Carl’s been sitting in the waiting room for the past forty minutes, staring at the framed photograph on the opposite wall. The picture is of a man climbing a mountain, his back to the camera, his hand outstretched. Just out of the camera frame is another figure – all you can see is their hand, reaching down, towards the climber.
The two hands are so close they are almost touching, and Carl knows he’s been staring at the picture too long when he realises he’s waiting for them to make contact, to grasp hold of one another. The moment of supplication, the subsequent salvation from on high. That’s when he shakes himself, and reaches instead towards the magazine rack to rummage for something to read instead.
He settles for a well-worn edition of Men’s Health, although once he’s holding it in his hands, he finds himself reading the same paragraph three times over without retaining a word of it. The receptionist keeps staring at him suspiciously, so he feels obligated to keep up the semblance of normality, turning the pages, registering words but not their meanings. The toddler seated across from him has kicked off their shoes, burrowed under their chair and is refusing to emerge, despite their father’s entreaties.
He checks his watch again, and has just made up his mind to escape out the door, when a nurse comes by with a clipboard, and calls his name. He stands up and follows her down the maze of corridors.
He walks out, but he doesn’t walk far – sinking down heavily into the same leather couch.
He’s only been gone ten minutes.
Nothing’s changed – the magazine is still cast aside, just where he left it. The same clock is ticking on the same wall, the same frazzled father is still pleading with his toddler to put their shoes back on. The receptionist is still looking at him funny, but he can’t bring himself to care anymore. He knows she’s waiting for him to go to the counter, pay for the appointment, schedule his next one. And he will – in a minute, he will.
He’s staring at the photograph again. This whole time, he’d been assuming the hands were reaching out to grasp hold, but it suddenly strikes him that they could just as easily be letting go – a free-fall into infinity.