General Fiction posted July 16, 2019

Not yet exceptional. When the exceptional rating is reached this is highlighted
A tense family hospital visit goes from bad to worse.

The Visit

by Cory G

Carol tapped on the steering wheel nervously as she waited at the red light. Her nails were too long and starting to chip and she reminded herself that she should make an appointment to get them filled in the next few days, perhaps a light blue color this time. That would be nice for summer.

"Mom, go!" Christie yelled at her mom from the back seat. The light had turned green and the car behind them gave her two quick impatient honks.

Carol pressed on the gas too fast and the car lurched forward and squealed as they sped through the intersection on the way to the hospital. Her heart was pounding in her throat and her hands broke out in a sweat. She wiped them on her blue jeans and repositioned them back on the wheel with a firm grip. Doug was in the hospital and she was a mess. She didn't know how to feel or act and she had to remind herself that this whole situation had nothing to do with her and it most certainly wasn't her fault. How could it be?

"Turn here, Mom," Laura told her at the last second before she missed the main entrance to the parking lot.

"I know! I was turning!" Carol snapped back at both of her girls sitting in the back seat. She saw her daughters exchange glances, eyebrows raised, and shaking their heads. She hadn't been paying attention and would have missed the turn but there was no way she'd tell them that. Carol knew she needed to be the responsible one, the adult, and the shoulder for her girls to cry on if they needed it.

Carol put the car in park and let out a quiet, calming exhale, and told herself to pull it together. "Ok...let's do this."

"Geez! You make it sound like a chore," Laura said slamming the door to the red minivan. She was thirteen and knew it all. Sometimes she could be a first-class snot and Carol knew she wasn't so different at Laura's age. And dammit, maybe it was a chore. Visiting Doug in the hospital was something she had to do whether she wanted to or not for the girl's sake. If it wasn't for Laura and Christie would she even need to be here visiting Doug? Even though they'd been married for the past sixteen years? She thought not. Thinking about their marriage, Carol tried to to twist the simple gold band on her finger but it wouldn't budge. Gaining thirty pounds will do such things. To get the ring off each night before bed, Carol would put her hand under cold water to shrink the puffiness and then she'd slather a squirt of lotion on her hand and rub it all over her finger before slowly twisting it off to freedom. She remembered picking their wedding rings together, his and hers matching bands with the engraving C & D forever 10-09-01. A tear had formed at the corner of her eye and trickled down her cheek. Carol sniffed and pushed away the teary wetness with the back of her hand.

Carol and the girls entered the hospital through the revolving door. An old woman was being pushed in a wheelchair outside, presumably to smoke a cigarette. One of her legs was a stump and her white hair was wild, matching the stubbly whiskers on her chin and upper lip. Further down the hall near the Emergency, a young man was hand-cuffed to the railing along the wall, blood covering half of his face with a purple puffed closed eye. A cop was standing nearby and none of the hospital staff seemed to be in any hurry to assist the kid.

"What the--" Laura said after seeing the handcuffed guy.

"Never mind," Carol said, cutting her off. "Your dad's room is just up ahead and around the corner to the left." Carol had been in earlier that morning after she got the call from Dr. Callahan telling her that Doug had been admitted. She was ticked that her sleep had been disrupted and now, at almost 3 PM, she was beginning to feel the physical effects of lack of sleep. It did kind of feel like she was drunk and maybe that was a good thing.

"Is he going to be okay?" Christie asked, her voice starting to quiver. "He's not going to die, is he?" Tears began to stream down her cheeks.

"Don't be ridiculous, Christie. For heaven's sake, he isn't going to die!" A sinister thought raced through Carol's head. She couldn't control the random stuff that her brain conjured up. It might not be such a bad thing if Doug did die -- would it? Sure, it would be super sad for the girls but with Doug gone things would be a lot simpler. Besides it was all Doug's fault that things had gotten so complicated over the past few years.

They were only a few steps away from Doug's room. Carol sucked in her decade-old baby gut, pushed her shoulders back and grabbed the purse straps with both hands. A bottle rattled inside her purse along with some loose change and Carol wished she had popped a Prozac beforehand.

"Daddy!" Christie cried and ran up to give him a hug and a kiss. Carol thought she caught a whiff of perfume. Dior? No. Calvin Klein's Obsession? Yeah, that was it. Doug had bought her a bottle of it for their first wedding anniversary a million years ago. He'd said it drove him mad. She waved the scent away with her hand along with the thought of another woman coming to visit him. Maybe she was still here and hiding out in the bathroom attached to his room and Carol had to resist the urge to check it out.

"Careful, sweetie," Doug said to Christie. "You don't want to pull out any of these cords they've got jammed into me. Look at this." Doug pointed to two dark bruises on the underside of his forearm. Christie inspected his arm running her finger carefully over the blue-black marks.

"Does it hurt?" asked Christie.

"No, not now but it sure did when they kept poking me because they couldn't find a vein on the first two tries. Don't want to go through that again if I can help it."

Doug turned his attention to Laura. "Well, hello stranger. Come here and give your old man a hug."

Laura slowly walked over to the side of the bed. She leaned in and gave him a stiff shouldered hug. She wasn't much of a touchy-feely kind of girl, never had been even when she was younger.

"How are you, Dad? Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. Doc says I'll be out of here in about a week. Surgery is scheduled for tomorrow and if all goes well I'll be back on my feet in no time."

More like back in bed with the next floozy that comes around, thought Carol. She got the call at 2 AM from the doctor informing her that her husband had suffered a heart attack. She wondered where he had been when it happened. At the office, working late as usual? In the back alley by Gifford's Pub whooping it up with God knows who? Or maybe he was at the bimbo's apartment getting a workout tangled up in her floral-patterned sheets.

"That's good," said Laura, taking a couple steps back from the bed. "Then you'll come home?"

Doug looked from Laura to Carol and back to Laura again. "I hope so."

Carol let out a snort then tried to mask it with a cough. She didn't know what to say, so instead she put on her best fake smile. As cold hearted as it might be, maybe this would be the time to kick him to the curb. His newest fling could look after him. Right? Carol had no idea who his newest girl was and how many affairs he'd had over the last ten years which started just after Christie was born. Carol always thought she'd leave him when Christie finished high school but now she was having second thoughts. Could she stick it out with him for another eight years? Living a lie and putting on a facade of a perfect marriage?

One of the machines Doug was hooked up to started beeping. A nurse came in and replaced the empty saline bag. Too bad for Doug, the nurse was an old dumpy thing with no makeup and short grey hair. He wouldn't be interested in the nurse, just like he wasn't interested in her anymore. Carol combed her fingers through her hair thinking she should touch up her roots. But why? Surely not to impress Doug. Unfortunately for Carol, she went gray early. By thirty-five she hardly had any of the silky dark hair she once had in her youth. It was in her genes. All the women on her mother's side of the family went gray at a young age and Doug had pointed out the ugly truth to her on several occasions. Before Carol had plucked her first gray hair, she remembered him telling her that her mom, Dorothy, looked so old and she wasn't fifty yet. So Carol had dyed her hair when she first noticed hers changing color, before Doug could make any derogatory comments.

Fortunately for Doug, he still had a thick head of dark hair which he slicked back. He had aged gracefully and was more attractive now then he was when they got married, his features on his tan skin were more defined and he always worked out which he never used to do before. She'd seen his rock-hard abs after he got out of the shower but she'd never touched them. Doug didn't have those in the early years, before kids, when Carol was arguably more attractive than him. Strangers often approached her and told her how much she looked like Courtney Cox. That was before she gained thirty pounds which was probably closer to forty now. She hadn't weighed herself in a while but she knew that her newest, largest sized clothes were getting snug.

"I think it's time to go, girls. Let's let your dad rest and we'll come back tomorrow after school." Carol started to walk toward the door.

"But we just got here," Christie said, her eyebrows knit together. She had no idea who her father really was, neither of the girls did.

Carol chewed on a chipped pink nail then said, "Fine. You can stay for a bit. I'm going to go down to the cafeteria for a coffee. I'm afraid I'll fall asleep driving home if I don't." She gave Doug an angry glance. Why hadn't he called his girlfriend to be by his side after his heart attack? Why was she called, his wife, the woman he was repulsed by and could hardly look at anymore? Saving face. Yup. Good old Doug didn't want to tarnish his reputation in town and his good guy image to his daughters.

Carol tugged on her Adidas track suit jacket, adjusting it over her cursed muffin top and walked out of the room. It was what she put on when she was so rudely awakened in the middle of the night and she hadn't bothered to change. On her way to the cafeteria, her nylon track pants chaffed together with each step making a shhp sound, the man chained to the railing was still there. He'd foundered to the floor and had passed out, head against the wall and one arm raised above it. She was just about ask someone who worked at the hospital the directions to the cafeteria but noticed a sign on the wall indicating with an arrow to turn left at the end of the hall. Once there, the smell of fries and fried chicken filled the air. As much as she wanted to chow down on a plate of greasy hospital food, she resisted and settled for a cup of old, bitter coffee. Carol sat down at an empty table next to a trio of staffers and couldn't help but overhear their conversation. At first, they were talking about getting together after work on Friday for a beer but then then the conversation changed. Carol stopped breathing for a few seconds and keenly turned her ear a little closer to the adjacent table, confirming what she couldn't quite believe, that they were talking about Doug, her Doug--well sort of hers in an "I'm married to you but don't love you" sort of way.

The young girl in pink scrubs started it. "I almost lost one last night. Hot guy, mid-forties. I could have worked on him all night long." She pushed a strand of her long blonde hair out of her eyes and flitted her eyelashes playfully.

"You must be talking about Doug Wallace," said pink scrub's coworker, a man that Carol thought must be in his early thirties.

"Yeah. But too bad for you, he's taken. Besides he's way too old for you," coworker No. 2 said, a short man with rimless glasses. Carol thought they must know that he's married and has a family. Wouldn't be too hard to Google it, especially with Doug being one of the most successful realtors in town. She could clearly see his handsome face gracing bus stop benches all over town with his fake white smile and beautiful faux-boobed coworker by his side.

Coworker No. 1 said, "I don't think Doc Callahan would be too happy if you hit on his property, if you know what I mean."

What? What did he just say? Hit on his property? Wasn't Dr. Callahan Doug's doctor -- the doc who called her at 2 AM? What did that mean? It couldn't be. Could it? Carol sat up stiffly and knocked the coffee mug off the table sending it crashing to the floor and breaking in a million pieces. Hot coffee splashed on to the bottom of pink scrub's pants and she shrieked, immediately pushing her chair back and standing up.

"Sorry! I'm so, so sorry. Are you okay?" Carol blubbered.

Visibly annoyed, pink scrubs said, "I'm fine. You just scared me more than anything. Gotta' get back to work." She started to walk away, clearly not in the mood to engage in any further conversation with Carol.

Carol bent down and started to pick up the broken pieces of the ceramic mug. Her whole body started to tremble and her mind raced and swirled in disbelief. Without Carol noticing, coworker No. 1 bent down beside her and started to help pick up the broken pieces and put them on an orange cafeteria tray.

"Are you all right, ma'am," he asked, genuinely concerned.

Carol stopped what she was doing, suddenly aware that he was helping her. "What?! What did you say?"

"I just asked if you were all right." He looked at her sideways, his eyes narrowing. 

Carol lost it and words just tumbled out of her mouth quickly and loudly without thinking. "Yup. Right as rain! Couldn't be better. Or could I? Would you...would you be okay if you just found out your husband doesn't love you? And not because of your double chin or your granny hair. Oh no...and not because he's screwing every pretty little thing around which you've been led to believe for the past decade. Oh's because he bats for the other team! Get my drift, compadre?" Carol was so winded, she was almost panting. She was sweating profusely and wet oval stains were beginning to form in the armpits of her red and white Adidas jacket.

Coworker No. 1 was dumbstruck. He stared at Carol along with the rest of the people in the cafeteria who had ceased their prior conversations to watch her make a spectacle of herself. Security would probably be here soon so she better get a move on. She stood up and shppp, shppp, shpp'd her way at a fast pace, but not quite a run, back to Doug's room. Her mind was swirling out of control. Everything and everyone around her was a blur, a smear. She could hear nothing but an intense ringing in her ears so she covered them while she walked but it was no use. Carol was steps from his room now. What would she say to him? How was she supposed to feel about this news that he had hidden from her for so many years? Reason told her not to confront Doug in front of the girls but at this exact moment she didn't care. She was about to explode. The girls had no idea that their marriage was on the rocks and Carol had always been so careful to protect them from the truth so things would seem normal. But this...this was anything but normal! How could Doug do this to the girls?

Her eyes wild and bulging, Carol ripped into Doug. "WHY?! Why, Doug, Why?! How could you do this to us?!" She scanned the room. Christie and Laura were staring at her and Christie started to cry, visibly scared by Carol's outburst. Doug said nothing, his face suddenly ashen. And then behind her, standing at the threshold of the door was Dr. Callahan...the Dr. Callahan.

The doctor said, "Is everything all right in here?"

"YOU!" Carol whipped around at the sound of his voice and poked him hard in the chest with her pointer finger. "This is all your fault! How could you do this to us? To our family?"

Carol breathed hard and fast. She was hyperventilating and she fumbled around in her purse to find her puffer but soon realized she'd left it in her other purse at home. Tears burst from the corners of her eyes and mascara started to slide down her face. She knew it wasn't all Callahan's fault. It was Doug's too.

"Mom! Get a grip. What the frick is wrong with you? You're scaring Christie," said Laura, crossing her arms.

"With me? Nothing. You should be asking your dad and the good doctor here that question. Isn't that right, Doug?" Carol sniffed and began wiping at the mascara on her cheeks with a rumpled tissue from her purse.

Doug glanced at Callahan before looking down at the sheets, unable to meet Carol's eyes. Busted. "I'm so sorry, Carol. I never meant to hurt you or the girls."

Confused, Laura said, "Can somebody please tell me what the frick is going on?"

"What the frick is going on? Well, let me tell you...your never-do-wrong dad and the good doctor here are a thing. A frickin' thing!" screamed Carol.

The truth slapped Laura in the face. "What?" She looked at Doug. "For real?"

Sheepishly, Doug raised his eyes to meet Laura's gaze. "Your mother's right. I'm so sorry. I didn't tell you because I didn't want to hurt you." Callahan left, leaving Doug to deal with this on his own. Christie didn't understand what was going on and began crying harder.

"Let's go, girls." Carol took a step toward the door and Laura and Christie followed. "Your dad's in good hands with the doctor. He can take care of him. Been doing it for years."

"Carol, please. Don't go. I can explain," pleaded Doug.

But she left and didn't look back. For all these years, she believed Doug was having multiple affairs with young women. And Doug knew that was what she thought and let her believe it...wanted her to believe it. It was a dirty secret they kept from the girls to save face. But this? Carol didn't know how to feel. Had he always been gay? Probably. So why did he marry her in the first place? Why did he have kids with her? New, raw emotions flooded Carol's mind and body. She needed space to breathe and time to think about how to move forward--without Doug.

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