“You’re a star.”
“I’m not a star.”
“Of course you are. Those red snakeskin boots say it all.”
The kid ignored the older man sitting across from him. He shuffled through the magazines on the waiting room table. Us. Cosmopolitan. Family Circle.
“You here for test results?” The man watched the kid roll his eyes. He rummaged through the worn monthlies on the table. “They never have anything good. What I wouldn’t give for a Popular Mechanics or a Penthouse.” He laughed.
The kid slouched into the bench and pulled his iPhone out. Swipe. Swipe.
“Let’s see… glaucoma, skin cancer, I’ve been shot… cirrhosis…”
“… Scabies, impetigo… what? Oh. That sucks, man.” The codger watched steadily. “Drugs?”
The kid didn’t respond.
“It’s not a death sentence any more. Look at Magic.”
“I’m not Magic.”
The old guy laughed. “Who is? I’m Jim.”
The kid continued to look at his phone.
“Oh well. Live and learn.”
The kid looked up. He’d heard it all. “You’re old, man… What did you learn?”
“Not to put my dick where it doesn’t belong… oh… Well …” He didn’t know what to say after that. The kid swiped his phone. He couldn’t care.
Jim stood and stretched.
A woman came in with her little girl and a baby. They spoke to the receptionist for a moment and found a seat at the far side of the room.
He looked at the bulletin board and ripped a phone number from the bottom of a flyer. He looked out to see shadows filling the street. The receptionist looked up at him and he winked at her.
“Hi, I know this is a free clinic and all but would things move faster if I threw some money at you?”
The receptionist smiled patiently and shook her head. She went back to stapling papers.
Jim collapsed into his old spot on the bench.
“Yeah, women, ya know? When I was your age, I was gonna get ‘em all, you know? Slowed down lately. Just too many of them. Can’t keep up… So what’s your story?”
The kid raised his eyes but didn’t move. “You a cop?”
“No, no, no... You kidding? I look like a cop?”
“Someone gets all chummy, either they want to buy me or cuff me.”
Jim nodded. “I get it. You want me to shut up? I can do that.”
He paused. “I’m easy. I don’t want anything. Don’t even ask the time of day…”
“I thought you were going to shut up.”
“I’m just making conversation, kid. I’m a talker. You know better than me what you need. You want me to shut up? Hand me one of those rags. Family Circle has good recipes.” They both laughed.
The kid pushed a magazine toward Jim. He picked it up, flipped through it briefly and spun it back onto the table. He let out a big sigh.
The kid looked up from his phone. “You got shot? In the war?”
“Five times. Here, look.” Jim pulled up his shirt revealing several ragged scars on his pasty white torso. The kid looked away. Nothing to say.
“Not from any war, kid. They wouldn’t have took me even if I’d wanted in. No, my girlfriend got pissed and unloaded her .22 on me. No vitals though. Would’ve done more damage if she’d thrown it at me. Had to drive myself to the ER.”
“Came home to find all my crap thrown out on the front lawn.”
“You have her arrested?”
“Naw. I deserved it. She had a right.”
“No one has a right.”
“By the time you get to my age, you haven’t hit a few pot holes, you haven’t lived.”
“You’ll be okay.” Silence. “You here alone? No family?”
“All by myself. No one to hold my hand.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“I know what you meant. I live on the street. Do the math. Happy now?”
Jim looked around. He tapped his foot.
The kid mellowed, “You ever have kids?”
“Yeah, here and there. Kind of lost track… they wandered off, you know, over time. Get a call on occasion…”
“Sound like the perfect father. I should have been so lucky. You need to write an advice blog or whatever. Dear Gabby.”
Jim smiled. “I always have an opinion.”
“Look, Jim?” He nodded. “I don’t need your advice. You think you’re some sage on a mountain top? I don’t see it.”
“You’re right. I don’t know you. I must look like fifty miles of bad road. Missed a few turns. Too many to be honest. Plenty of mistakes.”
“You think you know. You don’t know anything, Jim. Look at you. You’re full of advice. You’re sitting in a free clinic waiting for God knows what results. And you presume to tell me how to live?”
Jim sat up. He’d been waiting for this. He smiled. “Look, I don’t even know your name. I’m passing the time here. Sure you’d rather be somewhere else.”
“Out making money…”
“Whatever. But we’re here.” He looked at the kid for a moment. “Are you even twenty? You could be my son.”
“Don’t kid yourself. You’re not my old man. I’d kick your ass if you were. I‘d kill you.”
The baby started to squall. Her mother picked her up and walked in circles with her clucking and murmuring until she quieted. The little girl drew with a crayon.
“Sorry you feel that way, kid. I’m nobody.” He didn’t want to make a speech. “But don’t you get that every moment is a threshold to step through? We can learn from each other.”
“What, you want a lesson in doing your laundry?”
Jim smiled and shook his head. He cracked his knuckles.
The kid sneered. “You can’t afford me.” He turned away.
“You misunderstand me. All I want is to talk.”
“So you can brag about your women? Pretty obvious, don’t you think? People pay for my time. Even if talk is all they want.”
“Fine. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We all make choices. You have choices.”
The receptionist called Jim’s name. They both looked at her. He stood.
A parting shot. “Okay. So, what do you have to show for all your wisdom? Do you even have a change of clothes?”
Jim paused as he moved toward the receptionist’s window. “I’m not afraid of anything. I make my choices and live with the consequences. I don’t owe anyone a thing. I’m nobody’s victim.”
The receptionist handed him some papers and a pen. Signing with a flourish, he handed most of the papers back and thanked her. Nodding slowly, he took time to read his results.
The receptionist called the kid’s name. He stood and followed the same procedure.
Jim stood by, giving the kid time to read.
“What’s the verdict?”
The kid smiled. “Negative.”
The baby laughed as her mother clapped her hands.
The two men looked at the young family. Jim waved at them. Things were different.
“I’m going to get some dinner. You hungry?”
The kid hesitated for a beat. “Sure.”
Jim nodded. They exited and walked into the dusk.