Three days past Christmas, the hospital walls are still
decorated with holiday cheer—snowflakes, reindeer,
a wreath with a crumpled candy bar wrapper

stuffed into the artificial evergreen. Torn magazines,
empty cups, and old newspapers litter the tables.
The TV is tuned to the weather channel, sound muted.

A wilting silver get-well balloon sways in the corner,
its pink ribbon snaking curlicues across the floor. It bobs
like a welcoming committee when anyone passes by.

We sit in orange plastic chairs counting linoleum squares—
seventeen across, twenty-one up and down, all of them
white with black swirls except one gray replacement

near the vending machine. We count fluorescent flickers,
trying to time them, see if there’s a pattern. Long, short, short.
We count the PA announcements and ping of elevator doors.

We count slats in the dirty white window blinds. There are nineteen.
Two are bent on the right. One dips in the middle. We count
what we’d give up—everything—to hear the word benign.

Victoria Melekian lives in Carlsbad, California. Her stories and poems have been published in Mudfish, Literary Orphans, Atlanta Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, Word Riot, and other anthologies. She’s been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and was a runner-up in the 2018 Bath Flash Fiction Novella-in-Flash Award. Her story “What I Don’t Tell Him” aired on NPR. She’s twice won a San Diego Book Award. For more, visit

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1 Response to Counting

  1. chrisatack says:

    Ouch. Felt that ending!

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