I was out of town without a computer – on purpose. Sorry for the extra day wait.
The room was still dark when Michael opened his eyes. How long had he been sleeping? Voices filtered in from the hallway. As he peered around the side of the chair, he saw one of the voices belonged to Elizabeth, the young girl he remembered from the group earlier.
“Is my dad here yet?” she asked Mrs. Peters.
“Soon, dear. Not to worry.”
The teen wandered off down the hallway, giving him a slight wave as she passed. Michael had seen this plenty in his many stints in rehab, although never with someone as young as Elizabeth. They burned their bridges too many times, and now there was no one left to come and get them. In all likelihood, she would be sent out on her ass once they needed to free up a bed or the bill went unpaid. Yet he still didn’t see how she ended up here, she just didn’t seem the type.
He stretched and pulled himself up out of the chair. Karen, still in the same pink tracksuit, was sitting in front of an old television in the corner, adjusting the rabbit ear antennas on top. He wandered into the hallway to see where the other voices were coming from.
The waiting room had gotten busy in the time he had been asleep in front of the fire. Why even one person would desire admittance into this dump was beyond his reasoning. Each person sat in a chair, staring blankly around the room, confused by their surroundings. When their eyes would meet with one another, they smiled politely before finding something else to stare at. A man dressed in only a hospital gown sat near the door reading a magazine. Mrs. Peters stepped out of her office, reading off the name “Marvin Stills” from her clipboard. The man in the gown stood as the name was called, showing off more of his anatomy than Michael was interested in seeing. Mrs. Peters entered the waiting room and reached for a bathrobe off the coat rack, helping the half naked man into it. That explained the robes. Michael leaned against the wall and watched the activity through the doorway. After a few minutes in her office, the man was escorted out the front door in the same hospital gown he showed up in. One by one, Mrs. Peters took everyone seated in the waiting room into her office. Usually, they seemed to still be in a state of quiet disbelief as they left the office. Other times he heard bits of odd conversations.
“Yes Mr. Levine, I can see how eating that much bacon over a lifetime could be cause for your heart condition.”
Unlike himself however, each one was escorted back to the front door, with an encouraging pat on the back or a firm handshake from Mrs. Peters before leaving. No one stayed.
“This dump must be booked up.” He laughed at the thought.
Mrs. Peters returned to the office once the waiting room had been emptied. Only when she got to her desk did she address him. “Can I be of assistance to you Michael?” she asked as she put a stack of folders in a filing cabinet.
“Nah, just watching the show.”
Mrs. Peters scowled. “There is no show. I have already had to put an end to Elizabeth’s amusement of placing bets on who would stay. I will not have anyone else do the same.”
“I’m just standing here minding my business.” Michael explained.
“Have you made any progress remembering how you arrived on our doorstep?”
“Nope.” Aside from the flash of headlights before he fell asleep, there was nothing new.
“It will come.” Mrs. Peters smiled and headed back into waiting room to tidy up the magazines. “I would think it would be more productive to work on that, rather than ‘watching the show’.”
Michael shrugged and went back to the chair in the sitting room. It was more comfortable than the excuse for the bed in his room. Everyone seemed to keep to themselves, so he would be able to maintain his privacy anywhere in the house. The old man was sleeping in the chair next to him when he sat down. He thought again about going back upstairs, but there was no way to relax with the noise from the springy bed. Michael slowly lowered himself into the chair, not wanting to wake the man and getting roped into listening to a sob story.
“Don’t worry about me. I feel no need for the two of us to speak unless you are so inclined.” The old man said, eyes closed. “But you must remember to put your chair back after we meet.”
Michael closed his eyes. “I am sure you will be there to remind me next time.”
The old man’s eyes popped open. “Young man, there are rules to be followed here. Everyone must abide by them or face the gravest of consequences.”
He didn’t need this crap. “What? I get a timeout for not putting my chair back? This isn’t preschool pops.”
“That one is more of a common courtesy. The rest of the rules are a bit more… unyielding.”
“So, I break one and what – they send me home? Let me know what rule I have to break to get that punishment. I don’t need you or anyone else riding my ass about rules between now and when I get to go back to my life.”
The old man’s mouth formed a slight, close-lipped smile. “Oh, I see.” His smile broadened. “You will learn.”
Michael crossed his arms tight across his chest and shut his eyes. If he was interested in engaging with anyone, he would have asked the old man what he meant. It was probably another silly rule these places tended to have. As soon as he could make his phone call, he would be out of here. He relaxed again in the chair, trying to let his mind wander back to the headlights he had remembered earlier.
His peace was short lived as an argument escalated in the corner of the room. Ruben stood over Karen in front of the old television, Ruben’s hand on the dial.
“Karen, you know it’s my turn.” Ruben whined.
“Just one more minute. I need to watch one more thing.” Karen said without looking away from the screen.
“You say that every time I come in here. It’s my turn now.”
It was like listening to children fighting over what cartoons to watch. Ruben had a slight tremble in his voice as he spoke. “I’m sorry, but I already gave you my time earlier and I let you take extra time now. So, if you…”
Karen wasn’t even listening to him. “Ruben, this is just really important.”
Michael could feel his blood pressure rising. He opened his eyes and cranked his head in their direction. “Geez, what are you guys, five?”
Karen and Ruben paused their argument briefly, before getting right back to their verbal exchange. Michael wasn’t having it. He got out of the chair and walked over the television that they were fighting over. It was an old black and white model complete with a set of rabbit ears antenna perched on top, the picture was grainy at best.
“This is what you guys are fighting over? This hunk of crap?”
The two of them stared motionless at him, dumbfounded by his outrage.
“You!” He pointed at the woman in the chair in front of the television. “Get up.” She obeyed immediately and moved out of the way of the chair. “You!” He pointed to Ruben. “Sit down and watch whatever the hell it is you are getting so upset about.”
Both had expressions bordering between shock and confusion. Michael didn’t care what they thought. He just wanted them to shut up.
“You two are ridiculous. It’s just a television.”
“Just a television?“ Karen, who had quickly composed herself after being barked at, started shaking a finger at Michael. “Do you have any idea…” The old man cut her off before she could continue.
“Karen, Karen, Karen. Leave our new guest to his peace and quiet. He has no care for how important the television is to you.”
Ruben smiled and attempted to ease the situation. “Look, I won’t be long and then it’s all yours again Karen.”
Michael couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Get a backbone. If you want to watch the TV, watch it, or just keep acting like a pussy and let her walk all over you.”
Ruben’s expression fell flat. His smile was gone. “No, it’s really ok.”
Michael had had enough. “Whatever,” he snarled, and stormed out of the room.
The old man’s voice carried into the hallway as he headed to the staircase.
“Give the young man some time, he is new.”
“Still no way to treat people.” Karen replied. “If he knew how important it all was.“
Ruben gave in. “Karen, go ahead and take your turn. I can wait.”
Michael shook his head and went upstairs to his room. Spineless wuss. No surprise why he needs therapy. It was just a television.
At the top of the stairs, he noticed the young woman Simone going from room to room, taking a peek in each. She stopped when she saw him looking at her, dropping her arms, eyes back to the floor. The small blanket still gripped in one hand. Part of him was a little curious as to what she was doing, but after the fight over the television, he decided he didn’t want to know. As long as he was left alone, he didn’t care what she did. Michael fiddled with the key in the lock of his door. After a slight struggle, he entered his room and kicked the door closed behind him. Maybe he could just spend the next 30 days locked away in here and avoid all of those idiots.
The bed sprung up and down a little too easily under his weight as he flopped down. Definitely would need to set up a series of chiropractic appointments after spending any time on this crappy mattress. As uncomfortable as the bed was, Michael managed to close his eyes and fade off to wherever the headlights of his dream were going.