Waiting in the Cafeteria of Saint Joseph Medical Center, Joliet
Joliet Union, the six PM train. Dean, my brother, collected me, his pickup in the queue with all of the others with their headlights on, ready to go. It was that kind of neighborhood. I used to live here with Dean and our father. I lived in Chicago now and didn’t come here much anymore.
Dean yawned when I got in the car.
“Did you want me to drive?” I said.
“No. It’s five minutes.”
“Are we going straight there?”
Dean glanced at me. “I told you, Kate. They want us to say goodbye.”
“Again,” I said. “Told to say goodbye again.”
Dean pulled into the traffic. “Is this tiring for you?”
There was no good answer to that.
Dean’s hands were large, work-roughened on the steering wheel, splattered with whatever tilers used, and never completely clean. I wanted to tell him about the Art Institute where I worked, that I would be flying to Tokyo next week with five priceless Corot’s for an exhibition. You cannot believe the insurance, I would say. You cannot believe the care.
Dean drank his Red Bull. “Been up since four this morning,” he said.
“He smoked two packs a day for thirty five years. There will be consequences,” the doctor told us and Dad had suffered—two heart attacks, a stroke, diabetes, an amputated leg from the knee, and glaucoma.
We entered the foyer of Saint Joseph’s and the smell of hospital-grade antiseptic mixed with reheated food made me want to throw up.
I pulled on Dean’s arm, stopping him. “I need a minute.”
“See you up there. Ward C4, bed 51,” he said and left.
I sat outside on the steps with the smokers. It was November cold. I checked my phone and there were three missed calls and two text messages from Vincent:
Don’t go. I can take you.
Thirty minutes later:
You’ve gone. I can pick you up.
The apostrophes—I loved them. On the train I had silenced my phone, switching it to vibrate. His missed calls, his text messages, I felt through my purse. It was easier that way, to let him speak.
I called Vincent and he picked up with the first ring.
“I can’t do this,” I said, and heard him leave a meeting, closing a door behind him.
“Can’t do what?” he said. “See your Dad?”
“He was awful sometimes.”
I could leave right now, right fucking now. Vincent would still be in a seventh floor conference room of the Art Institute. We could get sushi after his meeting.
“Have you seen him?” Vincent said.
“Do it. I’ll pick you up from the hospital. I’ll be—” and he would be checking his watch, calculating. “I’ll be an hour and a half. Okay?”
I went to put my phone away when a message arrived from Dean: Where r u? I responded, spelling out each word, hating his abbreviations: You know where I fucking am.
“Eurydice Wounded” was my favorite of the Corot paintings. Eurydice sat studying the snake bite on her foot, knowing the wound was fatal, her body starting to seize and color. I told Vincent it was my favorite, saying it into his warm neck, in his warm bed.
“I don’t want anything to happen to that painting,” I said.
Vincent’s hand closed over the back of my head. “It won’t.”
Vincent laughed. “Exactly,” he said. “You know Corot painted Eurydice six times, three in which she is alone.”
He didn’t say there was only one of me, but I heard it anyway.
It was for real this time. Dad was not attached to machines, his skin gray and a small stereo beside his bed played his favorite song “Wichita Lineman”, probably on repeat. They had taken out Dad’s teeth and he melted against the sheets.
Dean looked up at me. “Took you long enough,” he said, and swiped his eyes, fierce.
He stood by the bed with his arms crossed high over his chest, as if he had been telling Dad to die. Dean would have arranged the music—a hospital cannot remember these things.
I remained in the doorway. How long was this going to take? No death rattle yet. Wichita Linemen from here to morning. Dad might rise, put his teeth back in and tell me I looked terrible. I was the spitting image of Mom—that was the problem—small boned and dark haired, the same green eyes and straight nose. Mom, dead for twenty one years, since I was seven.
Dad lay still and I knew it would not happen, never again, no more blood on the floor, no more counting my bones.
I tried it when I was sixteen. Maybe everyone did, I didn’t know. The muzzle of Dad’s shotgun pushed under my chin. I held the gun. Dad and Dean were at work. It was loaded with the safety-catch off.
This is how Mom died, I thought. This is how it felt.
“Fuck. Dad’s going to be mad,” I said, aloud into the empty, dusty, musty garage.
I laughed and I loved how crazy it sounded, laughing with a gun pushed so hard against me it made me breathe differently.
Dad’s hand was pale, punctured, bruised purple from the drip he didn’t need any more. I put my hand on his for a moment. My fingernails painted black—he’d hate that. It would not happen, never again, touching his living flesh. I was cold all the way through.
“I’m going downstairs,” I said.
“What?” Dean said.
“Downstairs. To the cafeteria.”
That was how I said goodbye.
In the cafeteria, beside the window, I waited, sipping my coffee that was hot and bitter and smelled of life and love and everything good. I sang under my breath. I thought about me and “Eurydice Wounded” not making it, falling out of the sky above the Pacific. What then?
About the Author: Melissa Goode’s work has appeared in Best Australian Short Stories, The Fiction Desk, Crannóg, Halfway Down the Stairs, Pithead Chapel, and Cleaver Magazine, among others. She has been a featured writer in Bang! She lives in Australia.