Even in her illness, pale cheeks ruddy and eyes bright with fever, her thumbs steadily tapped on the glossy surface of her phone. He watched her intently and then marveled at the speed with which the screen changed from white (texting) to blue (more texting, this time with photos and a big thumbs up) to photos in some other application he didn’t understand. He saw a flash and her peaked, unsmiling face appear on the screen.
“Why do you put picture of yourself at hospital? No one want to see you like this,” he said.
“Why you want everyone to know you are sick? Why not take vacation from pictures?” Anton grumbled half to himself, half for her benefit.
“My friends will wonder if I’m okay.”
The nurse called her name and Klara stuffed her phone in the pocket of her puffy pink coat and stalked to the front desk. The nurse handed her a clipboard with a stack of paperwork and then gestured in Anton’s direction. Anton watched as Klara shook her head, her long chestnut hair streaked with yellow bleach streaks. Anton’s heart felt heavier every time his eyes took in the carnage she’d imposed on her beautiful locks and he looked away.
He knew what Klara was telling the nurse—that he could speak English, but his reading and writing ability were abysmal. It frustrated him to look at the words on a page and not make heads or tales of them, he the poet, the voracious reader in his own country, now unable to fill out a simple form for his sick daughter.
She returned to her seat and set to scribbling. He pulled out his own phone, waving it at her.
“I have to take this,” he announced. “It is the restaurant.” She stared as if to communicate that she did not care if it was the zoo, his calls were none of her concern.
Anton answered and spoke loudly to his assistant manager, explaining in Ukrainian that he was at the hospital with his lovely daughter, that she was very ill he was deeply worried, distraught in fact, so great was his concern for her well being. Alek would have to cover the restaurant for the remainder of the evening; there was no other option. He couldn’t afford to close the doors, even for a few hours.
Klara understood Ukrainian, this he knew; yet she gave no indication that she heard him. He raised his voice. Heads turned in his direction as his deep bass filled the room.
He scowled at her and walked into the vestibule, pulling his sock hat further over his ears against the chill. When he returned, Klara was speaking to the nurse. He picked up her clipboard from the seat of his chair and glanced at it. He still couldn’t make heads or tails of most of the lines, but he recognized his address and phone number. On the top line, however, his eyes froze. He felt something that he had carried with him all these years across oceans, through lean years in studio apartments, watching his life in Ukraine fade slowly away, he felt it fracture. A slice of it fell away as he stared at his daughter’s handwriting.