Henry wished he had remembered to put on his wristwatch that morning.
It was hell sitting in the hospital waiting room with no semblance of how much time had passed. A broken clock hung on the wall, ticking, though the second hand only shuddered, never moving forward or back.
Beside him was another man with a bare wrist.
This man had his blond head lowered, his knee bouncing impatiently. Just seeing his anxiety spiked Henry’s again. He looked toward the closed doors that led to the hospital corridors. The wing where his daughter was being operated on.
The wing where his daughter was dying.
The blond man’s bouncing leg shook the stiff bench he and Henry were sharing. Henry’s back was sore from sitting for so long, so he sat up straighter, then leaned back, trying to crack it on the back of the bench.
Sensing the movement beside him, the blond man turned his head to look at Henry. The man’s eyes were weary and glazed, and concern wrinkled his young face. “How long have you been here?” he asked, his voice husky and cracking as if he hadn’t spoken yet that day.
Henry had to think. “Five hours.”
Henry returned to staring blankly at the shut door. He couldn’t remember the last time it had opened, which was odd, since there were a dozen other people in the waiting room with them. Surely someone was bound to receive news at some point. Maybe someone had been called, but Henry had been too out of it to notice.
“Who’re you here for?” Henry asked the man, who pursed his lips in return, running a hand along his stubbly face.
“My roommate,” he said as he rested his elbow atop his ever-bouncing leg. “It was a bad wreck. Car wreck.” He shifted his blue eyes toward Henry. “You?”
“My little girl,” said Henry, clasping his hands in his lap until his knuckles turned white. “She collapsed, and… and something was real wrong with her, and no one will tell me what’s going on, but I know it’s real wrong.” He buried his head in his hands. “Something was off with her for a while. I should’ve done something sooner. I didn’t know it was so bad.”
The young man gave his back a reassuring pat. “That sucks. Sorry to hear that.”
Henry nodded, swallowing and blinking back the tears that had begun to sting his eyes. “Yeah.”
The waiting room was silent. It had been since Henry had gotten there, apart from the occasional cough or shuffling movement. On occasion, someone arrived and took a seat, but as far as Henry could remember, no one had been called yet.
A weary receptionist sat at the front desk, the clacking of her computer keys breaking the quiet every few minutes or so.
Henry walked up to her, loathe to sit any longer. “Excuse me,” he said, then repeated himself when she didn’t respond.
Finally, the woman lifted her gray eyes to look at him through her stringy blonde bangs. “Hm?”
“Sorry, but do you have the time?”
“You’ll be called when they’re ready for you, sir,” she said absently.
“No, the time. Your clock is broken.”
The woman sighed, gaze flitting to the corner of her computer screen. “Who are you here for?”
Click, clack, clack. “Mm-hm. Don’t worry, someone will be with you shortly.”
The pounding in his chest slowed, and he nodded, returning to the hard bench. Just sit. Wait. Wait.
There was nothing remarkable about the waiting room. Not only were the walls empty but for the broken clock, so were the tables. No magazines or other papers littered their tops. It was only furniture, walls, and the closed door they were all waiting to open. Everything was the same dull white color.
Henry felt the urge to go and try the door himself. But somehow, he knew he had to wait if he wanted to expect anything on the other side.
He turned around on the bench, unease gnawing at his stomach. “Excuse me, ma’am?” he asked an older heavy-set woman behind him who was staring off into space.
Her eyes refocused at his words, and she frowned, emphasizing the lines around her mouth. “Hmm?”
“How long have you been waiting?”
Her eyebrows scrunched together, and then she shrugged. “No idea.” Her eyes lost their focus again.
Henry’s hands shook as he began to panic. He stood up, spreading his hands out. “Does anyone have the time? A watch? Anything?”
Though most didn’t seem even to register his words, a teenager flipped open the white cell phone cupped in his hands. He held it out for Henry to see, and there it was. Numbers flashed across a screen, and Henry gained a sense of semblance again.
Until the boy put the phone back down and Henry couldn’t recall a single number he’d read.
“Oh, God.” Henry buried his face in his hands again, sitting down hard.
The blond man looked at him again, his frown deepening. “You alright?”
“Do you know where we are?”
The man grimaced, looking back toward the door. “I mean… I think so.”
“Did you…” Henry nearly choked on his words, afraid to ask. “Did you die in that wreck?”
“Dunno.” The man’s eyes began to glaze over again. “Maybe there wasn’t even a wreck at all.”
Henry’s chest throbbed, but he felt no need to get up again, to yell, to go anywhere, to do anything at all. He was meant to be there. To wait. Someone would call his name. Someone would call his name. He fixed his gaze on the door, knowing he would sit there as long as it took, even after he’d forgotten what he was waiting for.
He wondered if God allowed any wristwatches in heaven. Hell was a different story altogether.
Charis Negley is a writer from Wilmington, Delaware. She is currently studying professional writing at Taylor University. Her true passions, aside from writing, lie in editing and drinking any type of coffee. Her work has previously been published in The Sirens Call, Craft Your Content, Literary Yard, 50-Word Stories, and Page and Spine.