14 November 2006

Date of Expiration

originally published in The Georgia Guardian

“The patient in room 363 has expired.”
The words coming from the nursing station were bland and clinical as the report was filed on the phone.
It’s funny how we remember stupid little things from important times. All that Lisa could think of was that the nurse’s shoes needed to be cleaned. They were scuffed on the top. She centered in on that. They needed that white stuff her mother used on patent leather shoes. It would take care of that.
The body in room 363 had expired. The family, crying, filed out of the room. Lisa didn’t go in.
“Should I put this out?” Montgomery, her college friend, asked motioning with her cigarette hand.
“I don’t think so.” She had almost forgotten about Montgomery, who drove her there. Lisa thought she looked out of place in the hospital – too trendy.
“I don’t want to get in trouble or nothing.” The girl put her cigarette out.
“I don’t think you will.” Montgomery frowned uncomfortably. She belonged in some artsy coffee shop discussing life’s problems, not dealing with them. “I guess you want to leave.”
“Not really. I mean, when you’re ready. You don’t need to be around here too long.”
“I guess not.”
“I need to take you out tonight. That’s what you need.”
Lisa smiled. She looked out in the parking lot. People were doing normal things, getting into cars, getting out of cars. Some people were even laughing. She went home.
“Do you want ‘Arsenio’ or ‘The Tonight Show’?” Seth asked that night.
She came into the living room. “It doesn’t matter.” She sat next to him on the sofa hoping he’d put his arm around her. He didn’t.
“Aren’t you going to put the little scarf thing on?”
“The wig got too hot.”
“Why don’t you just put the little scarf thing on?”
“I don’t feel like it.”
“What if the kids see you? Won’t it scare the kids?”
“The kids are asleep.”
“Oh.” He put his arm around her, not too tightly. Arsenio was whooping.
“Eileen expired today.”
“I said, ‘Eileen died today.’”
“I’m sorry. Was that the support group leader?”
“No, that was Pam. Eileen joined when I did.”
“Oh. Have you felt sick today?”
“No. I don’t feel sick after the first week. At least not nauseated. Did you know they wear gloves when they put that stuff in the capsules? It can’t even touch your skin.”
“How do you feel?”
She couldn’t find a word to describe how she felt. She felt exhausted, but she felt like little engines were running inside of her constantly. She felt numb. She felt like she would pass out – or explode.
“Fine,” she said.
He kissed her forehead. He looked as if he were going to kiss her face, but he kissed her forehead. “I love you.”
“I know.”
He got up and went into the kitchen. When he stood up, he knocked over a tennis racket that he had just had restrung. Her foot pushed her son’s toys away, pushed them over near the fallen racket. A little pile of toys. Seth seemed so young.
When he came back, she stared at him. He looked like he was in high school. He was 25, but he looked like he was in high school.
“You look like you’re in high school.”
“What?” he laughed.
“I said you look like…”
“Not really.”
“I was just thinking you look really young.”
“We’re both really young. You’re younger than I am.”
“I guess so.”
After a while she nudged him to wake up. Arsenio was off. A local talk show was on. The guest was a woman who collected candy bar wrappers. There must have been a hundred of them. She said she liked the wrappers more than what was inside. Lisa turned off the television. She picked up Seth’s shoes. She’d put them in the closet tomorrow. She set them back down. She thought of the scuffed-up shoes. Seth moved toward the bedroom.
“Coming?” he asked.
“Seth, if I die, I want to die.”
“You want to die?” He looked serious.
“No, I want to live. But if I die, I really want to die. I don’t want to expire.”
He looked confused. “You won’t die.” He kissed her forehead and went to bed.
She picked up the racket to put it away. She went to the window, opened it, and looked out over the city. Cars were still moving. People were laughing. Things were going on as they always had. As they always would. Smiling, she hurled the tennis racket out the window.

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