My head burned and my joints ached. I sat up and searched for the glass of water I had left on the floor beside the futon. It wasn’t where I had left it. Now I would have to get up and go to the kitchen to fetch myself another glass of water. I groaned as I navigated my way through a tangle of clothes and blankets strewn across the floor. I stopped in the bathroom on the way to the kitchen to rinse my face. I let the water run cold while examining my reflection in the smudged mirror. I had just turned twenty and appeared a little worse for wear. Gnashing at my dismal appearance, I grabbed a few paper napkins that were left on top of the toilet seat. Back up toilet paper for the days when money was especially scarce. The napkins were small and square. They had been bought, presumably at the corner store down the street. I remembered seeing a display of marked down holiday stuff. Probably marked down after Valentine’s Day. I wet the napkins and dotted my face with them.
After fetching a glass of water, I wandered back towards my bedroom. My two roommates who were home, had been occupied for the better part of the evening watching a Godzilla marathon on one of the four broken television sets in the living room. Several small Cisco bottles littered the floor, along with an array of empty 40 oz bottles. A small kitten tumbled across the floor in a flash. The stench of stale cigarette smoke lingered in the air. The bathroom served as a pit stop for my constant wanderings back and forth between my bedroom and the rest of the apartment. It served as a solitude chamber,albeit a dirty one. It was a place where I could escape from the madness of my life. Hours were spent in the bathroom. On my days off from work I bathed for whole afternoons. Other times I would shower until I scrubbed myself clean. Tonight I would forgo the bathtub in favor of a night spent lounging in my bedroom.
I grabbed the wet napkins from the bathroom and made a comfy setup for myself on my futon. I picked up a pen and began to write to a friend in Ecuador. Minutes into writing, my head began to burn up again. I reached for the napkins and placed them on my forehead. Warm water trickled down the side of my face. I laid there on my back for a few more minutes and drifted off to sleep.
When I awoke, my head was as hot as coals. I wiped my runny nose with the back of my hand and made my way back into the bathroom. Someone had taken a shower and the mirror was all steamed up. I wiped it off with an old towel and gasped. “Bloody hell!,” I cried as I entered the living room. My roommates appeared to be thoroughly engrossed in Godzilla. My whining fell on deaf ears. “Guys. Dudes. Look at my face. I am burning up,” I said, walking in front of a flickering TV. Jack had passed out in the moldy la-z- boy. Too much Cisco. Shamus sat at the end of the couch. The bicycle project he had been working on earlier in the evening lay unfinished by his feet. I walked over and stood directly in front of him.“Hey, check out my face,” I said, pointing.“This isn’t normal.” I sat down on the sinking couch. “What are you going on about woman?,” Shamus replied wearily. He brushed a shock of wet hair away from his eyes.“Sorry to have interrupted whatever it is you got going on here, but I’ve got a serious problem that needs tending to!” I responded, rubbing the skin around my nose. “What is it?,” he asked., sitting up.“I am sick. I need to go to the hospital.” I exclaimed, putting my old boots on. “Its like two o’clock in the morning. Are you sure you need to go to the hospital? The subway isn’t even runn…”
“I need to go. Look at my face!” I grabbed his hand and put it on my face. “I am burning up! My face is all red!” “You are slightly warm,” he said. “Like I said, I am burning up.” I replied, getting up from the couch. “Alright, alright. Let me get my shoes.” Shamus replied reluctantly. He grabbed his sneakers from the closet and we were on our way in a matter of minutes.
We headed north on Adeline, towards Shattuck Ave. Trudging across a grassy intersection, we made our way into a realm of flickering street lights. The craggy sidewalk gave way to new cement. The houses became slightly nicer. After walking seven or eight blocks we came to the Black & White Store. A couple street bums exchanged wilted one dollar bills for a 40 oz through the closed roll-down security gate. The Middle Eastern man behind the metal gate nodded at us. The liquor store was a one stop shop for late night vagabonds who wanted to purchase alcohol after all the other shops were closed. They notoriously sold to underage kids such as myself. I had bought my first 40 oz at the age of nineteen at this store. Crazy Horse. “You guys need anything?” The man said, his heavy Lebanese accent rolling off his tongue. “No thanks.” I responded glumly.
The small clinic was partly obscured by darkness. We entered through the automatic doors into a dimly lit reception area. A middle aged women with glasses peered at us through a small window. “Can I help you,?” she said flatly, giving me the look of someone who clearly loathed either her job, the likes of me, or working through the middle of the night.
“Uh, yeah. I need to see a doctor right away,” I said, “I think I have a fever.” I shuffled towards the reception window.
“Sign in here.” She pointed to a clipboard with a couple papers attached to it. “Do you have insurance?,” she asked rather sternly. “No ma’am.” I responded, filling in my name and address on the medical form. “You are here for a fever?,” she asked, her craggy brown eyes glowing with judgment.
“Yeah, well I am burning up pretty badly. My face is all red. I think I may be bleeding from my pores.” I said matter-of- factly. She put down here pen and glared at me through the glass. There was a moment of silence before she slid the glass to the side, doing away with the barrier between us.
“Why do you think you are bleeding from your pores?”
“Because my face is red! This has never happened to me before.”
“Are you wearing any makeup?”
“I am pretty sure you are wearing makeup. It must be your foundation.”
“I told you, I am not wearing any makeup.” I replied angrily.
“You must have put something on you skin. People don’t just bleed from their pores.”
“I didn’t put anything on my skin! No blush or anything! I think I have Ebola…”
“Ebola doesn’t cause people to bleed through their pores. It can cause bleeding from mucous membranes but I highly doubt you have anything serious.”
“I disagree.” I shot back. She looked incredulous.
“Have you taken any drugs this evening Ms. O’Brien?”
“Please answer the question.”
“What is this? Is this a police interrogation?” I cried, exasperated. Just then a doctor entered the room. “Ms. O’Brien, please come with me.” He said. I turned to Shamus, who was looking very depressed. “I’ll be back, I said.” He walked over to a bench and sat down. His black Social Distortion t-shirt was soaked with sweat. He was tired.
I followed the doctor down a short corridor and into a small, sterile room. “Please sit down. Someone will be right in to take your temperature. I will be right back,” he replied and left the room. I had my temperature and my blood pressure taken by an older Russian women. “Your temperature is 98.5. It is perfectly normal,” she said. “You do not have fever.” I nodded and after answering a series of questions about my health, she left the room. I waited for about twenty minutes before the doctor returned. “Why don’t you take a seat over here,” he pointed to the hospital bed. I walked over and sat on the bed, the disposable white bed sheet crinkled under my weight.
“So you are here because you think there is blood coming out of your pores?” he asked, examining my face. He touched my chin and peered closely into my eyes.
“Um, yeah. I woke up from a nap and went into the bathroom where I saw my face. I was really freaked out because it is covered in red.” I replied, embarrassed. He asked me to open my mouth, then shined a small light into my eyes. He then lightly grabbed my right arm and gave it it good look. He stepped back from the table let out a heavy sigh.
“I can tell you one thing, you are not bleeding from your pores. Your face is perfectly fine. The thing you need to worry about is that junk you are shooting into your arms. Do you use sterile water when you rinse?” he asked, taking off his sleek glasses and rubbing them on his coat. He was youngish and slightly handsome.
“Hmm,” I hesitated. “I use tap water.” He nodded his head slightly with disapproval. “You ought to be using clean water. Tap water has all kinds of bacteria and pathogens in it, especially here in California. You can get an infection, not to mention other diseases if you aren’t careful.” He waved for me to follow him back towards the reception room. “You really should be aware of the dangers associated with the lifestyle you are living. You are young and have the rest of your life ahead of you. Be careful.” And with that I made my way towards Shamus. I was puzzled. The receptionist called me over to try and get a payment from me, but I ignored her. “Let’s go.” I said, walking towards the large glass doors. “Young lady, you will be billed!,” the woman stammered as we left the facility. The coolness of the air conditioned building had made me chilly. I welcomed the heaviness of the night air.
“What did the doctor say?” Shamus asked, walking slowly beside me. He looked angry.
“Nothing really,” I paused. “Sorry to have dragged you out here in the middle of the night. It was stupid of me.” I said, hot tears brimming my eyes. He didn’t respond. We walked home in silence. The sound of dogs barking punctuated the night. The palms lining the streets swayed ever so slightly in the calm wind. I gazed up towards the hills and despite my sadness, I marveled at the incandescent homes perched on the edges off the cliffs. Small lights twinkled in the darkness. I wish I lived up there, away from the concrete jungle down here.
It was nearly four o’clock in the morning by the time we made it back to our apartment. I took off my heavy combat boots and went to the bathroom to pee. Shamus was already fast asleep on the futon when I stepped into the bedroom. I took a couple sips of water and noticed a ball of crumpled napkins I had left on the floor earlier in the morning. I picked them up and inspected them. They were soggy and red. They had always been red. I squeezed them and a trickle of reddish water ran down my hand. I began to laugh. I held my head in my hands, and my laughter quickly turned to quiet sobs.