I look around the waiting room, trying not to make eye contact. My eyes settle on the old magazines fanned out on the coffee table…some look decades old. I rub at my old aching knees and look at my hands, which are thin, frail and covered in age spots. Not the strong hands from my youth; the hands that carried Edith across the threshold. I close my eyes and feel a tear trace its way down my cheek. In that darkness a distant light of memory approaches and I am once again in the all-to-familiar world of the past.
Edith is there. We’re in our old kitchen, the one before I moved into a one room efficiency. She’s telling me about how she thinks she’s really reaching her students this year and her face is lit with an inner joy.
“I’m telling you…they’re really getting it! I started the year out by giving them the ability to bye one test score—gone. But I tell them that there are extra credit assignments, available to those that don’t use their bye, that add up to two tests worth of points! You see where I’m going with this?”
I smile, “Yes, my love. I think it’s wonderful. It’s just sad that—“
“I know baby, but that the world we live in.“
I smile back, though it feels only half genuine, and as I look at her, her face slowly goes slack. Her eyes slowly close, her once parted lips seal tight and her face is suddenly covered in far too much makeup. I stand up and walk towards her, as I do she slowly reclines back. I reach her side and suddenly she is in her coffin and I am in my one black suit, preparing to shake hands with all of the people she’s touched. The place is filled with faceless people. Only the little ones, her students, who haven’t reached age yet, come in wearing their grief for all to see. One little curly-haired boy goes up to view and whisper something to Edith. I swear he tells her that she should’ve done the extra credit.
I open my eyes. A couple of the people in the waiting room are looking at me, but quickly turn their hooded faces away when they notice I’ve opened my eyes. I feel vulnerable and quickly grab a 7-year-old issue of Time and hide behind it. Warm tears stream down my face. Blinking the tears away, I glance at the clock, which wavers like a Dali painting. They’re 20 minutes late calling me in and two people were here when I came in. Glancing over at the admin, she’s sitting behind a PC in a standard, white hood and her nameplate generically says, “Administrative Assistant.”
After a few moments the admin announces number 72 and I check my ticket, though I know it says 74. I want to scream out that I am not number 74, that I’m Will. I choke back the rage and look at my frail hands lying limp in my lap. I’m Will.