Flash Fiction . . .
The $640 Dinner Date
Coming up on eight pm on a Tuesday night, Kim and her young son Evan were almost two hours into a visit to the emergency room. She had come home from work to find him standing on the window seat watching for her car, a look of furrow–browed bemusement and pain on his face, and a small Lego piece stuck firmly up his nose.
Kim took one look at Evan’s face, scooped him up, and turned on the living room light as they left. The nanny could lock up before going on home. This was going to be a long night. Visits to the emergency room always were. Kim hated coming home to a dark house; that was all she did. She didn’t check the mail or check the answering machine. Evan always came first.
Emergency rooms are very strange microcosms of life. Blue carpet that goes with nothing. Uncomfortable chairs with arms that make it impossible to cuddle or calm anyone, magazines expired ages ago, not even interesting when they first came out, and a TV turned to crap—cartoons or news, basically one and the same, turned way too loud, looped over and over. Not interesting to anyone and nobody watching.
Small groups of families were scattered around, the air full of suspicion, anger bubbling just below the surface, waiting to explode. Always two or three people, generally working men, with hands wrapped in dirty kitchen towels—pink, and turning pinker. Their wives watching cautiously but not saying a word.
Everyone knew that chest pains were taken right in. The dirty pink kitchen towels? Not fair if they were seen out of order, even if the four people ahead of them just had snotty noses and coughs. Everyone kept a side-eye on everyone else. It was like a bakery in a war zone, with one loaf of bread left. NO ONE was going out of turn.
At the top of the hour Kim and Evan were finally called, ushered into the back to wait two more hours. Many nurses and aides were going back and forth. They looked efficient. They moved quickly, but all at the same pace, like chess pieces on a board from Alice in Wonderland. Two policemen brought in a man wearing handcuffs. He was either caught burgling a first-floor apartment, or he was a drunk driver. Kim tried to eavesdrop but couldn’t tell. Regardless, all three seemed jovial. One of the policemen even came over to talk to Evan, by now cranky and hungry, wandering around his bed with a popsicle one of the nurses had given him. Handcuff Man got seen first.
In the back, it seemed everyone was either waiting for lab results, or waiting for a doctor. Kim and Evan of course were waiting for a doctor to come dislodge the Lego. She could tell from listening that the doctor shortage was a source of frustration for the nurses and aides, and for the patients too. From what she could gather, doctors had an interesting relationship with time and the definition of emergency. That, coupled with the fact that no one could use cell phones, not to make a call or play games, made everyone pretty angry. You could be the kindest and best nurse in the world, but someone with a bladder infection, who just needed a pee test and a prescription, who didn’t see a doctor until all the pharmacies were closed . . . well they weren’t going to care if you reminded them of their favorite aunt, they were going to be pissed. And that wasn’t fair. The nurses and aides logged everything on whiteboards by each bedside and took special care to log the time each task was done, even if it was just giving a patient juice. It didn’t matter though.
Once a month there was a liaison meeting between all areas of emergency room services. The same promises were made and the same promises were broken before the coffee was even finished, empty paper cups left on tables, not even thrown in the trash.
Finally Dr. Chiu came to see Evan, who climbed back up into bed with his sticky face and sticky popsicle hands. Dr. Chiu had a three-year-old at home, and he was great with Evan, not scary at all. Evan had brought along a duplicate Lego piece so he could show Dr. Chiu exactly what was stuck up his nose. He explained that he’d been doing magic, and his "ears were full.” Kim just sat off to the side, shrinking into “I’m a terrible-mother-hood” while Evan and the doctor had their conversation.
First Dr. Chiu and Evan agreed on the best light to use, to shine for the “procedure.” Then Dr. Chiu gave Evan the choice between straight or curved forceps. Evan tried both sets and they made a decision. Holding the forceps, Dr. Chiu said, “okay Evan, hold still,” but every time he got close, Evan flinched with his whole body, including his nose. “Evan, don’t flinch, it’s not going to hurt one bit” he said, but flinch after flinch after flinch . . . Kim thought they would be there forever.
Dr. Chiu took the forceps and rubbed them softly along Evan’s cheek. “You see? That’s what it’s going to feel like, you won’t even feel a thing,” then quick as a flash, he reached in and took out the Lego. It happened so fast, Evan didn’t even have time to cry. He didn’t know what to do. Dr. Chiu dropped the Lego in Evan’s palm, said goodbye, and moved on to his next patient. Evan turned to Kim. “Here, Mommy,” he said, as he handed her the snotty Lego piece. Done and done. A few minutes later and they were discharged to go find a drive-thru and get some late dinner.
When Kim got the bill from the hospital—from the four and a half hours, one popsicle, one handcuffed drunk driver, four seconds with the doctor, one snotty Lego and a very relieved Evan? Six hundred and forty dollars! And that was with insurance!
Evan no longer does magic. He reads the instructions before building anything with Legos. He has privately promised himself that he will never become a burglar or a drunk driver, and the next time they go to emergency he’ll wear shoes, so they can go to a real restaurant after, not just a drive-thru. Kim has privately promised herself to carry protein bars at all times, because damn! Four and a half hours in the emergency room can make any Mommy hungry!
A thrush crashed down the chimney into my writing study while I was not there. It had fallen asleep while warming itself from the heat rising up the flue.
Unseen, it thumped down semiconscious and blackened in the grate, beak like an ember, eyes like sparks. Then, recovering its senses, it struggled into flight and launched itself at a half-opened window.
I opened the door to see what was causing this disturbance. I found a winged impression of a black bird on the glass and the dark remains of ideas colliding across the hearthrug.
Martin Porter lives in Whangarei, New Zealand. He is published in New Zealand, USA, and UK. A Pushcart nominee and Best of the Net nominee, he writes poetry and micro-prose. He currently sits on the New Zealand National Flash Fiction Competition committee.
As Long As She Didn’t Ask
Claudio didn't want to tell his wife. The problem was, of all the issues they may have had, secrets were never among them. That’s how each knew the other wouldn’t cheat. They were terrible liars.
Still, he was too pensive, laconic, irritable.
He could hold out as long as she didn’t ask what the matter was.
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
Damn, he thought.
Liquid Addiction (a 55 fiction story)
She almost knocked over the wine bottle. Enraged, he swiped it.
She smirked, “It’s time for a drink!”
“You think this is funny? You showed up to Adam’s soccer match piss drunk.”
He stared at her wedding ring with remorse, “If you refuse treatment I’m leaving.”
She went upstairs to pack for the 4th time.
Ted Millar teaches English at Mahopac High School and resides in New York’s Hudson Valley with his wife and two children. His work has appeared in Straight Forward Poetry, Crossways, Caesura, Circle Show, The Broke Bohemian, The Voices Project, and many other publications.
Aliyah Jackson is a 20 something writer from the Midwest, with work appearing previously in Better Than Starbucks. She is currently working on her first poetry chapbook.
Tobi Alfier is a multiple Pushcart nominee and multiple Best of the Net nominee. Slices of Alice & Other Character Studies and a reprint of Sanity Among the Wildflowers were most recently published by Cholla Needles Press. She is co-editor of San Pedro River Review.
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