Jacob Lawrence, "Free Clinic" (1937)
Jacob Lawrence, Free Clinic (1937)
Can a Game Be Literature?

Mark's Pages

December 17, 2002:

Free Clinic. Steep, tight stairs seem symbolic. In the waiting room a sign explaining that contributions are appreciated but not mandatory; two or three young women in heavy makeup who seem sad, and lonely, and vulnerable.

Intern on duty is blonde, young, has a thick Australian accent which makes you wonder how long she's been away from home. Your sister in exile.

She's nervous. You tell her, "I may have been exposed to Chlamydia. I'm told my ex-girlfriend has it. I'd like to be screened." She does not look happy.

She takes a thin sample-swab from a container, and you know this will be unpleasant.

"This will be unpleasant," she says. Then she laughs.

"Last time I did one of these, bloke jumped ten feet backward, hit his back on the wall."

"I won't," you promise. You're trying to be matter-of-fact, but, your tone's pretty grim.

She sits on an exam stool. You drop your pants and shorts, standing in front of her. Test swab goes into the urethra, gently as possible. She hates this so much you're tempted to offer to do it for her. You remain stock-still, despite the unnatural irritation which continues to bug you most of the day.

The test returns negative.

"I'm not going to catch any diseases from this car seat, am I?"

That was mean. You look away. It was the best you could do. In her sister's borrowed car she drives alongside the Park, turns right into Chinatown. Looks for parking. You're going to one of the restaurants you both love. The tears stop by the time you find parking. She probably hasn't seen them.

Weeks later you learn from a mutual friend that she'd been so offended by that remark that she passed it along, to her. With some others which were equally bitter, for instance, that in the new photo portrait on their parent's mantle she looks like a witch, with her mane of henna-hair red against the jet-black studio backdrop. Truth was, she looked beautiful.

You write to apologize. She doesn't reply.