People in the Emergency Waiting Room

Last week I had to take a friend to the emergency room at Howard County General Hospital in Columbia. We were in the waiting room fourteen hours before she was admitted. I had ample opportunity to observe other waiting patients.

They were from all facets of American society except for the rich—I saw no obviously wealthy people but plenty of poor ones. Most looked very ordinary, but two stood out from the others.

One was a woman who talked on her cell phone in a loud voice for literally hours on end. She spoke constantly, not allowing her communicant on the other end time to speak. She discussed intimate details of herself, her family, and friends, sexual relations, and troublesome children. People kept looking at her, but she was so wrapped up in explaining her private affairs that she didn’t seem to notice.

The other was a young man with a damaged face, no shirt, and pants that kept sliding down his hips to reveal his navel and his underwear. He was with a woman who acted as though she was genuinely angry with him. He talked frequently on his cell phone in Spanish interspersed with the English “Okay” and “Now listen to me.” My guess was that he had been in a fight.

My fiction muse went to work on these and others. I imagined what had happened to them, what might have occurred to lead up to the event that put them in the emergency room, and what would happen after they were treated. Turns out the arresting moment that leads to one of my stories doesn’t have to be from my own history. It can come from others.

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