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The Waiting Room by Emily Toliver

30 minutes. It was quiet. My palms were starting to sweat and now the pounding in my chest traveled to my ears. I could hear my anticipation. The U.S was the first to launch the program to examine the impact it would have on overpopulation and after seven months of trial runs it seemed to become a favored departure. At first, people were apprehensive, confused even. Wondering how this changed the way we viewed existence. Mortality. Now, it has become some sort of trend. I used to think it was bullshit. Just another way for the government to feed off the lives of others. Now I wait for my turn. This was bullshit.

The waiting room was silent. I was taken aback by how empty it was. Was I really the only person having the procedure at this time? Sundays were usually busy at the clinics, especially with those church types. Part of me wished there were more people around — just to get my mind off things. The sitting areas at these centers were never too big and always very stuffy. There were stacks of magazines filled with crappy articles written by loved ones of the departed by every chair. All stating how grateful they were for this program, how lucky we were to live in such a world. Plants that were in desperate need of water littered the area and dull posters thanking those who donated themselves to the cause covered the morbidly white walls. The lights were white too, a lot like the ones you’d see in hospitals. My theory was they made the clinics look like prisons so you wouldn’t go changing your mind. I mean, it was quite genius. Who would want to lose a patient over seeing what “more” life had to offer? I didn’t need any convincing though, my mind was made up. 28 more minutes. My knee was bouncing. I didn’t know why I was so nervous. I read everywhere that it was painless and instant.

“There’s water if you’d like," said the receptionist, peeking her head over the desk.

“I'm fine.” I hesitated a bit, a little shaken by the interruption. “Thanks." It was quiet again.

“My name’s Sydney," she said with a soft smile.

“Is it always this quiet here?” I questioned, still taken by how empty it was.

“No. It’s actually very rare to see the clinics so deserted. I’m sure you’ve seen the news. Sometimes the lines go on for miles, it’s insane.”

“Yeah,” I replied. I wished I could just go in and get it over with. 24 more minutes.

“I’d say you’re lucky though. When you asked if it was always this quiet. The majority of the time it’s completely silent. Even when the rooms are full. I just say you’re lucky cause I always figured it’d be nicer to have a more intimate send off.”

I was lucky. I hated congested places. “Aren’t you not supposed to talk to me?”

“Yes, I’m sorry. I’ll stop.”

Shit. Now I felt bad. It was quiet again. I thought the talking was bad but the silence was worse. My heart was still pounding and my foot was starting to fall asleep. I felt anxious. For the first time during this entire process I felt anxious.

“Have you been working here for long?” I asked, hoping she’d break that agonizing tranquility.

“No. I started not too long ago, it’ll be three weeks soon.” She paused; it was silent. “To be honest it isn’t easy. You know, watching people go in but never come out.”

I nodded.

“I don’t even get their names, you know. I’m one of the last people they’ll ever see and I don’t even know their names.”

It was true. During the first few weeks of assessments they gave out the names of patients but now everything was kept confidential. They feared attaching names to faces would make it feel too “real”--and it did. Doctors started forming slight bonds with patients, feeling bad for them too, many refusing to even carry out the assisted suicide. This led the officials to restrict all forms of communication when entering the clinics, and assigned number configurations distinctly made for each person that signed up. My number was 389712.



“My name. It’s Thea.”

A faint smile grew on Sydney's face but quickly sunk into remorse. I could see the growing pity in her eyes. Her face revealed further condolence as she stared at me, almost as if I were already gone.

“I had a neighbor named Sydney. She seemed nice; I never really spoke to her. She moved not too long ago. Her dad was one of the first people to donate himself to the cause. He even left a note saying he wanted to contribute to the “betterment of society”; said they’d put this in museums. It crushed her.”

“Is that why you’re here?”

“You really think it’s safe to ask me that?”

I looked at the clock--13 minutes.

“Might as well.”

I smiled, her solemn eagerness intrigued me. “Well, I can assure you it’s not for the betterment of society or museums if that’s what you’re asking.” She let out a light chuckle. I smiled again.

“Then why are you doing this?” she asked intensely.

I stared at her and for a moment I wondered the same. “It just feels like there’s no space left for me.” It got quiet again. “That’s all.”

“Can I say something?”

I slowly nodded. “Might as well.”

“I really don’t think this will make it any better. I think you’re just sinking yourself further into confinement, I mean — literally. I don’t think it’s any better down there than it is here, you know? I don’t know. I guess — I guess I just can’t wrap my head around this. This way of dying. I mean it isn’t even by your own hands — I just.” She stopped.

My heart felt like it was ready to burst out of my chest. “Why are you saying this?”

She looked at me “Because I never can.”

6 minutes. “I already signed the documents.”

“And what if you hadn’t?”

There was silence. I looked at the clock and then back at her. 4 minutes. “I don’t know. I’d leave? I don’t — I don’t know.”

“So leave.”

“I already signed the documents,” I said tensely.

“The reversal process is long but wouldn’t you rather do that than go through with this?”

My knee bounced frantically and my left eye started to twitch. She was right. “Haven’t they been declining most reversals?”

“Yes bu-

“So what makes me any different from the people they’ve already turned down?”

I was scared. Maybe I didn’t want this. This feeling had a way of preying on the most impulsive of thoughts. And, this program. It was never meant to help the people who actually followed through. Maybe I was wrong. But, it was already too late.

“Just walk out. They can’t stop you if you just leave. Go,” she said, almost whispering.

I sat for a minute and thought. It was quiet, but this time it wasn’t the same. I slowly stood up. My legs felt weak and numb. I walked towards the desk, wanting to say something before I left.


The sound of a door creaking rang through the waiting room. I froze.

“Patient #389712. It’s time.”

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1 Comment

Apr 01, 2023

This is freaking amazing!!! I genuinely hope this story will be continued. You hooked me PERFECTLY. Wonderful job!!!

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