The blood seems to have stopped, but Bette is not curious enough to unfurl the scarf she has tied around her hand. The knife had landed in the tender grove between in her thumb and index finger, and the blade had gone right through to her palm. She must have been stabbing with some serious force. Remembering how much she had been looking forward to a nice cup of Earl Grey and the newest episode of Mad Men, she realized that she might have forgotten to turn the burner off. These are things she wouldn’t have to think about if she had a partner. She could just call home and tell her housemate to check. In fact, this person would have driven Bette here to the ER, and she wouldn’t have had to steer the wheel with her left hand, almost ramming into a produce truck on the way. As though sensing her self-pity and worry, the woman next to Bette scoots her chair closer and leans in, whispers, “I’ve been here before.”
Bette nodded, thinking, if she left the burner on, it will probably just burn out, right? It is an electric stove, after all. It’s not like an electric fire is that easy to start. Right? Bette turns to the woman. “I’m sorry to hear that. This is not a good place to be.”
The woman looks down at Bette’s lap and recoils at the sight of blood. She begins shaking her head vigorously and scooting back, beyond where her chair had originally been, not stopping until she is pressed up against the pale green walls of the waiting room. “I don’t like blood,” she explains. “I don’t like it at all. Blood should be inside the body. Blood should be private.”
Bette shrugs, explains, “It was an accident.” The woman has long, light brown hair and big, hazel eyes like Bette’s mother’s had been. She’d be pretty if something in her mind wasn’t twisting her face into asymmetrical shapes. She’d be beautiful, in fact. Perhaps she used to be.
“My friend is going to be here soon,” the woman says.
“Hmn. I’m Bette, by the way,” Bette says, nodding in lieu of a handshake.
“Joy. Like the dish washing liquid. Like the feeling.”
“Good to meet you, Joy.”
“I’m sorry you’re bleeding,” Joy says. “That must hurt.”
“It’s not pleasant.”
“No, not pleasant.” There was a long silence in which Joy began making shapes with her hands again. Bette was about to ask her what animal that was when Joy squeals. “Look, Bette, there’s my friend.” Joy points her finger and stands. She gives a little hop and then sits back down, allowing her knee to bounce feverishly. Joy is wearing a summer dress under a heavy, fur-lined coat, with grey tights and slip-on shoes. She has a nice figure, and from a silent distance, Bette thinks, it would be easy to mistake Joy for an over-zealous fashionista. A woman with too much time and money on her hands to be satisfied by jeans and heels. Bette followed the finger’s line to a handsome man in a heavy wool coat. He stomped the snow off his boots and smiled in their direction. Bette smiled back.
“Time to go home,” he says in a gentle, annoyed tone, extending his hand to Joy. “You had your mother incredibly worried.”
“I live with my mother,” Joy says to Bette. Bette nods, meeting eyes with the handsome young man who was lifting Joy up to standing. “I live with Roger, too. He’s my friend.”
Roger shrugs. “We are friends,” he says to Bette, “and my friend here always runs away to sit in the waiting room, where she engages nice people like yourself in long, unwelcome discussions. I’m surprised they haven’t had her arrested yet. She’s here so often. I am sorry if she bothered you. You don’t appear to be too comfortable to begin with.” He says this as he glances down at the blood-stained scarf wrapped around Bette’s right hand.
“Joy didn't bother me. She was good company.”
“That’s why I come here. I’m good company,” Joy says, tugging at Roger’s coat. He smiles warmly and leads Joy away. Bette watches, wondering if she should call her landlord about the oven. She is holding her throbbing hand when her name is called, and just as she turns to leave, she hears a knock at the window by the door. It’s Joy, blowing kisses, waving; Roger shrugging, waving, too. Joy had come to the waiting room, just to be with Bette, just to offer someone company, distraction; perhaps to tell a stranger that she was never wholly alone. As Bette is ushered back to a hospital room, she remembers how she had stood over the stove, wondering whether she should call an ambulance or drive herself. How she turned the dial and watched the red coil fade to black as she decided she didn’t need any help. LS