Dr. Mallory hated this part of his job. Telling people the bad news that their loved one passed away was something that he studiously avoided, if it can be helped. It was the emotional outpourings that drove him off. It annoyed him. He often delegated this kind of stuff to junior residents, unfortunately for him none were available at the moment to do his dirty work.
Too many years with the dead and dying and the grieving had left him with a harder constitution along with a well calloused heart.
It is not my fault, he reasoned when a friend commented on it, I am just a victim of circumstance.
He first saw a man die when he was just seven, stabbed to death by some guy high on meth. Who wouldn’t be desensitized with death with that kind of start in life. Being born poor and having a hard life can sometimes do strange things to people. Suffering was a common theme throughout his younger years. He needed to be tough to be at where he is now: a made man.
But his friend had a point, it’s part of the job to be gentle and caring. Since he was not, he made it a point to act as close to what will pass-off as one, and he was damned good at it. People liked him. His higher-ups liked him even more, promotions were as constant as the sun.
“We are very sorry Mrs. Parker,” said Dr. Mallory in his best imitation of regret and commiseration. “I am sorry for your loss, Ma’am, but there was nothing we can do.” His voice was mellow, gentle, caring – perfect. He bowed his head and shook it a little to emphasize his deep regret in their failure to save the boy.
The doctor’s words was met with silence.
After several heartbeats had passed without hearing a reply he raised his downcast eyes and looked at the woman sitting on the chair: her head down, her posture a picture of complete exhaustion. Mrs. Parker’s shoulder length hair, almost all of it were already prematurely gray, partly covered her face. But the part that showed, wrinkles and all, was a tapestry of emotions – fear, regret, exhaustion, pain, sadness – woven over a fabric of love and loss.
“Yes, i heard you.” Her voice was flat. Emotionless.
“Are you alright ma’am?” Dr. Mallory made sure to add a tone of concern for added effect.
She gave a feeble cough. “I am as fine as I can be under the circumstances, doctor.”
“I am deeply sorry for your loss, Mrs. Parker. If there is anything…”
She bowed her head even lower, her hair now totally obscured her face. “Can you bring back the dead?” asked the woman in the same flat tone.
“No, ma’am,” replied the doctor in his best neutral but mellow voice. Frankly, he was astonished by the question. He barely repressed his irritation. This woman is going bonkers, he thought to himself. Better notify the nurse later in case she does something odd. It is always best to cover all the bases.
It would not be good for his reputation if people will think that he failed to report something he noticed. Better yet, it would be great if I reported it and something bad will happen. It would surely mean more promotions. He repressed a smile at the thought.
“Then you can do nothing for me, doctor.”
“I’ll take my leave then, Mrs. Parker. Just tell the nurse in the station if you need anything.”
The woman barely moved. She just slumped in the chair and stared at the floor.
“Tell me doctor, have you ever lost a son?”
“I have no children, Ma’am. I never married. No siblings too, I was an only child.”
“A parent, then.”
“My father left us when I was young. It was my mother who raised me.” Dr. Mallory was feeling very uncomfortable with the talk they were having. He did not like opening up to people, he thought of it as something soft and wimpy. An unforgivable thing, being soft. He had learned that in life softness will always lead to despair, it was always the sharp and the tough that flourished. Hell, his mother was too soft and look what that got her. She let her husband trample her around, she didn’t even sue for alimony. She did not look for a new husband that could help pay the expenses after the bastard left them for someone younger. She did not even look for a higher paying job for, as she reasoned out to him, ‘it would mean more hours away from you, honeykins‘. He appreciated what her mother did for him but the truth still remained that in his eyes his mother did not amount to much because she was too soft. Life could have been better for them if she was tougher.
He started towards the door.
“Aah. Yes…I remember. Where is she now?” Mrs. Parker’s voice became more subdued and more distant, it was almost a whisper, as though she was deep in her own reverie and recollecting something from her long distant past.
“Who?” Replied the doctor; his hand was already on the doorknob.
“I really don’t think ma’am that…” he twisted the knob. The door was locked. It would not budge. But how? These doors don’t have locks.
“Just humor me doctor. Spare a moment for a poor woman who just lost her son. I have no one with me now. No friends. No family. Only my son… he was my life.”
The doctor’s hands became clammy. Fuck! He practically screamed inside his head. Why can’t people just hold their shit together. His thoughts raced to the trainings he had at medical school: first rule of thumb when confronted with an insane person, never agitate them. He forced himself to smile and turned around to face Mrs. Parker.
“Uh, she’s old now, so I had her live in a Home. Green Groves, it’s the best, they can take better care of her there.”
The woman was still slumped on the chair. Still staring at the floor.
“How is she?” her shoulders slumped even more.
“She’s fine. Great, actually. Never been happier! Lots of people her age to mingle with. Professional health workers round the clock. The best money can buy. Only the best for my mother.” His forced cheerful tone was irritating to his own ears. He hated it. I’ll have a word with fucking maintenance after this. Fuckitty fucking door!
“Do you visit her often?” The woman’s voice had slightly changed. It was no longer as flat. There was a little emotion bleeding into her words.
“I hardly have time to do that Mrs. Parker. But the management sends me a quarterly report along with some pictures. And I call as often as I can.” It was a lie. He hadn’t talked to his mother for months; she had dementia, and for Dr. Mallory there was not much sense in talking to someone who hardly knows the day of the week. He haven’t even read the last three quarterly reports.
It had been awhile since he thought of her. It’s not my fault, he reasoned, I’ve been busy lately. Maybe I’ll call her later. It’s her birthday in a few days, after all.
“That is good, if you did. To be alone is a wretched thing, doctor. The coldness of death is preferable to living a lonely life.” Mrs. Parker stood up.
Dr. Mallory stiffened a little, he was taken off guard by the sudden movement.
The woman walked to the window and placed her hands on the ledge. The setting sun was beautiful. Enticing in its bouquet of colors: shades of violets, blazing orange mixed with different tints of red, and luxurious golden accents all-round. Fluffy clouds were lazily floating about in the sea of colors, but Mrs. Parker did not notice its splendor, her head was still bowed down.
“It was a hard life, doctor, but I shouldered on for my son. He must have the best, I always tell myself that. He must have the things that I never had and never will, but I could only do so much. But he is now gone. I have my fears that it might be so and that it will end like this, but I deluded myself into thinking otherwise. He was always a precious boy, but as he grew older I fear he grew more distant, but I never gave up on him. To finally hear those words from you puts a finality to it that gives me closure, doctor. My son was long gone, I know that now.”
Dr. Mallory felt a chill ran down his spine. The woman was giving off some weird vibe. Marbles totally gone down the drain, stupid twat! He slowly stepped back towards the door while still eying Mrs. Parker warily. His back finally hit the door, his hands on the doorknob. He tried twisting it again, but it would not give.
Tock. Tock. Tock.
Someone was knocking on the door.
“Sir?” It was a female voice. Far off, but becoming clearer.
Tock. Tock. Tock.
Thank God, they’ve found me! “Yes! I’m here! Open this damned door!” he hollered back.
Tock. Tock. Tock.
He woke up drenched in sticky sweat. He was slumped on his desk, disoriented for a moment. He looked around him: on his left was a wall lined with diplomas, certificates and awards, on his right were ceiling to floor windows that framed the setting sun – bathing the room in a somber color of deep, almost red, orange. He was in his office. Relief flooded him. Fucking dream!
“Sir?” Someone was knocking on his door. It was his secretary.
He cleared his throat before answering. “Yes,” said Dr. Mallory gruffly.
“I am sorry to disturb you sir. There is a call waiting for you. It’s from Green Grooves, they said it was important.”
“Ok, patch it through.” He took the phone out of its cradle and pressed a button. “This is Dr. Mallory, what can I do for you?”
“Dr. Mallory, this is Arthur Pikes, the Director of Green Grooves.” The speaker’s voice was deep and courteous, but the tone he was using had a familiar ring to it: consoling, mellow, gentle, caring. “I am sorry sir. Mrs. Mallory, your mother, died a couple of hours ago. She was feeling off for several months – we sent you the report awhile back – we did the best we could…” But Dr. Mallory no longer heard the rest of what Mr. Pikes said.
He bowed his head. A soft sob escaped his clenched lips. The phone fell from his hands and hit the armrest of his chair, it went on loud-speaker. The kind and caring – well practiced – voice of Mr. Pikes rang throughout the room. “May I extend my heartfelt condolences for your loss…”