Jeff Wolff’s eyes glazed over and melted into the uniform whiteness of the waiting room ceiling. The old analog clock tick-tick-ticked on the blank beige walls. That doctor is as good as dead, he thought.
His wrist was sore from the handcuffs, so he shook it. The two guards glanced over but didn’t move from their chairs. Fake tough guys, picking their asses all day and holding their wooden sticks, yelling and spitting. He could take them, easily. Take off these handcuffs, and within seconds they’d be on their knees, clutching their limbs. No problem there. He’d have maybe a second to get to that doctor, that evil piece of shit. It’d take all of his energy.
He hoped his lungs could handle it. He started coughing again, and the wheezing consumed him, and he rocked back and forth, breathing heavily. The guards didn’t turn around.
After 30 seconds, the coughing slowed, and Jeff took deep breaths, in and out, in and out. He wished this weren’t what it would take to see Angie again. He knew that if she were there, she would have rubbed his back or run her hands through his hair. Maybe told him for the millionth time the story of the first time they’d met, at that stupid swing dancing class in Hartford, where he tripped and fell and Angie helped him up and later she told him that he was a giant klutz, but an endearing one, it would have been a fairy tale if it weren’t for —
“I’m ready for you, Mr. Wolff,” said a woman in a lab coat.
The guards removed the handcuffs from Jeff’s wrist and escorted him into the small office down the hall. The sterility of the place disgusted him. What he would give for just one bong rip right now, to disconnect his mind from this reality, take him far away from prison and cancer and regret. The guards handcuffed him to the chair in the small office.
“Your blood work came in from the lab today.”
His fingers were shaking, and his armpits were wet. Deep breaths, deep breaths. These damn walls.
Her mouth opened a bit, but no sound came out. Her eyes broke his gaze and fell to the ground.
“I’m sorry, Jeff.”
He ran away to the lawn of his childhood home, where his father told him that everything changes someday. Where they played catch with a football and talked about the girls at school who called him names. They tease you because they like you, he said. And his mother smiled from the window.
He ran away to the sixth floor of the East Campus dorm, where he and his two roommates played Super Mario on the old Nintendo system and smoked hash oil out of their glass pipes. Where he drunkenly stumbled into Kate Nelson’s room and lost his virginity.
He ran away to his and Angie’s first home, where he first earned her trust and where he subsequently broke it. Purchased with all of that illicit money. She never should have known. He wanted to be there to meet his daughter for the first time, to learn her name. To learn what she looked like and whether she liked hockey, too.
“Can I call my wife?”
“Jeff, you know that’s not allowed,” she said.
“Give me the phone.”
“Jeff, I can’t do that. I’m sorry.”
The guards couldn’t have expected it. They took the handcuff key and unchained Jeff from the chair. In the same motion, Jeff lurched forward and pinned the doctor to the tiled floor, scrubbed clean. She screamed. He screamed. The guards froze. He jammed his thumbs into the doctor’s throat, wrapping his hands around her neck. She couldn’t breathe. Jeff’s eyes were wide.
The guards tore him off the doctor and shoved him to the ground. The coughing started up again. More violent shaking. More wheezing. More shaking. The doctor, horrified, slowly dragged herself up from the floor and turned her face away from the scene. The coughing wouldn’t stop. She grabbed a needle and stabbed Jeff. No more wheezing. More deep breath, deep breath, deep breath. In and out, in and out.
Michael Rosen is an associate editor of The Weekender. Contact him at [email protected]