The two women sat at the end of a long hallway complaining about sitting at the end of a long hallway.
“I can’t hear them when they call us,” the one in a cable-knit sweater said to the other. “I don’t know why the waiting room has to be so long, anyway.”
“And, good lord, do they ever keep the AC turned up way too high!” said the woman with a slate-colored shawl draped over her bare shoulders. “You want to sit there in the draft under the vents, fine by me. I’m staying here.”
“No,” the first woman muttered. “This is better, I agree.”
To their left stretched rows of sling chairs, arm to arm like soldiers awaiting inspection. Down the white, sun-drenched hall, five other people waited with their faces tilted toward their smartphones. Six or seven chairs between each silent visitor assured privacy. The guests stirred only when a nurse in periwinkle medical scrubs and carrying a clipboard emerged from the far end of the hall to announce a name three times. Two people looked up. She left before anyone responded.
The second woman kept adjusting her shawl. While doing this, she discovered a second complaint.
“But whoever heard of a waiting room without a TV?” she said toward a point on the wall where she presumed one should be. “This one could have two or three.”
“Mmm,” her friend replied. “CNN or something.”
“Uh, gawd, no.” The woman in the shawl crimped her nose as if she had tasted sour milk. “I’ve tried, but I can’t watch CNN anymore.”
“Why? What is it?”
“Oh, you know, I’ll watch for like five, ten minutes, but it’s just so darn depressing.”
“… Mmm, yes, I know what you mean.”
The sweater woman picked at her sweater. The shawl woman removed and replaced her shawl.
“Price Is Right!” the sweater woman announced.
“Or Today. Or Kelly. Or whatever, yes. Just something not so, oh you know, not so depressing …”
“… But with Bob Barker instead, you know, ‘cause he was much better, much better. ‘Price’ was better then, I think.”
“Yes, it was. Or Ellen. I really like Ellen.”
“Yes, yes …”
“… But if CNN’s on somewhere, you know, I’ll watch that. I’ll watch the crawl, anyway. For a little while …”
“… If it’s on, it’s on.”
The clipboard woman re-emerged and announced another name, half of which disappeared beneath a whoosh of air as the cooling system restarted. She left without looking up from the board.
“Did you hear that?” the sweater woman asked.
“Nope. Wasn’t us. They’ll come down here and get us if they really want us.”
More picking at the sweater. More sliding and adjusting of the shawl.
“Now, if I’m at the airport, I’ll watch the CNN they have on the TVs there.”
“Yes, me too. But that’s all they have on there.”
“That or The Weather Channel …”
“… Uh huh …”
“… But it’s all travel stories on CNN, places you should go or see. I saw one on France and the places you should go for good wine. Now, that was a good story.”
“Yes. I like those.”
“The rest is all so depressing. Bad news after bad news.”
“It’s all bad news.”
“I’m telling you.”
A second nurse in identical scrubs came around a corner by the women. She whispered to them, they acknowledged the same way in the affirmative, then they resumed staring at the spot where they believed a TV should be on the wall.
“But, you know, news is news. It’s all bad anyway. They wouldn’t say anything if it wasn’t.”
“News is news. Maybe. I’m not sure if it’s all news …”
“… Mmm …”
“… I mean, how can all those things be going on at the same time, all those awful things? I just get sick and tired of it.”
“Well, it’s CNN. They’ve been around forever. It’s what they do, they find the news. You remember the way CNN was? Everybody watched it. You just kind of had it on at home.”
“Yeah, I remember.”
“Remember John Lennon? That’s where I heard about John Lennon. And Princess Di?”
“Yeah, Princess Di. I do remember that. So sad, so sad. But now you hear stuff like that everywhere all the time – Marnie telling me things she sees on Facebook before you ever see them on TV, on CNN …”
“… Yes, yes. Everywhere. Everywhere …”
“… And I can’t keep up, you know. It’s just too much.”
“Uh huh. Un huh.”
“But, you know, if it’s on I’ll watch. If there’s, like, nothing else.”
“Yes, mmm. Yes. Me, too.”
The second nurse returned to bend and whisper to the women who rose and reached to collect their handbags. The shawl slipped off the second woman’s shoulders and into the open mouth of her bag, then the women followed the nurse around the corner.
As the sweater woman went out of view, I heard her ask:
“Excuse me, but is there a reason you don’t have a TV in this place?”