The Kmart parking lot was a good spot to take a nap. The strip mall was nearly dead aside for Kmart and a Dollar General store. A vacant, boarded up stucco facade showed a worn shadow from a removed Circuit City sign. The bus stop at the Kmart entrance got some activity. Guys listened to their iPhones and sang out loud to Kanye West. Young moms were stocked up on Huggies cradling their toddlers.
Usually Dr. Darren Schwartz’s naps happened once a month, but lately his visits to the nearly empty parking lot were more frequent. He scheduled his naps between 11 and 1:30, setting the alarm on his phone, reclining his BMW car seat and using his sports jacket as a blanket. It was quiet and he was far away from the hospital where he was CEO and Chief Medical Officer. No more meetings, colleagues, incessant beeping from EKG machines, board members, conferences, wife and teenage sons.
Sometimes at lunch Dr. Darren drove two more blocks to the Hooters for some chili and wings.
Meghan the Hooters waitress worked the bar. She had fake tits, bee-stung lips, and straw blonde hair. Dr. Darren once dated a nurse with fake tits. His hands felt like they were holding on to two tennis balls. Dr. Darren really did go to Hooters for the food and frankly, what was wrong with glancing at a set of twenty-year old legs in nude pantyhose or enjoying a hint of cleavage. A quick bite and a check on the scores from the suspended TVs helped Dr. Darren pretend that the afternoon of meetings was never going to happen.
Meghan never said much, she hustled in her tiny orange shorts, served fish tacos and beers to the guys. Once she showed Dr. Darren a prize she won for selling Mary Kay cosmetics.
“Aren’t they beautiful,” she cooed, swaying her shoulders side to side like a little kid while she placed a crystal vase filled with pink carnations on the bar. “I just made Team Leader for Mary Kay. Maybe your wife wants to host a party?”
Dr. Darren mentioned Meghan to his wife Lynn.
“Chicken wings and boobs do not go together,” Lynn was instantly annoyed over Hooters so broaching the idea of hosting a Mary Kay party was out of the question. Dr. Darren watched Lynn sigh and focus on emptying the dishwasher. Lynn hadn’t showered again, walked around wearing an inside out t-shirt and no bra. “What if someone sees you going into Hooters? You have an MD from Duke for crying out loud!”
“I am nearly 20 minutes from work and no one I know goes there.”
“You go there! You’re the CEO and a community leader!”
Lynn’s eyebrows furrowed. What was once a periodic look was now her daylong expression. “It’s just weird. Aren’t these enough?” Lynn lifted her shirt to expose her naked, middle aged breasts.
Dr. Darren looked away.
Lots of things about Lynn turned Dr. Darren off. Her loud swallowing, bad morning breath, and the white hairs waving from the side of her head each time she wore a ponytail were the top irritants.
Lynn was annoying, always having their twin boys do their homework on the kitchen breakfast bar forcing Dr. Darren to listen to their squabbling over trigonometry and world literature, interrupting his TV shows.
Her pork chops always came out dry, her meatloaf usually under cooked and she rarely forced their fifteen year old boys to eat anything other than chicken nuggets, hot dogs and Chef Boyardee.
Most recently, Lynn got a job at TJ Maxx in an attempt to kick start some kind of career. But what was supposed to be a part-time gig was encroaching on Dr. Darren’s time. He now had to leave work early to pick up the boys from practice or drop them off at school in the mornings. This added inconvenience on his schedule so she could make eleven bucks an hour was ridiculous.
Why couldn’t Lynn be like the other wives from the country club circuit? Dr. Darren’s good friend Dr. Peter’s wife played tennis, hosted a silent auction for the hospital’s pediatric’s department every December, smiled all the time and maintained her slim figure with Pilates and yoga. Other than selling overstocked dishware and clothes to Dr. Peter’s wife at TJ Maxx, Lynn didn’t do much else.
All Dr. Darren wanted was quiet and to have the house to himself. All the hullabaloo, fuss and aggravation silenced.
“Here’s your chili,” Meghan purred, placing the hot bowl in front of Dr. Darren. His phone buzzed in his pocket and Dr. Darren rummaged for it, glancing at the name of his Chief Operating Officer on the screen.
“What’s up Steve?”
“Are you on site? We have a big problem?”
“What is it,” asked Dr. Darren, the pit of his stomach quivering.
“Scaffolding buckled and collapsed on the Memorial Wing remodel. We got several injuries and one of them doesn’t look good.”
“I’ll be there in 20 minutes.”
Dr. Darren caught a glance at his reflection from the bar mirror. His face was paper white.
“Is the chili okay,” Meghan asked.
“I gotta go.”
Steve had his hard hat on, jogging toward Dr. Darren with Roger Godfrey, the hospital board president, and Barbara the Vice President for Institutional Advancement parading behind.
“How’d this happen?” asked Dr. Darren.
“Where the hell were you?” Roger barked.
“My car was at the mechanics,” Dr. Darren lied.
“The media’s here already asking questions,” Barbara warned, pointing to the roped off parameter barricading noisy hospital visitors and media crews.
Dr. Darren kicked in to public relations mode, “Barbara set up a 4 p.m. news conference at the main lobby area. Steve, have security close off this entire area and notify OSHA. Is the contractor and staff still around?”
“Yes,” confirmed Steve.
“Tell them to go home. Let’s get as many people out of the area as possible. Who is here from Emergency Response?”
“Bruce Katz from the fire department. He’s waiting for you in your office to debrief you. Legal is there as well.”
Dr. Darren pivoted toward the lobby entrance of the hospital, Roger the board chair on his heels.
“Darren, I’m not happy. How did this happen?”
“I’m hoping to get answers from Bruce.”
Dr. Darren debriefed the chair as best he could, trying to push out the memory of life before the accident: hot bowl of chili, Meghan and her ass, a little nap before an afternoon of never-ending meetings.
“This is our largest and most expensive capital project turned trauma scene! How do we fix this? What do we tell Maxwell Spencer the benefactor?”
They reached Dr. Darren’s corner office to be greeted by the fire chief. After exchanging handshakes they sat down.
“There is one fatality and four others badly injured. We found them trapped under the debris. All injured are employed by M & G General Contractors. The individual who died had been with the company for ten years,” explained Bruce.
“So is this the contractor’s fault?” Dr. Darren asked Carter Jensen from legal.
“From what I can tell, whoever was responsible for constructing the scaffolding is at fault and it looks like it was M & G. I will say the Emergency Room staff was exceptional,” Carter surmised.
“Who was the person who died,” Dr. Darren asked.
“Jeff Lancaster, 52 years old, father of two, wife is Donna. He lives in Enfield,” said Bruce.
“Has his family been notified?”
Roger continued to badger Dr. Darren with imaginary scenarios such as donors pulling their pledges, patients choosing the other hospital across town, contractors refusing to continue work due to poor work conditions.
“This is an important project for the city, from an economic standpoint as well as better serving our community. This was a freak accident. It is sad and upsetting, but it doesn’t change the fact that we are building a positive and necessary resource,” Dr. Darren was back from lunch ready to be CEO again.
Briefed on their talking points for the four o’clock press conference, Roger, Bruce and Carter exited. Dr. Darren looked down at his phone to see that Lynn never called that day. He plugged in her number to share with her all the drama from work and his call went straight to voice mail.
After the press conference Dr. Darren tried Lynn again only to get her voice mail.
“Hey, it’s Darren. Tough day. I guess I’ll see you at home.”
On the way home, Dr. Darren swung by Hooters for a quick drink. Meghan was done with her shift and a new girl, Becky waited on him. She was a brunette with Joan Jett spikes and Cruella DeVille eye lashes, real tits and made a nice vodka martini.
The suspended TV aired the press conference, Dr. Darren slouched when he saw himself on the screen. His forehead had grown more skin, his dyed black hair curled from humidity and he looked like Nixon in the 1960 presidential debate with Kennedy; shady with a five o’clock shadow.
“Is that you,” Becky asked, wiping down the counter.
“Yea, quite the day.”
“That poor family losing their father. I could cry.”
Just then the news popped up a photo of Jeffrey Lancaster with a woman and two boys around the age of Dr. Darren’s sons, probably freshman in high school. One second Jeff Lancaster’s installing new windows on a hospital and the next second he’s under a heap of metal. The TV made the accident site look like a giant pile of toothpicks. Darren checked his phone again and dialed Lynn, no response.
When Dr. Darren arrived to his stately brick colonial the house was dark. No lights were left on for Dr. Darren. Lynn’s car wasn’t in the garage either. No twin boys arguing or barreling down the stairs shouting “Yo Dad”. Everything was tidy, his shirts ironed and put away, boys’ beds made.
A Post It note stuck on the refrigerator, “Meatloaf in fridge, microwave for 2 minutes.”
The time was after 8 p.m. Where was Lynn and the boys? There should be a screaming match over Mandarin and Geometry. Dr. Darren paced around the quiet house, peered through the window sheers. He past the wall portrait of Lynn in her wedding gown, twenty years younger, hair billowing beneath her veil, bright eyes filled with anticipation.
Dr. Darren dialed Lynn again, still no answer.
He picked at the meatloaf and began to think like Roger, imagining pretend scenarios of Lynn and the boys twisted in a car crash or maybe she moved in with her sister, tired of Dr. Darren being bothered and disappointed by her daily.
Dr. Darren thought he heard the garage door open. He got up from his meatloaf and headed to the backdoor that lead to the garage. Ryan and Braeden climbed out of the SUV wearing their lacrosse uniforms, duffle bags slung over their shoulders filled with sports gear.
“Hey dad,” they cried in unison, slapping Dr. Darren on the back as they passed.
Lynn followed, her hair fell beyond her shoulders, she wore make up and she smiled.
“Sorry we’re late. Lacrosse practice. Did you remember?”
Dr. Darren’s heartbeat slowed, “I forgot. Why didn’t you answer your phone?”
“I forgot my car charger. Sorry about that.”
Dr. Darren blocked Lynn’s way into the house, her arms filled with groceries. His fingers traced her dark, long curl. “You look pretty,” he said.
“Yea you,” Dr. Darren gently jabbed her on the shoulder.
“Thanks,” Lynn walked around Dr. Darren, into the house and called out, “there are more groceries in the trunk if you want to bring them in. Dry pork chops for dinner tomorrow night!”
The boys’ heavy footsteps clomped above Dr. Darren’s head, he smiled, finally awake. The house was full and noisy.