Only one more year, and then he would be free. That was the only thought in Bob’s head as he pushed the button that would lower the van’s wheelchair lift. One more year, and he would have his English degree, and be a professor in a random enormous city where nobody knew his past. It would be the greatest achievement of Bob’s thirty years of life–much more impressive than hauling around senior citizens in a decrepit medical transport van.
Pushing his glasses up his nose, Bob walked around behind his current patient and pushed her wheelchair forward off the sidewalk so that it was settled onto the lift. With another press of the button, they were up level with the floor of the van and he was able to push her inside. “How are you today, Mrs. Torrence?”
Mrs. Torrence glared back at him silently, her beady eyes boring tiny holes through to Bob’s spine. She had never been a big talker. As a matter of fact, Bob wasn’t even sure she could talk. Bob was pretty sure that she hated him. Riding with her was almost like riding with a dead person, minus the smells that would go with the presence of a rotting body.
“I’m glad you’re well, Mrs. Torrence. I’m fine too, thank you so much for asking.” Bob rolled his eyes as he closed the door of the van, careful to turn his head so that she wouldn’t see his sarcastic gesture.
Slipping around the front of the van, Bob settled behind the steering wheel and turned his key in the ignition. The sounds of band music swelled throughout the car. Beating invisible drumsticks against the steering wheel in homage to his younger, drum-playing years, Bob turned over his shoulder and called into the backseat, “Is this music okay, Mrs. Torrence?”
Mrs. Torrence fixed her gaze dead ahead, saying nothing. Her eyes slipped shut.
Turning back towards the street, Bob flicked on the turn signal with one hand and steered with the other to merge into traffic. He knew Kenosha well, having lived there all of his life. The hospital was right down the street from the Walgreens that his younger sister managed–and in the back of his mind Bob entertained the thought of stopping to visit her while Mrs. Torrence was in her appointment. But that would be wrong. What if something happened, and Mrs. Torrence needed him? What if he had to run and get something for her? Besides, he wasn’t always so fond of his sister. Sometimes Bob felt like she acted superior to him, just because she had finished her college degree first. It wasn’t his fault that he hadn’t finished yet. He hadn’t realized until his Philosophy degree was almost complete that he really wanted to do English, and thus required extra time to finish. The English department had poached him away from the Philosophy department. Bob hadn’t realized how much he loved English until he was fully immersed in it.
Snapping his thoughts back to the present, Bob crossed two lanes of traffic to make a right turn onto Highway 50. This was a way better job than retail, that much was certain. He got paid more, and he didn’t really have to deal with as much drama. Sure, the senior citizens got cranky sometimes–but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the time when he had been working at a toy store and two mother’s got into a fight over the last ‘Tickle Me Elmo’. He much preferred the senior citizens to the crazy customers, hands down, one hundred percent. Most of the time, they were either friendly or they were just silent, like Mrs. Torrence.
Bob’s ideal job was to be in the field of English. As he drove down the road, keeping pace with the other cars, he pondered the time he had left in school again. One more year. The internship he was doing for the school’s online magazine was going to look great on his resume. It would probably be even better for him than the medical transportation gig, being in the right field and all. After driving people to appointments for five years, he could barely contain his excitement about moving into a new field.
Angling the van into a parking spot in the hospital’s lot, Bob shifted into park and pulled the key out of the ignition. “We’re here, Mrs. Torrence.”
There was no answer from the backseat. Bob realized that he really shouldn’t have been surprised. He walked around to the back and pulled the handle to guide the door open. Hopping up into the van, Bob called, “Time to get up, Mrs. Torrence.”
Her chin was resting against her chest; her eyes were closed. The look on her face was more peaceful than Bob had seen on her previously.
“Mrs. Torrence?” Bob reached out and gently shook her shoulder to rouse her. Mrs. Torrence’s head flopped to the side and then settled back against her chest. Unbuckling the seatbelt, Bob shook her shoulder again. This time, Mrs. Torrence fell forward in her wheelchair, now unrestrained by the security of the seatbelt. She didn’t wake up.
Bob took an uncertain step back from the wheelchair. Tentatively reaching for her slumped over form, he rested two fingers on her throat. When he couldn’t find a pulse, he held his hand under her nose to see if any breath was coming out. Nothing.
Mrs. Torrence was dead.