Hospital Story

Sanford kissed his sister on the mouth, tenderly parting her lips with his own, his tongue finding hers and tasting, equal parts familiar and revolting. His instinct to stop was dulled by the warm lust gathering power in his groin. Trudy’s tongue slopped lazy at his, her hips grinding slow and subtle in his hands. Just then, breathing her breath, chin red with her lipstick, he pulled away, passionately confiding, “I could really go for some Peanut M&M’s.”

Trudy- lost in the kiss- had to blink hard, had to shift gears to slow the waters now flowing, to take in air and regain her balance, and she stood without a word, turning to her younger brother on the couch beside her, then away, before walking off wordless to the room with the vending machines.

Sanford leaned back on the waiting room sofa, his eyes pointed at the framed photo of the hot air balloon, hot blood still pumping through his chest. Hospital art was inoffensive. Offensively so. Images in this place had no meaning. He pictured a poster-size framed print: circus clowns in surgical masks huddled around an operating table. Truth in decoration.

Modern hospitals- but this one in particular- made Sanford think of space craft: self-sustaining vehicles of stellar exploration, a quarantined behemoth, a galactic hive, airborne and alive. There was a cleanliness that was found in no other environment, a minimalism he respected even if he wasn’t sure he understood. He could even feel the building humming beneath his feet as though some tremendous unseen engine in its core was powering it through a dark and lonely starfield. St. Vincent’s was massive in size but icy- despite the abundance of ferns- with a thousand different doors to a thousand different rooms so that no one could guess which one held death, as if musical chairs keep the Reaper guessing and the patients safe. Safe is an illusion.

At least he was safe here in this sub-waiting room on the third floor, hidden, just perfect for a spontaneous romance. This room was one love seat and a single chair, a one-family affair. A place for two to share insightful revelations upon the news of Dad’s death, a place where two hot lovers could off to fuck while everyone else shook their heads in the pantomime of confusion. The ceiling-mounted TV was showing something to fill the time between commercials, and Sanford stood, only to stretch.

He found himself in the hallway, where the feeling of space travel overtook him again... maybe it was the master waiting room beyond the hall: plush and oversize, strategically arranged through hundreds of square feet of carpeted floors, carpeted walls, with enormous plexi windows overlooking the courtyard and city streets below: a zero-gravity lounge for loved ones on life support. He panned the room and its endless size and possibility. Couches and chairs in simulation of your living room at home. Free coffee from a machine because something to drink is something to do. Enough room to stretch out with a laptop and get something done. Maybe you'll forget this is Intensive Care.

Sandy walked into the big room, where families of surgical patients were looking outside, looking down, and trying to gain perspective from the sight of someone else in some other wing of the building going through the same ritual of reflection and remorse. Sanford put his face to the glass, inhaling the breeze-free air, spotted a young couple a floor above him, across the courtyard, looking out their wall-window, hand in hand and so obviously praying for the life of their child. Neo-natal intensive care... he laughed to himself. It’s tough to care about someone else’s kid when you don’t care if your own mother lives or dies.

It had been an hour since he and Trudy had last heard from the surgeon- two hours since the operation should have been over- and the news wasn’t good. There had been more intestinal coiling than the doctor had originally anticipated and blah blah blah... the details were supposed to comfort, but Sanford found them unnecessary. Everybody dies, and if today was his Mother’s day he couldn’t care less. Death just might be too good for her.

He walked back through the grand lounge, noting the extras in the room, all auditioning for a lead role in a better story. There were the two sisetrs, middle-aged Oprah drones with fretful expressions tattooed on their faces. He wanted to buy them a jar of Metamucil.

There was Literate Paul: who looked like he waited in hospitals full-time. Heavy guy, late fifties, sitting with a giant cup of donut coffee and a thousand-page novel. The rest of the Waiting Roomers weren’t quite as committed to their roles, easily distracted by TV or conversation. They couldn’t for an hour pretend that they cared. Sanford thought: at least I’m honest enough not to pretend. My Mother deserves to die. At least.

He wandered back throuh the corridor, directly into Trudy, a yellow bag of chocolates in her hand. She spotted him and asked with her eyebrows: “Any word?”

He shrugged, smiling.

Trudy took him by the hand, back to their private suite, the leather seats still grooved from their session impromptu make out. She led Sanford inside, closing the door behind her, tossing the M&M’s on the coffee table. She sat beside him at the couch, gathered and strong- back to the Trudy he knew- and pointed her big brown eyes directly into his.

“What was that?” she asked, and he was glad to see she was in back in control. “You just kissed me like a brother should not kiss his sister. What is wrong with you?”

Sandy, who wasn’t sure what to say, said nothing.

“You’re upset about Mom, Sandy- I’m upset about Mom, too. We should pretend that never happened, try to talk about-”

With that Sanford’s hand found the flesh of her hip and he kissed her again, deeper, slower, more intimate than before. He put his hand down her waistband and ran the back of his hand over the warm hair holding the jungle. He felt her salivate involuntarily, into his mouth, and he knew he’d gone too far. He pulled away to give his sister the chance to slap him.

Trudy licked her lips and lifted her sweater off.

Sanford opened the bag of Peanut M&M’s.

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