He averted his eyes just like they'd hope he wouldn't. Staring off into the distance he contemplated everything he could say, should say. This was always so hard, and it never did get any easier.
The white linoleum stretched out before him, the hallway lengthening to let the burden resonate. Nervously they huddled together in the division between the waiting room and the hallway, watery eyes targeted on his face.
He cleared his throat. They jumped, knuckles turning white.
"I'm sorry," he tried not to mutter. The wife let out a cry, turning to her mother before he could go on. "It was just too late." He cleared his throat. "If he could've gotten here just a little bit sooner, there might've been a chance, but…"
They'd told him not to trail off. They said it brought a sensation of doubt onto the family, a feeling that they should have done something that would've saved his life.
The father nodded slowly, his fist clenching at first, then relaxation, again and again this repetition. The mother rubbed her daughter's back, trying to console her in soft calm tones, but the sobbing heaves drowned out her attempts. She gave up, and just stood there, embraced, rocking back and forth.
The little girl looked up menacingly as if it was his fault. What did he know about telling a family their loved one had died? What did anyone know? Well, he was sure some psychologist somewhere knew from the way the family carried themselves the best way to deliver the news, but he wasn't a psychologist. All he'd wanted to do was treat the patient, solve the puzzle, and move on. So, he hadn't completed the puzzle this time, he knew how, but didn't have enough time. He was the best at the puzzles. They always told him so. They hated him for it. Why did he have to be the one who came out here and pretend to look sympathetic to their situation?
He consciously lost their staring competition.
"I'm very sorry."
But he wasn't sorry. He could understand the pain and grief they were feeling, but he didn't really feel sorry for them. He hadn't know the guy, had never seen him before in his life. And the man had been unconscious. There were no pleading eyes as blood spilled profusely from a gaping orifice, or pain contorting his face. He looked serene and at peace somewhere deep in his mind.
How was he supposed to feel sorry for that?
His girlfriend, ex-girlfriend, had once accused him of having no emotions, of being indifferent and self centered. Was that true? Did he truly not care either way about other's emotions unless they pertained to him?
That was true.
It didn't affect him either way. That's what he thought, but sometimes, he'd lay asleep at night, wishing his residency was over, and their faces would creep onto his eyes. They'd imprint themselves onto his eyelids and linger there, and then he wouldn't sleep. But he really didn't care.
Where was this emotional center located? Why was it so inaccessible to him during the day? Why didn't it stay at bay during the night? Why did this concern not make itself show when he thought it should the most?
He stretched out his hand and laid it on the wife's back.
"I really am very sorry." She turned around, eyes red and bleary. "If there had been anything more that we could've done, we would have done it."
She nodded solemnly.
But the little girl continued to look up at him with distain. Her eyes narrowed, her cheeks flushing pink.
"Why did you kill my daddy?" It came out, and her mother looked shocked for a moment. She had lost herself in grief and forgotten her daughter. Attempting to straighten out her features, she knelt down to look her daughter in the eye.
"No, honey, he didn't kill your daddy. He was one of the doctors who tried to save your daddy's life."
The little girl wasn't satisfied. The contempt for the situation projected onto her mother, and she stomped away angrily to the waiting room, climbing to sit on one of the padded chairs.
"I'm sorry about that. She didn't mean –"
"Don't worry. It is a perfectly normal reaction for children. They just don't know how to deal with situations like this."
Maybe that was the problem, he thought. Perhaps he just didn't know how to deal with the responsibility of knowing his work decided whether someone lived or someone died.
He looked at the little girl, her arms crossed, her mouth in a pout. Her eyes were watery. Her little bubble had been burst too young.
Awkwardly, he gave the mother a smile.
"Would you like to see your husband before they take him down to the morgue?"
Hesitation passed through her eyes, but she nodded gravely.
"Mom," the wife said, "would you watch Natalie while I go, and um –" Her resolved faltered.
"This way." He led her down the hall after the mother nodded, mumbling "of course" in a whisper.
The little girl's eyes grew frantic.
"Mommy!" She screamed, hurriedly running after them.
"Oh, honey. I'll just be right back, ok?"
"Where are you going?"
"I'll just be right back."
Scarlet rose on both of their face.
"I want to go with you."
"No, honey. You stay with grandma, and I'll be right back."
There was silence for a moment. The doctor swayed slightly shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
"Can she come?"
Why did parents always give in, he thought.
"Only if you think it's appropriate."
She chewed the inside of her lip.
The hospital smell got stronger as they passed through the set of double doors, flimsy curtains dividing every patient in the ICU. The mother's eyes fluttered. She pulled her daughter into her arms and hoisted her to her bosom.
Time slowed and the woman was beginning to wonder whether or not she should be doing this at all. Her daughter wriggled impatiently in her arms.
God, she was getting heavy.
They exited the ICU. There were rooms on either side full of patients, television screens casting a flickering blue into the dark rooms. Some patients turned their heads to look out through their doors, some waving at the little girl, queen of the parade, waving as she floated down the hallway.
"They've put him in here for now. I'll check to make sure he's been taken off everything. Hold on one second."
He entered the room, the man's face full of more color than it should be. Ice dropped into his stomach.
He took a deep breath.
His shift was up. He's show them in, tell them to ring the call button when they were done, and they could begin making the funeral arrangements.
Okay, he thought. Ok.
He cleared his throat and opened the door.
"You can come in now."
Cautiously, as if the weight of reality would crush her, the mother set her daughter down and tip-toed in.
This isn't a smart idea, he thought. He leaned down in front of the little girl.
"Can you do something for me?"
"Hmmm?" She hummed in her high voice.
"Will you promise to tell the nurse when you're daddy starts to move?"