“I think it’s gonna be a coughin day,” she said.
She called her worse days her “coughin days.” That’s when her lungs would spasm and shudder and all manner of things would come up, from blood to brown. I would pull the car around after an hour and we would drive to the hospital, the radio tuning out the sounds of my mother dying.
We sat in the cold beige room and watched a movie on television. The nurses let us right in and we had the same room time after time. Small towns, the old get reservations at the sick bay.
The movie starred some guy and some girl on a boat. It appeared they did not like each other, yet were bound by convention to work together until the inevitable touch of hands, shy looks, moonless night under the stars and love. I joked she should push the guy overboard, give him the Titanic treatment.
The quiet killed me. I stood up and pulled a cigarette from the pack in my pocket.
She tsked. Said something about not wanting to be with her. She reached for the water by her bed and almost knocked it over, but I helped her get a hold of it. Helped her put it back on the tray and walked out the room.
The people in the room next to us stared at me as I walked by. A young woman leaning over a small boy in a clear plastic tent. A man sat across the room from them, staring at the floor.
They looked up as I walked past. I waved. The little boy buried his head in the pillows. The woman touched the plastic that held the boy. The man waved at me.
“Just go,” I heard her say.
I moved faster now. Down the hall and out the door to the stairs that lead to the parking garage.
The white and black and red sign of “No Smoking” also had an arrow drawn under it in pencil, very small and discrete. I had done that two years ago when this all started. I had not known where things were so I gave myself something to do. The arrows pointed toward smoking and escape.
A small bench and a clay pot filled with sand make up the smoking section of the hospital. Four wooden posts held up an A-frame roof to keep the rain and the sun at bay. Say what you will about smoking, but everyone needs a break and deserves to be dry. Several books sat in a pile on the bench
I lit my cigarette and smoked.
I jumped when the door opened, the heavy bar banging metal against metal and the hinges creaking with the weight. The man from the room beside my mother's walked out.
He nodded and lit a cigarette. I nodded back.
He paced a few times, walking toward the garage and the cars and back to the bench. Back and forth.
Finally he stopped and sat. He took a drag and picked up one of the books.
He blew out the smoke and said, “Churches leaving library books?”
I turned to him, saw what he was holding.
“They buy them from the library book sale,” I said, “the discarded ones the library sells cheap.”
“Then they put their bullshit message inside them and let them sit here to rot,” he said, dropping the book.
“They get used,” I said.
He picked up another and thumbed to where the church’s bookmark stuck out of the yellowed pages. He began to read.
“”Ramon touched her, put his hand on her back and down the length of her spine. Heather didn’t know where her skin began and where his hand started, just knew the warmth of him. She hoped he wasn’t the killer.’ This is what the church people leave?”
“Whatever gets the message out and passes the time,” I said, “and I mean, who doesn’t like a little murder sex?”
He laughed and I laughed. I put out my cigarette and lit another.
“That your mom in there?” he asked.
I nodded, “Smoked fifty years, asbestos in the school where she worked is killing her. Your little boy?”
He shook his head, “Girlfriend’s. Little monster came down with double pneumonia. I knew... Old house and no money, you know?”
I nodded like I knew. That’s just what you do.
“I just can’t stay in there,” he said, “I want to. I want to. But I’m not doing anything, I need to do something.”
“You want me to tell you just being there is doing something?”
He looked up at me, “Is that all it is?”
I shrugged my shoulders. How was I supposed to know? No manual existed. Nothing had worked out right and in the end it all comes crashing down anyway. Best not say that.
He looked out to the garage again. He put out his cigarette and stood. He put his hands in his pockets and I heard keys jingle.
I dropped my cigarette in the sand bucket.
“I need to check on mom,” I said.
“Yeah. Thanks,” he said. He pulled out a cigarette and sat back down. He waved the book at me, “I think I’ll find out if Ramon is the killer.”
“Good luck,” I said.
I walked back down the hall. As I passed the room with the little boy, he sat up and looked toward the door. Waiting. I waved again and the little boy buried his head in the pillows. His mother stared at the floor, not seeing me.
Mom was still watching the movie. The man and woman in the boat were now on a beach. They were holding hands and looking at the sunset.
“Isn’t that a pretty sunset?” Mom said.