The waiting room had better lights than the rest of the hospital. Lively and silent instead of dead and droning. There were fake plants and comfortable seats and tables covered in the latest issues of magazines. In a corner, underneath windows, was a play area for kids still interested in wooden blocks, cars, and picture books. The mildly accented wallpaper was covered by a chalkboard in that corner. All the drawings that still remained on the chalkboard, in a smudged state, were of smiling people. Good to know that that was the default. Even for the kids that found themselves in the waiting room of a hospital. Maybe they didn’t know what they were waiting for.

I suppose if a kid must be in a hospital, best that it’s the waiting room.

My brother was staring out into the parking lot. The sun had set hours ago and the moon, whatever phase it was in, was behind clouds. Tall and thin light posts lit the lot with a bland yellow. Bits and pieces of that light made it up to the waiting room’s window and onto the blinds to cast slatted shadows onto my brother’s face. He wasn’t frowning or smiling or grimacing or laughing. Instead he looked like a wax statue. Easy to melt.

The click of a door handle being twisted preceded the entrance of Dr. Joanne A. Lord. She stood on the threshold between the waiting room and the hallway. The old surgeon was lit by silence and crowned by droning. She took her hand out of the deep pocket of her black scrubs and took a measured step inside, allowing the door to close behind her. A click as it shut. Then only silence.

My brother came to life and took only three steps to cross the room. “Can I see her?”

Interlaced fingers completely barren of rings hung in front of her waist. Narrow face. Wrinkles near her mouth, eyes, eyebrows, and forehead. They were all at their deepest. Her graying brown hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail. Not a single lock of hair broke out of it to accent her hairline. “I am sorry, Richard. Rachel did not survive the operation.”

Dr. Joanne A. Lord’s voice was barren. A desert lacking even a mirage to grant hope. Her blue eyes were sterile. Her thumbs rubbed circles into their opposing hands but she was completely still otherwise. A failure being stoic to hide her shame.

My brother fell to his knees with a drawn out howl that was the tattered remnant of the word ‘no’. Six foot five crushed down to his daughter’s height.

Dr. Joanne A. Lord didn’t budge. Even as I got down to the floor to hug my brother and cry onto his broad back, she just stared and rubbed her thumbs. “I can’t imagine your grief. I-“

“Just leave us alone you cold bitch!” I spat at her and moved to place myself between my brother and her while still hugging him. My blouse was soaked in seconds. “Haven’t you done enough?!”

“I will be in my office if you need me.” She said like she hadn’t registered the words I used. “Richard will need to-“

“LEAVE!” I screeched and bit down the wince that came with it. Her face was blurry behind my tears but I could see enough to know nothing had changed in her expression. Enough to know where to swing my fist if she didn’t leave. But she did.

The door clicked and I was left to listen to my brother’s sobs that rolled through his entire body in waves. I was anchored to him by the jagged weight in my throat and my chest. I could do nothing but be tossed by his heaving as I lost footing to my own tears. I clung to him and didn’t know if I was doing it for him or for me.

I wasn’t thinking of Rachel. I wasn’t thinking of anything comprehensible. My thoughts were battered into things that only registered as raw feelings. Emotions that hadn’t been filtered down into words so that they could be understood by another person. I felt them as they were and at their most powerful and I was a broken plank caught in a typhoon. All that reminded me of reality was my brother in my arms who was so caught up in the storm that he had lost form. At least I was a plank. He had become the crashing waves and splintering wind and spiteful rain and crushing depths. My brother was gone.

And it was her fault.

A wave named Fury brought me to my feet, gave me the voice to tell my brother where I was going, and the strength to take it out of the waiting room. The halls were empty of patients and visitors. Only doctors and nurses and orderlies that all silently got out of my way. An act of self-preservation because they knew I would drown them and then forget them.

Dr. Joanne A. Lord’s office was two halls down from the surgical ward and it was shut. The lights were off. I could look into it through the floor to ceiling hall windows and see that it was empty. I held Fury back from shattering a window and looked around blindly. Fury subsided just enough for me to listen. It left entirely when I heard the crying coming from a supply closet. Its door hadn’t been closed completely and I could look through the gap and see the woman inside.

She was standing but slumped heavily against a wall. Her head was leaning against it like it was desperate for a loving shoulder. Locks of hair had escaped the ponytail. They cast occasionally flickering shadows over her face in time with the dying fluorescent light above her. One hand gripped tear soaked gauze bandages, the veins on the back of her hand close to bursting. The other arm was hugging her around the ribs, the hand digging in tightly. She coughed out gasps whenever her lost mind remembered it needed oxygen. But otherwise, Joanne was as formless as my brother.

Her knees finally gave out and she slipped. They had abandoned her, letting her head knock against the wall. It was a mercifully light bump, just enough to cause Joanne’s eyes to open and see me. I shouldered my way in and held my hand out to help her up.

She stood up on her own and her tears stopped. She wiped them with two smooth and swift swipes and tossed the crumpled bandages into an open trash bin. Her wrinkles relaxed enough to only show age and not emotion. She straightened her back and broadened her shoulders. Her fingers interlaced and hung in front of her waist. Her thumbs rubbed circles into the opposing hand.

Her wrinkles deepened. Grief was murdered in her dim blue eyes and they turned flat. Sterile. Surgical.

“I am sorry that you had to see that.” Dr. Joanne A. Lord said like a desert. “Shall we speak in my office, Lynn?”

“Y-Yes.” I managed. My typhoon subsided into a rainstorm with an unspoken promise to return.

“Okay. Follow me, please.” She stepped around me and walked to her office. She unlocked it and held the door for me. “There’s hot coffee in the pot if you would like.”

“No thank you.”

She nodded, turned on the silent lights, and sat behind her desk. She motioned for me to sit across from her.

“I’m sorry.” I said as I sat down. “For what I said.”

“I don’t remember what people call me when they’re grieving.” She stated. “Are you here to speak on Richard’s behalf?”

I shook my head. The typhoon was coming back and the first thing it took was my words.

“Then you should be with your brother.” She said. “Take your time. I am not going anywhere until I can talk to Richard.”

There was only one picture frame in her office and it was on the shelf behind her. A family with a woman that looked similar to her, a man, and two young children. Everything else on the shelf and on her desk was either a large binder or file.

“Thank you, Doctor.” I choked out.

She only nodded.

As I walked past the hall windows, I looked into her office. She had opened a file and was writing in it with swift, confident movements. Dr. Joanne A. Lord looked like nothing had happened to her. Even the pink flush of her nose, the only thing she wasn’t able to smother in the supply closet, was gone now.

I left, ashamed and stumbling.