You sit inside the free clinic, on a
cheap plastic chair nestled amongst rat droppings and dust,
staring at the particular shade of gray paint on the wall,
unsuccessfully disguising the spider web cracks and the bugs that
crawl out of them. You would not be surprised to feel a rat brush
the heel of your gold-sequined stilettos, but still, you would
scream. You would scream because you are just that type of girl.
You are a tease, a coquette, you play foolish games with men and
make them think they’re winning, and they fall for it. You are
an Austen heroine who’s survived the nineties. You’re a tart.
It’s dark inside the free clinic.
The lights in the waiting room are off, but it’s all right.
Through a floor-length window, the city glows. The city could
light the far side of the universe if it were launched into space
like a rocket ship. Now, the light illuminates the gaunt, scowling
face of the white woman in the chair across from you. She’s
challenging you, you know. She’s daring you to giggle, or to
twirl your hair, or to see a rat and squeal like a black-and-white
picture blonde. She’s daring you to show your proclaimed
girlishness, so she can laugh and act all high-and-mighty, the
trash she is. But don’t you worry, darling. There are no rodents
She’s a white woman with
bottle-blonde hair and lipstick the exact wrong shade of magenta.
Enrique would be offended. But it’s best you don’t think of
Enrique. Her bone-thin arms fade into a skinny tube top, which
fades into a wrinkled, sunburned belly and bony legs just barely
interrupted by a raggedy mini-skirt. She looks like a horse. A
horse in pink eye make-up. The boy, he looks a bit smarter. He
sits between you and the woman, the third in a semi-circle, all
shaggy curls and dark, Cuban eyes. He wears his culture like a
gaudy button—fisherman’s slacks, oversized white work shirt, a
neon-blue plastic rosary dangling from one hand like a stage prop.
You stare out the window and wonder what Enrique would say, what
he would think of this riffraff, this driftwood.
Outside is the city. It is
Alexandria, New York, Tokyo, a thousand years of human history
beat together and doused in lights. It is a guilty pleasure, it is
eternal damnation as bought out and sold by the acre, middle
America naked in a dream. It is Canterbury.
It is the boy who speaks first.
“So,” he asks, “who are you
White Trash looks at him like he’s
a piece of meat. He’s a good little Catholic boy, probably from
a small town in Florida, like all the rest. She knows every boy
like him in the whole city; the waiters and cash register boys at
tackily-lit gift stores and liquor marts come to the city for fame
and fortune and end the night drunk in gutters or in the well-worn
beds of wrinkled bleach-blondes with the wrong shade of lipstick.
“You go first,” she purrs. She
just might catch herself a convert tonight.
“I’m waiting for my friend,”
the boy says.
“Poor baby. Whatever for?”
“I’m very sorry. I’ve been
there, too. Not tonight, though.”
“Oh. What happened tonight?”
She smiles grimly, she thinks she’s
coy. “My friend. She got a bit... roughed up.”
Roughed up. You were there when she
walked in tonight, you saw the crazy whore she was with. You heard
yelling before they walked through the door, heated profanity
about a customer, and a failed experiment you know better than to
repeat to yourself. She was half-dressed with a black eye, a limp
arm, and bruises up her bare, stomach, ribcage, and collarbone,
out of control. She would have broken away and ran out into
downtown had it not been for three nurses and a syringe of
tranquilizer, and you think good riddance—the last thing
downtown needs is another lingerie-clad psychopath running around
cursing. You recall the scene, the calmness of the nurses as they
carried the now-unconscious prostitute to the exam room or
whatever they call it around here, leaving this hussy to sulk and
glare. Apparently the boss did it.
Now the woman is looking at you. “You
have a name?”
You are surprised, you let yourself
lose focus again, your mind wander. How long have you been here,
in this hospital?