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Afternoon Appointment

by

Virginia Walker


Neatly sandwiched between the crisp black lines of my calendar, I had carefully written afternoon appointment. I studied the words for a week. I followed the swollen curves of my careful cursive writing, the faint trailing pen line where I crossed the t's. They only made these appointments on Friday afternoons. That gave you the weekend to recover. That gave me a full week to see the words on my calendar. To be expecting. To know what the words meant. I didnít allow myself to think about it too much.

He gave me the envelope on Friday morning. We were at work. He met me in the little kitchen where everything was miniature. There was a tiny sink, a dwarfed microwave for heating up single cups of soup, a small coffee maker and half-size refrigerator. The room always held the bitter smell of an empty coffee pot left on a hot burner, caramelizing the glass pot with a tar like substance. We met by the petite refrigerator, out of view from the people walking to the copy room. He slipped me a white envelope that he had strategically folded to fit into his back pocket. I felt like we should be wearing long trench coats, dark glasses and hats pulled seductively over our eyes. I almost smiled at the absurdity of the secret transaction. Another secret.

The bills inside the envelope were warm from being trapped against his body, buried in the crisp white paper. I felt the heat of the money through the envelope, but did not count it. Our silence made the tiny refrigerator's hum deafening. He reached his hand up towards my arm, making a gesture to touch me. I guess he was trying to reassure me. As he reached for me, the overhead fluorescent lighting glimmered against the thick gold band that choked his finger. I turned to leave the kitchen. I didn't want him to touch me. I put the envelope in my pocket and went back to my desk.

Through out the morning, I unconsciously slipped my hand into my pocket and fingered the sharp edge of the envelope. After lunch, I packed up my desk. I carefully drew a line through the last entry on my calendar, afternoon appointment.

I was early for the appointment. The clinic's waiting room was spacious and bare. At the far end, there was a wall interrupted with a sliding window. The receptionist sat behind the glass, separated from the waiting. On a narrow ledge below the window rested a clipboard that had a pen tied to it with a piece of string. How many pens were stolen before they resorted to tying pens? I signed the name Mary on the next available line. I noticed there were lots of Mary's and Jane's signed in. First name only. The receptionist slid open the glass partition and grabbed the clipboard.

"Mary" she said it like a question and gave me a bored, knowing look. "We only accept cash."
I reached into my pocket and handed her the envelope, still warm from my body heat. Maybe still holding his body heat as well. She counted the bills in front of me and then told me to have a seat. The glass window abruptly slid shut. I sat in one of the mismatched plastic chairs that lined the walls. I discreetly studied the handful of other women in varying colored plastic chairs, slouched or leaning with their chins heavy in their hands. I allowed myself to be distracted by the others, the waiting. It was easy to lose myself in a game of concocting soap opera stories for the women. I was drawn to a woman in her forties with short, overly stylized brown hair that refused to move as her head subtly, yet convulsively twitched as she flipped through pages of an outdated Glamour magazine. Whenever she caught my eye, I quickly focused on the cheap framed print hanging slightly askew above her unmoving hair. She had a story. She was probably married. She probably has three teenage kids who take her for granted. I bet her husband traveled a lot. This was her midlife crisis. Just a phase.

"Mary."

"Mary."

"Mary?"

I jolted back to myself. Today, I was Mary. A faceless nurse called for me, her thick, dark hair shadowing her face as she looked down at the clipboard in her hands. I unpeeled myself from the plastic chair and followed the faceless nurse as she led me down a corridor to a large, open room. The room was windowless and the off-white walls displayed black scuffs like graffiti. In the middle of the worn linoleum floor, there was a large metal table with shiny stirrups that jutted towards the low ceiling. One wall was lined with cabinets and a waist high countertop that housed a steel sink. There was various medical paraphernalia throughout the room. A cardboard box of latex gloves with limp, empty fingers dangling from a torn hole. A scrawny IV stand draped in strands of clear tubing.

The nurse lifted her head towards me, her tangled hair parting to reveal her face. When she finally made eye contact, I saw the white tipped blemishes that dotted her cheekbones and forehead. She instructed me in an almost whisper with broken English and a heavy Spanish accent. "Take clothes off, waist down". There was a plastic, bright orange laundry basket on the floor for me to set my clothes in.

After partially undressing, I sat on the raised metal table, naked except for my t-shit. My bare ass cheeks were spread flat onto the cold metal. A piece of stiff paper "blanket" covered my naked lap. The nurse, who now I realized was years younger than myself, fumbled through various drawers and brought out thin, shining needles the length of my forearm. She carefully laid the needles onto a metal cart then and left the room, her white lab jacket whispering as it brushed against her body. Sitting on the large table, with the looming equipment surrounding me, I felt miniature, like the rotting, bitter coffee pot in the kitchenette. I studied the enormous needles neatly lined up on the cart, waiting.

The doctor came in with her assistant and she instructed me to lay me down. I saw the doctor and assistant's practiced motions and movements as if I were hovering in the corner of the room, watching someone else lying half naked on a metal table. The assistant, a plain woman, maybe in her thirties, placed my bare legs in icy metal stir-ups and systematically strapped my calves into the clamps. She glanced at me and smiled briefly, as if to reassure me that this was all normal. I had spied a large machine in the corner. It was a dull gray plastic barrel with tiny black wheels for feet. It looked like a shop vacuum, the kind you would use to clean out your car.

Laying flat on my back, legs upward in the metal stirrups, I squinted against the harsh fluorescent lights in the tray ceiling. I listened to the doctor instruct her assistant as they inserted metal rings into my body, up into my cervix, manually dilating my cervix. I clenched the paper blanket on my lap, accidentally tearing it. The doctor warned me of a pinch, and then the towering needles that the young nurse fumbled with previously were inside me and piercing my cervix with a hot, sharp pain. Again, the metal rings in my cervix were cranked open even further, feeling unnatural and cruel as they spread my body apart.

Finally, the shop vacuum machine was unceremoniously rolled over and turned on, its motor and sucking noises filling the room. The Doctor inserted a slim rod into my body, past the stretched, straining cervix and into my uterus. She then sucked and scraped the inside of my body. It felt rough and vigorous and I was reminded of watching a liposuction procedure on the cable television channel. They always showed a masked doctor nonchalantly attacking the fat under some lady's thigh. That rod being violently thrashed in the body, sucking and gurgling and churning. I was breathing in through my nose, out through my mouth and focusing on the pockmarks in the styrofoam ceiling panel above me. Each little divot in the panel was like an ancient scar, harboring secrets, collecting the stony stares of every woman that had laid her back on the metal table, breathing and praying. Some of the holes were deeper than others. Dark caverns that allowed regret, sorrow and unspoken apologies to fester like mold. Some of the holes were tiny ice picks, barely penetrating the surface, just an after thought.

The pain was constant but bearable and mostly made my stomach sickly flip over itself. Not the flip-flop it would do when we ran down the back stairs in the hotel room, our shirts unbuttoned, our shoelaces untied. It was like the churning I had felt when I leaned against the cool porcelain in the bathroom stall, staring at the white stick, dripping with my urine, revealing another secret. The sucking, gurgling machine was turned off and its roar died into a sigh. The metal rings were removed from my cervix. I closed my eyes against holey ceiling.

It was over. My body still felt wide open. Suffocating heat boiled around me. I could feel my t-shirt, clinging and damp with my sick sweat. I laid motionless on the metal table, acutely aware of my moist skin slipping in the metal clamps that my legs were strapped into. The irony smell of blood permeated the room. My body was rigid and felt as if frozen. And I was so damn hot. I could hear the doctor and nurse talking to me, but it sounded so far away and my mouth was limp and dry, refusing to carry my voice. The tossing of nausea grew in my stomach, threatening to creep up and spew through my paralyzed mouth. Someone released my legs from the stirrups, and they fell to the metal table, soft like Jell-O, legs that did not seem to be attached to my body. The voices were telling me to get up and I felt the room spinning, going light and dark over and over again. There were voices near, but the same voices would go far away. The darkness behind my closed eyes invaded my ears. It was so damn hot; maybe I was in hell now.

The nurse was adamant that I needed to go into the recovery room. I understood her words, yet my body remained still. I felt someone fumbling to put my underwear back onto my body, attaching an enormous white pad to soak up the blood. I didnít care that I was naked, sprawled apart as the poor young nurse with bad skin wrestled with my Jell-O legs, trying to pull my panties past my hips. I felt the other nurse removing my socks and someone put a wet, cold towel on my forehead. They lifted me up and dragged me to a recliner in an open room. A recliner that looked worn and tired. My body collapsed into the chair. I was wearing only my underwear, with that enormous pad taped into it, and my T-shirt. A nurse covered my waist and legs with a gray wool blanket. I opened my eyes in spurts, giving me the effect of being really drunk at a nightclub with a strobe light. I put all of my energy towards willing myself not to vomit. Suddenly, viciously, the pain came. My empty insides ached through to my back, cramping and screaming their own story. The nurse kept saying "Mary, Mary, Mary" and it prompted me into an involuntary prayer that whispered in my head, "Hail Mary, full of grace ..."

I felt cool hands take my blood pressure occasionally and put a new wet towel on my forehead. I felt myself drifting, like I was floating on a raft in the sea. I just wanted to sleep and not be in this nubby chair in a white-hot room. The nurses took turns coming to me, snapping and saying Mary in a singsong tone. Their breath was hot, telling me to stay up. They said I had to stay awake and drink ginger ale and eat a cookie. They kept telling me that I needed to stay up to feel better, but all I could do was drift to that sweet sea of nothingness with cool green water below me and a forgiving blue sky above me. No nurses with bad skin. No pockmarked ceilings holding secrets. No sideways glances and sharp whispers. No ultimatums. No white-hot rooms. Just blue and green.

Slowly, over twenty minutes or so, I was able to open my eyes more. I had stopped sweating. I even drank the ginger ale they kept forcing upon me. Every crisp, sweet bubble washed down my chest and into my empty stomach. The bubbles dissolved flat in relief. I could leave now. Her thick strands of dark hair hiding her face, the nurse brought me the orange hamper with my clothes and slowly, I dressed. I walked to my car, the thick cotton pad chafing my inner thighs. Sitting in the drivers seat, I could feel that I was weak still, yet I felt oddly strong. The sun disappeared behind the blue skyline, but left a red stain in its wake. The afternoon had passed.

The End

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