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Travis adjusts the flowers in the pale blue vase to be more aesthetically pleasing, knowing full well they’ll wilt from lack of water and soon die anyway. He doesn’t really care about flowers, but his sister said he should bring them; he’d be hard pressed not to follow her advice. He trudges through the doors that open automatically, not bothering to look at the flustered nurse at the help desk before making his way down the winding hallways to the room he’d visited too many times before.

The hospital smells like bleach, and he gulps the stale air. Passersby don’t give him so much as a glance, and in return he studies them carefully. A slender nurse with short red hair and stubby fingers changing the IV bag of an elderly man in a wheelchair, her wrinkled face smiling pleasantly at her patient. A fake smile, Travis knows. That man is dying, and half the hospital is glad to be rid of him. A tall, long haired man with a blue balloon and a gray stuffed toy bunny enters the room three doors down from Travis’ destination, and the happy squeal inside suggests the little girl is ecstatic to see her father and the gifts he’d brought. That small girl has been here as long as Travis can remember, and every time he sees her she’s hooked up to a new machine or being told about a new medicine she’s being put on. He shakes his head. Poor girl.

Travis stops at the door marked A73- William Turst. It’s closed. This door is never closed. He glances side to side, carefully but quickly searching his surroundings for any suspicious figures or strange occurrences, deciding after a brief moment that maybe it’s closed so the man inside can catch some peaceful sleep. He pushes it open, and latches it shut behind him. The pitiful white sheet is pulled closed around the bed, blocking off the bed from the rest of the room. Travis’ heart feels heavy, his breath catching on the lump in his throat. That curtain is never closed.

Travis had been in the hospital when patients had died. Typically, procedure mandates that they’re covered with a blanket, the curtain pulled closed around the body, and everyone is made to leave the room until the morgue arrives from downstairs to transport the body. He’d watched families be ushered from their loved ones side, weeping, sometimes screaming, that the doctors should have done something, anything. The doctors and staff typically apologize profusely, confessing there was nothing else they could have done, before leaving the grieving family to let someone else down with their poor excuse for medical treatment. If the patient dies when no one is visiting, the nurse is called to phone the family and give their condolences…

Travis swallows. He’d received no phone call, but all signs point to death. He presses his lips together as hard as he can, and braces himself for what he’ll see behind the curtain. His fingers gingerly graze the fabric, grip it, then yank it open more forcefully than he’d intended to. He stops breathing.

The monitors are blank, no life readings, no beeping, no dancing lines; the bedside tray, which normally holds an unopened container of pudding, a cell phone, and a notebook, is clean; the pristine white blankets cover an abandoned bed.

And Travis stands in the room alone, his soul shattering into a million pieces and his mind racing to come up with some explanation, any explanation. Nothing comes to his brain, but one quiet word tumbles off his lips.

“Dad?”

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