Waiting Room
Jennifer Dunn Stewart

When she told me, my mother was the exact same age I am right now. I was wearing my new training bra and pleated pants with neon pinstripes and she was at the stove flipping squares of tofu with a plastic spatula. The kitchen smelled like sesame and garlic and the can of Friskies she had just set out for the cat. They're going to have to cut them off, she had said, but it's okay because they're going to build me new ones. She picked up a paring knife and for a horrified second I thought she was going to perform some sort of demonstration, but she reached for a lemon and began slicing narrow curls of rind directly into the wok. It was dark outside, so instead of seeing the front yard through the window over the kitchen sink I saw my mother in profile—hair tucked behind her ear, dangle earring shaped like a gingko leaf—and myself beyond at the Formica table, just a dot in the pane.

Now, they've put me in the room where they put the women who are waiting to see the radiologist. It's just a room the size of a utility closet, an instrumental remix of Lisa Loeb playing through the Direct TV mounted above the door. There's a lot of pink: vinyl chairs, rosehip potpourri, potted silk orchids, triptych of official posters for Race for the Cure. The coffee table is stacked with back issues of Golfer's Digest addressed to someone named Bill Anderson, 13577 Vista Pointe Circle, and I wonder which of the techs lives with Bill and his 9 irons. I don't think it's Lynn, whose hands are cool and smooth as brass doorknobs, or Rebecca, who I had when I was here for my annual last week. I think maybe it's the one with the scrubs printed with tiny zebras—the one who smiled at me from the hall before Lynn closed the door.

It's going to take a long time, this waiting. But not the kind of time that goes forward, not the kind that will take me out to my Mazda afterward and then to pick up Charlotte from tutoring then to Walgreens and then home, where I will salt eggplants and set them aside for parmesan. No, it's going to be the kind of time that threads backward and forward like those knots Charlotte uses when she makes friendship bracelets. The kind that makes me wonder if maybe my dead mother had been thinking about her own dead mother while she had been waiting. I never asked her. Had she also been trying to remember if there was something her mother always used to say—something about pain or courage or getting the wax out of a tablecloth—something about dying?

I look up at the Direct TV and the blank screen is the color of those blue raspberry popsicles Charlotte loves but I refuse to buy because of the food coloring. Unlike I did when my mother told me, Charlotte will ask questions. She'll want statistics and terminology and Wiki pages. She'll start saying things like blood count and lymph node and fractional kill. She'll want to be the one who shaves off my hair or empties my surgical drains or rubs cocoa butter on my nipple tattoos. Unlike I did, Charlotte will want to see. 

Jennifer Dunn Stewart has work in The Los Angeles Review, Monkeybicycle and others. She lives in St. Louis and is the fiction editor at River Styx.

Detail of art on main page courtesy of Senorita Leona.

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