Take A Seat
by Gary Glauber
There's a natural progression to this world, as inevitable as the forward flow of time. Old is usurped by new, even here where time starts early for tiny patients. Things change and constant updates are required, even regarding furniture. In the lounge outside the NICU, this navy-blue loveseat has been a veritable fixture these past twelve years.
Once a place of temporary rest and comfort, this shabby well-worn furniture has seen better days. The sturdy fabric of these blue cushions has soaked up thousands of fallen salty tears. Many of those who cried into tissues discarded them on these cushions, assuming some maintenance person would pick up after them. Thankfully, one usually did.
One Emilia Weintraub, distraught about whether her young boy would survive, showed up every night for two weeks bearing bottles of expressed mother's milk for her premature infant. She was taken to sobbing quietly but continually, and would secretly hide her perpetually damp Kleenex in the folds behind the loveseat's cushions. Her son now plays quarterback for his middle school team. Sometimes there were tears of sadness; other times tears of joy and relief.
In a neo-natal intensive care unit emotions run the gamut, covering all extremes. The far cushion still retains an impression from where oversized Jose Garcia sat, opened the packet given him, and donned, respectively, a large bright yellow gown, face mask, and slippers, the standard gear required for admittance into the actual unit. Sterilization remains a high priority here. His baby weighs just over a pound; his wife's crack cocaine addiction led to spontaneous delivery. Not every story is a happy one.
The right front wooden leg bears a mark from when Dante Scudero let loose his pent-up anger after learning of his daughter's demise. He and wife Patty had been trying forever to have a child, had gone through every test imaginable and were blessed with pregnancy only through their fourth try at in-vitro insemination. When pre-eclampsia forced Rosie to be born fifteen weeks early, still they hoped for the best. But ultimately, her lungs were underdeveloped; she didn't survive. He kicked the blue couch as hard as he could, nicking the leg, and in turn, breaking two toes.
Once this loveseat had been part of a set, a full couch and several side chairs its extended family. In those early days, people still could smoke in the lounge and security was lax. Food delivery guys often made their way to the lounge: Chinese, Mexican, pizza, Thai, you name it. Sometimes strangers found their way here as well. One Abraham Miller used a penknife then to rip small near-invisible tears in the side of the loveseat, more nervous reflex than destructive intent. He didn't trust doctors or hospitals.
Over the years, other pieces either fell apart or were traded to various lounges within the hospital. Now only a lone matching blue side chair remains, and it too is scheduled for replacement. Such is the way things go. Countless people have come and gone, families and patients, doctors and nurses and hospital staff. All things eventually get replaced.
Few people notice the furniture. Their minds are on other more important matters. Samuel Hampshire, a graphic designer, was one of the few who did. His wife had given birth to twins. One was home and healthy; the other in the unit. He had a hard time containing his fears; he chose instead to focus on details of the lounge.
The unit can scare people; lots of intimidating machines surround these tiny babies. The sights and sounds of the beeping monitors charting heartbeats, blood pressure, oxygen levels and more can be off-putting. Add to that images of tiny preemie babies in isolettes, often restrained, intubated, and taped up with intravenous leads, and it can be a strain for the faint-hearted. Beyond surface fears, though, it's the land of truly modern miracles, where high tech often saves lives that years ago would have been lost.
While a loveseat implies love, that commodity wasn't always in ready abundance. Some neo-natologists are technical wizards who lack the graces of good bedside manner. And heartless, stupid people can be encountered anywhere. When John Fenster, father of twin preemies, was told by one nurse "not to worry, even if one dies, you'd still have the other," he was livid. Thankfully, such occurrences were exceptions, not the rule.
For the most part it was a good twelve years, situated outside where medical progress made rapid advances. The lounge saw plenty of scenes charged with copious amounts of love and generosity. Strangers often bonded, drawn together by the common trauma of this NICU experience, exchanging confidences borne of hope and shared desperation. The blue loveseat has spent years positioned across from the television, which hangs from the ceiling via industrial contraption. Due to the highly charged emotional atmosphere, most nights it remains off. Family members would rather wait quietly in the lounge, awaiting news from inside. It's been more than a place to sit; it is a place of solace and refuge, a blue-cushioned haven for waiting, sleeping, praying, and dreaming.
And now, like any dream, it ends with a new morning. Some donated funds have been assigned to furniture; a new-fangled loveseat will begin its reign. Rumor is the new color-scheme is beige. Adam Sinclair, hospital maintenance man, knows it will be easy on the psyche, but not as forgiving with stains. He and two fellow workers lift the old loveseat out of the lounge and carefully carry it through the halls into the freight elevator. In a few minutes, it is carried out the lower level doors and deposited into a waiting dumpster.
It looks strange upended like that, its cushions removed and thrown to the side, an ignoble end to a long life of dedicated service. But you can't prevent the world's natural progression. Before it was a navy-blue loveseat, now it's just blue.
When not writing fiction, Gary Glauber is a music journalist for both PopMatters.com and Fufkin.com. Recent short stories have appeared in The Glut, Mocha Memoirs, Pindeldyboz, Insolent Rudder, Word Riot, Eyeshot, Smokelong Quarterly, Fossil Record, Cenotaph, Ululation and Megaera. He may or may not be hard at work on a novel. Contact Gary.
Gary Glauber - Copyright 2004