The Waiting .pdf

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Author: Rob Hogue

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The Waiting
Naomi’s phone rang.
She started down the hallway, grateful for the distraction from the towels she’d been
folding, and glanced into Amanda’s room as she passed. Her three-year-old had been
suspiciously quiet for almost an hour now, but to Naomi’s relief she once again seemed to be
engrossed with her Teddy Bear Blocks—a gift from her Uncle Charlie. They were quiet, they
didn’t make a mess, and Amanda adored them.
“Best Christmas present ever,” Naomi said aloud as she crossed the living room. She
picked up her phone and frowned at the caller ID; it was a number she didn’t recognize. She
hesitated for a second or two, but finally gave a shrug and pressed the “Answer” button.
“Hello?”
“Hi, Naomi. It’s Jim.” She frowned; Jim was one of her coworkers, and she didn’t
understand why he would be calling her at home. Moreover, it didn’t sound anything like Jim—
although she also had a brother named Jim. But hadn’t heard from him since…
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
Jim hesitated for a second or two. “It’s Dad. Rachel finally made him go see a doctor
about his back, and…” His voice trailed off into silence.
Naomi was distantly aware of how tightly she was clutching her phone. “What did they
find?”
Jim sighed; he sounded tired. “He’s got a tumor. Next to his liver. Or maybe on his
liver, I don’t know. Rachel wasn’t making much sense.”
Naomi realized she was pacing the living room. “I bet she’s terrified. Is it—”
Jim interrupted her. Jim always interrupted her. “It may be nothing. They’re doing a
biopsy this afternoon. Or they may have done it already. I don’t know,” he snapped. “Rachel is
useless when it comes to—”
She didn’t let him finish. “She’s scared. She doesn’t know what to do.”
“Obviously. She said she tried calling Charlie first.” Just hearing his tone left a bitter
taste in her mouth. “And then I guess when he didn’t answer it finally occurred to her to call
me.”
Naomi wasn’t sure what to say. Knowing their little sister, Rachel had probably called
Charlie four or five times before she finally decided he wasn’t answering and tried Jim…though
Naomi hoped she’d at least had the presence of mind not to tell him that. “And she asked you to
call me?”
“She said she’s going to call you when they get the results back,” he said, “so maybe you
can get more out of her than I did. She said that—”
“Mommy, come look what I made!” Little Amanda’s exuberant shout preceded her as
she scurried down the hall into the living room.
Naomi’s hands shook as she lowered the phone to her shoulder. “Amanda, honey,
Mommy’s talking on the phone right now. I’ll come and see as soon as I’m done, okay?” She
raised the phone to her ear again.
Jim didn’t seem to realize he’d been interrupted. “…course I told her that she was being
ridiculous, but you know how Rachel gets when she—”
“I know,” she said firmly, more to put the brakes on his tirade than because she agreed
with him. “Jim, thanks so much for calling and letting me know.”

“You’re welcome.” Another long pause, and she could almost hear him searching for
how to end the call. “It was good to talk to you again,” he finally said, but without a trace of
warmth or sincerity; the words stank of obligation. “Take care.”
“You too,” Naomi said, but too late; true to form, Jim had hung up the instant he
considered the conversation over.
She slowly sank onto the sofa, setting her phone down on the end table. She sat for a
moment silently, her face in her hands. Eventually she remembered that she had promised to go
look at something in Amanda’s room, so she plastered a smile on her face as she strode down the
hallway, phone clutched like a lifeline in both hands.
The hallway seemed strangely unfamiliar, and she looked up suddenly to find that she
had walked straight past Amanda’s bedroom door. Her daughter was merrily skipping in circles
around a house of blocks, but her little voice sounded hollow and distant in Naomi’s ears;
muffled as if by a heavy fog. She sat on Amanda’s bed, clutching her phone in a white-knuckled
vice-grip as she watched her daughter improvising a happy little dance around her block-house.
It was carefree and almost wild, all flailing arms and kicking feet as she twisted and turned
around in a circle. Once she got down and turned a somersault then leapt to her feet and threw
her hands in the air as she snapped to a triumphant pose. Naomi nearly laughed; the little girl’s
barely-coordinated tumbling was so awkward as to be comical—it almost looked like a full-body
dry heave.
The smile vanished from Naomi’s face. Her father would probably be dry heaving before
long; by the time the chemo finished with him he would have to be sedated to stop the retching.
She squeezed her eyes shut against the sudden tide of ghastly images, rushing into her head
faster than she could process them: her father lying, gaunt and frail-looking, in a hospital bed.
IV lines. Breathing tubes. Biopsies. Rashes and bedsores. Pills and call buttons and vomiting
into a bucket while the chemo burned his insides away. She wanted to get up and leave; go sit in
her closet and cry like she had as a little girl. She wanted to climb into her car and just run away
from everything, as though if she drove fast enough the pain and the worry and the heartrending
terror couldn’t catch her. In the end, she just sat on the bed and let Amanda do her surreal dance
in the fog.
The images kept coming, not as fast but crystal clear. Her father rasping out his last,
labored breaths in the hospital. The doctor’s face when he told them it was over. Rachel’s tears
at the funeral. Her brothers’ reactions would be polar opposites: Jim would rage and shout and
blame everyone for everything. Charlie would just hold her while she cried into his shoulder; for
once in their lives unable to make her feel better.
She jumped as Amanda’s block-house noisily collapsed; it was deafening in the silence.
Her daughter pouted as she looked up at her.
“I made it fall over,” she sniffled, not yet certain how sad that made her.
Naomi knelt on the floor and took Amanda into her arms. “It’s okay, honey. It’s going
to be okay.”
Amanda squirmed in her embrace. “Mommy, you’re squishing me!” she complained.
“I’m sorry, honey.” Naomi released her daughter with one arm so that she could wipe at
her eyes. “Everything’s going to be okay.”
Naomi’s phone rang.
It buzzed against Amanda’s nightstand, rattling like an angry snake ready to strike. She
steeled herself, reaching for the will to let go of her daughter and answer her phone. She
couldn’t. Once she picked it up—once she heard what was happening—that would make it real.

She turned her head and stared at her ringing phone.
She wasn’t ready for it to be real.


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