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Fiction Drama Contemporary

The green vinyl creaks as I adjust my position. I’ve had more comfortable seats on a bus, or in a doctor’s waiting room. This was no exaggeration. Over the last eighteen months, I have had plenty of experience with doctors’ waiting rooms.

My whole body is aching and I’m unable to keep my eyes open, but I’m afraid to close them. The young girl who took my order an hour ago walks past, cloth in hand, to clear the table beside me and she glances my way with curiosity. I smile wanly and continue to pretend to sip a brew long gone cold. I don’t care. Once I was a connoisseur, now I’m just grateful for something to occupy my time, to keep my hands busy and mind focused on one thing.

I have been in a bubble all day, ever since 9.00am this morning, when they wheeled Jayden into the operating room. I held his little hand as they administered the anesthetic and watched his eyes glaze over. It was like watching him die. He didn’t just go to sleep, his eyes never closed, but he seemed to step out of his body. I wasn’t prepared for that, and a chill raced down my spine. God, don’t take my boy!

“He’s under,” the anesthetist said.

“It’s OK, Mum, we have him from here.” A kindly nurse in multicoloured scrubs led me away. As I stepped through the doors, I broke. My legs just wouldn’t go further and the tears were no longer silent. They were accompanied by great, gasping sobs. Not my finest moment, but I had been so strong for so long, I just couldn’t do it anymore.

The nurse suggested I come down here, and I parked myself in this corner booth, phone on the table, watching and waiting for the call to say Jayden was back in recovery. That was nearly four hours ago. Four hours of watching people, and I am still here, waiting, hardly daring to move.

I am grateful that the grinding and hiss of steam drowns out the hospital sounds of the loudspeaker announcing a Code Blue in C Block or paging this or that doctor. That sterile, clean hospital smell is muted here, as delicious aromas fill the air, but I can’t eat, I can barely drink, my stomach is curdling, twisting itself into impossible knots.

Across the aisle, a man sits in his wheelchair, wrapped warmly in a dressing gown and slippers. A bag of IV fluid hangs from a pole on the back of the chair. He sits with quiet dignity while two children busy themselves drawing pictures and colouring in printed pages. I watch him lift a shaking hand, complete with cannula and IV line, to caress the little girl’s cheek as she shows him her artwork. His skin, pallid and drawn, clings to the angular bones of his face and hands, and I watch as he lifts his gaze to the woman sitting opposite him. She smiles, but the sadness leaks through. I can see it, because I can feel the same expression in my own eyes. The fear that you have to place all your hope in one thing, all your eggs in one basket, and you know it’s a risk. You know that it’s all or nothing, and you’re scared that you will be left with nothing, but you do it anyway.

There is a quiet calm on both of their faces, a resignation that fills me with sadness. I want to yell at them, tell them not to give up. I haven’t given up. As exhausting as it is, I won’t give up. For the sake of those precious children, keep fighting, I silently scream. I have to look away. Maybe they have no options left and nothing left for them to fight with.

If Jayden’s surgery is unsuccessful, if the repair to his little heart doesn’t work, I tell myself that we will still have options. We can go on the transplant list. I haven’t yet put all my eggs in the same basket, but it’s getting close.

A group enters, their boisterous excitement fills the space, and their happiness is infectious. The little balloons and teddies they carry, along with gift bags loudly proclaiming ‘It’s a girl,’ chokes me up and I swipe a napkin beneath my eyes once more. I’m a wreck, an emotional watering pot.

The group place a large order and crowd together near the entrance, dragging chairs with a clatter and a dissonant scrape, so they can all sit around one table. A cheer erupts as what must be the new dad walks through the door. He is a smiling mess, hair unkempt and what was once a five o’clock shadow is now a face of scruff. His clothing is rumpled as if he has slept in it, but from the dark rings under his eyes, I would hazard a guess that he hasn’t slept at all. There are hugs and handshakes and congratulations all round.

I look away. Their joy is too much. My eyes meet the gaze of the other woman as she gathers up her children’s drawings and crayons, and we speak without words, one suffering mother to another. It’s not that either of us begrudge the other family their joy, in fact we are both transported back to a time when we experienced that euphoria of new life, but the pain of our current situation is sharpened as it contrasts with their unbridled excitement and exuberance. Her lips tilt in an acknowledgment of our shared understanding. I hope my lips tilt back in a comforting way, but it probably looks like a rictus of pain.

The woman gathers her chicks and musters them to each side of the wheelchair as she navigates her way to the door. I sincerely wish them well and hope that they have the satisfaction of a happy, healthy and complete recovery, but my heart knows what that mother knows. Every day is precious and none is guaranteed.

I return to my occupation of watching the phone, willing it to ring. I find myself praying to a God who had abandoned me when he put together my son without a working heart.

Jayden would make a joke of it. He told me that he was the Tin Man and that if he ever met the Wizard, then he was asking for a heart. He thought it was hilariously funny, so much so, that he made me wrap him in al-foil for Book Week dress up day, so he could be the Tin Man. I laughed with him, but my laughter was only skin deep. I laughed for him, not for me.

If I ever met the Wizard, I would ask for courage, like the Lion. Every new day I woke with a deep pit of dread that lodged itself in my stomach. A constant companion. Would this be the day that his heart gives in? Every challenge, school activity, sports day was a hurdle to overcome. I was just so scared, and I had to face it all alone. It was hard enough propping Jayden up when he was upset about missing yet another activity, a school sports carnival, a trip to the zoo. I couldn’t handle trying to comfort anyone else, and so I didn’t let them know. My parents were interstate, Jayden’s dad was in an extended honeymoon phase with wife number two. That left just Jayden and me. It was safer that way.

The phone lights up and vibrates across the table, and I gasp as my stomach plummets in one direction while my beating heart thunders in the other. I can barely breathe as I scramble to answer the call, all thumbs that don’t seem to know how to operate a smart phone.

“Hello, Kathy speaking,” I gasp.

“Hi Kathy. I’m ringing to let you know that we have Jayden here in recovery and he is asking for you.”

I can barely speak but I garble words, which the lovely nurse on the other end correctly interprets as a query about the surgery’s success.

“Jayden has come through very well,” she reassures me. “The surgery went as planned and there were no unexpected complications.”

She says more, but I will admit to not hearing a single thing she says, as I grasp onto those words ‘no unexpected complications’. It is almost a pain too much to bear, like when you’ve sat too long then suddenly stand up. My head is light, my heart almost exploding in my chest. The release of pressure is so intense that the whole world reels around me, tipping alarmingly, and it is only as I hang up that I realise that I am sobbing. Huge gasping sobs of relief.

“Honey, was it bad news?” Through the puddle of my vision, I see one of the grandmotherly ladies standing by my table with a box of Kleenex. Her face is lined with years of care and she is directing that care towards me, a random stranger.

I take a tissue with gratitude and stammer, “No, no, it’s good news. It’s my son. He’s come through the surgery OK and there were no unexpected complications.”

“That’s wonderful dear. Do you need to go to him? Take a few more tissues.” She pulls a dozen or so from the box, pressing them into my hand. “Don’t let him see you cry, dear. He’ll think the worst.”

Closing my fist around the tissues, I smile, the first real smile I had felt in so long. The kind of smile that comes from that deep place where true joy lies.

“Thank you.” I hug this woman, and I am not usually a hugger, but she hugs me back with a confident strength before she sets me on my path.

I wipe the tears as I hurry through the door. My boy needs me. Our journey is not over. In fact, it’s just beginning a new stage, but now I can feel hopeful.

September 18, 2023 13:42

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34 comments

Stevie Burges
07:24 Sep 19, 2023

A lovely story. I became totally invested in the story as the descriptions took me into the story you were describing. Beautifully written.

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Michelle Oliver
11:46 Sep 19, 2023

Thanks for reading and responding. I’m happy that you were so invested in the story.

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Amanda Lieser
03:19 Oct 20, 2023

Hi Michelle! Oh my goodness, a story was a wonderful take on the prompt! My mother, so keenly remember the day my sister had her tonsils out. It was an experience which she felt like took too little time so she immediately assumed that she had lost her daughter. However, it was simply that the 21st-century made tonsillectomy a very easy procedure, which took very little time. I loved that this narrator focused on so many little details surrounding them, and the birth of the new child was a fascinating counterpoint to the fear that was grippi...

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Michelle Oliver
09:18 Oct 20, 2023

Thank you. A coffee shop in a hospital would see many stories. People watching has always fascinated me. So many people with their own stories connecting for one moment.

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Haylie Roberts
18:15 Oct 01, 2023

As everyone else has commented, this story is beautiful. I also feel it was a brilliant use of the prompt; we know it's a coffee shop not only because of the sounds described - but because of the purpose of the setting, a liminal space where we rest with a cup of something while life is happening.

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Michelle Oliver
23:05 Oct 01, 2023

Thank you Haylie. I am glad you got the idea of the space serving a purpose other than coffee.

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Celia Farr-Smith
22:47 Sep 28, 2023

Really great story, Michelle. Well done!

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Michelle Oliver
22:50 Sep 28, 2023

Thank you

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Adrienne Ellis
18:09 Sep 28, 2023

This story is amazing. This ... wow. What a great story. From word one to the last word. Great work.

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Michelle Oliver
22:42 Sep 28, 2023

Thank you for reading and I’m happy that you enjoyed it.

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Marty B
04:00 Sep 27, 2023

You had great descriptions of the challenging emotions of a woman in crisis. 'Their joy is too much.' Question- where is Toto! Thanks!

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Michelle Oliver
07:52 Sep 27, 2023

Thanks for giving it a read and for your feedback.

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Nina H
13:09 Sep 26, 2023

I made the mistake of reading this between sessions at work. Now I need a few moments to gather and compose! The contrast of emotions in the coffee shop was so beautifully done. And the Wizard of Oz allusion spot on for the situation. I’m so happy it ended the way it did. I was in a state waiting to see what would happen. Great writing, great story ❤️

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Michelle Oliver
13:14 Sep 26, 2023

Thanks for reading. I’m so happy that you enjoyed it enough to come back to and thanks for the feedback.

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Joan Wright
17:45 Sep 25, 2023

Beautiful story artfully told. You created an atmosphere that kept growing. You set a wonderful mood with your expert use of words. Your character was very well developed and had my sympathy from the word go. I've been in that hospital coffee shop waiting and you absolutely captured it.

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Michelle Oliver
22:09 Sep 25, 2023

Thanks for reading it and leaving your feedback, it is most appreciated. The hospital coffee shop is a weird liminal space that sees so many stories, beginnings, endings, hopes and heartbreaks.

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Marc Wilks
19:48 Sep 24, 2023

Very good story. The emotion felt genuine and took me back to times when my own friends and family were in similar circumstances. Excellent work!

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Michelle Oliver
23:45 Sep 24, 2023

Thank you for reading it.

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Myranda Marie
17:24 Sep 24, 2023

I needed someone to hand me tissues ! Great story. I completely forgot we were in a coffee shop.

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Michelle Oliver
23:46 Sep 24, 2023

Thanks for reading it.

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Delbert Griffith
14:23 Sep 22, 2023

Wow, this was an amazingly emotional tale, Michelle. I'm glad I didn't take on this particular prompt because you knocked it out of the ballpark. The Wizard of Oz allusion was good. Very good. Personally, I think the Wizard was represented by the surgeons, for they were not seen, but their presence was felt. I also feel like the mom had courage, though it's a courage that doesn't lend itself to glorious deeds. All in all, I think the Oz motif was carried through quite well. The tale got to me. Kids in pain or in danger always get to me. Th...

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Michelle Oliver
14:40 Sep 22, 2023

Thanks Del. I agree the mom had courage, but like the lion, feels afraid and therefore doesn’t recognise how brave they actually are. It’s so common for mothers to feel like this. We’re only brave because we have no other choice, but if you could look inside, we’re a quivering mess. A hospital coffee shop is a liminal space, where many stories converge, beginnings, endings and second chances. It seemed ripe for a story so I’m glad you enjoyed it.

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Michał Przywara
20:38 Sep 20, 2023

Definitely quite tense, once we learn what's going on! When she got the call, "my stomach plummets in one direction while my beating heart thunders in the other" - yes, that came through viscerally. Likewise, when he's anaesthetized, with the open eyes, we fear the worst. Not only is it an unsettling moment, but we wonder, is it foreshadowing? A parent in this situation understandably looks for signs and meaning in everything. I like the contrast between the misery of some and the joy of others. Hospitals are bizarre places that way, enc...

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Michelle Oliver
22:37 Sep 20, 2023

Thanks you for reading. Hospitals are a great cross section of life, so many people there each one focused on their own reason for being there. I had to have a good outcome, (I was actually in hospital for surgery this week) maybe even a bit open ended, so it could have fit the other prompt also.

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Rebecca Miles
19:51 Sep 20, 2023

Hospitals: what places they are. On one corridor you can have life beginning, ending and everything in between. In many it might be happening all in one room. This isn't the place for personal reminiscences but this story really reminded me of some very powerful memories in my own life where the very same place in a hospital was the backdrop to two incredibly different experiences. Cheek by jowl you can have people hearing the worst news and the best. I for one really aprreciated the Wizard of Oz analogy to lift this out of the purely person...

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Michelle Oliver
22:43 Sep 20, 2023

Thanks for reading. I was in hospital for day surgery myself this week so it was on my mind when writing. Hearts can be broken and repaired and even replaced, and yes courage is a necessity. I’m happy you enjoyed the story and hope that amongst the memories it stirred were some positive ones.

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Lily Finch
01:00 Sep 19, 2023

Michelle, exploding an emotion bag hints of sinister somewhere. Maybe. I felt the angst of that couple's female with two small children. And I had to go and look at the damn prompt to see what it was again since I got into the story, and forgot what it was. Quite a story for the prompt and it is so well done. Bravo! LF6 You nailed the title. So great. Deep.

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Michelle Oliver
01:43 Sep 19, 2023

Thanks for reading it. I’m happy that you became invested in the story.

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Mary Bendickson
19:52 Sep 18, 2023

You've done it again. 🥹Brought a tear to my eye. Beautifully. Oh,yes touching and happy

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Michelle Oliver
22:01 Sep 18, 2023

Thank you Mary. I hope there was a happy tear in there too.

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Kevin Logue
17:56 Sep 18, 2023

The emotions are very strong here, the dreaded wait came through really well, like trying to sprint through mud. You took a coffee shop prompt and added so much - what I'm now calling - Oliverism's. The want to scream at the couple to continue to fight, the dislike of the happy group, so conflicting yet coexisting. Superb. Then the wizard of Oz references, she wants the courage, he the heart. Brilliant. Plenty of backstory in a few simple lines too, husband's still in the honeymoon stage with wife number two. I was really rooting for he...

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Michelle Oliver
21:55 Sep 18, 2023

Thank you for reading it and your analysis. I appreciate your kind words.

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13:56 Sep 18, 2023

That's a beautiful story. Sad, painful, but all there's the feeling of resilience, never giving up that makes you sure that somehow it will turn out alright. The Wizard of Oz references are just right, making the story more powerful, fitting in perfectly. 'It was like watching him die. He didn’t just go to sleep, his eyes never closed, but he seemed to step out of his body' - That image is going to haunt me. So perfect. You can't miss the emotion of this, and I can only say again how beautiful it is.

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Michelle Oliver
14:08 Sep 18, 2023

Thank you so much for reading it. That part you quoted is true. When my son was four he went under an anaesthetic (only to reset a broken arm thankfully) and it was exactly how it happened. I was quite shaken by the experience and it haunts me to this day. (He is now twenty.)

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