There’s a tall, thin man sitting in Room B, white and maybe 50 years old, adjusting his big glasses and thinking about trimming his greying mustache. He’s wearing a yellow-and-black flannel shirt under his red button-up sweater. His bony legs hardly fill his jeans, and he’s holding up his left wrist, but letting his hand fall. His body seems frail. He sits up straight on the edge of the bed, waiting. His bones hang off of him. His teeth are showing like he’s smiling, but that can’t be. His broad forehead is blanketed by the florescent lights coming from the ceiling of Room B, and I think he’s staring at me. His glasses are thick and round, so I can’t see where his eyes are, but I think they are fixed on me.
He scratches himself and lowers his wrist, looks around. He’s getting impatient, but he doesn’t seem like an impatient person. The nurses have left him there for maybe 20 minutes now. I wonder what he’s waiting for.
I’ve seen him before, sitting in a chemo chair, moving slowly and not talking. Baring his teeth like he’s smiling. Or a different time, with the white blanket pulled up to this chin, his mouth open a little, spilling it’s contents over his cheek, his eyes closed and his eyebrows raised.
The doctor comes to talk to him and hands him a piece of paper before leaving. Alone, the man reads the papers in his shaky hands. He slowly folds them, unfolds them and reads them again. He covers his teeth while he’s reading, and raises his eyebrows and peers out the door. Giving up, he folds them twice, into quarters, and puts them in his chest pocket, behind the red vest. He holds up his wrist again, like he’s looking for the time, but there’s no watch.
What a slow, thin man. He might have been a criminal, or a teacher, if he had the energy or the coordination. I think he might be homeless. He has large ears, and a reasonable nose that sticks out between his glasses and mustache like they are part of a set. He needs a shave.
He walks over, closer, and sits in the blood test chair. He’s staring at his wrist. Slowly, quietly, as if he were talking to rabbits, he says, “Oh, now don’t you hide. You were just there.”
The nurse turns to him, “What?”
“He was just here. I’m talking to this.” And he nods slowly to his wrist. I can see him better now, his eyes are dark and his hair is unkept. He is so tall and so thin, maybe if he didn’t move so slow his bones would break.
“Oh, you’re talking to it.” The nurse says, distracted. She’s preparing a needle to take his blood.
“I guess I’ll have lunch here. I’ll have lunch here.” And he shows his teeth, smiling.
“Yes, we all know how you like lunch here.” The nurse says back to him.
She ties up his arm and taps his wrist. “Are you still talking to it?” She holds the needle above his skin.
“Yeah. Come on.” He stares at his wrist.
He lets out a yell when she puts the needle in him, like a meow, but with too much saliva in the back of his throat. He looks away. I look away.
“William, did the doctor tell you about the chemo we’re going to give you? William, you’re going to lose your hair. William, did the doctor tell you that? Did he tell you that you’d lose your hair?”
William turns his head toward the nurse and covers his teeth. It barely gets out, “no.”
“Yes, you’ll lose all your hair.”
He is silent for awhile, but as he’s slowly wandering back to Room B, “I’m going to lose all my hair.”
“That’s right William. All of your hair.”