Transits by Andi Beierman

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looking through window and counter of a cafeteria kitchen with bussed plates, cups and items in view; modern, sterile kitchen design

I realize I am middle-aged when I meet Destiny. She wears silver eyeshadow and has acrylic turquoise nails that click when she drums her fingers on the counter. We’ve only known each other a few days but I’ve yet to see her without full makeup and an elaborate updo. She has a look that says any night could be a Friday night. And tonight is, in fact, a Friday night.

“Do you want to add chips and a drink?” she asks.

I suspect she knows the answer – Doritos and coffee – because it’s what I’ve added to my order every night she’s worked this week. Still, I appreciate her asking. It’s nice to pretend that I have agency over something, even if it’s funneling empty calories into my empty stomach.

“Yes, and a cookie, too,” I say. “White chocolate macadamia nut, please.”

Destiny uses silver tongs to pinch a gnarled cookie from the case by the register. She slides it into a paper sleeve with a logo that reads Subway Eat Fresh.

Not long ago I’d deemed this food inedible, but that was back in my old life, which was when? Monday? No. That can’t be right. Eons have passed since then. Entire star systems have formed and imploded.

I turn and glimpse my reflection in the glass partition separating the sandwich toppings from the customers. Limp, greasy hair and purple hollows for eyes. Cracked lips and blotchy skin from dozing upright all night.

Behind me, a Hispanic family eats in silence. Their expressions are glum, their eyes fixed in thousand-yard stares. The only sounds are the hum of the soft drink machine, the crinkle of paper wrappers, the scuff of chairs against the freshly mopped floor. A cough.

I understand their reticence. We’re here by circumstance, not choice. This is the only place in the hospital that serves food 24 hours. I’ve learned that if you’re here near midnight, which we are, it’s because your night is not going well. Or your days, either.

Four floors up, my sister-in-law, Karla, is dying in the ICU. There is no hope, though we cling to any sign of improvement. Her color looks better. Her kidney function is up. She opened her eyes. But it means nothing in the face of liver failure. Heart damage. Lungs drowning in fluid.

Machines are breathing for her and tubes are draining her. Consciousness is a flicker. And all we can do is wait.

The only respite from the relentless uncertainty comes here at Subway, with Destiny. She is the de facto conductor at this way station for the waylaid.

Her ongoing updates about the slow credit card machine are a distraction I’ve been indulging in all week.

“This machine is worn out so it takes for-ev-er,” she says, shaking her head every time I pay.

It’s a simple problem with a simple solution. The manager has been called and eventually he’s going to come fix it. I marvel at this closed loop of cause and effect. The clear delineation of responsibility.

When I wasn’t looking, I became the person who is called to help fix things. The person who drives through the night to sit watch at sickbeds. The person who deciphers intake forms, bills, bank accounts, last wishes.

Four months ago, right after I turned 40, I was called to help make end-of-life decisions for my mother-in-law. Now it’s Karla. And a year from now, it will be my mother, though I don’t know this yet.

All I know is I have no business trying to fix anything. When the doctor makes his rounds I fight the urge to pull him aside and confess. Look, I’m in over my head here. I have no idea what I’m doing.

“Do you want cream in your coffee?” Destiny asks.

I turn back around. “Oh…uh, yeah, please,” I say.

But what I really want is to grab Destiny by the apron and demand answers.

How the hell did I get here and how do I go back?

She sets a large Styrofoam cup in front of me and slides my debit card into the chip reader. Her nails rat-a-tat-tat against the counter while we wait.

“I don’t think this is ever gonna get fixed,” she sighs.

“I know,” I say.

Meet the Contributor

Andi Beierman in sungkassesAndi Beierman hails from New Mexico and resides in Austin, Texas. When she is not writing, reading, or wrangling cats, she is road tripping with her husband to remote desert towns.

Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Travis Wise

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