As She Sleeps On

Submitted into Contest #49 in response to: Write a story that takes place in a waiting room.... view prompt



Tonight, I hate that screeching noise the bag of pretzels makes when I pull it apart. I pull too hard and the side of the bag rips. I have to put my hand to the tear so none of the tasteless, chalky pretzels come falling out. I eat a few but they make me sick to my stomach so I roll up the bag and set it on the chair next to me. 

The waiting room here is terrible. The magazines are all wrinkled or torn, the water cooler is empty, and the only thing I could get to come out of the vending machine was that bag of pretzels. My phone died a while ago and so I’ve just been waiting. Just sitting here. I think about waking up the woman sleeping in the dark corner and asking if she has a charger, but then I think I’d better let her rest. When you catch a nap in a hospital waiting room your dreams are usually a good escape from whatever it is you’re waiting on. 

I see a pen on the little coffee table to my right and I grab it. I twirl it on the back of my thumb a few times as I look for something to doodle on. I spot a pamphlet with a picture of a bald child smiling in the arms of his mother and father. The boy has an oxygen tank beside him connected to clear tubes running into his nose. It says: Coping With Cancer Together. It says (smaller): Read real-life testimonials from families just like yours. I laugh quietly as I turn to the back. It says: Call Us! It says: Visit Our Website! But it is otherwise a blank canvas for my twirling pen. 

First I write the word ‘Cancer’ and then I begin to draw lines and connect the letters in such a way that out of that horrible word comes a rather happy looking dog. His tongue is out and his tail appears to be wagging. 

I write the word ‘Family’, and with a few swift strokes of my pen each letter becomes a different member of a family. The ‘F’ is the father, tall and brawny. The ‘a’ is the mother with beautiful flowing hair. The ‘m’ is the oldest son standing with his arms out wide, showing off his superiority to the whole world. The ‘i’ and the ‘l’ become twin sisters; they love to pick on their cocky brother. The ‘y’ is the infant boy reaching out for his mother. 

I write the word ‘Together’ but this one I leave unchanged. 

I flip to page one in the pamphlet and read absently for a while. I catch a few words here and there: diagnosed, chemotherapy, death. I scratch the back of my ear with the pen and then think about the fact that the pen does not belong to me. How many ears has this pen scratched? How many other things have touched this pen? My mind whirls with images of runny-nosed children chewing on the pen. Of crying mothers and fathers tap, tap, tapping the pen on their bouncing legs. 

The woman in the dark corner snores deeply, only once, and then goes nearly silent once more. She has on those brown fuzzy boots that always look so comfortable. She’s wearing grey sweatpants and a green hoodie. The hoodie appears to be for a high school’s soccer team with the current year on it. Her blonde, greasy hair is hanging over her face so I can’t tell what she looks like. I picture black, tired eyes. I picture dry skin and wrinkles. 

How long have I been here? The clock on the wall is broken and my phone is dead so I have no idea what the time is. Not that it matters. They told me they have no way of knowing how long I’d have to wait. They suggested I go home and wait for them to call. That could have been days ago. Weeks, even. I don’t know. 

I turn to the back of the pamphlet again and write the words ‘Soccer Mom’. I draw a large circle around them and then scribble hexagons inside the circle. I connect them with shaky lines; I don’t even try to make them straight. 

I write: The things that make the least sense are the most likely to happen. 

I write: Nothing makes sense. 

I write: Don’t forget to pick up eggs on the way home. 

I write: This is the last thing I will write. 

The page is completely full and I have nowhere else to doodle. I start to scribble out everything from top to bottom. The dog, the family, the soccer ball all disappear. The poorly written words vanish with a few wild strokes. Even the phone number and the email cease to exist. 

All that remains when my hand starts to cramp and the ink gets low are the words ‘Together’ and ‘Nothing makes sense’. And then I scribble those out too. 

I put down the pen and see that that the side of my hand is black with ink. 

I pick the up the bag of pretzels from beside me. A few spill out of the tear in the side before I have a chance to pinch it closed. They fall to the floor and make a skittering sound. I start forward to pick them up but then decide I’ll get them later; whenever later is. 

I eat the pretzels. I eat them all this time. They’re dry and tasteless. There is no water to wash them down. I could probably get up and ask for a cup, or go drink some out of the bathroom sink, but I don’t feel like getting up. 

I notice that the ink on my hand is smudged onto the arm of my chair. I try to wipe it away but nothing happens. I try harder and still nothing happens. I rub harder and harder until my hand is hot from the friction and then I rub harder still. Bits of skin come off onto the arm and still I rub on. 

I’m sweaty by the time I give up. 

I’m tired by the time I give up. 

My hand is a deep, glowing red by the time I give up. 

The boy on the pamphlet smiles at me. He says: everything will be okay. He says: we’re in this together. He says: some things do make sense. 

The tube in his nose breathes oxygen into his weakened lungs. 

His father pretends everything is okay. 

His mother pretends everything is okay. 

The woman in the corner snores again. Drool slides down the side of her mouth onto her green hoodie. I think again about waking her, but then I think of her dreams and I wish I could curl up next to her and fall into a deep slumber with her. 

She says: dreaming makes it better. 

She says: come on over and dream with me. 

I close my eyes. 

July 07, 2020 18:25

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Raquel Rodriguez
09:10 Aug 02, 2020

I love the descriptions you make in the beginning about the pretzel bag. Although it didn't have much significance to the story, I felt like it was a good start. Would you be willing to read my stories? I would greatly appreciate.


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07:02 Jul 13, 2020

Loved it. Brilliant passage when the letters are turned into drawings and the ending with the lingering presence of the blonde who becomes a refuge in the end. Nicely done!


Chris Riffle
19:36 Jul 13, 2020

Thank you!! I had a lot of fun writing this one.


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