By the specific instructions of the doctor’s receptionist, I parked my car under a large tree about four houses down from the house. The receptionist insisted on faxing me the instructions instead of emailing or relating them over the telephone. I didn’t tell her this would be inconvenient to me.
“Can I get back to you with the fax number?”
She told me that would be fine. The next day at work, I found the office fax number and called her back. As I waited for the fax to arrive, I patrolled the area around the machine to make sure no one else grabbed the fax before I did. I spent about ten minutes pretending to organize supplies until it finally came through. The fax was completely handwritten, relaying the above instructions, along with a list of paired numbers and arrows. Confident that this other part of the message would come in handy later, I made sure to take the paper with me to the appointment.
However, I was already walking to the house when I realized the paper still sat on my kitchen counter just before I left home. The only thing in my mind were the two hardboiled eggs I’d saved for my 2:00 PM snack, and once I’d made sure I had my wallet and keys and the eggs, the paper was out of my mind just long enough for me to leave without even thinking about it.
As I walked to the house, I rationalized to myself that the paper hadn’t meant anything that they couldn’t pull up from their computer. I couldn’t afford to be turned away after being fortunate enough to have this appointment when I did. Before I even turned to walk up the cobblestone walkway, a woman wearing a set of medical scrubs came out the front door of the house. She was fairly plump, but not overweight, and she shuffled over to me in a pair of sneakers.
“Thank you for coming out. We cannot risk letting the doctor’s family seeing us, so please use the instructions I gave you to enter through the back door.”
I hadn’t decided if I should tell her I’d forgotten the directions.
“Oh, and make sure you stand right here, and face this way… Now, just follow the arrows. You do have them, right? No worries, I have a set for you.”
The copy she gave me was identical to the one she faxed over to me, but the copy was distressed, as if it had been copied from several copies before it. Without any other words, she scurried away back into the house. Matching her quick and small steps, I found the numbers to be direct paces from the starting point. The first series landed me right in front of the wooden side gate. I pulled a rope through a hole in the fence, and it unlatched the gate. A few arrows later lead me past rusty old appliances and to a door on the side of the house. This door opened up into the unlit garage, where I squeezed between the wall and the grills of two parked automobiles. I had already closed the door behind me, but I took note of where the door at the other side of the garage. Entering this door, I came into a narrow room just big enough to hold the clothes washer and dryer. Both were off, but still full of clothes.
Sunlight from the sunroof(?) ended just at the next door. Opening that one brought me into an opening with a few paths. I peekd to my left and saw the back corner of a room illuminated by the soft glow of a television set. Along with it, the indistinct but pervasive chatter that was unmistakeably from the television and not from the quiet patrons who undoubtedly sat watching as I crept through their home. I continued to follow the arrows in the opposite direction.
I quickly came to a hallway with 5 closed doors. The arrows lead me to the first door on the right, urging me inside. The knob turned easily enough, but pushing the door yielded no result. Careful not to make any noise, I shifted all my weight into my shoulder and pressed against the door. Just as the wood squelched under my weight, I stopped, and then I noticed the next door down the hall. Oddly, it was opening outward. Just before the door hit me, a face peeked around the corner. The receptionist!
Without a word, she waved me into the room with her. She closed the door behind us, leaving us in total darkness. The darkness seemed to last just a few seconds too long until she flicked the lights on. The room that materialized was covered, wall to wall, with dated pink wall paper. Porcelain dolls adorned in Victoria era hoods and gowns stood along a shelf on the back wall. The floor was haphazardly occupied by old-fashioned baby carriages with big wheels and delicate, thin handles. On the right wall was a sliding door closet, nearly barricaded by all the carriages.
The receptionist placed her two tiny hands on my arm. “Now, would you please be able to tell me the reason for your visit today?”
I was certain it had been her on the phone, I went along with the formality and explained my dilemma to her. I couldn’t afford to miss anymore work, especially for a dentist appointment. Whoever I spoke to on the phone offered to schedule me for an in-home appointment–at the doctor’s home, that is.
“If it’s just a cleaning, surely you could have scheduled a lunchbreak, if not too much an inconvenience?”
I didn’t think this question had any significance now that I was here, but I was suddenly afraid I would be turned away.
“Unfortunately, I can’t afford even an inconvenience like that. I’m on a very strict and time-sensitive diet that I just started.” I patted my pocket, making sure the ziploc baggy of hardboiled eggs were still there.
“I understand completely. And because the office is closed on the weekends, our doctor has been gracious enough to invite you to his personal office.”
“Exactly!” I said, but with a bit too much enthusiasm; the receptionist gestured to keep it quiet.
“We’re happy to help our patients according to their needs.” With that, she sat me down in an open crib in the corner of the room. Her fingers in one hand gentle held my palm, and the other hand pushed my hair back behind my ear. Her touch was warm and gentle and platonic. I my bottom sat in the crib while my legs sprawled out with my knees high in the air. I was clearly too large for it, but I felt perfectly comfortable there.
“Just wait here and the nurse will be back with the doctor, okay, sweetie?”
So I sat and waited for this nurse and doctor. Was there really another nurse hiding in the house, too, or had I merely misunderstood her? In just a few minutes, the door opened back up, and the receptionist’s plump rear pushed the door open. In her hands was a tray of plates and dishes, and around her shoulder was a folding stool.
“The nurse is back with a little meal.” A feminine lilt left her sentence hanging in the air. She unfolded the stool, placed it in front of me, and put the tray on top. On the tray were a various dishes and cups with lids on top.
“Thank you,” I said. I had thought of reminding her that my diet was strict; that I had specific meals to eat at specific times. I figured it more safe to ask if it was really OK to eat right before a cleaning.
The receptionist gave me a sarcastic frown. “Now, now, you eat up. I’ll make sure everything is okey dokey when the doctor comes in, alright?” Before she left, she gave me a quick caress on the cheek.
I sat wondering what to do. I wasn’t required to eat, right? No one was forcing me? In my stillness, I heard some noise outside the door. Some exasperated breathing. Then, the sound of something dragging across the carpet. It would stop momentarily, and then start back up again, but further away.
I decided I would reject the receptionist’s meal and, at the same time, see what was going on out there. I turned the knob, but the door wouldn’t budge. I pushed and pushed, but it didn’t give way even a bit. The receptionist’s voice blared through the door, and I was so startled I nearly fell into the food tray.
“Have you finished eating yet? The doctor isn’t ready just yet.” In between breaths, I heard her heaving something across the floor again.
“Still working on it,” I said.
I immediately panicked and started looking for a way out. There was no window in this room. Something useful could be in the closet, maybe, and I started clearing out all the carriages away from the door as quietly as I could. When I slid open the closet door, it went sliding on its track and hit the wall with full force. In my brief moment of petrification, I glimpsed a door knob inside the closet.
“The doctor is almost here,” the receptionist’s voice said through the door. Again, something was being moved across the ground, and then ended with a loud bang as if it had been tipped over.
I leapt out, switched off the light, and dove back into the closet. I wrenched the door knob inside, and it took some force to move. I pushed through the door, and a peeling and crackling noise erupted from the door frame, as if it had been painted over long ago. This room was completely dark, too, and my feet met with firm, soft lumps. Imagining the worst, I patted the wall for the next doorknob. I managed to get my foot caught and tripped, but I bolted back up and reached for the knob again. Instead, I found a light switch, and my wildly flailing hand turned it on.
All over the floor was layers of scattered quilts and pillows. The room looked merely like a storage room for extra items and furniture. I moved the refuse away from the door enough to squeeze out, and I booked it down the hall. I passed the living room where I had heard the television. A few trays stood near in front of the couches, but no one was in there. I made it out the front door, down the street, and got into my car. I started it up and sped down the street.
The LED display on the dashboard said 1:50 PM. I took out my hardboiled eggs, saw they were still perfectly intact despite the calamity, and was relieved.