There will be a pop quiz at the end.  Fair warning.

You have an appointment at a clinic.  The entry door opens into the middle of a rectangular waiting area with a center aisle dividing it into two squares.  Chairs ring the outer wall of each square.  Amid each square, chairs are set up in back to back rows as if a rousing game of musical chairs is about to begin.  It isn’t.  You’re at a heart clinic.

You know from the hideous, stained chair upholstery that whoever set up the design had no taste, but a wicked sense of humor.  On the far right, a flat-screen TV is turned to FOX news.  On the left, CNN. That should really be MSNBC to make it a fairer choice, but you’re sick of politics anyway, so you choose one of the chairs against the front wall of the building, near the door where you entered.

Directly under the wall-mounted CNN TV is a sofa, facing toward the front door.  You see two children, a boy who is perhaps five and a girl you’d guess to be three.  Beside them on the sofa is a clutter of fast food wrappers and two kids’ meal bags from an unknown fast food place and at the end of the couch, a woman of indeterminate age.  She has waist-length hair and is wearing a white blouse tucked into a long gathered black skirt.  She’s somewhat overweight and looks pale and puffy, as if the Pillsbury Dough Boy’s genes dominated in a liaison with Betty Crocker.  Perhaps she’s in a religious organization or even a cult?

Your entry was evidently a cue for the children to jump up for a rousing parade.  They grab their drinks and start running in a circle, laughing and shouting.   When they sail past you, you note that the girl’s bottle and the boy’s sippy cup are filled with chocolate milk.  On their second fly-by, you see that some of the boy’s teeth are black with decay.

They race back to the sofa, drop their drinks, and pick up…OMG… WHISTLES!  (You want the name of that fast food company so you can send your first hate letter.)  So, you have two whistle-blowing kids running in circles around the musical chair setup.  Two elderly patients in wheelchairs are at the end of the rows, so they get extra long blasts as the children run within inches of their heads.

You wonder if the staff is deaf.  Again, it’s a HEART CLINIC.

The woman, you aren’t even sure it’s their momma, calls out in a monotone voice, “You need to blow those whistles outside.  You might bother someone in here.”

Two problems.  They’re preschoolers.  “Outside” is a parking lot and it’s over 100 degrees.     Is she going to send them out into traffic or go out with them?

Neither.  They continue running and blowing on the whistles.

You realize that all FOX watchers probably aren’t armed because all they can shoot is dirty looks.  The woman looks unfazed.  UNTIL, that is, she picks up a man’s leather belt she has beside her and folds it into quarters.  The next time they run by, she says, in the same monotone, “I brought the belt.” 

They ignore her and continue their game.  The next time they pass her, she pops them–not at all hard–on their bottoms as they run past, but promises, “I’m going to whip you with the belt when we get to the car.”  

Okay, you decide, she’s probably their mother, but she sure as heck isn’t mother of the year.  The children are bratty, but what kind of life do they have with a mother who not only thinks it’s acceptable to hit them with a belt, but so relaxed about it that she carries it around in public as her weapon of choice.

Here’s my question: I’m just curious here. . . what will you do?  Anything you can do?   You find yourself so unnerved for a while, you can’t even remember why you’re there.

That’s the bonus question:  Why are you there?

You’re there for a Stress Test.