WAITING ROOM • by Sarah Hilary

I’m waiting to see a doctor when I lose my mind. Too little too late, you might say.

I’m sitting on the leather sofa in his waiting room, listening to the ticking of the clocks on the wall. Three clocks, telling the time in New York and Beijing as well as here in London and, What sort of doctor, I’m thinking, decides his patients need to know how late it’s getting in China, what little time they have left in New York hours?

The receptionist offers me a paper cup of water. The doctor’s running late, she explains, flipping me a smile–heads we win; tails you lose. She leaves, closing the door behind her.

The doctor’s running six minutes late, or several hours early, depending on which clock you consult.

There’s a fish tank in the waiting room. Big. Gaudy. Lit up like a Las Vegas casino.

They’ve left me alone. Have you any idea how rare that is, to be alone in a waiting room? I take it as a sign, the latest in a long line; I tried playing Patience last night, but the Queen of Hearts was missing from my pack of cards. Call it coincidence. I don’t.

One of the doctor’s clocks strikes the half hour.

I get to my feet, shrug off my jacket and place it aside. Rolling up the sleeves of my shirt, I step up to the tank.

Three little red-and-blue fish–Neon Tetra–are swimming in and out of the portal in the front of the deep-sea-diver’s helmet, moving in formation. The water’s sparky with bubbles.

I fold my hand into a fist and try to put it through the front of the tank.

Failure comes as no surprise; the blow bounces right back at me. So I reach out my arms and embrace the tank, the ends of my fingers curled around its corners, my chest pressed flat to the front of the thing. It doesn’t give an inch. An angel-fish suckers its mouth to the glass, watching me as I sweat and heave, rocking back and forth on my heels.

I’m certain, at this point, that someone will come. I listen for the alarmed sound of the receptionist’s heels tapping at the floor, pitter-patter, a phony tattoo of concern. I wait for, “Let me help you with that, sir.”

The slop of water is answered by the wet labouring of my lungs.

I pull. I push. The tank won’t budge, not until I put all my strength behind it, everything I’ve got left.

It goes over with a thundering smash and I follow it down, part of the same momentum, suckered to the glass. At the last second, I peel myself away, rolling sideways to see the splendour of the smash at close quarters, the tank hitting the floor inches from my face.

Water bursts out, billowing like a sail. Broken glass and fish ride the tidal-wave of water, crashing down around me, splashing back from the wooden floor–arcing up and slapping down–until the impetus wears itself out.

There’s the steady drip-drip of water from my body and the ruined tank, and the flip-flop of dying fish. Then silence.

My head is blissfully empty of everything, sluiced clean. I’m borne on a residual slick of water from the far wall to the space between the doors where I can see the doctor’s shoes, leather, brown.

The receptionist is screaming, a wail of real alarm. Someone slaps her into silence. These are the sounds I wanted to hear. Primitive proof of my existence.


Sarah Hilary’s stories have been published in The Beat, Neon, SHINE, Bewildering Stories, Velvet Mafia, MYTHOLOG, HeavyGlow, Twisted Tongue, Static Movement, Kaleidotrope and the Boston Literary Magazine. Her short story, On the line, was published in the Daunt Books 2006 anthology. She won the Litopia “Winter Kills” Contest in 2007. Sarah lives in the Cotswolds with her husband and young daughter.


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