Written by Rob Daly
My car is dusty and cluttered with food wrappers and water bottles after the drive from Los Angeles. “I suggest you come now,” my Mother’s caregiver said on the phone last night, her professional demeanor breached, her message clear.
At 12:40 am, it is a perfect Arizona winter night. The front doors of Banner Medical Center are locked; the E.R. parking area is dark and silent. Late visitors to Intensive Care follow a meandering path through the quiet, modern hospital. From the yellow line at ER reception you are approved and push through heavy swinging doors, hurry down one beige hall then another, up stairways and past empty waiting areas to the large double doors where the red wall phone connects to the pretty nurse, seen through the small window. She looks up, eyes meet as the doors open with a whoosh and you walk over the black treads, numb and determined.
The delicate tree hanging over my car gives off a scent of spices. A security guard in a white Civic studies me through my open window. He circles the dozen cars parked nose to nose, illuminated with yellow light from spindly fixtures. A breeze slowly moves the moist air. It feels cold and heavy against my neck and face. I don’t want to close my window. I want to breathe deeply, stare into the dark and wonder.
Around a corner, someone drops glassware into a dumpster. Each piece shatters and echoes around me like a hopeful thought. Crickets chirp contentedly. The Civics’ taillights hover and fade into blackness. I’m alone to think about a lifetime of hospital hallways and hard plastic chairs, beeping machines and the kind faces of nurses and strong orderlies; my mother’s pained face. Then I see movement in a deep shadow near the building. A dark figure leans forward, it shudders as if sobbing but I hear nothing.
Nearby a faint glow appears as one then two cigarettes arc upward to unseen lips. The shape of two people begins to form, huddled together as they smoke. Someone steps in front of the vending machine near the entrance; a stiff silhouette holds a handful of papers up to the light of the Pepsi logo.