All morning it had been like this, a lot of silence, a lot of waiting, no decent sleep. The world was so quiet at this time of the morning, something I could not fully comprehend. With my head buzzing constantly, and the violence of each sigh ringing in my ears like church bells, I could not grasp just how quiet it was around here, feeling confused and out of place.
I stared at my wristwatch, contemplating calling it off, but then realizing it just wasn't my choice to make.
“I'm uncomfortable,” she said, staring vacantly out into the darkness of the early morning street through a partially frosted glass window. She ran her small, weightless little finger through unruly wet paths on the glass made from dew and drew pictures of stick figures and then wiped them away and started again on another part of the glass. In her pale blue coat, buttoned all the way up to the neck, she looked pretty. Her wide eyes shimmered like the moon in their sleepless sockets over crescent smudges of gray. I think she's probably the prettiest girl I know.
Benignly, I felt proud of her for being so pretty, then shook it out of my head forcefully, confused and angry about a lot of things, and I became more than a little sad considering the circumstances; bundled up in her coat, hiding; the nature of being pretty effectively the furthest thing from her mind, whereas it was not so far from the minds of others.
On the other side of the frosted window the glass was partially mirrored, and outside on the walkway two police officers stood taking good looks at their reflections, but not good enough to notice the faint outlines of the two of us looking back out at them, at the freshly steaming cups of coffee balanced on the hood of their cruiser while they straightened their belts in the mirrored window of the waiting room we sat on the other side of. They moved with frightening alacrity, tidying up in the reflection, not seeing us inside the clinic lobby two feet away, watching them look so oddly at themselves, smiling like they had it so good and were making it safer and as good looking as they thought they were. Some kind of weak, pitiful rage welled inside me, thinking these two people on the other side of the window were supposed to be the ones we should be looking to for guidance, or help or whatever. But it takes a lot to see anything in their scarecrow gait but facade and showmanship. They looked the part; scary on the outside to some, friendly to others, just pictures of ideas of safety. They would probably look the part all day, but not willing or able to do anything with it. Just like me, not able to do anything with what I know. Just like me, hardly able to help her, just standing here making sure we're on time.
Staring at the officers outside, all I could feel was helpless.
For the life of me I could not remove my mind from the two cups of coffee behind the cops, lids steaming from their tiny slits at the lip of the mouthpiece. Perhaps it sprouted an actual, casual, semi-clearheaded idea: it made me want to get her some coffee too. Or some candy.
But then, the receptionist who booked us had stressed no stimulants, because they contribute to overdoing emotions, or something like that. Funny that of all the things I was worth, it struck me as profound that I could spring for a cup of coffee and somehow that would make things just a tiny bit better.
Good idea maybe, but barred. Stupid idea, maybe, because of the weak needless positivity behind it, but possible. A saint I could be, an angel, with a dollar to spare. Afterward, then. I'd get her some breakfast afterward. If she felt like eating.
What else could I do?
And I was uncomfortable too. An abortion clinic is where people come to get themselves out of uncomfortable situations, so in time, we would probably both be comfortable again, but only after the appointment was over.
It felt like we'd been waiting here for half the week already, but the clock read only shortly past six, so in reality we'd been shuffling around in the lobby less than fifteen minutes. Time slowed down, impossibly so. We would have to wait, and wait, with minutes expanding inside of themselves for endless other minutes, waiting and waiting for things to get better. Outside, the morning grew steadily brighter. But inside the lobby it still felt like a thousand long years unfolding. And the two cops out there still haunted me, all blank expressions and the beckoning cups of coffee. Like scarecrows, they gave me the shivers. Looking the part.
And what if I could see myself in a mirror too, what would I look like right now? A frightened boy? A guilty one? I wished we were alone. And definitely not here.
Trying to chase away the dark clouds over the clinic lobby, I asked her, “Do you want to hear a joke?”
Still gazing out the window -- the sidewalk was filling up now with various passersby on the way to work -- she took a prolonged breath and then said, “No I don't.”
With my hands in my pockets I walked in limited circles around the small boxed-in confines of the lobby, visually noting the volumes packed into the bookshelf, but not really paying attention to any of the titles. I think I saw something about disease, or one about skeletal deformations in pre-mature babies. The only thing I could concentrate on was her at the window, but I felt after so long like I was staring, and making it unintentionally worse, so I gazed around the room a little more, not paying attention to details, which drove me crazy. The lady at the reception desk looked like somebody had recently punched her in the face; tight, almost purposefully scrunched up features, blotchy red cheeks and forehead. Oily complexion, an effect from too much make-up. A very manicured scowl, practiced. She had been glaring at me here and there, glancing back and forth from me to the hunched up pretty girl by the window.
If there'd been less to focus on in this office to keep my mind at ease, I would be very surprised.
It would have made me smirk under another occasion, but that I was so nervous it only really made me angry and scared, and so I tried to just forget about it. This wasn't the time to be angry, not now. Perhaps later, when I could vent in relative privacy. But hopefully not even then, not if I knew what was better for me. It was time to let the worst of things dissolve and try to focus on something else entirely.
We could do it together if we tried.
Or maybe not, I don't know. As it was I couldn't speak on her behalf this time. This situation was too different.
Then the doctor came out to greet us. He generally looked to be a younger man. Older than the two of us, and also older than the receptionist, but probably ten years younger than my parents. He was dressed fairly well, and looked pretty put together, but clearly he was hung over.
As it had for too long now, looking at the hungover doctor, it seemed everyone in the world, all the people put here to do something, were not doing it, just scowling, tidying up, playing parts.
I rolled my eyes, wondering if this could get any worse before it would get better. The doctor rubbed his eyes laboriously. For the length of time it took him to focus on anything but rubbing his eyes, it occurred to me he was not merely hung over, but still actually drunk. I could see it in the swimming eyes and the flushed cheeks. He also didn't stand straight up, either, leaning first against the door for support as he took in his surroundings and the two people in the lobby, and then the reception desk as he looked at our forms. When he spoke up, the receptionist glared up at him from her desk. The way she scowled at him was almost the same way she did to me, but somehow even harsher. For whatever reason, it made me feel a little bit relieved thinking that it wasn't just me she had some kind of a problem with.
So, drunk doctor, angry receptionist, cops outside staring blankly at the morning street. I felt surrounded, cornered.
I looked over toward the window, and tears started to well in my eyes a little, but I grinned. This was just the worst. And who could we tell? Surrounded by people who should rightfully be able to help us, who could we really tell? Nobody.
“Are we ready,” the doctor piped up suddenly without even introducing himself, his voice raspy and undisciplined. I fully expected his voice to crack, or for him to hiccup and then maybe fall straight backward. But he cleared his throat with moderate subtlety, then looked at me distrustfully. “You the guy?”
I smirked, uncertain, unimpressed, worried, nervous, trying to hide just how nervous I was, and wanting to knee him fast and hard, I looked over toward the window and to avoid eye contact until I could figure out the best thing to say. Unsure if I wanted to be here anymore, the false grin dried up instantaneously. What a hideous mess.
“So what is it, boss?” the doctor chirped. “You the guy or not?”
Very snidely I reacted with, “Do you mean am I the boyfriend, the father of the baby, is that what you're trying to say?”
“Hey, can the attitude, will you? If you're the reason she's here, then we could all do without your sarcasm.”
“But,” I said, “if it's someone else that's the reason she's here, can I keep the sarcasm?”
The doctor didn't blink, simply turned to the front window, ignoring me. “Is this gentleman the prospective father?”
“No,” my sister replied, nervously, unable to meet his gaze. “He's my brother.”
The doctor glanced at me, then back at her. We both looked down as he scrutinized us. I couldn't help but think we looked guilty. “Well shoot. I was looking forward to telling him that he would have to wait out here so as not to create any more problems in your life for today. But if he's a relative, I suppose I would have to let him come along if that's what you want.”
“You're still drunk, aren't you?” I broke in, accusingly.
The doctor stood perfectly upright for the first time since his appearance, shaking the proof of his hangover or whatever right out of his face. The receptionist had also looked up by now. This time she was not scowling. Apparently the present scene had instilled in her a little hard-earned mirth, for she was actually smiling, scanning each of our faces for the telltale signs of an ensuing uncomfortably comedic performance. She looked just precisely as though it would be amusing to her if the doctor and I started fist fighting right there in the lobby. Dazed, disappointed, I almost forgot what I'd asked when the doctor suddenly advanced on me coolly.
“Why, not at all,” he whispered with an odd quietness, now coming toward me, speaking low and deliberately out of earshot of the receptionist. “But I think you might want to just zip it, yeah? I could stuff my whole leg down your fuckin' throat if I felt like it, and something tells me you couldn't do shit about it. Am I right? Look at you, you're just a kid. You want to tell me right now if your parents know you're here? Huh?" He jerked his thumb over at my sister. "And how old is she really? I bet it's not what the form says at all. I bet the form you filled out doesn't have much factual information on it. Right? You two are still kids.”
Bordering on being sick, I tried standing up straight but failed, paralyzed in a folded up, somewhat cringed position for a second, like he was about to hit me. I realized with a very real physical shock that I was actually afraid of the doctor, and I put my head down. Weakened, I turned to my sister and walked to her, to help her stand. Effortlessly she swept my hands from her shoulders. “Just stop it, Terry,” she whispered viciously.
Under my breath, scared of being overheard because of how weak and helpless to assist her I knew I was, I also whispered, “But . . . he's an asshole. Do you really even want to be here?”
She pushed me away a little harder, growing angry herself but trying not to cause a scene. She leaned in close so nobody else could hear us talking. “No, Terry. I don't want to be here. What the fuck do you think? But you know I can't have this baby. This . . . thing, Terry.” Her hands and shoulders appeared to be shaking, so I held onto her arm. But she wasn't finished. “Give me a break, please, okay? Let's just do this and then we can forget about it and we'll go live with grandpa like we said we would.”
She was right, after all. The doctor shouldn't matter (should he?). Maybe I had started off on the wrong foot first (did I?). For the moment, for my sister, I felt I ought to apologize to him, just to show I was trying to make it better, to smooth it all over, whether I was really the one who should be apologizing or not. But when I turned back and saw the shitty look on his face and then looked at the shitty receptionist with her sneer, I just couldn't do it. I knew I was beaten. This whole thing had long ago gone astray, and it had already been out of hand before we came here today, so better to just try to get through it. Better to just shut up and let this guy do whatever it is that they do here.
“Can we please do this, doctor?” Her voice pleading. I felt bad enough for her to shut my mouth for good. Not counting how terrible I felt myself. That would have been sufficient already.
The doctor stood still, hands in his pockets, his back to the receptionist, taking his time. No emotion passed across his face, he just stood there. Sometimes his eyes would narrow. Then relax again, placid. Eventually, a thousand years later, he heaved a reluctant sigh, removing his hands cautiously from the pockets, like he were about ready to pull rabbits out, or disappeared cards from past tricks. “Sure, let's go. You think it's okay with your baby brother though?”
Committed to holding my peace, I wrapped my hand reassuringly around my sister's hand. Though, I felt that if he tried to make any more crippling remarks I would have to hold onto her tighter to avoid raising my hands at him. Not that I was very capable of real violence. The doctor was a lot bigger than me, and a lot older. “It's fine,” she said.
An eerie silence drifted between the four of us; me and my sister, the receptionist, the doctor, who stared at my sister with an unwholesomeness I could feel spoiling my insides. “Good then. Let's get this puppet show on the stage.”
I had no clue what the hell the doctor meant by that but it scared and depressed me.
My sister walked in first, escorted by the doctor, who stumbled only slightly and pulled the door half closed behind him, almost smacking me in the face with it, smirking as he did so. My sister turned around to say something but he put his finger up to shush her and the sheer frightfulness of that shut the both of us up.
Fine. I made a mental note to come back later and follow him home. We'd see who's the smart one when I take a cinderblock to his car and put bricks through his house windows in the middle of the night.
A few minutes into his uncomfortably intense study of watching her undress and belatedly handing her a tiny little green gown to wear, I became physically sick for something like the sixteenth time and forgot about ever seeing this guy again if we could just get out of here quietly and without further pain. She positioned herself as he told her to on a table and pulled her legs apart and he sat there sitting on some fancy adjustable stool watching the place where her thighs met like there was a television program on in there. His eyes blinked, he narrowed them into determined slits, then relaxed them again, placid, staring -- horribly, I thought -- with some kind of vague approval. Then he nodded and scratched his chin. I went over and put my hand on her shoulder but couldn't say anything. Nothing I could say would benefit her anyway.
Not that I hadn't already, but each minute, each second in the presence of this man, I felt ever worthless. But I refused to get carried away, and I reminded myself that I was not here to be of any worth to anything or anyone, I was here to protect my sister, whom I loved more than myself or the tidal flood of rage now building in me in the presence of this incredulous doctor.
What were my duties? In dreams I might have lifted him up over my head and thrown him through the tinted picture window in the lobby. But here, in real life, I only cringed, scared for myself every bit as much as I was scared for her.
The procedure was nauseating.
I tried my best not to make noises, but I think I failed to be the reassuring presence I had come here with the intentions of being. The doctor had unraveled me long before the real test was up before us, and when it came I didn't actually stand a chance. My face must have been all swirling and pale with sweat, blotched red and green like a wet Christmas stocking.
It only took twenty minutes.
When it was over, the doctor put his gloved, reddened hand on her knee and told her the same thing for the third time. She needed to rest, have a light dinner later on but nothing too heavy. Don't drink, don't smoke, don't do this and that for 24 hours and all the same. Watch yourself, be responsible, life isn't a toy, these things. After pulling the gloves off slowly, then wiping my sister's knee with a warm towelette, he looked over at me, scratching his mouth with a recently ungloved hand. “You okay, partner? Looks like you've just seen a ghost.”
“Just a little uncomfortable,” I said, trying to keep my stomach from upheaval but responding with a surprisingly non-combative honesty.
“Well, just take care of your sister, okay? You have a car?” The look in his eyes was passive, and blank. I saw my reflection in his eyes, but nothing beyond that. His tone had softened a little at seeing just how uneasy and defeated I was. Also, I think that somewhere in the agonizing twenty minutes with the surgical mask on he'd somehow sobered up a little. I could not tell which version of him might be worse. Before we started or right now, looking at me with mirrors in his face, reflecting my tension and horror.
“Borrowed," I said, coming back to reality. I could have sworn I was being hypnotized. My whole head felt violated, swarming with foul insects. "But, yeah, I have a car. It's . . . outside. We're gonna go get a . . . hotel, for a while.”
The doctor stood. From where I sat in a small chair by the inclined procedure table, he kind of towered over me. I looked up at him as though he were some mystical giant, in one of the fairy tales where I'm a side-character going to be smashed flat as a lesson to someone who comes along later in the same story to learn a valuable moral truth.
“Are you sure you're not the father,” he asked, scrutinizing me but no longer combative. I didn't want to speak to him anymore, I just wanted to get her out of here and forget these people and everyone else in our past.
But I said, “I'm sure. I'm her brother. I'm here to help her.”
“Then why the hotel? Why don't you two go home?”
“We can't go home." Then, reclaiming some small stature of self, "It's none of your business.”
And just like that, after having (slightly) stood up for myself, I was completely brushed off. Now resigning quite easily, the doctor dropped it then and there, escorting us out to the lobby with his hand around my sisters hip, and he put us in the care of the receptionist to sign whatever we needed to sign. He told me once again to take care of her, and I said I would. Then I paid the receptionist with some money I stole from our father's safe in the basement.
Before we'd left this morning I'd taken care to empty the house of anything I felt would be valuable to us. All stuff that belonged to our dad, essentially. His money, his car, and his gun.
Looking at my sister, into her wet, swollen eyes, feeling intensely sad, wishing I could go back in time and stop this from ever happening, I held her by the hand and we walked out onto the sidewalk and left the clinic.
It would be different one day. Someday it wouldn't be like this. But outside the clinic, I still could feel no real relief. I knew it was over for now, this part was over. Although it screamed through my head louder than jet engines, that things were still horrible and they might have to be for a long time still, I tried to convince myself to believe it would not always be like this. We'll grow up, she'll get married and I will too, and we will have kids and we won't think of this anymore, and nobody will ever know. Her husband won't, my wife won't. We'll have different lives, removed from this day. When we're older.
I felt I wanted to shoot our father in his head for doing this to her. Empty the whole gun into his head.
But first things first, I reasoned. If I went to jail -- and how could I hope to get away with actually killing somebody? -- she'd be alone. Our grandfather wasn't a safe place to run to. I had no idea yet where we were actually headed, but we couldn't get to grandpa's in a stolen car. I'd only told her that to keep her from worrying about it today.
So, a hotel. And some rest. I'd sign us in together as (young) newlyweds. If we can get an abortion we can rent a room. Nobody would care. Nobody has yet and nobody probably will. We'd have some time later to think about what we should do. I gripped the gun in my pocket almost as hard as I squeezed my sister's hand when I led her from the clinic. I just didn't have any idea of what the future would hold after this. I didn't know how to react just yet.
Sitting my sister into the passenger seat, I kissed her on the forehead. Her skin was hot, nearly boiling.
“I think I need to lay down, Terry.”
“Okay,” I assured her, patting her arm. I got into the car and we started off for the highway. I figured we'd drive for a while and then get a motel somewhere outside of town.