The hospital scared Rhonda. She hated it, though if you asked her why she wouldn’t be able to say.
She sat between Mary Wellington and Stella Rollins, her head tipped onto Mary’s shoulder. They huddled on the vinyl couch in the waiting area, three birds seeking comfort and warmth from each other. Rhonda thought the light seemed dimmer here than in the rest of the bright building. End table lamps cast amber light in the dingy nook that tried too hard to feel like a living room.
The tiny hospital wasn’t big enough to have actual hustle and bustle, but it buzzed with as much busyness as might be expected in a farming community. Nurses in sensible shoes squeaked past the three of them, nylon uniforms swishing down the halls in all directions. A loudspeaker echoed in the distance occasionally. Rhonda didn’t hear the words, only the sound. But it was the smell that got to her most. That antiseptic stink of chemicals not quite masking the scent of sickness and death.
Mary held Rhonda’s hand in one of hers, and patted it with the other. She gave a reassuring squeeze. Rhonda thought the lines beside her mouth looked deeper today. Mary flashed a brief, helpless smile when Rhonda’s bloodshot eyes turned to her.
A stray lock of Rhonda’s dark dyed hair tumbled in front of her face, and Mary slipped a finger under it and hooked it behind Rhonda’s ear. Rhonda tried to return Mary’s smile, but couldn’t manage to make her mouth work that way. It felt odd to try, under running eye makeup and facial powder streaked by tear tracks, her body trembling and stomach knotted.
Stella rubbed a gentle palm between Rhonda’s shoulder blades. Her hand felt warm and soothing through Rhonda’s blouse. They all watched the nurse’s station, and Rhonda couldn’t help tensing, ready to spring out of her seat, whenever a nurse squeak-swished past the waiting nook. None of them stopped, though. No news about George.
So they kept waiting in silence. None of them spoke. None of them could.