The worst thing you could tell Maria to do was relax. She thrived on her tension. She held herself tightly, like a cord had been pulled taut in her spine and if you introduced any slack, her whole body would collapse. She talked fast, she moved fast, she acted fast. She was like a caricature of the uptight career woman, all well-cut suits and clicking heels. She was one of those women who seemed to be carrying a clipboard, even when she wasn’t, like she was checking everything off on some sort of list that only she could see. Her eyes scanned every room quickly, her movements were precise and she kept her arms pressed tightly to her sides, like her elbows were sewn on to her ribs.
The contrast here in the waiting room was almost unbearable. Here, Maria’s cord seemed to have been cut. She was slumped in a corner on one of those peculiar yellow chairs that seem to exist only in hospitals – you know the kind, a sort of mustard-y vinyl with chrome arms with a chunk of wood stuck on as a handle? The square edge of the handle looked to be digging into the side of her bicep but she didn’t notice. Her suit was rumpled, her high heels were under the chair – one stood up and one on its side. She seemed to have misplaced the inner clipboard. There was no movement at all, fast or otherwise. Looking at her gave me a pain like something jammed up under my ribs.
It was one of those times where you know you have to say something but you have no idea where to start. I figure though, that if you don’t know where to start then the beginning doesn’t matter that much.
“I guess the Doctor has been out?”
She turned her head toward me so slowly that I couldn’t be certain she was actually moving. Her eyes didn’t seem to be focused on me at all.
“Oh, Mandy. Uh, no the Doctor hasn’t been out. We still don’t know anything.” She spoke like her audio had been slowed down for effect. Hearing her was worse than seeing her, it made it all seem too real. My Dad was in the operating room, they weren’t sure he was going to make it, and the Doctor was still in the trenches. I had held it together throughout the phone call, and the flight, and the taxi ride to the hospital, but seeing my step-mom like a puddle in the corner of the hospital waiting room was the thing that tightened my chest and brought the tears down. If Maria couldn’t keep it together then I was lost.