Like soap in a dish cold and clammy, her pale skin glistened in the morning light. The moon had completely fallen from the sky, and the sun now crested in the eastern part of the city. Its rays peeked through buildings to sparkle on hanging ice from rooftop gutters. While long dark shadows stretched across the ground from the barren trees lining each side of the parking lot.
As the woman stepped in a little closer and the abscess on the lower part of her neck became more visible, I recalled who she was. Last time I saw her was a few weeks ago sleeping on a park bench near 42nd and Wilson. She’s a regular here at the plasma bank.
Doctor Benny, my boss, is always complaining about “her kind,” as he puts it. “These people come in here with their over punctured arms expecting me to work a miracle, so they can get money for their next fix.”
Then without fail, he would wave his magic syringe and draw blood without collapsing the vein. I saw his point in a way, but I also saw him continue to take their drug rich blood, to make his money.
I did have to wonder, though, how this woman made it to this point in her life. Was it a failed marriage? A lost child? Or was it the excuses that you never hear come out of a junky’s mouth. “I like the way it makes me feel.”
Yep, I’m sure I haven’t heard that one at the center before. Honest answers are hard enough to come by in this so called Honest World. But hell, who am I to judge? I’m just the clerk behind the counter waiting for the place to open so I can do my eight hours; make my minimum wage paycheck; then go back to my minimum wage apartment, to live my minimum wage life.
The woman finally spoke, “Hey man, you got a smoke?”
I nodded with a half smile, then fished around in my coat pocket. I handed her a cigarette, then flamed its end. She drew hard on its filter making the little cherry glow bright on that cold morning.
“You know the plasma bank doesn’t open for another fifteen minutes,” I said trying my best to break the eerie silence that hung between us.
She took another hard drag, then folded her arms. “I know,” she said sharply. “I’ve been up all night waiting for it to open.” Her face now was pulled tight with stress. “Look man, I didn’t mean to snap at you. I just need to get this over with.”
“Yeah, I wish it was open, too. I’m tired of standing out here. So, you got a name?”
“Yeah, Janet. What’s yours?”
“Allen,” I said, glancing behind her, hoping Benny would hurry up and come to work.
“Allen, I always liked that name.” She pulled her coat in a little tighter. “You don’t have any change, do you?” Janet attempted a smile, but it was obvious she was self-conscious about her rotten teeth.
I knew this was probably a bad idea but I thought, maybe she could use a cup of coffee or something.
“How much you need?” I said, pushing my hand down in my pocket.
“Ten will do,” she said, still trying to smile.
“Ten what, dollars?” The words jumped quickly from my lips.
Her stranded smile fell as fast as it appeared.
“Yes, ten dollars! What the hell can I possibly get with ten cents?” She said, almost shouting.
“Sorry, I’m broke. Remember, I work here and they pay almost nothing.”
About the time I finished my sentence, I saw Doctor Benny’s silver SUV pull into the parking lot. I turned and took a few steps toward it.
“Well, the Doc’s here. Now you’ll be able to get some cash,” I said, with a little relief to my voice. I turned back around to find Janet standing now face to face with me. She plunged a knife into my side. Instantly it was hard to breathe, and I had a strange salty taste filling my mouth. I realized this taste was blood. She plunged the knife again, this time in my stomach. Then she leaned in so close, I could feel the warmth of her retched breath. She reached inside my pocket and grabbed my wallet.
“You should’ve given up the money, man.”
She ran down the sidewalk as Doctor Benny made his way to me. He called for help on his phone and then tried to stop the bleeding. It was no use. I was as cold as the snow that surrounded me. I suddenly found myself outside of my body. I was amazed at the strange shade of pink my blood had turned the snow. I was equally amazed I was on the other side. Then I saw my sister, who had been dead for years. She was standing with a smile.
“Allen, go back, it’s not time for you. Step back in your body,” she said in a whisper.
The paramedics pumped away at my chest. Lying back down in my body, I suddenly felt all of the pain at once. I knew then if I felt this much agony, I had to be alive.
“So, that was the day I died and came back to life,” I told my therapist.
“Quite a story there, Allen. Do, you mind pulling up your shirt.”
“Not at all.”
I stood and lifted it up. I couldn’t believe it. The scars were gone. A look crossed my therapist’s face I had never seen before.
“Allen, I’m going to write you a prescription. It will take a few weeks to kick in, but I promise you, you’ll start feeling better in no time.”
First Published At The Camel Saloon March 8th 2011