The service elevators were easy for her to find.
She’d spent an entire week of her life at that hospital, nights and days in the summer of ’95, and not as a patient.
Somewhere between Father’s Day June 14th and the last week of July, hair bobbed shorter than it had been since right after she’d given it up in ’82, each sundress from the now ex-honeymoon taking its paper doll turn down those glued carpet halls with their bands of border color marking every corner, her feet, incongruous in hospital issue tube socks, rendered right of passage. She’d worn those rubberized socks, every day that sweltering summer, claiming her route from just past the ramp to the room to the cafeteria and back, just like the help. In the third bed of the second quad of the ninth floor, her mother was dying. She could do whatever the hell she wanted.
Admittedly, entering the grand lobby and approaching the receptionist was, over twenty years hence, an odd thing, but this time she wasn’t entirely sure of her destination. In fact, taking care to wear her oversized, wool-lined denim jacket, one of the knit scarves from the plastic storage bag, the fading pair of black boots, ratty brown leather gloves inherited from her oldest aunt, the most shapeless, unmatched winter hat and even a pair of oval tortoise shells from ninth grade she felt it fitting that, not really knowing where she was going she should appear entirely unrecognizable.
Quietly, uncharacteristically, she bowed her head. Where was the dialysis department, and what was the quickest way to get there? Stylus poised, she mapped the receptionist’s recommended path without comment. Marveling at life’s minor consistencies, she wondered if the thickened skinned, transparently vacant woman had quit her second job at Macy’s or if the retail chain had already let her go.
The row of lobby elevators stood like the gates of Hades, too large, too chrome, too imposing. There were just too many, at least four, the product of Total Quality Management’s marketing ploy to make this medical complex look like the diocesan center for all who came to worship.
The receptionist, powerless in every other aspect of her life, had been eager to disclose the insider’s view, sending her well past the Lake of Fire and into the alleys of the old wing where the walls were still painted mint green and every step could be heard. Decades earlier this had been one lone brick building, where every appendix burst, every broken bone arrived to be set, and every child who wasn’t Catholic came to be born. Equally fitting that these were the walls and halls wherein those whose kidneys were failing would spend three days of every week of the final five to seven years of their lives.
She could see them now, just beyond the vending machines. She knew that, stepping in or out of a service elevator, her denim sleeves might brush against any number of incoming patients or aides. Her wager was that the costume she had affected would blend her into the scenery, render her subconsciously dismissed by even those in closest proximity. She had come to seek a panoramic picture of the whole operation from the point of view of invisibility.
This was, allegedly, a work day. Word was the census was low; with good Irish luck, all patients would be finished before the next round of lake effect. She knew that there would be no snow on this shift, however; sub zero windchills into the double digits would prevent even the most determined flake from crystallizing. This would break all records for the coldest day of the year.
Reaching the first of the two double doors, she extended a gloved finger toward the Down button. Just as she pressed it, “ding!” – the plastic arrow above the second one lit up cherry red and its doors opened, releasing all occupants.
There were no patients in this elevator. From the distorting corner of the right lens of her ninth grade tortoise shell glasses she could just make out the form of his broad shoulder. Looking out from under the frames, however, her newly far-sighted eyes could clearly see the short, wide fingers of his right hand, fingers which had grasped her own flesh and traced every inch of the surface of her skin even as they reached to graze the small of the back of the uniformed woman who stepped out after him.
© 1/6/18 Ruth Ann Scanzillo All rights those of the author, whose story it is, and whose name appears above this line. Do the right thing; write your own. Thanks.