Visiting Hours (500Words, Round 3, Day 1, 2/12/17)
The harsh neon lights reflected off the glossy paper of the magazine making the photo-shopped image of the young girl jump off the page. This was her fifth time through this magazine and she felt like she could have recited the ads and articles from memory if anyone asked.
“Do you have the code?”
Flipping past the first young girls in the magazine was easy. There were no similarities between that model and her daughter. No similarities that were visible, anyway. One of the benefits of flat images was their complete lack of personality and complexity. She could craft a back story for the magazine girls if she wanted to, or she could leave them empty.
“Fill out this form. Skip the lines that don’t apply.”
Focusing on the glossy images and the vapid articles was the best option in the room. Her other media choices were either the never-changing PowerPoint presentation extolling all the options available here in a seven-slide loop or the television tuned to HGTV, clearly the least potentially offensive channel.
“You need to put that away in your locker before going back. It’s not allowed inside.”
Media was the safe option. No one in here wanted to talk. Or rather, they wanted desperately to talk and to be heard and were too afraid to be the one to start. This room was full of pain and fear and secrets and wanting. The only comfortable people were behind the glass.
“Write your locker number here, in case you forget.”
She took a chance and looked over to the receptionist’s station as she flipped the page, sending the flat girl hiding until next time. She saw the confused man, working hard at figuring out what hoops he had to jump through to get access to someone he loved.
“They’ll come for you soon.”
Had she been that confused the first time? The routine was so, well, routine now. Walk in, find a locker, remove everything beyond your outfit and stuff it in the locker, set the passcode following the steps printed on the locker, go to the desk, fill out the form, trade the form for the sticker, sit down, avoid contact with the other waiters, and flip through the magazine until someone remembered to come get you. Over and over and over again.
“You need to put your sticker on.”
The man turned around, holding his sticker and obviously trying to simultaneously figure out where to sit and how he’d ended up here. She found herself looking directly at him, seeing the anxiety in his eyes. Not making eye contact had kept her safe and isolated so far, and now that protection was gone. She could see how much he was wearing his experience on his sleeve and wondered if she was doing the same. She glanced down at his sticker and saw that it was the same color as hers. She looked back into his eyes and, silently, gave him a nod with a sad smile of welcome.
* This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to people or events is strictly coincidental. *