By Lana Spendl
After he started the steroids for back spasms, a lump grew by his rectum and now the lump was bleeding. Did the steroids allow an infection to develop? He had dropped his trousers by the history department toilet and noticed blood running down his briefs in one neat line. And that was it. With heart pounding, he cancelled the exam on the rise of ancient civilizations and drove to the walk-in clinic across town.
Now he sat in the waiting room, a man condemned, eyes darting round. The weak and the elderly slouched in chairs, chatting, some lost in thought. A woman nearby complained about the wait. Then she called her neighbor on speaker phone and complained again. But he could not judge anyone at this difficult time. And he shifted as he sat and he hurt a burning pain and he wished that he had brought the travel pillow from his car. But if he had sat on it, everyone would know he was having rectal problems, and he sweated at the thought of everyone knowing. How tragic, he thought, that a man his age, a man of thirty-five, cared what others thought at this possible turning point in life.
Nurses came out and picked charts from the folder holder and read them and put some charts back. His was returned again and again. They were like kids picking candies out of jars, and none of them wanted his rectal problem. He squirmed at the indignities of human life. And then finally, finally, a nurse called out his name, and he raised his fingers up and scurried forward like a man who had reached the front of the bread line. And he went from scale to blood pressure to temperature and pulse, doing everything he could without a moment’s waste, because he was grateful and he was afraid, and one cooperated best when grateful and afraid. And he lay on the examination table, exposed, on his side, and he felt the soft touch of her plastic glove. The words “a little hemorrhoid” slipped from her lips. And he couldn’t believe his ears. He almost kissed her mouth. No sweeter word was spoken—hemorrhoid, hemorrhoid—like the nectar of the gods.
And later he passed with a bounce through the waiting room, leaving it behind, and he pushed the doors open and breathed the parking lot air and the crisp October night. And the turning leaves on trees and the chill of waiting life.
LANA SPENDL’s chapbook We Cradled Each Other in the Air was published in 2017 by Blue Lyra Press. Her work has appeared in The Cortland Review, Hobart, The Greensboro Review, Notre Dame Review, Lunch Ticket, Cider Press Review, Front Porch, Watershed Review, Bayou Magazine, Zone 3, and other journals.