by Jessica Messier
I am afraid to touch the girls but I have to save them.
I am afraid to touch the girls because I’ve seen the same types for the past twelve years and the story doesn’t change. I see the fear stick out like hard nipples against their blue johnnies and I know it’s those nipples that get them in this situation in the first place.
If I have to touch them it is a brush of fingertips when I hand them the tissue box. Or it is a press of a cold cloth on an ashen brow until the color comes back.
When this happens my heart slams in my throat and I think how the only thing I want to touch is the bleach-soaked paper towel to erase the palm-sweat off the chair for the next girl and go home.
Most days I am calm at the clinic because all I do is hold the syringes and speculum and curette and watch the doctor do what she does. I am calm because I count the girls as they come in.
But today is different because my gut gets knotted when Girl Number Four tells me she was left for better.
She is wearing a Catholic school skirt and polo and there’s pink nail polish chipping off her fingers. She picks a tissue out of the box I’m holding between my palms.
I nod while she tells me she’s going to college in the fall.
I nod when she tells me that she thought he loved her.
I tell her, I know what you mean. I tell her, I went to Catholic school. I tell her, I went because my mother thought it would do me good but instead I made friends with the heathens.
And that’s where I met Student Teacher Thomas.
What I don’t tell her is I smoked and went to all the parties. I was a regular in the downstairs coat closet. I liked how my mind swirled from the vodka and the smell of old perfume and wool. I liked to crush the shoes under my long long legs with Student Teacher Thomas in between.
Those times were good, I say.
Number Four is all runny makeup and hiccups. The doctor tells me, just hold the syringes and speculum and curette and maybe you should stop talking.
Number Four takes another tissue and I remember myself in Catholic school back when my legs were too young for varicose veins.
The teachers gave me detentions for not saying Hail Marys out loud at the beginning of class. I told the teachers, I say Hail Mary full of grace in my head but the letters smoosh together like alphabet soup and what am I supposed to do.
Sometimes I asked my mother to hold my hand and say Hail Mary full of grace with me before bed. She said, that’s why you’re going to Catholic school, and turned the light off without a goodnight kiss.
The doctor tells me, syringe.
Number Four vice-grips the armrest.
I think Number Four looks like a model from the razor commercials. Her hair is brushed and her face is nice, even though it is a mess. I imagine her walking her long long legs down a college campus path with red and gold leaves swirling around her like a shook-up snowglobe. I imagine her face is clean and bright, her eyes are done up with makeup and she is smiling.
I imagine she smiled when the boy who did this to her said he loved her. I imagine they were in a closet on a floor full of shoes. I imagine he kissed her neck and she laughed and tingled. I imagine she kissed him back and he tasted like liquor and lust. Then his hands pressed harder his tongue got wild the urge made him stiff and crazy the craving poked right through her Catholic school polo and here we are.
The doctor tells me, speculum.
I want to tell Number Four there are more tissues in the back.
I want to tell her, don’t worry I will save you.
I think why I want to save all the girls is because my mother saved me.
My mother told me the reason I was going to Catholic school was to stay out of detention and why the hell can’t I even do that? So one day after detention I asked Student Teacher Thomas how to say Hail Mary full of grace. He said, let me show you, but all he did was put his fingers in my sacred place. He bent me over the desk, nailed my hands to the wood with his and breathed in my ear, oh god oh god, say nothing to no one. I said nothing until the day the blood didn’t come. Then my mother took me to the clinic and made me clean.
The doctor tells me, curette.
I want to tell Number Four my mother put me in regular school after that. I want to tell her I never prayed harder in my life. That’s why I think what good is Catholic school when God is supposed to be watching and you get fucked anyway.
I want to get Number Four those tissues but the doctor is almost done.
I want to hand her those tissues and tell her that she will look beautiful at college with her razor commercial legs. I almost want to touch her face to make it clear and bright.
Instead, I tell Number Four to close her eyes and turn her head so I can mop up the blood.
The doctor snaps off her gloves, flips through some papers and leaves. I help Number Four undo her feet from the stirrups and step onto the floor. Her legs shake like they’ve never walked and her face is draining white.
I bring her to the recovery room and help her lie on a bed. I tuck her in and see there is pink nail polish chipping off her toes too.
I watch Number Four fold her hands on her belly. She closes her eyes as the sun spills through the window and I think she looks heavenly.
I say, it’s alright. Drink water, eat snacks, rest, no sex for a while.
I pull the curtain around Number Four’s bed and she opens her mouth, Can you stay with me?
My hand grips the curtain hard. I think about how I am supposed to chuck the syringes and clean the speculum and curette.
I think about how there is only six minutes left to my shift and I need a smoke and a walk and the cat needs to be fed.
I think about how today is Tuesday and I have to water the flowers on my mother’s grave.
Instead I kneel next to the bed.
Number Four clamps onto my hand. Her mouth opens and makes no sound. I watch her lips make shapes. The words are slow and invisible but I hear them between my ears: Oh god, oh god.
Her knuckles turn white in between mine. I hold her tight until my palm gets warm.
I hold her until it’s time to wipe down the chair for Number Five.