This is a short fictional story based on the writing prompt “two strangers meet in a waiting room, what happens?” this story is available in audio, on my YouTube channel. You can find it here:
The sirens were deafening, and the flashing lights were blinding. I was having a horrible time running in my heels. I followed the paramedics as quickly as I could through the hospital doors. The tears blurred my vision. My throat hurt, but I didn’t really know what I was yelling. I didn’t know what the staff was yelling at me either. All I knew was my Stephen was headed into the hospital with tubes and machines making him live when we were supposed to be having dessert.
“Mrs. Cunningham? Could you come with me, please? We need some information.” A young blond nurse guided my elbow away from the scene but brought me to an area where I could still see. She was petite, Pretty. Her blond hair was perfectly secured in a low ponytail, and her eyes perfectly lined. Mine just looks a mess. The nurses’ name tag indicated her name was Tracy, and she was an RN in the emergency department.
“Mrs. Cunningham, can you tell me what happened, please?”
“Please, dear, call me Phoebe,” I requested.
“Okay, Phoebe, what was going on when your husband collapsed.”
“We were having dinner. It’s our anniversary. Ten years today, we have been married. We were having a perfectly normal conversation when he grabbed his chest and collapsed. I screamed. Luckily there was a doctor at the next table who did CPR, and the restaurant manager called 911.”
“I see. Phoebe, does your husband have any allergies?” Tracy asked.
“Yes, he’s allergic to shellfish. I made sure the waiter knew, and he assured me the chef had everything separate.”
“Is he on any medication?” Tracy asked.
“Yes, He is on 40 mg of Lisinopril for his blood pressure. That’s it”
“So he has high blood pressure?” Tracy asked.
“Yes, he’s a lawyer; they all do.” II was true; all of his closest law friends were all on blood pressure medication. The girls and I exchanged healthy versions of their favorite junk foods to serve for rotating poker nights. We knew they threw them out and ate what they wanted, but we tried.
“Tracy?” My eyes filled with tears. “Is he going to be alright?”
Just then, the glass door to his ER room opened. “OR is ready. He’s heading up!” The doctor shouted.
I ran over with Tracy at my heels. She urged me not to get in the way. I watched the Staff wheel Stephen’s bed through the double doors to the Operating Room. The emergency doctor stayed behind.
“Mrs. Cunningham?” He addressed me
“Yes, doctor? How is he?”
“Your husband has a pretty serious blockage causing him to have a heart attack. He is headed to emergency surgery to clear the blockage. He should be fine once the blockage is cleared, but there is a chance part of the blockage could break off and cause problems.”
“What kind of problems?” I inquired.
Dr. Phillips gave me that look.
“Oh.” My eyes welled up again.
Tracy retook my arm. “Come on, Phoebe, let me bring you to the family waiting room.”
I nodded and went with her.
The room was stark. The fluorescent lights made the white walls whiter. Someone had tried to put up some cheer with a colorful flower border at the top. The pink padded chairs matched the pink in the roses on the border. There was a vending machine in the corner advertising overpriced, almost expired snacks. Next to it was a brochure wall about all the different hospital departments and underneath that was a table of magazines and local ad and coupon books. A TV was mounted in the corner. It was playing a documentary about horses.
There was a man already in the waiting room. He was likely late 50’s. His salt and pepper hair was thinning on top. The loose strands combed across his scalp. He wore an oversized sport coat and his gold-rimmed round glasses perched on the end of his nose, which was in a book. I noticed it was Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
I sat down a few chairs from the man and rested my head back against the wall. I let out a big sigh, trying to keep my composure. I could feel my eyes welling up again. The man offered me his pocket square.
“Oh, thank you, but I don’t want to ruin it.”
“It’s fine,” He said, giving me a sweet smile. “I have at least 50.”
I smiled back as I took the fabric from him. “Thank you,” I said, dabbing my eyes.
“My wife is in there,” he said. “Having heart surgery.”
I nodded. “My husband too. Today is our anniversary. He collapsed in the restaurant at dinner.”
“Ah, anniversaries. My Elizabeth and I celebrated our 25th last week.” He looked wistfully in the air as if recalling their wedding day. “Amazing how time flies.”
“Yes, it certainly is,” I noted his book. “What a classic,” I remarked.
“I knew who I was this morning, but I’ve changed a few times since then,” he quoted. “Seemed fitting for today.“
“You speak the truth,” I agreed.
“Have you been married long?” He asked.
“10 years today. They say he had a heart attack.”
“That’s young,” he commented. “You two must be in your 30’s.”
“I’m 39, and he’s 42.”
“Yep, young. Do you have kids?” He asked.
“No, children were not in the cards for either of us. Stephen is a lawyer. He’s always swamped. I have a condition that leaves me unable to have children. So I keep busy with my online craft store, and I do what Stephen needs. It’s a full-time job keeping track of him.” I studied the older man. “What about you?”
“Elizabeth has blessed me with two beautiful daughters. April is 22. She is finishing college, and Amber is 20. She chose a trade and is an apprentice to an electrician.”
“Wow, Impressive,” I commented. “It sounds like you two raised them well.”
“Well, we certainly tried. Elizabeth and I were raised in the city. We have known each other our whole lives! We’ve always gone to school together. We used to sneak onto the highway bridge and spit on cars” he chuckled at the memory. “I asked her to marry me right out of high school. She said no.” he chuckled again. “She went to college. I went to the service. When I came home, she had a degree. I tried again, and this time she said yes.” He leaned close to me and looked me in the face like he was telling me a secret. “We eloped to Vegas,” he winked at me.
“Ooooh,” I admired. “Saucy”
“Yes,” he chuckled. “Our parents were so mad. They didn’t forgive us until April was born. We moved out to the country. Horse farms everywhere. Our girls played in the dirt. All I can hope now is that my girls find the loves of their lives as we did.”
I smiled. The older man just warmed my heart talking about his beloved.
“Where did you meet your young man?” He asked.
“College. I’m the first female in my family to go. I grew up a country girl. Barefoot in the dirt and tire swings were my normal. I graduated with my BA, Stephen went to law school. He asked me to marry him on graduation night. We had a huge wedding. I felt like a princess. He’s treated me like one ever since. I adjusted well to the city. Made friends with his friend’s wives. We have a book club on Thursdays. The boys play poker on Friday. We rotate houses for both. It works.” I leaned back against the wall again.
“Are you a religious person?” He asked.
“I was raised in the church, but I haven’t been active as an adult.”
He held out his hand. “Would you like to pray with me now?”
I moved closer and took his hand. We said the “Our Father” together.
Just as we finished, a woman appeared in the doorway. “Don!” She yelled at the old man, “What are you doing?”
Don looked like a deer in the headlights. He gripped his chair. I think he was debating making a break for it. “Don’t you dare,” the woman warned. “Dr. Harper, Guys, He’s in here!” she called down the hall.
Soon there was a small gathering of hospital employees headed by a doctor in a white coat taking hold of Don. The doctor studied him. “Don, that’s my Jacket; where did you find those pants? Those are the nurse’s glasses. Oh, Don” The orderlies walked him away.
I stood up to the doctor. “I suppose then this is your pocket square?” I held it out but was still wringing it in my nervous hands.
Dr. Harper eyed it and my nervous stance. “Keep it,” he said. “I’ve got 50.”
I glanced around the room. The coupon book advertised a Spaghetti dinner at St. Elizabeth’s church, followed by Vegas night. The calendar was set in April, and the picture was “amber waves of grain” with America the beautiful set on it. The copy of Alice’s adventures in wonderland had fallen to the floor. I picked it up Quoting Don Quoting the book. “I knew who I was this morning, but I’ve changed a few times since then.”
“I understand you must be very confused.” The woman who had come to get Don began. “My brother is a regular patient here. He suffers from a type of dissociative disorder, and they believe schizophrenia. He just randomly makes up who he is based on his surroundings.”
“So nothing he said was real? He doesn’t have a wife having surgery? No daughters?” I asked.
“Sadly no, our parents passed away a few years ago. They managed him his whole life. I have been trying in their absence with the help of Dr. Harper, but clearly, I’m not doing well enough.” She sighed.
“I’m sorry.” I offered. “that must be such a difficult thing to deal with.”
“Well, I will leave you be,” she said. “I have to go deal with the consequences of his escape. I hope whoever you are here for is okay.” With that, she was gone.
I picked up the book and sat back down. I didn’t know how even to begin to process today.
“Mrs. Cunningham?” A doctor in surgical scrubs entered the waiting room.
“Yes?” I got up and approached him eagerly.
“We were able to clear the blockage, and your husband is doing well. He was fortunate! We’re going to be keeping him a few days to keep an eye on him and run some more tests, and then he’ll be ready to come home with you.”
“Oh, thank you, doctor, that’s fantastic news! I’m so relieved. May I see him?”
“Sure, the nurse will come to get you when he’s awake enough for visitors.”
I sat back down and breathed a sigh of relief. I looked up at the TV and saw the horses running around on the documentary. “Horse farms everywhere,” I thought of Don. I shook my head and laughed.
“Mrs. Cunningham, you may see your husband now.”
I followed the nurse into Stephen’s room. He looked so frail, laying on the bed in a hospital gown. He had tubes and monitors everywhere. He was still my handsome man, though. I walked up and kissed his forehead.
He opened his eyes. “Hey baby,” he said, taking my hand and bringing it to his lips, “Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes.”
“I could say the same for you! How are you feeling.”
“High,” he answered. “I’m sorry I ruined our anniversary.”
“Not at all, my love. If anything, almost losing you made me realize how much I love you and how much I cherish our life together.”
“It was the strangest thing.” He said, “I blacked out, but then I woke up, and I was in… Wonderland? Nothing made sense.”
I put the book on his lap. I guess this was meant to come to us today.
Stephen studied me quizzically “where did you find this?”
“In the waiting room.”
“What a strange day.” He observed.
“Stephen, you have no idea.”