Needing to Feel Thankful

Sunrise on campus is my favorite hour, especially each fall, right at this spot. At the crest of the hill, a stunning red oak is illuminated beside the red-clay roof tiles of the administration building. Combined with a marble facade, the aesthetic normally relaxes me. Unfortunately, not this morning. The road map is also red, and it will cost me if I’m late for my presentation. With two boys in college, I’m counting on the promotion and raise. We need a larger apartment and a car worth more than the gas in its tank.

I’m not the only candidate, and Ginny’s been clear. There’s no good excuse for being late. She’ll lecture me on why she chose Madeleine instead. You rolled the dice with traffic? On this campus? The entire departmental staff was kept waiting. You should’ve slept in your office last night. Leaders do whatever it takes … period!

Several cars ahead start turning around, but that won’t work for me. All roads to my building converge on this one. We crawl forward to fill the gaps, and my car stops at the children’s cancer center entrance. Cheerful pink and blue signs highlight drawings of smiling kids, but my memories differ. I loved comforting the children, but projecting hope each day for patients and families exhausted me. There are not enough happy endings unless they all are. After working here as a nurse for many years, I moved on.

In the center’s parking lot, a woman opens her car trunk and removes a folded wheelchair. She carries it to the passenger-side door and struggles to unfold it. Those older models can be difficult, but she succeeds. Brightly-colored decals adorn the dark blue seat and wheels. The door opens, and a young girl slides out. Her face and hair appear too thin, and my chest tightens. She stands, pulls a beanie over her ears, and hugs the woman. During the embrace they exchange words, and I imagine what they’re saying. I choose only the good. It’s your last treatment, Honey … I get to ring the bell today, Mom. It’s much easier from a distance.

My phone shows the road is yellow and green just ahead. Ten minutes late should be fine.

The woman helps the girl into the chair and bends to unlock its rear wheels. However, as she pulls the lock handle, it snaps off and falls to the ground. She says something to the girl and attempts to push the chair forward. It doesn’t move. Unable to unlock the wheel, she taps her phone and stares skyward. Even if she gets through, it will be a wait because there’s never sufficient staffing here. A wind gust sends leaves across the parking lot, and she wraps the girl’s neck with a scarf. Cars start moving, and a horn behind me instantly blares. I start to release the brake but pause, because they both need to feel thankful for at least one thing today. Opening the glove compartment, I find the pliers and screwdriver. My turn signal is broken, so I lower the window, stick out my arm, and turn into the cancer center.

*****

Barry Yedvobnick retired as a professor of biology from Emory University in Atlanta. His stories have appeared in Bending Genres, Brilliant Flash Fiction, 10 BY 10 Flash Fiction, Dark Winter Literary Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, the weird-fiction magazine: Penumbra No. 3, Tales to Terrify, Dark Recesses, and other places.

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