She passes through automatic doors, exchanging dated linoleum for dingy concrete, and steps into the sun. She squints, glares, recognizes the pain flashing her eyes, but disregards it. The pain is a nuisance, a mild form of what he is already experiencing. Somewhere, knives are cutting. Machines monitor heart rate and blood pressure. Fluorescent lights shine down on sedated eyes that are closed and unresponsive. A surgeon, aided by assistants, leans forward and proceeds with steady hands and precise care. There’s no comparison, this glare to that fatal danger. She feels ashamed to have even acknowledged it.
The surgeon, knife and monitors, she sees these in her mind while her feet pad along aged sidewalk. Her legs take the lead, guiding her around others standing and passing by, others distracted by their own pains and worries, those chatting and consoling, those making difficult phone calls where the questions are never fully answered and the person on the other end is always left in suspension. Those lost to conversation where the ending is always the same. We’ll see how it goes. We’ll find out more in the morning.
And she can’t help but substitute morning with mourning.
Coming to a split in the path, she pauses. One branch veers around the large hospital, signs pointing directions toward a food court and additional parking. The other turns toward the facility entrance and its adjoining street. Viewing the world with dazed eyes, she’s surprised when her legs take her toward the busy four-lane avenue. Step after step, she wades away from privacy and into the thicket of normality.
As she waits for a red hand to shift into a green person walking, her eyes graze over the landscape. Gas stations lists rising fuel prices. Diners flaunt unappetizing specials. Cars funnel into narrow lanes producing coffee and fast food. Disinterested drivers sit impatiently at red lights. As she starts through the crosswalk, she can’t help but feel the distance growing between her and reality, between the world she used to see and the world her mortal form floats through. Her legs carry her, trustworthy escorts in her time of need, as her mind poses scenario after scenario. Pragmatism pushes the most likely to the front, one where she weeps in the doctor’s arms despite the thousands of times she’s told herself not to collapse. The doctor takes a minute to console her before handing her off to another member of the staff that can help with the steps needed to take next. Runner-up is her fumbling attempt to explain the catastrophic results to her children, though she knows for a fact those words will never escape her lips. A split-second of her broken face will tell those two beautiful creatures more than she could ever explain. Lingering further back is where the bulk of her hope clings, crossed fingers and darting prayers making full assault on the outcome of a complicated process going as well as it can, but a follow-up surgery is needed and there’s more work to be done. We’re not out of the woods yet.
The last idea is held like a sacred secret, deep and hidden. Buried and concealed. An astonishing outcome. A medical triumph. They’ve happened before. It could happen again. There’s always that chance.
But that idea waits, suspended. Suspended like the surgeon’s knife. Suspended like the sun in the sky and the cars at red lights. Suspended, simply waiting and hoping and lost in perpetual thought.
She rounds the block and practices difficult conversations in her mind. They did their best. The surgeon was fantastic, one of the best. He was brave and he fought ‘til the end. This kind of cancer is common in men. We all know the healthy life he lived. These things just happen. Forever in our memories. Gone but not forgotten. She considers flower arrangements. Do they even matter? Does he want a fancy coffin? She never thought to ask. She dreads another phone call with her mother. She wonders when the last of the medical bills will come, the financial closure to an emotional disaster.
She tries to think of what she’ll tell her daughter, and her thoughts go into suspension. She tries to consider how she’ll quell her son’s teenage rage, and her thoughts go into suspension.
The sidewalk beneath her feet bends and bulges and cracks against pushing tree roots like the scene of a localized earthquake. Her feet carry her like angels, never missing a step, never catching a toe on a crack, her movement suspended one quarter of an inch above hazard. She glances at the time on her phone, again, to see it’s seven minutes later from the last time she’s checked. She wonders how far the procedure has come. She wonders if the monitors connected to her husband have alarmed in terrible harmony, a revolting announcement of death so far removed from the trumpets God uses when He arrives with His angels. That liar. That hypocrite. But either way, somehow, time has passed, and she wonders: How long have I been walking?
Her mind can provide no answer.
Looking up, she sees the hospital just ahead. With dread, her legs carry her forward. Sidewalk glides beneath her. Streets are crossed. Automatic doors open and shut. With tremendous effort, she forces herself to take a seat in an uncomfortable plastic chair. Though sitting, she feels as if she’s floating, suspended above the ground. Suspended in the air.
Seemingly frozen, time passes. The surgeon suddenly arrives. And though she’s lived this moment in her mind a thousand times, her heart utterly dislodges from her body.