A Christmas Story©
The black numbers on the white face of the waiting room clock stared back at him. Quarter-after-three, two hours since he’d been rushed out of his daughter’s room. A starched looking nurse had provided him with the only words regarding Rachel’s condition. She delivered them as stiffly and formally as the white dress she wore. “Your daughter’s aneurysm is in a critical stage. The doctors are doing all they can, Mr. Grimm. If there’s any change in her condition, someone will talk to you. Dr. Remington said to tell you he’ll be out as soon as she’s stabilized.” She’d tried to leave before he had a chance to ask questions. Dave had leaped to his feet and blocked her exit, but it did no good. The woman was implacable. Her answer to his every question was either, “I don’t know,” or “You’ll have to discuss that with the doctors.”
When she stepped past him after issuing one last, “I don’t know,” he lashed out verbally, saying, “Do you know anything? Like your name? Bitch!”
The woman stopped, straightened and stiffened, turned slowly to face him, and spoke in a slow and controlled manner, a manner that must have been difficult for her, given the fire flickering in her eyes. She said, “My name is Beverly Reynolds. And…you…don’t want to know…all I know.”
“I’m sorry,” Dave murmured, the cause of his red face changing from anger to embarrassment.
The nurse eyed him for a few seconds then said, “Yes…you are.” She spun around as she left, pushing the double doors out of her way hard enough that they banged against their stops as she exited the room.
That exchange was an hour-and-a-half ago. Nothing had happened since. Nothing. Dave got up from the couch and went to the table supporting a large coffee maker. Dave poured another cup of the vile tasting stuff. It had something added to impart a holiday flavor; he guessed it was ginger. Were his frequent trips to the table for coffee keeping him awake and shaking…or the sheer agony of waiting for his daughter to die? He picked up a napkin that was decorated with poinsettia flowers to catch any of the black fluid that escaped his Styrofoam cup. That cup had Happy Holiday printed in red and green letters on its white background. Dave read it aloud, “Happy Holiday.” He snorted and added, “Yeah, that’s almost right, Happy ShittyHoliday. You left out a word.”
“I guess since we’re here, it does make it difficult for it to be just a plain old Happy Holiday.” An old man spoke. He was the only other person in the waiting room and was sitting in a chair a few feet from the table. “It isn’t a very good present for us to have to be here at three AM on Christmas morning. That’s true enough. But, it being Christmas…it reminds us we’ve got someone looking out for us.”
“Yes, sure.” Dave frowned. He didn’t want or need to be preached to, not at this second in his life. His faith had never been strong. Since the untimely death of Ellen, it was non-existent. The look on his face and the sarcasm in the tone he used to answer the old man were a scoffed rebuff of the man’s attempt to offer some hope. Dave returned to his seat on the couch. As he sat down, he retreated into his world of despair, staring into the black coffee for an answer he knew wasn’t there. He heard shuffling footsteps, but chose to ignore them because the last thing he wanted was a well-intentioned Pollyanna chewing on his ear.
“You don’t believe, do you?” The old man stood in front of him.
Dave looked up. The man was tall and thin. His hair, what remained of it, clung to the sides of his head, apologizing for the bald expanse atop his cranium. Deep set hazel eyes, a hooked nose, and thin lips, cooperated in producing a sad, patient smile. He was probably in his eighties, fifteen to twenty years Dave’s senior. Dave’s recent unpleasantness with the nurse made him more measured in his response as he said, “You mean this stuff?” Dave pointed at some ornaments hung from the ceiling, at one of the miniature Christmas trees sitting on the coffee table, and, finally, to a manger scene on a round table in one corner of the room. “Sorry, I don’t.”
“I won’t ask you why. I know almost all the reasons folks don’t believe. Yep, I know them all…and, I still choose to believe. Silly, I guess.” He pointed to vacant space on the couch next to Dave. “Mind if I sit?”
“It’s not my couch.” Dave’s frown and words didn’t discourage the old man as Dave hoped.
The old man’s smile remained. “I know you probably don’t want someone intruding in what you’re going through, but seeing you…well, I feel I have to try. I promise I’ll not take a lot of time. But, you see, old farts like me don’t do many things as well as we once could. Just so happens, interfering and intruding is something at which we excel.”
Though he didn’t want to, Dave chuckled, smiled wryly, and nodded, “Go ahead.”
“Ever been in a battle? Not just in service, I mean a fight where you have people shooting at you, trying to kill you. Artillery, machine guns, mortars, the works.” He waited for Dave to answer.
“No, I never was in service at all.”
The man nodded. “Well, I have and I’ll tell you it’s all the bad dreams you ever had, doubled, and know what, you’re not asleep. Panic, fear, terror, scared to death, nothing can describe how it is. Words just don’t get it.”
Dave looked at him, not sure where the man’s story was going. Seeing the question in Dave’s eyes, the old man asked, “Ever hear the saying, There’s no atheists in foxholes…?”
“Yes, I guess I have,” Dave acknowledged.
“It’s true. And, there isn’t a priest, or a preacher, or a rabbi crawling from foxhole to foxhole converting men. Nope, it’s something you come to on your own. You realize that believing in something is much better than believing in nothing. Belief gives you hope. Without that, you’ve got nothing, son. I learned that on an island called Saipan. If you have hope, you can survive anything. There’s a comfort that comes with it that’s hard to explain until you find it. Just a little prayer can help more—”
“Mr. Grimm, please come with me right away!” Nurse Reynolds’ urgent tone and expression told him the crisis had arrived. She held the doors to the waiting room open, waiting for Dave to join her. He stood as though shocked with electricity. Dave cast a glance at the old man.
“Go ahead, son. Just think. And, good luck!” he said.
* * * * * *
In his absence, the doctors had transformed his daughter into a caricature of herself. Breathing tubes and other devices were connected to her, most of which he had no idea as to their purpose. It made Rachel look like a character from a science fiction movie. Her face was distorted. Dr. Remington and another white-coated ghoul he didn’t recognize were huddled over Rachel as he approached her bedside. The nurse cleared her throat to warn the doctors of Dave’s presence. Both straightened and looked at him. The message contained in their faces was dire.
“Mr. Grimm—” Remington paused, looking for the words he’d have to say. He postponed the inevitable. “This is Dr. Spence. He’s our neurological specialist here at Mount St. Mary’s. He’s been assisting us treat your daughter.”
The second doctor nodded and said, “Hello.” The salutation’s tone was more like a dirge.
Dave asked either one that would answer, “How is she doing? I know things aren’t good, but does she have a chance?”
“Well, we’ve tried to arrest the distortion of the artery. We’ve found that the aneurysm is unusual in that it’s compounded by a clot that’s restricting flow and multiplying the swelling’s rapid growth. It’s not operable. If the clot dislodges, it might alleviate the swelling at that point…but, we don’t think…well, it would likely lead to a massive stroke. That portion of the brain—” Dr. Spence shook his head and looked down.
“Does she have any chance?” Dave asked.
Before he’d spoken all his words, he had his answer. Dr. Remington shook his head and said, “I’m sorry.”
Dave felt tears forming on his lower lids. “How long?”
“I don’t know. We’ve given her drugs we hoped might help with the clot. We’ll do our best to keep her alive, at least through today.”
“Today?” Dave didn’t understand.
“It being Christmas,” Remington explained.
Bitterness and anger welled up into a volcano inside Dave, but right before he erupted, the word, Think, spoken by the old gentleman in the waiting room, flashed like a neon sign in his mind. He stood silently. Even though he didn’t believe, he knew Rachel did. Would showing disrespect for her faith be disrespect for her? He decided it would. It was hard, but he chose to swallow the harsh words in his chest. After collecting his thoughts, he asked, “Will she regain consciousness?”
Remington looked at Spence who said, “No.”
* * * * * *
(to be continued)