In a secondary school English class I was told it was important that every story have a clear plot, that it couldn’t be a story otherwise. My teacher’s words were self-assured, words that had been said many times before, taking on a cleanliness that off-the-cuff remarks can never possess. He was like an actor on the final night of a broad-way show, everything smooth and polished. The line between actor and individual blurring until it was almost impossible to demarcate.
It’s funny I find myself thinking of him, with his thinning black hair, and square spectacles, the way he peered over the glasses, and not through them, as if they were more ornamental than functional.
The cold air nips at my exposed face, brings me squarely back to the present. I stuff my hands into the pockets of my parka jacket. The hail lands on me, sticks, then melts, until I am soaked. It’s no use I think, standing out here, so I decide to enter the foyer of the hospital I’ve been waiting outside.
The hospital, even at this late hour, long after night fall, still hums, like a car left idle. Not at full rev but still very much alive. Across from me is a table of paramedics, messing with napkins, breaking out into subdued laughter. The couple to my left both cradle their cardboard coffee cups, staring into the space beyond each other. Doctors and nurses walk to and fro full of purpose. There is no sadness or suffering in the air, it’s not like how I remember hospitals, it’s not true to the associations that I have with them.
To me hospitals are nervousness, the smell of disinfectant, those declining years, tears shed, rolling down in torrents, clumsily wiped away on sleeves, more tears, face-to-face with that doorway into death, kept so neatly out of day-to-day consciousness.
Tonight the hospital is neutral. Its concrete and pipes and tables and chairs and vinyl flooring that sparkles in the fluorescent light. It’s full of people doing their job and other people doing their duty as children and siblings and spouses and carers. It’s full of others: people who I watch like I’m a satellite orbiting a strange planet I cannot come to terms with. Unable to decide what the reality is; past connections to this place or the ho-hum flow that I’m now presented with.
A man with a stethoscope around his neck comes through the lobby, wearing a checked shirt tucked into khaki pants and sneakers. He’s in his thirties but there is something older contained within his face. It’s not the face of a young-man any longer, too worn-out and weathered. He goes toward the cold air of the night, then steps back, and turns around into the well-lit entrance. He stands there, runs a hand through his longish hair.
It’s then that I see there are tears in his eyes, and that he’s trying to contain them, obvious by the way they’ve welled up. He seems angry at himself, faces away from the small crowd at the chairs and tables, an expression of frustration. He’s concentrating hard on composing himself, his brow deeply creased, his eyes shutting tight. He stands straight like this, eyes-closed, then he opens them. His eyes are still a tad milky, but he is no longer on the verge of hysterics.
And like this he turns and walks back toward the doors that lead to wards full of patients and operating rooms and break rooms and x-ray machines. He folds back into it, because what else is there for him to do?
Plot is a timeline. Plot is nothing. What matters are the aberrations, the random things without the clear beginning, middle, and end that we crave, a need borne out of a chaos that is calling for order. Only no order can be found, it’s a fool’s errand.