Summary

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 591

The unnamed narrator resolutely refuses to abide by any and all of the bureaucratic and legal rules that apply on the death of a relative, in this instance the death of his wife. After his wife dies, he kisses her hands and leaves the hospital room. A nurse runs after...

(The entire section contains 591 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

The unnamed narrator resolutely refuses to abide by any and all of the bureaucratic and legal rules that apply on the death of a relative, in this instance the death of his wife. After his wife dies, he kisses her hands and leaves the hospital room. A nurse runs after him as he walks down the hall. When she asks what he wants done with his wife’s body, the widower suggests that they burn it or give it to science. The horrified nurse states that he will draw up the proper legal papers, but that this will take some time. The narrator says he does not have time and rushes out of the hospital and onto a bus. Laslo, a hospital security guard (the only character in the four-page story who has a name), is ordered to follow the bereaved husband onto the bus, even though he does not clearly understand what is transpiring. All the parties involved are hyperconsciously aware of what is and is not part of their jobs—that is, the legal obligations of their employment. The bureaucrats back at the hospital are only concerned with not being sued by the beleaguered husband and with disposing of the body.

As the doctors shift their duties to Laslo, Laslo tries to make the bus driver responsible for handing the narrator over to his authority. The bus driver clearly understands the heart of the legal dilemma: “In or out friend, but unless you can come up with some official authority to stop this bus, I got to finish my run.” A conversation ensues between Laslo and the hospital officials on a two-way radio as he attempts to explain what is taking place on the bus. His two-way radio is the intermediary between the bureaucrats back at the hospital and the heartbroken husband as they attempt to arrange an alternate location where he can sign the proper release forms so that the doctors may use parts of the dead woman’s body to help others continue living.

The narrator is so adamant about detaching himself from his dead wife that he begins to discard all of his personal belongings that she gave him or with which she is associated. First he throws his wristwatch out the window, then he disposes of his jacket, shirt, tie, pants, shoes and socks, so that he is left almost naked. He would have discarded his underwear, but he remembered that he had bought them the day before and his wife never had a chance to see or touch them.

The narrator finally speaks into the two-way radio to the doctors at the hospital and explains that he and his beloved wife spent too many years in this city, on these streets and bridges, perhaps even on the bus they are presently riding. He tries to uproot the seat on which they are sitting, until finally Laslo handcuffs him. The semi-hysterical man smashes his head through the window of the bus in a desperate attempt to blot out the horror of memory and consciousness. He ends up back at the same hospital and in the same examining room where his wife was treated before being transferred to a semi-private room. He refuses to sign the papers that give the hospital the right to use his wife’s organs for transplants, because he does not want to risk bumping into her and somehow recognizing them in another person. The doctor in charge finally takes his writing hand and guides it until he has signed the papers.

Illustration of PDF document

Download The Signing Study Guide

Subscribe Now
Next

Themes