by Michael Hurst
All the drivers with older cars have their windows wide
open. People with climate control are closed in. Me, I'm in
the convertible and the roof is one big open window. I'm
humming a song and thinking of Lorna. She's the reason I
bought this car, and she's the reason I'm taking it out
today to visit Greenville Clinic.

Greenville Clinic, also known as the clap clinic.

Not that there's anything wrong with me.

'Danny, these days, people start a relationship with a
clean bill of health,' she said.

'I don't care,' I said.

She giggled. And rolled away.

My appointment is today, hers is tomorrow. And then,
bingo, our romance can get going with a bang. Something
to look forward to.

As I pull out from the end of Lake Road, I have to brake
hard for a white van. I glimpse three builders in the
cockpit. The driver's wearing a tweed cap in the 80s
casual style.

'Fucking dick!' he shouts.

This isn't enough to spoil my cheerful mood. Nowhere
close. And a lot of good it's done him, speeding past. At
the traffic lights we're both waiting to turn left.

On the back of the van someone's written
Bieber fever in
the grime. I wonder if it's aimed at the driver with the cap.

I'm used to seeing a big cock and balls,
Clean me or I
wish my wife was this dirty
. This is better. 'Bieber' is spelt
correctly. The letters are clear, centrally placed and a
readable size. True, the implicit homophobia is a problem,
but as grime-lines go, it's pretty impressive.

The sun has brought out the traffic. Progress is slow on
the approach to town. By the time I reach the hospital car
park I realize I'm going to be late for my 14.00

* * *

'Harry, this gentleman wants to know where the Greenville
Clinic is.'

The till woman shouts across the café to a janitor who's
standing near the entrance on the far side.

My eyes widen and I raise a hand to try to stop her but
the grim smirk on her face tells me I've fallen into a trap.

Harry plays his part as though they've rehearsed it.

'The what?' he yells back.

There are about twenty people in the café, and their
conversation dies down.

'The Greenville Clinic.'

'The Greenville Clinic?'

'Yes, that's right, he wants to know where the
Clinic is.'

'He needs to go to C Block. The Greenville Clinic is on the
second floor.'

'Thanks, Harry!'

There's a mean tightness in the till woman's face. It's
easy to imagine her bringing up a family in one of the
town's estates, scratching out a living. I feel as though
she's sucked up a little piece of my happiness and taken it
for herself.

The corridor to C Block is shaped like a London
Underground tunnel and plastered in pastel blue. It's hot
like the Underground as well. Dry, stale air. At the end,
next to lifts, is a board I checked earlier: Oncology,
Physiotherapy, Ophthalmology, even the Chaplaincy, but
no mention of Greenville.

* * *

The clinic entrance is a windowless door with a grey
plastic handle, as though you are going into a toilet block.
It leads directly into a small waiting room and I have to
pass the other patients to reach the check-in desk.

'Danny Steadman,' I say to the nurse. It doesn't seem to
concern her that I'm ten minutes late. She tells me to sit
with the others.

The waiting area consists of two rows of chairs facing each
other. There's no choice but to sit near the other patients.
Most of the chairs have yellow stuffing visible through
tears in the fabric. We're on the top floor and a skylight
focuses the sun, superheating the room like a greenhouse.
A single fan on top of a cabinet spins at full speed but
doesn't make a lot of difference. It's hard to avoid the
conclusion that this cramped and shabby clinic has been
set up to punish the people who use it.

I exchange discreet glances with the other patients. They
are all in their twenties or younger. A girl in tight ripped
jeans is with her mother, the two of them sitting up
straight. Another girl has brought a friend who pats her on
the arm from time to time. A soldier in his uniform sits on
his own, his head lowered so that it almost touches his
legs. No one smiles. The faces are washed out, hungover,

You could say that the clap clinic's a great leveller but
today all the other patients are poor and underprivileged.
At first I spread my legs, the professional man in his
thirties, come for his middle-class relationship checkup. I
piss without pain, my posture announces. No warts or
unpleasant discharges here. But the mood in the room
pulls me down. I'm sweating. I can see the sweat on the
others. The fan makes a buzzing noise, interrupted by a
click each time it reaches the end of its rotation.

The soldier is called in. He topples out of his seat, head
still bowed. His uniform is slightly too big. On an impulse,
I get up after him and leave the clinic without looking
around. I rest my face against the blue plaster wall
outside and breathe deeply.

I'll have to talk Lorna out of it, or go private. Pay a shame
fee. Drink pod coffee in the spacious waiting area. Despite
the heat, I want a coffee now. I can't go back to the
hospital café. There's a door at the bottom of the stairs. I
hurry outside, back to my convertible, careful to avoid eye
contact with anyone I meet.

Michael Hurst's stories are published or forthcoming in
the print editions of The Fiction Desk, Ellipsis Zine, and
Stroud Short Stories. He was shortlisted for the 2018
Newcomer Prize.
MAY 2019