He’s in the silver compact again, parallel-parked beside the hospital. Eating cold cuts on floppy bread. There’s a newspaper spread across the steering wheel, but he never reads it. His jaw is working, working like everything in life’s a job—even his sandwich. I walk my dog here each night to relieve himself because there’s no exit on this side of the hospital, no doorman or shopkeeper to give me the evil eye just because my dog has needs too. Max knows the routine. He holds it all the way from Second Avenue and then easy-does-it by the silver car.

The man in the car is the kind of old when each day takes a big toll. The aging process goes express train this close to the final stop. It took my dad seventy-three days from diagnosis, with one unexpected bonus stop at Coney Island. Wheelchair thumping down the boardwalk. Clams on the half shell.

I first noticed the old man on New Year’s Eve. I felt sorry for him—hunched over gritty headlines while the big, glittery ball was about to drop downtown. I count the days since January first. I count out loud, right in front of the old man. He never notices. Night after night his gaze is an empty room. February comes and I count to thirty. Then forty. Forty-one. I’m forty-one. Still living in my post-college studio apartment. I recently replaced the oven and made room for two new orchids though. I named the plants Oscar and Larue. I give silver-car man a name too—Fred, because my dad was Ted, and they have a lot in common. Gravity carved the same ruts in their cheeks.

I think about Fred, not just when I’m out with Max, but when I’m at my cubicle too. I wonder who he’s waiting for inside the hospital. His diabetic wife? His daughter with multiple myeloma? I Google health conditions requiring long hospital stays. I look forward to seeing Fred each night and dread the day he’s gone. What will I do then?

On Sunday, I move Larue closer to my bed. I roast a chicken in my new oven, shred the breast meat with my fingers and toss the carcass in a pot of boiling water with onions and celery. In the evening, I remove the bones.

I’m not sure how to knock on the car window without startling Fred, so I just startle him. Not enough to give him a heart attack. He fumbles with buttons in his armrest and opens the window. A crack.

“I brought you a gift.”

“Do I know you?”

Fred closes the window and looks down at his headlines. The passenger door isn’t locked, so I climb in. Max jumps on my lap. He’s big for laps, but we make it work. The smell of thyme overwhelms the tight space; maybe I used too much.

“What’re you doing?” Fred shouts. “Get that thing out! I’m allergic.”

I hadn’t imagined Fred’s voice so robust. Still seated, I open the door, set Max on the curb, and shut it again. I grip the leash—half-in the car, half-out.

“It’s cold, but I never see you eat a hot meal.”

“You got the wrong guy, lady.”

“Fred, I’m Maggie.”

I extend my hand, but he doesn’t take it, which surprises me. I’d pictured him being painstakingly polite. My dad kept a freshly ironed handkerchief in his pocket; he always looked for reasons to offer it up. A sneeze. A daughter’s heartbreak.

“Fred? I’m Joseph.”

“Could’ve sworn you’d be Fred. It’s OK though. Joseph works.”

Not-Fred looks confused. Max barks, and I soothe him through the crack in the door.

“I made you soup,” I say.

“But I don’t like soup.”

A Metro North train passes under us. I notice the vibration before the sound. The noise seems almost vestigial. An appendix noise. When they removed my appendix last fall, I asked Miranda from the office to pick me up. She had another commitment, but my taxi driver avoided every pothole, which was probably better than a hand to hold. I pass Not-Fred the bag with the thermos, spoon, and wet naps.

“Chicken soup helps sick people get better faster.”

“Chicken, huh? I hate chicken soup.” He returns the bag. “Maybe if it was tomato… or mushroom.”

“You need nourishment. You need to stay strong for your wife in there.”

“In where?”

I point at the hospital.

“I’m just waiting for my shift.” He nods toward the fancy building with arched windows across the street. “I’m a doorman.”

“You’re not here for dialysis?”

He shakes his head.


“God, no.”

My eyes heat up. They sting and suddenly I’m boiling over. I’m crying. Holding back sobs.

“Geez,” Not-Fred says, handing me paper napkins from the center console. The brown, recycled kind. “Don’t cry. I’m sorry I’m not on chemo.”

Wind gusts through the car and I notice air bubbles in my ventricles—in my heart and maybe my brain too. I open the thermos and gulp even though it burns my tongue. Not-Fred sits quietly beside me while I slurp. There’s a sudden bang on the window, and we both jump. Soup spills all over me.

“You can’t leave your dog out here,” a woman in a fur coat yells. “It’s below freezing!”

Not-Fred holds the door for me as I get out. He’s good at his job—reassuring, with a firm hand. I thank him for the napkins, thank the woman for caring about my dog. I try not to get tears on his hand, soup on her fur. I fight the urge, the thumping urge, to hug her, to kiss Not-Fred’s rutty cheek.

The hospital entrance is automatic; the glass opens for Max and me, just like a subway car. Broth drips onto the linoleum as I tell the nurse it’s serious inside my ventricles. They’re bare, I say.

Maureen Langloss is a lawyer-turned-writer living in New York City. She serves as the Flash Fiction Editor at Split Lip Magazine. Her writing has appeared in CHEAP POP, Gulf Coast, New Delta Review, Sonora Review, Wigleaf, and elsewhere. Find her online at maureenlangloss.com or on Twitter @maureenlangloss.

© 2018 Maureen Langloss. Published by LITTLE FICTION | BIG TRUTHS, November 2018.

Images from The Noun Project (credits: sahua d).


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by Maureen Langloss
The Vibration
before the sound