Frank Foster twirls his brown felt hat, loosens his tie and squirms in the vinyl chair. The black and white TV is blasting Ed Sullivan. He pulls out the little spiral notebook he keeps in the breast pocket of his serge suit and quickly checks the names.
Sometimes it’s easy; a car crash, suicide, heart attack, or work accident. The hard ones see the light beckoning but aren’t ready to leave on their final journey. His job is to help them cross over, and he has to be a damn good salesman.
Frank doesn’t like making small talk. Most folks in waiting rooms are weary and weepy and keep to themselves, but a few chatterboxes want to talk. He picks up a Reader’s Digest from the side table.
A plump woman in a faded housedress with a tight permanent offers him a cookie from a tin. Frank Foster smiles politely but declines shaking his head.
“Hello Mister. You got someone here? Haven’t seen you before. We have our own sad club. There’s Mrs. Chan by the window. …husband had a stroke. Her boy Lincoln is with her… such a good son. Harvey Goldberg, an old Jewish man is visiting his wife, Camille. She has cancer, and poor thing is in a bad way. I’m here for my Wilburt. The tight wad wanted to save money cleaning our gutters and fell off our roof. He’s been in a coma and…”
Lincoln Chan interrupts, “Maybelle shhh. I want to hear Topo Gigio.”
“And there’s little Stacy half asleep. Her daddy was in a terrible car crash.” A box of animal crackers lays next to her on the floor, and she clutches a forlorn stuffed lion. A young woman, pale and strained, her hair falling out of a ponytail, enters and shakes the child gently. “Stacy, let’s go home. Daddy’s sleeping.”
“Huh, I want Daddy to carry me to bed.”
“I know Honey, but Daddy can’t come with us tonight.”
“How is he dear?”
“There’s still hope Maybelle. Keep Eric in your prayers.”
She lifts the sleepy child. “Come on Stacy.” Donna bites her lip and heads towards the elevator.
Frank pulls out the notebook. First name: Eric Lister. He glances around uneasily.
Maybelle tsk-tsks. “Lord knows Donna has had more than her share. Poor girl lost a child to leukemia two years ago.”
Frank swallows. Oh. That does change things. He pretends to be engrossed in the Reader’s Digest while he peruses the list again. Aha, Camille Goldberg, age eighty two. She’s lived a long life. He makes a switch. It’s not protocol but so what. He’ll move Camille to the top and give Eric a chance to pull through.
Mr. Goldberg plops himself down wearily, takes off his glasses and blows his nose. Maybelle offers him a cookie. “How’s Camille?“
Frank Foster abruptly stands, pushes the swinging door to the intensive care unit. He whistles to himself. It’s time to fetch Camille.
Maybelle shivers. “Oh dear. Where is that draft coming from?”
published 5 March 2016