They all sat around, just waiting for the old man to die. That much was obvious, in each and every one of them. The way they breathed, the way their feet tapped, the way they exchanged nervous little bouts of conversation; every element of their being insisted upon it.
It was most obvious in the man who sat in the stiff hospital hallway chair nearest me. He had been the one on the phone, who had insisted on me bringing the will. I had been worried, of course, for the old man. He had been ill for quite some while before I became his lawyer, but he had always been well enough to treat me like a son. What exactly was wrong with him I never knew, but a few months ago, when an ambulance appeared at his lofty mansion-like home, I could feel the dreadful premonition creep over me that said he would never be home again. He was comfortable at the hospital, they told me. Here, he could receive all the care he needed, and would live much longer than he would otherwise. They were right, of course. He was comfortable, but never quite as happy as he had been.
This man in the chair was clearly one of the old man’s sons. I had met him on only one other occasion, but I recognized him quickly when he called me this morning. John’s taken a turn for the worse, he had said in a masked, apathetic kind of way. He always called him John, never Dad or Father. They are going to take him off the machines. He would have wanted you to be there. This, he went on to explain, meant, “Bring the will.” I was obedient, and brought the briefcase to the hospital just as everyone else around me showed up. The brown, professional-looking briefcase that rested on the floor beside my chair revealed me as WILLIAM J. ROBINSON, ATTORNEY AT LAW. Harsh hospital light played with the letters engraved into the fake gold nameplate, daring me to break the silence that occupied the hall.
Yet, it was not silent. The intimidating beep, beep of the EKG blared out of the old man’s hospital room at a so-far so-good pace. The nurse, in her crisp, impersonal white uniform sat at the desk just down the hall, and pounded away at the keyboard, causing sharp click-click-click noises to fill the wide hallway. The faint, muffled sound of music could be heard from the direction of the teenage girl standing by her father across the hall.
The father, the old man’s second son, was a thin, delicate looking man with wiry glasses and a monogrammed tie that spelled out Thomas. He was always running his sweaty fingers through equally sweaty brown hair, and kept tapping his shiny business shoes against the white tile of the hallway. “Kate,” he had hastily explained when he first arrived, “can’t make it. She has a meeting, you know.” He then let out a nervous little laugh and an awkward hand wave, dismissing his wife’s absence before turning to his daughter. “Honey, the music,” he said hesitatingly.
The girl (Telissa, the old man had called her) had rolled her eyes in a sarcastic, exaggerated way and moved a few steps away from her father, pretending to fiddle with the music player in her pocket. Her hair was an unnatural blackish color, which matched her pants, shoes, and shirt that ended abruptly enough to show an inch or two of skin before her pants began. The generic white headphones that slithered up her neck and into her hair created uncomfortable contrast with all the black, as did the whites of her eyes against the heavy eyeliner and mascara. Occasionally her hand would race to her pocket and retrieve a cell phone, which would return a minute later. Soon it was out again, with nothing more than bouts of vibration to announce its need for attention.
Whenever her eyes left the ground to look at the phone, I would try to catch her eye and smile. She made me think of my two girls at home, for some reason. Undoubtedly, whenever this day ends and I return home, they will both come running up to me, little red curls bouncing atop excited faces. They would wrap their tiny hands around my fingers and squeeze tight. “Daddy, Daddy, come see!” they would shout, and lead me to some marvelous creation of macaroni noodles or fingerpaint. They would burst into fits of giggles when I threw them over and tickled their precious bellies and feet, then jump up and run to the table when Mommy called out that dinner was ready.
I moved the image to a corner of my mind as the girl sent a small smile in my direction, before returning her attention to the phone before her. I felt pleased with myself, oddly enough, and allowed my own gaze to wander around the room.
The fourth stranger in the room, the old man’s daughter, sat stiffly in a chair a bit to the left of the girl in black. She was in her thirties, younger than her two brothers, and attractive in a professional, restrained kind of way. She wore the light brown hair that was common to all of the siblings straight and clean, cut sharply an inch past her shoulders. She wore no glasses, but had glassy, reflective eyes that seemed to mirror the world around her instead of show any emotion of their own. She was dressed in the same controlled manner, with a dull grey business suit that managed to fit her slim figure without flattering it in the least.
The methodic, almost hypnotic beep, beep-ing that came from behind the slightly ajar door of the hospital room had begun to slow. I noticed this in an equally slow way, first as only a suspicion, then recognition, then confusion as I realized that the others must hear it too. No emotion flickered over the first son’s stern face, the shoe-tapping of Thomas did not grow in intensity, Telissa’s music seemed louder than ever, and not a hint of change passed over those cold, icy eyes.
The cruel click-click-click of the nurse’s keyboard seemed to quicken. Each click lasted entire seconds, with no space in between one keystroke and the next. The only movement in the hallway was the nurse’s quick hands, the girl’s vibrating phone, her father’s shoe. Only the one shoe tapped, creating sharp rat-tats that echoed against the white tiles to the white walls to my red ears as I grew angry.
Click-click-click. The noise filled my ears, drowning all the other sounds of the supposedly quiet room and taking me down with it. I fought, sending my eyes back and forth, back and forth, like miniscule windshield wipers, struggling to force the sound from my ears so that I may hear the beeping. Back! Forth! Back! Forth! It was overwhelming! Back! Forth! Ba—then I heard it.
The beeps were no longer brief and far apart. There was one. One long, shrill, overpowering beeeeeep. All the other sounds vanished as this deafening, inhuman note filled the hospital hall.
My eyes looked around the room, growing in size as none of those cruel hypocrites dared to look back.
The nurse, with her smart little click-clicks and crisp uniform, was still typing.
The father, with his anxious hands and nervous rat-tat-ing shoes, was still staring.
The daughter, with her black shirt, black pants and white headphones, was still texting.
The woman, with her blank suit, blank face and blank eyes, was still blank.
The son, the eldest son, with his silent mind and silent anger, was still silent.
The beeeeeep continued. It was loud. It was solitary. Everything else was mute. Smothered. It was all that there was. Nobody stopped it. Nobody turned it down or off or forced it into separate, rhythmic beeps once more. It just continued, halting space and time and everything that used to be real until it was the only thing that anyone could hear, or see or feel or touch or even taste! It went beyond the world around me and came inside me, forcing anything and everything, every ounce of blood and speck of emotion, forcing it all out and into nothing. Everything else was nothing, and it was everything!
I shouted it. At once all the other sounds in the room came rushing back to me, flooding my ears as they took their respective places around the room. The shoe was tapping, the keyboard clicking, the headphones producing their steady hum.
“Enough!” I shouted again, grasping the handle of my briefcase. In one swift motion I hurled it across the room fiercely. It landed with a firm thump and metallic clang at the feet of the eldest. He looked up, shock darting across his face instantaneously. But he was silent.
I rose and ran. I ran down the hall and through the double doors of the geriatric ward. My shoes pounded against the tile as I reached the main entrance of the hospital. I was out the doors and in the fresh air and blinding sunlight when something stopped me and forced me to turn back.
The double doors leading to the hallway were still swinging madly. I paused just outside them and could see the scene before me, with the macabre beeping and frozen puppets of people. Except, something was different now. Telissa’s stark-white headphones hung dejectedly from her dark pocket as she hunched over her father’s shoulder, crying.
She heard my rapid breathing above the beeeeeep and lifted her head. Grey streaks of makeup smudged her face as she looked into my eyes but did not smile.
I ran madly out of the hospital, into the parking lot, and up to my car. My fingers fumbled with the keys, but managed to get the car unlocked and running, as I jumped in and sped home.
They would all be home when I arrived; that much was obvious. The evening sky was just fading into darkness; the very first stars were beginning to show. I would come through the door and their bright red curls would bounce up to see me and call me Daddy and tell me to come see. Then it would be dinnertime, bathtime and bedtime, and everything would be okay.