I Didn’t Hear Your Mom Call “UNO” (Mike Prask)

There’s a whole family around the big table in this hospital’s lounge area. They have an UNO game going, and I’m out-and-out spying on the proceedings. They’re funny, the only people here who stay longer than it takes to get a snack and get out. Their teenage son frowns up at me, then eyes back to his cards. I pretend I’m looking out the window at the few boats idling around Lake Michigan.

My daughter is down the hall, recovering from surgery to straighten her spine. Her veins are marinating in drugs that make her sleep, hopefully keep away the pain. I sneak out to fill my giant cup with ice more than I probably need to. We were supposed to go home tomorrow, but days have been added to days. An infection has snuck into her body and she’s fighting fever. Maybe they need to sew the next kid up quicker. I’m not sure if they thought of that. I’m too tired to ask, too tired to yell — the one place she shouldn’t get an infection is the fucking hospital

My wife and I trade four-day shifts with Zoe, an underwhelming vacation from work, from our other three kids. Friends text to ask about Zoe. Ask how tired I am. I am. Enough to doubt I could decode a deck of multicolored, numbered cards. This is the third time I’ve happened upon the UNO game. Just standing nearby may not be enough to warrant an invite.

I look around the table: two kids younger than the teen who glared at me, plus the father, who doesn’t even put down his cards when he wipes the edges of his moustache. The woman is maybe ten years older than me — his mother? She sits next to the oldest child, who’s the reason they’re here. 

They (boy or girl) are sardined with blankets into a wheelchair, bandages about their head and fluids pumping into their arm from a rolling rack. The woman, every few minutes, pats the untethered, IV-less arm. I tell myself Zoe doesn’t look that infirm, that much unlike herself, but I’m starting to feel I’ve been here too long to distinguish.

I turn back to refill my giant cup with that beautiful hospital ice, when I hear multiple hands slap the table.

“You didn’t win,” I hear.

“You didn’t say ‘UNO’!” More slapping sounds. I turn around. They’re all looking at the grandma.

“I won. The bunch of you,” the woman says, “can seriously fuck off.” She only mouths ‘fuck’ and doesn’t say it out loud.

It goes quiet. They’re all looking at me, suddenly wanting me to witness, to be a part, eyebrows raised here and there.

“She never said ‘UNO’,” I narc. The grandmother rolls her eyes and gathers the discards. She looks at me, motions over to the door with her eyes. She doesn’t mouth more obscenities my way, and I escape, hoping everyone goes home before we see each other again. But I look at my daughter and theirs and wish beyond a wish I could say when that would be.


Mike Prask lives, works, and writes in the suburbs north of Chicago. He can be found on Twitter at @whateverprask and has a previous publication at @havehadhavehad. 


image: MM Kaufman