The waiting room was white; the walls, the furniture, the decoration, the floors. The entire room was so sterile and virgin that the only surface that seemed real and tangible was where the tears had fallen and not yet dried. The rest of the room was more like the pulsating shades of light than a hard surface where life could occur.
I sat in a chair that was neither uncomfortable or soothing. I had business to attend, unfortunately, it was the same business that the eyes that had spilled the evaporating tears had. I wished I was alone, perhaps I could have had a moment to prepare myself in the form of getting my emotions out. I imagine that I didn’t let myself break down for the same reason that the small family that sat in the room across from me did: my grief was none of their concern, nor was theirs any concern of mine. It’s a strange sensation, knowing that a near identical experience is happening across the room and being so enveloped in your own experience to not offer the same comfort that you craved. We’re a strange species, human beings.
“Mr. Miller?” my name was called by a disembodied voice; it was not abrasive nor soothing, the same level of tolerable that the furniture had been, “you will be seen now.”
As I stood to leave, I made eye contact with the father across the room. His lips pursed, like I imagine that mine had, and we half-nodded to each other. That was the most interaction that I would have with that family, I silently wished them well.
At one point the hallway that I traveled had been as flawless white as the waiting room, but the days of newness had passed. All along the walls of the narrowing hallway were handprints, darkened spots right about where the average sized man may have rested his forehead against the wall, and of course the tears. Every step I took towards the golden door, with its tarnished finish, the stains on the wall became more and more concentrated. With the last few steps towards the door, there was no space on the wall unblemished by grief and torment.
The door was heavy; it would have to be. With as much pain that had escaped to the other side, there must be exponentially more that would have to remain and the door would have to be equipped to hold it all in.
The other side of the door was as dark as the waiting room was white, the only interruptions in the suffocating abyss were soft lights in red tones; votive candles in red jars or red string lights. It was hot, it felt as if the very walls would perspire. The air was thick and heavy, as if stuck in a crowded elevator and the unconsumed oxygen was becoming critically low.
“Is your business religious?” a weak voice rang out to my right.
“Excuse me?” I turned to the direction of the voice, my eyes still adjusting to the lack of light.
The voice had come from a very small statured man; his hair was stringy, his cheeks were sullen, and his dark brown eyes appeared black. He had to be in his late fifties, he wore a robe of rags, and an IV bag around his neck like a noose.
“Are you here to plead for favor in the name of religion?” He clarified.
“No.” I answered, “I am not here to proxy for religion.”
“Then you are here out of anger.” the man deduced.
“The angry always come here,” he began to shuffle on, “they always do. It rarely helps.”
The little old man began a slow progression to somewhere, aimless. As my pupils dilated, I could see more and more of similarly shaped creatures. Their frames and features had said that they had once been full of life and vitality, but they were nothing more than frail shells of what had been.
“Sir?” I called back to him.
“How can I help you, son?”
“The people here, the people like you, do you work here?”
What countenance the man had when he’d first spoken to me had completely vanished. He looked down at the skeletal condition of his hands, perhaps because the ground was too dark to distract him from the answer.
“No, we just don’t have anywhere else to go.” he answered, sadly.
“You’re here on someone’s behalf?” the skeletal man asked.
“Yes, my mother’s.”
“How so? She’s gone.” I said.
“She’s not here, with us. We are, simply, the unclaimed.”
The man shuffled off before I could ask him to elaborate. It was in that moment that the mood of the room, the sole intent of this place, had gripped me. Hopelessness, absolutely hopelessness filled my being up to my throat. I had but one thing about me that was stronger than the stifling feeling, I had my anger. That anger, the rage, the loss is what made my feet step towards my destination.
Each step felt like I was sinking into something with the consistency of wet concrete, and it was beginning to cure around my ankles. Each plodding step heavier than the last; the only measure of movement that I could count on was how many frail bodies I passed as the footfalls thudded on the shadow obscured floor. The misery march continued until I hit the door, invisible in the darkness. It was big and heavy, black, and no door knob.
It was an involuntary reaction, my knuckles bounced off of the door. Once, twice, and again. I didn’t realize that I was punching the door; perhaps I had more anger than I had allowed myself to believe, my anger was a toxic concoction when mixed with the hopelessness that the room had fostered. I might have been crying, my sinuses felt the pressure that the onset of tears would bring, but my cheeks were so hot that I wouldn’t have noticed tears traversing my skin.
The door relented to my assault, or perhaps the evil on the other side was expecting me. The heft of the monolithic door swayed just enough for me to squeeze my body through it. The darkness and red hues of light succumbed to smoke and haze. The acrid odor of cigar smoke seized my throat and I began to cough uncontrollably. There wasn’t much more light than in the room before, but instead of red shaded votives, it was small television screens with nothing but the snowy glow of static.
“You look much too healthy to be here asking for my help,” the voice was low and it rumbled, as if it originated from a massive set of lungs and a wide mouth, “you must be weak …or too vain to live with the thought of being consumed.”
The voice punctuated its taunt with successive, throaty coughs.
“Who would ever ask you for help?” the accusation provoked me into spitting out a disgusted response.
“Mostly those who have lost touch with their faith. The suffering becomes too much and they are too embarrassed to go to their maker to ask for help after so many years of estrangement, they come to me and ask that I finish the job that I’ve started.”
Instead of a cough, the bass of a smug laugh followed.
“You don’t know me.” I challenged, “I want nothing from you, I’ve only come to tell you how it is.”
“Child, you are wrong. I do know you.” another hacking cough, “I’ve been a major part of your life for years now, haven’t I? I’ve been in the back of your mind since you were not yet a man.”
The broad index finger of a crooked and misshapen hand began scrawling words on the abysmal darkness of the wall; it was my mother’s name, in her own handwriting. The viscous fluid that her name was written in glowed in the dark, like the hands of a glow in the dark watch.
“I’m offended,” the voice was dripping in mockery, “I’ve been with you longer than most members of your family. I’ve occupied more space in your thoughts than your education, than your hope for the future, more than love. You couldn’t forget about me any more than your heart could forget how to beat.”
I didn’t want to dignify the bastard with a response. As repugnant, as utterly evil as it was, it wasn’t a liar. When I first heard its name, the wind left my lungs. This …thing was never supposed to come to my doorstep, it was never supposed to know my address; like most things unholy, it rarely abides by the command of the righteous.
“You didn’t get her!” I was grasping at straws, I wanted to hurt this thing the way that it had hurt me, that it hurt my mother, “You were there at the end, but you didn’t get her!”
“Semantics.” It’s voice was bored, as if it had heard my declaration before, or one just like it, “Did my handy work stop her heart from beating? No. My presence did drain her will to fight.”
“You are truly mistaken.” I finally had my high ground, “She would have fought you, to her last breath. She was called home and you had no influence order she was given.”
“It truly amuses me how the people I touch can cling to religion in the face of certainty. If you really wanted results, you should do what the once afflicted have done: worship the dollar. A woman who has shouldered the burden of a truly burdensome life finds herself under my influence, and she suffers until the end. When I court an athlete or one of the social elite, they don’t sacrifice their health, they sacrifice their wealth to impede my demands. Do you believe that those men are more worthy of life than your mother? They just have the resources and fraternity. It isn’t glorious for me, to feast on the financially unfortunate, but I still eat my fill.”
“I think she scared you.”
“Excuse me?” A hacking cough interrupted the bass tones of laughter.
“When people live in spite of you, when people witness the afflicted living in spite of you, that makes you less scary; you need the fear to feel powerful.”
“Does this make you feel powerful? Talking to me in such a way, knowing that it is not going to have any immediate consequence?”
“Honestly?” I asked.
“It scares me and I know that only gives you power over me.” Although I couldn’t see for certain, I could feel the air in the room move in a way that made me believe that it was smiling, “But I’m not here to tell you about right now. I’m here to tell you about the entire game, to let you know how this all ends.”
“Please,” hack, cough, laughter, “enlighten me.”
“Every day that goes by there is something that is growing inside all of us that is more powerful than you are, and I came here equipped with it today.”
“What is that?”
“Anger. I’m angry, people are angry, and the angrier we become, the more we do things to spite what we are angry at. The more you exist, the more we’ll fight you. Maybe not in my time, or in the time of my children, but we’ll stop you. People will come together to fight you, as we have before.”
“People coming together against me?” the laughter hurt my ears, it was so deep and loud, “People can’t come together against other people killing each other, what hope do they have to band together against me? Every day, scores of people are committing atrocities against each other in the name of money and righteousness, you all can’t agree what shape the Earth is, let alone agree how to stop me. I’ve been doing this for centuries and you have done nothing more than give me a name.”
I would not let this defeat me. I came here for Mom and now for the unclaimed outside that door. In my righteous rage, I was doing it for every family, for every person ruined by this cretin.
“The only truth I have that you cannot touch is that more voices are being heard now than ever before. As the moments pass, no injustice is being swept under the rug, what has been done in the dark is coming to light. The more people who know you, the more speak out against you and demand your eradication. Like I said: we’ll stop you, we have stopped your kind before.”
“I hope you enjoy defeat and disappointment.”
It was clear that I wouldn’t pierce its resolve, or convince it to be afraid of me. Truthfully, I didn’t need it to be afraid, it wouldn’t be afraid anyways. The sobering reality of this thing was that it didn’t think or feel, it only fed, consumed. It’s demise would not be met with its own realization of morality, it would just cease to exist and then we would move on.
“I’m clearly getting nowhere.” I said, satisfied that I’d said my peace, conquering enough of my fear to leave.
“We’ll meet again, I am sure.”
“We will.” I reached in my pocket and pulled out a soft token that I had kept to remind me of what I was doing there, I tossed it on the ground for the adversary to see, “We’ll all be wearing these at your funeral, we’ll make sure you are dressed in one.”
I knew it was staring at the bright pink ribbon, folded over itself, that I had thrown down. I had been carrying to crusade ribbon since Mom had gotten sick and it seemed only fitting that I used it to call out the affliction that had haunted her. I wanted it to know what flag we’d be waving when we finally came to ring the death knell. I wanted to know that it’s demise would come united under one symbol and what it would look like.
I’m sorry I couldn’t stop it from hurting you, Mom, but I will try my damndest to support every cause that fights cancer that I can. I believe in the strength of the people, we’ll find a cure.
I’ll see you on the other side.
(c) 2019 A.P. Miller — All Rights Reserved