Waiting Room

This is part of a WIP, a larger story, to which the characters depicted are secondary or background

LEROY NEIMAN, Acrylic & enamel on canvas

Let the shadows carry a tune of blue’, he murmured to himself. ‘Never let black sully your palette’, the late Ms Lawton used to say, about fifty-six years ago during the Fine Art classes at The Grove, while she pondered about the French masters of Pointillism. The references brought to him were more Claude Monet than Camille Pissarro. And so it was not in points, but by the gentle caress of diluted blue that Matt made the highlights seem more yellow by mere contrast.

The bench creaked softly. If the vibration wasn’t enough to break Matt’s concentration, then the childlike “Hello” that followed had to succeed.

Matt threw a polite glance over his glasses. “Hello yourself,” he answered, swiftly going back to his painting of the crepuscular shoreline, hoping the kid would go away.

“I’m Macey,” the little voice insisted.

“Pleased to meet you, Macey,” he lied. “I’m Matt.”

“Both our names start with M,” she snapped. “What are you doing?”

That non-sequitur amused Matt. “I’m doing watercolours. Do you like watercolours, Macey?” He glanced at her again as she assented, pensively. She was seven or eight years old, zestful eyes in a bored expression.

“But I’ve done that before,” Macey swung her legs at the bench. “Have you ever tried going places? — I do it often.”

Often. Matt swallowed the idea.

“I rather finish my painting, dear, if you don’t mind terribly,” he said.

“But it will be saved! Come, I’ll show you how to go anywhere you want,” she sang the word ‘anywhere’ while pulling Matt from his sleeve.

“Okay.” Matt carefully placed his easel aside and stood up laboriously. Dragging the man by the hand now, Macey walked to a row of doors that stood behind the bench. He hadn’t noticed them before.

“Which one?” asked Matt.

“It doesn’t really matter,” shrugged Macey. “Just think of someplace you wanna go. Like wonderland.”

“Okay, uh…,” Matt closed his eyes as he theatrically gripped the doorknob. It clacked open, and they both strode inside.

They stepped into the sunny, stone floor, as the noise of the cafes and the murmur of mildly sprinkled water enveloped them.

“Oh! It must be a live feed,” said Matt, mostly to himself, yet out loud. The people were too lively not to be alive — but then who knew, in this day and age.

“What’s this place? It’s cute,” said Macey.

“It’s called Piazza Navona, in a city named Rome. Have you been to Rome with your parents, Macey?”

The child ignored the question. “I like that silly statue.”

“It’s a fountain too. It symbolises the four great rivers of the world,” he taught. “There’s the La Plata river, the Ganges…”

“Let’s do something else” she pulled his hand again back to the door.

‘Kids and their short span of attention’, Matt mumbled, looking back as Piazza Navona faded away in the closing arc of the featureless door.

They were back at the nameless beach again. Macey had a picture of Piazza Navona in her hand. “Can I keep it?”

“Of course! — All of Rome is yours now!”

“Thank you,” Macey treasured the postcard in her dress’ pocket.

“Okay. So what else can you do around here?” Matt bent over with his hands on his knees and smiled.

“We can make a castle in the sand,” she pointed to the beach. The sun did not move an inch since he started his artwork.

“What would you say if I paint you into my canvas? It’ll be a painting about a little girl building the castle.” Macey frowned to the suggestion. “Come on; it’ll be like a race. I bet you can’t beat me.” The keywords worked, now the kid’s face turned in a defiant smile.

“I bet I can make a huge castle, with a Queen and horses and everything, before you finish.”

“We will see about that, little tyke,” winked Matt, sitting on the bench and trying to align the easel like it was before, while the girl ran to the sandbank.

Her shape was little more than a first stroke above the juxtaposed lines of the beach and clouds when the little girl had raised many towers and minarets. ‘This kid wasn’t kidding, she’s fast,’ he thought.
Hardly keeping up with the shape of the castle, leaving blanks for the highlights, tempted to cheat with oils or light inks, Matt surrendered any pretension of speed and resumed his former planned and careful method.

She came back running. “I won! You still painting! Ha-ha!”

“How on Earth you pulled that off, young lady?” Matt put on an act of defeat and astonishment, while working calmly.

She strolled to his side. “Did you make me pretty?”

“Well, it’s just a basic shape,” he waved a hand, “but you’ll look pretty, I promise.”

A background noise, a blip, then another, then a woman’s voice; it all slowly faded in on the back of his head.

“I’m sorry… It seems I have to go, Macey.” Matt packed up his tools, knowing it was an irrelevant ritual.

“Ooh, already?” She frowned again.

“I’m sure there are more children around for you to play with.” He regretted the idea. Not children, he hoped.

“Sure, there’s plenty of people around,” she shrugged, and extended her arms towards him, waiting for a hug. Matt kneeled and patted her back. “Take care, Macey. It was a pleasure to meet you”. She released the embrace, smiled, and ran back to her castle. At that very instant, it seemed, she had forgotten about him.

Matt woke up in a shuddering fade of pungent cold —, not the chill of winter, but the unreal iciness only chemicals can provide. Some member of staff pulled a blanket over him. 
Sarah was peeking behind the curtain.
“Fine, the wife can come in, but one relative at a time, please,” said a butch nurse in her annoyed, loud ‘nursey’ tone. “Grandpa is fine, the Doctor will come later for questions if you have them — , but they told me everything is fine, alrite?” Sarah thanked her. “One. At. The. time.” She repeated. “And you’ll be eating something. Chicken or veggie?” To this, he looked confused, so Sarah answered for him.

“Are we feeling okay?”, she smiled and caressed his forehead.

“I’m cold.”

“It’s the anaesthesia; you’ll warm up soon. Dr Ghande said it all went like clockwork. Your heart should be as good as a teenager’s with the filaments.”

“That’s good.”

But he kept thinking about Macey.

That evening, cardiologist Samira Ghande announced he was to be discharged the next morning. Further monitoring was now fully remote. “If there’s something wrong, I will know instantly. But don’t you worry, I foresee no complications, the procedure was all by the book.”

When the morning grace flooded the room in a yellow haze that made his watercolours look pale, Matt was already getting dressed. There she was, poor Sarah, exhausted yet glowing in relief.
It wasn’t until they reached the main hall and climbed the shuttle back to the city that he gathered enough courage to know.

He asked in his head to TeneT about Macey. ‘There is a ‘Macey’ in the third floor, area B’, said TeneT succinctly, refusing to disclose a surname or any more information. Matt asked for the hospital floor plans.

Area B, on the third floor, was Child Oncology.

“Goddammit,” said Matt, struggling with a knot in his throat. “So much for magic and technology, but we still can’t figure out cancer”.