So there was this screech of brakes and then there I am, sitting comfortably in a green mohair couch that looks very much like the one in our living room when I was growing up. I know without being told I am in the Hammond Waiting Room and I am, well, waiting.
This room is echo-y, if you know what I mean. Sounds are muffled but discernable from far back in the room but, when I turn, the light dims after a few yards and I cannot see beyond. It sure is eerie but for some reason I do not feel upset. Strange; normally that kind of thing would drive me nuts.
My mother is eating a celery stalk out of a low flat Limoges plate with a celery stalk design in the artwork. She always had an affinity for plates that reflected their contents. Our kitchen cabinets were full of platters with turkeys embossed, compote dishes with covers in the shape of some fruit, a tray with a base of green asparagus, a covered bowl with a cover in the shape of a chicken. Since she had been deceased since 2002, I must confess it was a bit disconcerting to see her but, of course, a welcome sight.
A dull stench from the corner directed me to my father, smoking a fat short cigar. He was wearing his hat with the wide brim, or at least one of them. He had several. My mother would not allow him to smoke in the house, and he did not allow himself to miss his after-dinner cigar, so off he would go into the night, all a-puffing, and the wide brim protected his smoke, most times, from the vagaries of rain and snow.
Cousin Louis always was overweight and when he died of a heart attack at age 40 or so it caused me to go on a strict diet for two or three weeks, but then I remembered that his father, not my blood relation, also had died young of heart failure and I was thus able to attribute his demise to DNA rather than diet. No reason to pass on the pumpkin pie after that. Louis seems thinner now, as when we were in High School and before his first wife ruined him in many ways all of which ruination seemed to gather at his belt line.
But it was my grandparents, looking gray but still mobile, who really caught my attention; they were deep in conversation with a group of even older people who were dressed in rather coarse clothing of a style alien to me. I got up and strolled over but no one acknowledged me; the words were guttural, poured out quickly, a little Russian I thought, some Yiddish I was sure, something else totally unfamiliar. My mother’s mother, who passed at 109 years, was closest to me and I reached out gently to touch her shoulder. My hand rested on her sweater, I could feel the warmth of her body, but she did not turn. Hard of hearing she was, so I leaned near her ear and almost yelled her name. No reaction.
I was beginning to get the idea that this was a bizarre dream. Normally when one recognizes you are in a dream you struggle to awaken. You may not succeed at first, as dreams are deep in you but, as you climb your mind outward, you ultimately succeed. Of course, I was now awake I was sure, the real me and not the me in the dream, and I was not sure of my escape route, but I tried to awaken my real self nonetheless. To no discernable effect.
I had been hungry when I got in the car but dinner at Marcus and Sally always was great so I had denied myself a snack before leaving. I was still hungry but did not know what to do about it. I wandered back to my couch to find a folding metal snack table, just like the one in my basement at home, set up at my seat. A dish of veal picatta with vermicelli dressed in oil and garlic stared up at me; silverware and a glass of rose shared the tray. I did not, all of a sudden, feel like eating and stood with a start. I almost ran into Richie, a friend of mine when were both ten or twelve.
He was wearing Keds high-top sneakers and a scarf around his neck, covering the place where the fence spike impaled and killed him while we were climbing out back one day in 1950 or so. I tried to stop him, said his name, reached out to his arm, but he kept on walking, a thin smile on his face. I always hated that smile; Richie was quite the snitch.
Around the room I walked, recognizing everyone but afraid to speak or touch. There were darknesses where the walls should have been, on all sides, no just behind the couch where the muffled conversations drifted towards me. I tried to step into the darkness a couple of times but the darkness kept pace ahead of me. After a dozen or so steps I retreated, unsure of what I was going to find if I continued.
I sat at my couch. My dinner had not gotten cold. With want of anything else to do, I ate. The texture of the food was perfect but I could not taste anything. I examined, look closely at the food. I rolled a piece of veal between my fingers until the light breading disintegrated and fell to the floor.
There was a feeling then of a new person standing behind me; I turned quickly. Everyone else in the room seemed to turn also, just for a moment. My granddaughter Daphne stood with her soccer ball under her arm. Her long legs stretched from the edges of her orange shorts to the tops of her orange socks, each with the small “L” team logo, the letter reared back as if ready to kick the small orange ball in front of it. Everyone else quickly turned away but I rushed to her, calling “Daphne, Daphne” but she just stood their smiling and then dropped her soccer ball and began to foot-dribble away into and around the crowd.
A tear began to find its way down my check but I wiped it away in anger, swallowed and marched off with resolve to find some person or clue to allow me to decipher what was happening; or, I now confess, to confirm or explain away what seemed to me either an incredibly real and depressing dream or a reality so trite and unsettling that it had to be a nightmare.
I do not know how long I have been here as there are no days. I have not slept and seems no one else sleeps either, but all that is without apparent effect. I have examined the faces of everyone I have met here and I know them all. Of course I do. While I have been here I have been visited by Carl Berenson, a business partner of mine and my best friend in the office; and by Rita Goodby, a very close friend of mine in College who did not respond to my entreaties, a particularly sardonic moment given our history; and by old Veonora Sheldrake, who lived down the block in one of those old houses that were destined to be sold by someone’s estate if only to be torn down and replaced with a three million dollar mini-manse with more bathrooms than bedrooms.
I have come to terms that while this is a waiting room, I am waiting for nothing. No one seems to leave, or to graduate. The older residents seem to be able to converse, but I do not know if this is universal and shall come to me in my time, or whether this is an attribute that management has discontinued for newcomers. The melancholy thought has come to me that I am going to see many more members of my past, family or friends or acquaintances or enemies, too. I have stopped crying; there is no use to fight it. What is happening here is just life. Well, an odd way to think about it, but true, yes?
I am almost looking forward to being able to see some people again, although I do hope their trip here is not traumatic.
There are no animals in the waiting rooj. I tried to think about that in hopes my pet would appear, in the manner of my favorite veal dishes. No luck.
I do miss my dog.