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In the Waiting Room

J O S H U A   J O N E S   L O F F L I N

They call him Mousie, but in a gentle, teasing way. It started with the residents, but soon the camp staff picked it up, all except Mr. Dirkson, Leda’s father. Before he lost the finger, he built houses with Mousie’s father. Now, he handles all the camp’s dentistry, working the Makita power drill well enough left-handed. It’s all about precision, he says and gives Mousie a curt nod of approval whenever he notices the crisp seams in Mousie’s trousers. Mousie’s uniform may be two sizes too big, but his father always said to do your best with what you got, no matter what.

You look smart, Bertrand, Mr. Dirkson says at shift’s end as he’s hanging up his spattered apron, and Mousie says thank you before shyly handing him the letter for Leda.

The residents sometimes whistle, say Mousie’s in love, and he supposes he is, the way he imagines marrying Leda once they’re old enough, though he’d be at the front by then. The residents say he ought to run off with her, hide out in the hills until everything blows over. They tell him this during the blackouts, when there’s barely any light bleeding through the waiting room’s meshed-over window and the residents have to lie prone with hands behind their heads. Sometimes the blackouts only last minutes before the lights flicker on and Mousie motions with his rifle for the residents to get back to their feet. Sometimes his voice cracks when he shouts at them, but the residents never make fun of him. By then, the music’s started, and from beyond the steel door comes the whine of Mr. Dirkson’s drill.

When the blackouts last longer—hours sometimes—the residents relax, maybe laugh when one of them passes gas. Mousie likes these moments best, and he tells them about Leda, about how beautiful she is, about how soft her lips are though he’s never actually kissed her. When you gonna give it to her, Mousie, they ask. Who says I haven’t, Mousie always replies. Then they tell dirty jokes or talk about lovers waiting for them when they get out, whenever that might be, or maybe talk about their wives, maybe weeping a bit there in the dark. They know Mousie doesn’t mind. He sometimes cries too.

Sometimes the residents go quiet in the darkness when they hear the thrumming buzz of a drone. Then they whisper back and forth, trying to determine by pitch and nearness whether it’s one of theirs or not, if it has a payload or is just armed with cameras. Mousie holds his breath and steps toward the window, looks to the sallow sky for a black speck, but he hasn’t seen one yet. Leda told him she saw one once. She thought it was a vulture arcing above the trees until she realized it was stock still, hovering, as if balanced on a finger. A finger of God, Leda whispered, and the way her mouth turned up to his, Mousie was sure she would kiss him, if only he hadn’t been so stupid and told her there was no god.

When the lights come on, he breathes again, tells the residents they can get back up. Then the camp’s speakers crackle to life with one of Mr. Dirkson’s CDs. Some symphony or other, something sad and German with plaintive strings that almost drown out the high-pitched scream of Mr. Dirkson’s drill, his patient’s mangled cries beneath that. The residents press their ears to their knobbled shoulders as if that might somehow help. But when the drill stops, it’s worse, and they shuffle to the far end of the waiting room, away from the steel door separating them from Mr. Dirkson’s office until Mousie tells them to knock it off, they’ll all have to see Mr. Dirkson eventually.

On the day the power goes off and doesn’t come back, not for hours, so long that Mousie has to relieve himself in the corner, has to apologize to the one resident he splashes, Mousie listens for the whine of drones. There’s a distant rumble of ordnance striking the eastern hills like thunder. God’s laughter, his father used to say when Mousie was a boy and they’d watch lightning dance across a jagged horizon. It seemed so far away then, when he was young. He thinks of Leda’s letter, crisply folded in his breast pocket, how it ends with how much she prays for him, that she’ll wait for him, that even if he runs, she knows God is watching. And he stares out the waiting room’s window into the steely evening light, into the flat folds of sky, until he finally sees the black speck hovering, turning. The eye of God, how it turns.

Joshua Jones Lofflin’s writing has appeared in The Best Microfiction, The Best Small Fictions, The Cincinnati Review, CRAFT, Fractured Lit, Moon City Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, and elsewhere. He lives in Maryland. Find him online at

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