Peering over her teal, leather-upholstered desk, Dr. Meier’s secretary found her attentions flickering between the several stacks of paper in front of her – assorted patient files, an order confirmation for new waiting room chairs, late wedding RSVPs – and the doctor’s next appointment, [redacted], seated at the far end of their moderate office. Dr. Meier had implored her not to pay much mind to their patients outside of the expected professional courtesy. In her second week he had stood in the hallway clasping a mug of tea, observing her as she locked the door behind the last patient of the evening, “You know, some of them have enough trouble focusing on their own space, never mind feeling like somebody is focusing on it for them.”
But it was a struggle this week. The wedding was two Saturdays away and she had been at the end of her tether, organising the finishing details for the biggest one-off event she would probably ever organise. Unsurprisingly, Callum had been little help. “You’re better at these kinds of things,” he had said, smiling wryly and gently brushing his thumb against her cheek. Sure. Better. All this experience I have with organising a few hundred people into a room where they’ll silently judge us, the entrees, the seating arrangements, everything – both sides of our families whispering amongst themselves. She hadn’t said that to him, instead grasping his thumb with hers. The mood between them had been stressed, but she hadn’t been sure if that was the impending date or the natural tensions that arose in day-to-day living. Either way, she found her mind wandering more often these last few months.
[redacted] was a returning patient. He had a younger man’s frame, gaunt and thin, but the deep, bluish bags around his eyes and ever-reaching crow’s feet surrendered his years. He sat quietly, playing with his thumbs. Through his headphones, she could hear some garbled instruments – maybe a guitar? – but she didn’t recognise the song. She had made it a point of principle not to look too deeply into patient files, worried that her eyes might betray a sense of concern or sympathy when she called them into the doctor’s office. She wondered what he was there to discuss and dissect. Most times [redacted] wouldn’t say much outside of hello, thank you, goodbye. He had once asked if she knew when the next bus into the city might be, to which she apologised, explaining that she drove most days and couldn’t be sure. “Thanks anyway,” he nodded, producing a thin-lipped smile.
Callum had never been much for music. She knew he liked it, sure, but they had never spoken about it in any meaningful way. Sometimes when they were driving he would tap the steering wheel in time with a song on the radio, humming under his breath. But he didn’t own a pair of headphones, rarely used the speakers in the living room. In fact, she couldn’t recall any songs that weren’t chosen by her on a playlist she kept for listening around the house.
The phone rang, shrill and demanding. “You can send … [redacted] in now, Samantha … thank you” mumbled Dr. Meier, having just finished lunch and audibly chewing on the remnants of the sandwich she had ordered in. Normally, she would call out to patients alerting them to their appointment, but she felt a twinge of guilt at the idea of pulling [redacted] away from his music. Walking over from her desk he hardly shifted as she approached, still playing with his hands. Coughing softly, she touched a hand to his shoulder. As he looked up, she motioned to the doctor’s office, offering a hand outwards. Pursing his lips, he stood, mouthed a silent “thank you” and strolled towards the office, closing the door behind him.
Returning to her desk, Samantha stared at the sum of her day waiting unfinished in front of her, wondering what song [redacted] had been listening to that had demanded his attention before anything else in that moment.