Which One Of These Is Not Like The Others?

“I made a mess in there. I tried to clean it up but—”

The receptionist at the front desk regarded him as “reverently” as possible as she cut him off before he could get more graphic, assuring, “That’s okay, we’ll clean it up.” 

But he persisted, “Honestly, I really did my best to clear out all the shit, but it’s just everywhere. I had a huge accident.” It was as though he really did want to evoke an image for her.

The receptionist continued to promise that it was no big deal, truly. Naturally, that was a lie. A polite social grace further instilled by the fact that he was aged, therefore commanded, somehow, a more palpable show of respect—which, in this case, meant not stripping him entirely of the dignity he seemed so eager to surrender. To that effect, he turned to walk out the door—his entire backside stained with the brownness of his excrement—and demonstrated the precise gait of a person who still had a shit in their underwear. The receptionist, giving in to the humiliation he appeared to be begging for, called out, “Don’t worry Mr. Allen, we’ll clean it right up!” 

The others in the waiting room might have been scandalized were it not for they themselves also being too ancient to 1) hear and 2) be that attuned to shame anymore. By this point in their timelines, they’d lost theirs decades ago. 

Clearly, this was not the dermatology office for “glamor.” No fillers or Botox here. Just the removal of sun spots and other UV ray-casing skin damage. Maybe the “glamorous” dermatology offices only existed in Beverly Hills. That’s what Sonia tended to believe as the elderly man next to her continued hacking as though trying to give the irritating sound of jackhammering a run for its money. 

She had to get away from him, but there were so few places to run in that waiting area. She decided to rise, if only for a moment, to go to the water cooler and extricate a cold drink. She hadn’t thought twice about what she was wearing until she noticed all the men gawking and the women glaring. Sonia’s manner had always been to dress in short skirts, crop tops and high heels. She had thought that, at the very least, her own generation had come to see this style as an emblem of empowerment, but then, why would anyone of her generation be in a doctor’s office where the only demographic consisted of those who had lifelong major sun damage? No one in her age group had yet had a life long enough to rack up the required sun damage to be here. But apparently, Sonia had really lived already. Though the elderly folk around her seemed to size her up and down as though she didn’t know shit. 

Not that she needed it confirmed verbally, but the doctor—when she was finally squeezed in—still felt obligated to inform her, “You’re the youngest person in the office today.” He studied her with concern and added, “Let that be a lesson to you. You don’t wanna have to see me again, so please be very careful out there. Wear a hat, put on the sunscreen. You know, I can’t really tell my other patients out there this kind of thing because it’s too late for them. It’s still not too late for you.” 

Sonia let those words envelop her: “too late.” This idea that, in every person’s life, there is a point of no return. A moment from which there is no coming back from. The irrevocability and finality of it all seeping into her brain probably as much as whatever numbing agent they were currently injecting into her forehead. The doctor was joined by his trusty nurse for the entire process, with her at his side as he scraped the part of Sonia’s skin with the cancer cells. The nurse then numbed her chest as well, so the skin there could be decimated, too. Just another aspect of life’s irrevocability. 

When it was over, she was shuffled back into the waiting room where she was expected to then endure an indeterminate period of waiting while the ever-mounting number of geriatrics kept congregating. Performing their geriatric time-passing activities in a cacophonous symphony of crossword puzzle answers shouted, phlegmy coughing noises made and casual farts “hummed.” 

To add to the sudden Kafkaesque feeling of the landscape, the radio station that the receptionist saw fit to put on was one that played only country. Blared it, more accurately—for apparently she wanted to make sure that even deaf ears could hear it. And it wasn’t pleasant, “vintage” country like Patsy Cline or Loretta Lynn, but odious contemporary country. The kind that’s all about a forlorn shithead begging for forgiveness or some woman complaining about that shithead’s cheating. But none of these topics are delivered in that semi-tolerable manner of early Taylor Swift or mid-era Shania Twain. It was all generically insufferable, and Sonia could feel herself potentially losing brain cells over it. Which she supposed was just to match evenly with all the skin cells she was destined to lose today as well. 

Turning to see an old woman faintly weeping over a copy of some Nora Roberts book, she had to wonder how much more she could take of being deemed an honorary member of this generation upon stepping into this sort of reverse Logan’s Run premise of a dermatologist’s office. 

Hours later, they called her up to the desk to inform her that, upon examining the sample, they found that they had not managed to scrape away all the cancerous cells and that she would have to go under the knife “for another pass.” She’d be there after hours. Yet that somehow comforted her. Because it meant that all the olds would disappear and the waiting room would be a glorious, vacant wasteland. Just like her flesh after being eradicated of all traces of its disease. 

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