“Come on.” Mya took the lead. She grabbed Nathan’s hand and only stopped briefly at the hospital map on the wall. She seemed to know where she was headed. This time they took the stairs down one flight and she pulled him through the authorized personnel only hallway to enter a different wing of the hospital. Nathan guessed where they were going, but he said nothing. They spent a long time looking through the glass at all of the babies, but she did not want to go inside. At last, Nathan thought they needed to change venues, so he asked as kindly as he could.
“Are you hungry?” Mya looked up at him with a forlorn expression that proposed never leave her face. It broke Nathan’s heart to see it. He realized that he missed the little girl smile that had meant so much to him and kept him steady, especially at first. Mya had accepted the truth before he did, and she kept him going. She kept him from thinking too hard about it all and maybe becoming morose. Little Mya had no morose in her until the subject of bumps and babies came up. Now, she was in danger of becoming hopelessly mired in her own sense of loss and what would never be, and Nathan desperately wanted to save her from that. She certainly deserved better than to be depressed forever. “I could go for some Italian right now. Do you like Italian food?”
Mya looked up at him with her tear streaked face and those big brown eyes with their sadness etched into the black depths. She said nothing, but she did not resist him when he took her hand and headed them toward the stairs. Nathan hoped there was food left in the hospital cafeteria since the time was getting on, but he would not have been surprised if it was all cleaned up and put away for the night. Hospitals, like grade schools, tended to run on a very strict schedule.
The cafeteria was located on level B-1, which was ground level at the back of the building. There was still some service, though only one worker behind the line who wiped a spill around the macaroni and cheese. A couple of men and a few women in white coats sat around a booth, talked quietly and nursed their coffee and tea, having pretty much finished eating. Nathan supposed they were doctors, nurses, or more likely attendants of some sort hanging out to get the full extent of their breaks. There were a few tables with dirty dishes, but the man behind the counter did not seem in any hurry to get out and clean them up. Instead, the man looked at the clock on the wall as if waiting for the right moment to close.
Nathan also looked. It was nearly eight-thirty, perhaps five or five and a-half hours since the accident. He brought Mya up to the line, but they quickly realized that they could not pick up the trays, plates or silverware. Their hands simply passed through the items, and while it was a bit of a shock at first, Mya spent the next few minutes passing her hands through all sorts of things; and she smiled at the sensation.
Nathan looked at the food. There was some spaghetti in a kind of dark brown crust that might have been an attempt at meat sauce. It was real thick spaghetti and it did not look too appetizing. Still, he would not have minded a taste, though to be honest, he was not hungry in the least.
“I don’t think we can eat anymore.” Mya put her hands right into the hot macaroni and cheese and swirling them around with no effect on the dish or her hands whatsoever. “But that’s okay, I wasn’t really hungry.”
“Me neither,” Nathan said, and he looked up to see a big man staring at the deserts. To his surprise, the big man turned and looked right at them and with a quick comparison to the attendant behind the counter, Nathan recognized that this was another ghost.
“I’m hungry,” the man said.
“You’re fat,” Mya said as she stepped up beside Nathan. She clicked her finger nails on the metal cafeteria rail a couple of times and Nathan thought she needed some chewing gum to complete the pre-teen picture. “You should go on a diet.”
“Screw you, kid,” the fat man said.
“That was very rude.” Nathan turned and scolded Mya. She looked up at him with some concern to be sure he still liked her. She knew she was being rude, only now, after being scolded, she felt she paid her penalty and so she did not feel like saying she was sorry.
The fat man looked down for a minute before he turned his eyes again to the deserts. “The doctor said it was the fat that killed me. What does he know? The quack.” He looked at them again before his eyes were drawn back to that last piece of chocolate cake. “I didn’t think it would be like this.” He seemed to need to confess. Nathan stayed to listen, so Mya stayed, too. “I used to eat everything and anything I wanted. Mom was a great cook, and there was always plenty of junk around the house, you know, cookies, chips, treats and frozen waffles. God, I can’t think about it.” He paused to take in a deep breath. “I didn’t think it would be like this.” He began again.
“I pretty much lived my life whatever the hell way I wanted. I didn’t let anyone tell me no. I lost a couple of jobs, but screw them. I screwed everyone I wanted and when I wasn’t screwing, I was eating. God there was this one restaurant that made… but forget it. I thought when I died, like it would not happen so quick. I thought I still had years left to live and I thought I would straighten things out some when I got older.” He looked at them again. “I didn’t have the time. It all went by so quick.” He looked again at the cake and reached for it only to have his hand pass right through. “I thought when I died all of these old habits would be taken away, you know?” He looked up one last time and asked. “Why are we still here?”
“Maybe so you can have one last chance to straighten things out,” Nathan suggested what he and Mya were both thinking.
“Maybe you need to let go of some things,” Mya said and reached for Nathan’s hand which he readily gave her.
The man merely nodded and then ignored them. His hunger had him once again.