One’s neighbor, who called Two over with a calm, quiet demeanor.


Ten. 

“How did everything go, Buddy? Would you like a sticker?” Digging through the drawers, she struggled with finding something a nine-year old wouldn’t consider lame. “How about superman?” Ten asked with hope in her voice.


Three.

“Well.. OK. I guess.”


Ten.

She reached across the desk to hand Three his sticker then turned her attention back to Two. She saw relief in the mother’s eyes for some reason, relief and good will. “We’ll just get you set up with an appointment and you’ll be on your way.”

 

 

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