As She Sat Waiting

by Erika Byrne-Ludwig

IN the waiting room Maggie watched Joe rise and shuffle his best shoes towards the doctor's door. Standing, he seemed frailer, so frail she felt guilty for having given him a push on the bus step. Other pushes came to annoy her. But before she actually felt the pain of remorse in her chest she freed herself of further blames by accusing the world of cold-heartedness, and Joe of awkwardness.

She also disapproved of his looks, criticised him for not wearing the right clothes, for not padding his rambling body, for having chosen his dark shirt at a time when a little lift would have been welcome. She could see his livid chicken neck, scalded and plucked, craning up and, sticking out of his cuffs, his pale, slow, rock lizards' hands.

Expecting him to turn around before disappearing through the doctor's door, she had looked away, resting her watery hen's eyes on the window. His last glance, she had felt, would only have crippled the little strength which had persisted with her these past difficult weeks.

Now it was time to be brave. Besides, there was still hope. She tried to be stoic when all at once she found herself on the slippery dip, sliding down ahead of time to the days of mourning. Quickly though she realised that there was no point in dwelling on the future. It seemed so frightfully unknown. The past at least had its moments. Her apple crumble, for instance, had rarely left Joe unstirred. She could easily dig other such small incidents out and inflate them. But while amusing her they also tired her, to finally forcing her to switch off the merry-go-round of memories, and instead to step into a bare uninhabited room, pictures, knick-knacks and rugs gone, and build up from there.

Joe had left his jumper on her lap. He might have been warm enough with his nerves and worries. She folded it. From her seat she could see the covers of magazines spread over the low table. Her sore knees summoning her to remain seated, she settled with shifting eyes for passive entertainment. For each glossy cover she made up a story that ultimately reflected the present gloom in her life. She felt surrounded by ill characters as much in need of consolation as herself.

When each cover in view had been given a column, she straightened up. Her fingers were idle: she had left her knitting at home. Rushing out of the house always meant to her that major things got forgotten. Never trust yourself when you're in a hurry, she had long believed. To avoid measuring the time passing by she began counting the back stitches of Joe's jumper. In the process the cold rose from beneath her feet, crept up her legs and soon coated her with a thin cold crust.

In the doctor's room, her husband's emaciated silhouette would most likely be slumped in a chair. Maggie tried to listen to what was going on in there. Not even a whisper reached her. She widened the circle of her thoughts, inviting in one by one the members of her family. Her possible future without Joe appeared to shift her towards her children.

One or two of them would usually come on Sunday. A kiss here, a kiss there, pieces of advice, concern. Children could be pushy. Preoccupied with their parents' fate, they mightn't even be aware of their mother's silent observations. Just to see Joe's nose on her older son's face could for her be the treat of the day. Later on in her room she would recreate a collage of family features she had recognised in her children. 

Joe's jumper was finally warming her a little around her lap and progressing up to her chest. Her recollecting of sad and happy moments had exhausted her. She let her head drop back against the seat, leaving her thumbnail encroached in a stitch as a mark for further counting. She fell asleep.