Waiting for Bob
by Wayne Rapp
My eyes dart ahead and fix on the empty table in front of us as Terry wheels me through the dining room. Where’s Bob this morning? He’s usually already here when they bring me in. But when Terry parks me at the table, I’m all alone, sitting there waiting until the waitress shows up with that big smile of hers. What’s she got to smile about?
“Good morning, Carl. How are you today?” She leans in close to me. Along with all the other problems that forced me into assisted living, I have damaged vocal cords that limit me to speaking in whispers.
“You want your usual this morning? Start you off with some oatmeal? And, of course, I know you want your coffee.”
I nod to her, and she takes her smile with her and leaves.
I look around the dining room watching for Bob but see only the usual collection of has-beens and misfits with their walkers and wheelchairs. We can sit wherever we please, but people, being creatures of habit, usually gravitate to the same locations and cluster in the same groups.
The smile returns with my oatmeal and coffee. “I didn’t forget your straw,” she says as she peels the paper off the straw and inserts it in the cup of coffee. “Are you going to have some eggs this morning? Or some fruit?” I shake my head.
As she walks away, I stare at the straw. I’m supposed to be happy she didn’t forget it this time? You think it would occur to her that if I’m going to use the straw to drink the coffee, she should at least point it in the direction of my mouth and not off the end of the table. I reach up, and with some effort, turn the straw. If Bob was here, he would have noticed the problem right away and reached over in front of me and positioned the straw. Bob is attentive that way.
Wonder what’s taking him so long this morning?
And then the singing starts. Good Lord, Yvonne, give it up.
“Show me the way to go home. I’m tired and I want to go to bed.
I had a little drink about an hour ago. and it’s gone right to my head.”
Smite her now, Lord, and leave us in quiet peace. Yesterday it was “Easter Parade,” and the day before, that stupid Iowa song. Go back to Iowa, Yvonne. Please!
Slow spoonful by slow spoonful, trying to ignore her terrible singing, I work on my oatmeal. I am about halfway through when I look up to see Madison, my other tablemate, approaching. He’s got his brother with him again, a younger guy, visiting from some weird place like South Dakota. The brother folds up Madison’s walker while Madison sits down across from me. Oh, I see what’s going on. Madison’s tired of trying to hear my whispers, so he’s putting the brother with the younger ears next to me.
The brother turns to me. “Good morning, Carl. Nice to see you again.” I just stare at him. It doesn’t take him long to look away nervously and begin discussing the menu with Madison. I wait until they order, then turn toward the brother as if trying to say something to him. He leans toward me expectantly, and I just move my lips. Two can play this game. If Madison feels awkward not knowing what I’m saying, let’s see how his brother feels wondering if I’m talking. Come on, Bob, hurry up. Save me from the boredom of breakfast with these guys.
Between sips of coffee through my straw, I finally finish my oatmeal, this time without dropping any of it on my shirt. I watch Madison and his brother eat their breakfasts. Madison eats European style, holding both utensils and using his knife to push food onto the back of his fork. Wants people to know he was in international banking, an important guy. Big phony.
“Are you having any of the scrambled eggs this morning?” the brother asks. “I don’t know what they do to make them so fluffy, but they’re really good.”
This is conversation? Inane gibberish. Nobody keeps the table going like Bob, but it looks like he’s not going to show today. I’m on my own.
Just in time to rescue me from the boredom, Terry is suddenly hovering over me. “Ready to go back upstairs, Carl?” I nod yes.
“Too bad about Bob,” he adds as he reaches down and removes the napkin from my lap.
I grab his arm and look at him imploringly.
“He died during the night. I’m sorry.”
I continue to hold onto Terry’s arm but turn toward Madison and mouth, “Did you know?”
“Yes. They told us on our floor this morning while they were giving out meds.”
I am seething. I’m trying to say, “And you just sat there with your stupid brother and ate your fluffy eggs and didn’t say anything,” but Terry is already wheeling me away.
On the way to the elevator, there is a group of photos of all of the military veterans in our home. Bob’s picture is there. I turn to Terry and point to the grouping. Terry wheels me in front of it, parks my chair, and puts on the brake.
“Be back in a minute.”
I sit there and scan the array. No photo of Bob. Instead, I see the faint outline of where his photo used to hang. They’ve already taken it down. No one can say this place isn’t run efficiently. The pricks.
About the author
Wayne Rapp has written two books and numerous short stories, essays, and nonfiction pieces for publication. A collection of short stories, Burnt Sienna, was a finalist for the Miguel Mármol Award. A short story, “In the Time of Marvel and Confusion,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His creative writing has twice been honored with Individual Artist Excellence Awards from the Ohio Arts Council.