Cold Walls and Ugly Chairs

The white wall of Mount Sinai's waiting room was hard and smooth against Henry's head. Its unforgiving coldness infiltrated his bristly hair and trickled along the back of his skull and down his spine. His neck and back felt like pieces of used cardboard that were being bent in different places as he squirmed in his cushioned seat. He'd sat in waiting rooms all his life, but he never got used to how the chairs were so soft yet so rigid at the same time. It was nearly midnight. His eyes ached when he moved them around in their sockets to observe his surroundings, so he kept them glued to the ghastly island dating show being played on the TV.

Henry was hit with a fresh blast of freezing air as the main doors opened; the volume on the TV was low enough that he got an earful of the new guy they'd just rolled in. "It's the communists," he was groaning, "we have to stop the communists." The familiar, heavy stench of sterilization and sickness permeated the air. Henry shifted his weight and tried to sit up straight but automatically sank down four inches. He was forced to revert to his original position where he leaned back, but the back of the chair was too short so he again had to support his neck against that frigid wall. He had decided long ago that one day he would find the house of whoever designed these chairs, kick down the door, and strangle the little fuck with a belt until his face turned blue and begged for mercy. "They put bugs in my smoke detector...they're everywhere! They're everywhere!" His stomach broiled with mild nausea; a bumpy ambulance ride across China Town hadn't done him any favors tonight.

Henry's phone dinged as he got a new text from his dad: Are you at the hospital? Yes. Are they letting you see Mom? Not yet. His father's messages were short but they reeked of guilt. During the ambulance ride, Henry had sat up front and called Dad. "Hey, buddy, is everything alright?"

"No, Dad, I'm rushing Mom to the hospital right now. She took too much insulin after dinner and passed out." His mother had been diagnosed with type-1 diabetes long before he was born. Managing her blood sugars was a daily responsibility, but Henry knew there was always the potential for things to get totally fucked. Like tonight.

"Oh jeez, bud, which hospital? I'll get there as soon as I can."

"Mount Sinai... Where are you? I thought your flight landed at seven."

He'd heard his father audibly choke on his breath, and he could picture his face turning white on the other end. "Well, I-I had to swing by the office for a bit, I had to help Anna with-with that dissertation."

"Oh my God, Dad, I can't believe you right now!" he'd exploded, causing the EMT at the wheel next to him to jump in his seat. Henry had met Anna a few weeks earlier when his dad had brought him by the office. It took him two seconds to figure out why his dad had hired her, and it wasn't because she went to Yale.

"I swear I am going to tell Mom if you won't."

"Now, listen, bud, I'll get there as soon as I--" Henry had hung up, too angry to cry.

As if on cue, his phone buzzed in his hands again. I'll be there.

A nurse called into the waiting room. "Henry? You can see your mom now."

He entered the ward, coat in hand. He'd gone through this routine before, but every time he treaded tentatively through the patient area, making sure to keep his eyes straight ahead and away from the beds. His mother sat upright near the end of the ward. Her face was gaunt and pale, as if she had suddenly aged ten years. The streaks of age in her raven black hair looked greyer than ever. Her hazel eyes were tired, but they lit up when she saw him.

"Hi, Mom."

"Oh, sweetheart, I'm so's so late, you must be so tired."

"It's okay, Mom." Henry reached out and wrapped his fingers around hers. They were cold and moist. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm better..." she frowned, like she was trying to remember something but it was all fuzzy. "They've treated me so rough." They had. Henry's eyes flicked to her mouth. He could still see the bruise where one of the EMTs had tried to jam a tube of glucose between her unconscious lips before loading her into the back of the ambulance. First responders were generally nice, but Henry suspected that some of the more thuggish ones had gotten lost on their way to sign up for the border patrol.

He stroked the back of her hand. "It's okay now, we'll all be home soon."

"Where's your father?"

"He's not here yet."

"Oh," she murmured, her gaze drooping down to her sheets. She then quickly looked back up at him. "Oh, sweetie, how was your game today?"

"We won," Henry said as he tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear. "I scored the winning goal." They'd lost by five.

"Oh, sweetie, that's wonderful," she cooed, as if she wanted to scream and cheer but didn't have the strength to do so. Her lips broke apart into a beautiful smile, and her eyes twinkled. She reached up and cupped her palm against Henry's cheek. "I am so, so proud of you."

He placed his hand over hers, a warm towel over her cold fingers, and kept it against his face. His phone buzzed in his pocket again. He didn't let go.