Waiting Room Game

As usual her oncologist was running late. Most of the chairs, polished by hours of nervous shuffling, were occupied. No eye contact made, no words shared. The suppressed atmosphere, hanging over the area like a damp sea mist, seemed to make time slow down.

If only.

Time was something Anne was running out of.

Hours in this waiting room robbed her of that precious commodity.

A faded notice on the over-crowded pinboard had been secured by a ball of adhesive placed in the middle. Age and air conditioning had dried the thin paper, just as the passage of time had dried Anne’s skin. The poster had kept a natural smoothness, but had collapsed at the corners, making a perfect breast shape. A delicate breast facing the wall, ready for an x-ray.

Anne certainly didn’t have the perfect breasts anymore. She stared angrily at the note which seemed to be mocking her. The closely typed words were difficult to decipher, but the diagram’s message was painstakingly clear. Four beautiful women, demonstrating how to check for signs of cancer. Four beautiful women with manicured hands and smiling faces. Four beautiful women, paid by the hour, who will walk away from the photoshoot and carry on life as normal. Anne disliked everything about the poster. She also disliked this hospital room with its false cheerfulness, the soft elevator music and garishly coloured plastic flowers squatting in cracked, yellow vases. And, most of all, she disliked herself for being one of the unlucky ones who needed to face the outside world with a similar pretence; false cheerfulness, sweet words and colourful, plastic smiles.

Anne stretched out her tired legs, tweaked her headscarf and waited for her number to flick onto the screen. To pass the time she tried to calculate how many weeks, how many days, how many hours.

She guessed less than 6 months; maybe 21 weeks.

So how many days?

How many hours?

Her maths game was suddenly interrupted when her number flashed up. Without looking around at any of the other patients, Anne walked towards the bright, lime green door. She greeted the nurse with a silent nod and entered the warm, compact room.

‘Sorry to keep you waiting, Mrs Hall,’ said the ridiculously young doctor.

‘Hope you kept yourself busy out there.’ He smiled, then looked down at his laptop.

She had kept herself busy. Anne now knew the answer:

One hundred and forty seven days.

Three thousand five hundred hours.

There are no winners when you play this waiting game.

Published: Free Flash Fiction