[A snippet from a writing project in gestation…]
I’m surrounded by bald women with beards. One stares down at the floor, her eyes expressionless, her feet tapping out a distress signal in an indecipherable code. Another is absent-mindedly twisting the hair on her chin into a braid while rocking back and forth in her seat. Another is mumbling something to herself about not being able to find her children. The entire waiting room is full of worn out souls slumping on worn out sofas. I’ve got a few minutes to kill while Glenn meets with his psychiatrist. Usually he’s in and out within fifteen minutes, a new prescription in hand. It’s early yet this morning, and last night’s dream is still impressed upon my mind like fresh bootprints in the snow. I remember it in vivid detail because I woke up last night right in the middle of the synaptic fireworks, startled awake by the slam of a door and a booming voice. It was Glenn heading out to the patio for one of his late-night nicotine fixes. As usual he was engaged in an animated, audible conversation with himself, I suspect in an effort to conduct the chorus of voices that seem to pester him night and day. I’ve spent so many nights in places like this that even someone screaming out “Satan is Lord!” at the top of their lungs can seem as innocuous as birds chirping. As soon as “It’s only Glenn” registered somewhere in my brain, I quickly sunk back into sleep.
The image that awaited my mind’s eye was both shocking and puzzling. I was witnessing some kind of perverse medical procedure that seemed also to be a sex act of sorts. I’m watching the thing from a safe distance, like a medical student through an observation window. A woman is lying on the operating table, her grossly oversized veins and arteries visible through translucent skin. She lies on her side, curled up, like a fetus in utero. A male figure in a white coat is standing above her. With a scalpel he makes a small incision on the top part of her ear, then he opens his coat and pulls out his penis, as if it were just another surgical implement. He somehow melds the tip of his penis to the freshly exposed vein on the woman’s ear. A steady flow of semen is drawn into the woman. It is sucked in gently, in undulating waves that are in perfect rhythm with the woman’s breathing. She lies motionless, except for the steady transfusion of semen, which she seems to be drinking in eagerly. The action is reminiscent of a fetus receiving nourishment through the umbilical cord, yet what I’m witnessing seems decidedly unnatural and obscene. The woman seems to be getting off on the transfusion. She quivers in subtle waves of ecstasy. Soon the transfusion is complete — she is full. The male figure, still melded to the woman, then leans over and makes another slit with his scalpel, this time near the woman’s ankle. Semen spills out of the fresh incision with each new in-breath as the woman takes in more and more from the male. The smell of semen mixes synaesthetically with a gurgling sound, like the air-filled sucks of a just emptied milk shake. I gaze upon all this in complete horror, not so much at the perversity of the act itself, but because the act represents some kind of betrayal. A very deep betrayal.
Back in the waiting room, the bearded woman who’s been mumbling to herself suddenly bursts out with a loud groan. My thoughts jump to Brenda. She called as I was heading out the door this morning. She’ll meet me at 1pm tomorrow so that I can orient her to the ins and outs of the group home. Before hanging up she said, “See you then!” — as if the meeting will be strictly professional and seeing me will be no big deal. She’ll be working the Wednesday-through-Friday shift to cover for Ted, the manager of the facility. She’ll sleep in the very bed where I dream my terrible dreams every week. We’ve both been in this line of work for several years now. While in graduate school we worked for an agency that ran residential facilities all over the San Francisco Bay Area, and every once in a while it happened that Brenda would directly follow my shift at one of the group homes. These were the only times when I didn’t need to wash the bedding for the next staff person. It was convenient to be spared the chore, but it meant something more. She preferred that the sheets smelled like me.
But tomorrow is a new day, and by 1pm I’ll be sure that every sheet, blanket and towel is washed thoroughly, folded neatly, and put away in the closet. Not an eyelash will be left behind. I’ll have the clients’ medications prepared in advance, just like I do for Ted every week, and the staff bathroom will be spotless. Like always, I’ll scrub the bowl thoroughly with a brush, get down on my hands and knees to clean the floor, and even wipe down the mirror above the sink, whether it needs it or not. Ted tells me I’m a godsend, his right-hand man, the best he’s ever worked with, although I feel like I’m merely doing what any half-way competent, considerate human being would do. Of course, when I’m handed the baton on Monday mornings the place is always a mess. The current weekend staff person just drops by the group home to pass out medication and to make sure no one has committed suicide, then she drives back to her own home to take care of her personal business. The clients tell me she hardly ever spends the night with them, but rather heads home unannounced at about midnight, stealthily returning back at 5am, just in case Ted calls or drops by unexpectedly. The guy she replaced used to take money from the clients’ petty cash fund to pay for his lunches, and haircuts, and twelve-packs of Bud Light. The woman before him got caught having sex with one of the clients and immediately resigned without notice. That’s when I took the reigns, and I was stuck on that dreaded weekend shift for an entire year before sliding over to the coveted Monday-through-Wednesday slot. “People come and go” I was told early on, “but if you hang around long enough you’ll get your opportunity.”
Yeah. People come and people go. And one thing about me is that I can wait with the patience of a mountain slowly rising out of the earth. I can wait forever, if need be, in order to get what I want. Trouble is, I can’t seem to figure out exactly what it is that I want right now. Sometimes I wonder if a part of me—the lion’s share, apparently—doesn’t want to know.
Glenn is ready to roll. He slips his new prescription into his shirt pocket. I close my notebook, cap my pen, and we head out for the pharmacy. As I fumble around in my pockets for the keys to the van, I realize in a mild state of panic that they’re nowhere to be found. Bursting back through the waiting room doors I almost collide with one of the bearded bald women. She doesn’t seem to be startled in the least, and without altering expression she reaches out and hands me the keys. I say “Thanks so much” and “I was scared I had lost them.” I wait for a response, but sensing none is forthcoming, I flash her a smile, nod my head and bow slightly in gratitude, then spin back around toward the door. My back now turned to her, I hear in a low voice, “I’m scared too.” I quickly turn back around but she’s already headed back toward the sofa. My heart drops like a bird suddenly turned to stone, and before I can think a thought a nurse appears and calls out a woman’s name. “Zoey Richardson….”. The woman who handed me my keys answers the call with a slight lift of her head, walks over to meet the nurse and then disappears around the corner.
Glenn rouses me from my trance with a tap on the shoulder and says “We better get going Hal, I gotta get these meds and then get to Mama’s house before she tries to pull them weeds up herself.”
Still in daze, I gave him a blank look.
“You got the keys, right?” he says, nudging me with his elbow. “Then what are you waiting for?”