'When I was sixteen, she asked me to go with her, to the free clinic in the county building, to sit on a hard plastic chair with her and wait and wait.'
Read The Free Clinic ➤
It was getting dark. The millennium was about to turn over and under the shadow of the second Bush administration the clinic would be shut down. We sat, waited for her name to be called, for her to be taken into the back to sit on that crinkly paper, scratching at her thighs.
I was walking yesterday evening down a dirt road winding along Maine’s infinite shore. I was looking west, toward the setting sun, and didn’t notice the doe on the east side of the road until I was right next to her, practically close enough to touch. Deer do this sometimes, allow you to get surprisingly close even as they remain piqued, ready to run.
I shouldn’t show up today, but I’m coming to your wedding. The American wedding. I will stand when the minister asks if anyone objects because I do, and I’ve always wanted to attend a wedding where that happens. I’m a law student, I know how to object. I’ve got evidence to sustain. Your poems. Dick-pics. Clothes in my dresser. Toothbrush in my bathroom.
The cappuccino machine whirrs, clicks and sings. It sends out a deep hiss, a musky sound, as resonant as something from the throat of a big cat. The air is sugar-scented, the trays are loaded with bite-size confections, aspic red jellies on circlets of biscotti, dabs of meringue, blobs and swirls of chocolate.
The Institute was where I’d been working since age twenty-one, an Institute “devoted to ending violence against women and girls.” In reality, it looked nothing like an Institute. It was a former bookie’s office set above a fancy San Francisco Chinese restaurant.
At one end was the Interaction Section — bubble machines, drones to fly, crafts and building activities. The busiest was the Technology Zone — banks of screens where small fingers swiped and tapped, the odd shriek as a wailing victim was dragged off to be fed.
the hum and purr in my elbow when my phone’s on the desk at work and a text comes through. the thrill in my veins when i see your name on the screen. every time. my thumbs tapping letters, punctuation marks, spelling out our own version of shorthand, scrolling for bitmojis, and gifs, racing with yours
It’s about emotional engagement, he reminds himself as he puts on the kettle, not exposure. Their customers will love that they’re giving back. Even if they don’t tell their friends about it, they’ll become more loyal to the brand. He stares at the sea for a while. It’s the same dark grey as the granite countertops, as the sky.
There are the war machines rolling down the street in all their military glory, wreathed in jasmine and marigold garlands. They are affectionately known as war elephants, because underneath all the glamour the bulky tanks are gunmetal grey. They belch out plumes of black smoke into the already polluted air. Despite their decorations, they are colossal beasts made of pistons and steel, lumbering about the narrow streets, and yet there are still vendors who walk fearlessly beside them, calling out their wares.
He got that way from eating pieces of string like they was noodles with sauce on top and everything, and string beans, and nothing else. But out in the woods the girl and him didn’t have much of anything to eat. He was too proud to farm in the dirt and he was a lousy hunter. They would have starved except the wolves took pity on him and left out a few scraps of rotten meat.
Just for a moment, I hesitated. Outside my locked glass door, I could see them still swirling around, the dreamers and the idiots. Money trembles at the top of their bank accounts like beer foam, just waiting to spill out. You can see it, how the wanting sweeps through them like a fever. You can see it in their eyes.
Out in public, you tell your colleagues that the two of you have become “close friends.” That you are strictly platonic confidantes. That your connection is akin to a brother/sister bond. That your conversations are equal parts vapid college anecdotes, light-hearted work gossip, and generic commiseration. That even if there was more there, you don’t even find each other attractive.
Our mothers were wolves. They roamed the great, cold northern night in a pack, electric purple van screaming down county roads from party to party, where they caught boys named Jesse and Jason and James with their abundant thighs and sharp eyes and clever tongues.
She looks ordinary, though she has terrific posture because she’s a dancer. She has wavy brown hair and thin lips and isn’t afraid to lock eyes with me; then she begins to look better and better, telling me all about her meditation, that she meditates every morning, though she’s never had any instruction. When I ask her how she knows she’s meditating, she says she just knows.