by SF Wright
He’d been going to the clinic for two months when he saw her: blonde hair, chalky skin, medium-sized breasts. She wore a black leather jacket, and the way she said thank you to the nurse was so shy yet polite, he found it irresistible.
He thought he was in love.
But he was hesitant. He was afraid she’d think he was up to something: selling, looking to cop. The last thing anyone at a methadone clinic expected was to be hit on.
He waited to see her every day. Sometimes he got there as she was leaving; other times she arrived just as he was. Occasionally he was right ahead of her, or she of him.
But he could never get up the nerve.
One rainy day, though, she arrived when he was the only person in line. A single nurse worked. A man waited at the counter.
He felt her presence; he smelled her coconut-scented shampoo, her soap, the leather of her jacket. His heart beat fast, his stomach felt light.
Just say something. Anything.
But he couldn’t.
Then, she spoke. What is taking so long?
He hesitated; then he turned. Only one nurse today.
She sighed. She looked at her watch. Gonna be late for work.
He wanted to ask where she worked but the nurse said, next.
As he swallowed the pink medicine-tasting methadone and felt it warm his stomach, he knew he couldn’t waste the opportunity. Only, he couldn’t think what to say.
Then it was her turn, and they were passing each other.
Suddenly, he stopped. I’m Dan, by the way.
She appeared wary, as though he had an angle. But then she said, I’m Claire. She smiled briefly.
As he walked to his car, the day, despite the rain, seemed much brighter.
She’d then nod when she saw him. Occasionally she’d smile. And once as he came from the counter and passed her in line she said, hi, Dan. Her saying his name, her remembering his name, filled him with such happiness it was all he could think of.
They never stood together in the same line again. But he wasn’t worried; they knew each other’s names. He only had to wait until the next opportunity. He’d learn something about her, he’d tell her something about himself. They’d talk more, and then someday. . .
But one Monday she wasn’t there.
He assumed he’d missed her, that she’d come earlier or would arrive later.
But he didn’t see her the next day, or the one after, and though he didn’t want to admit it, he had the feeling she was no longer at the clinic.
Maybe she’d been on placebos and was off for good. Perhaps she’d failed too many tests and had been kicked out. Maybe she moved.
He still had hope. But the rest of the week passed without seeing her, as did the following one.
He figured he had nothing to lose, and so asked his social worker, a heavy, combative woman named Beatrice.
Claire? Beatrice spoke as though he’d asked about a notorious criminal. I think I know who you mean, but she’s Vince’s client, not mine. (He always felt ridiculous when they referred to the addicts as clients.)
Even though he doubted he’d get an answer—and knew he might get chastised—he asked if Beatrice could find out what had happened to her.
Beatrice looked at him as if he were insane. She then went on about the clinic’s policy and patients’ rights, and lectured him about being concerned about his welfare and no one else’s. He heard sounds coming out of her mouth but didn’t listen.
One day in February, ten months after he went on methadone, Beatrice told him he’d been given a placebo for the past two weeks.
He was drug free.
They hugged—it was awkward and forced—and Beatrice made him make promises (strangely, more awkward and forced than the hug). Then they said goodbye.
A few times, on nights he’d been drinking, he tried to find her on the internet. But he hardly had any information: just the first name of a girl who went to a methadone clinic.
He no longer tries.
It’s been fifteen years. Occasionally, when he’s lying in bed unable to sleep and thinking about his classes (he teaches high school English) his mind drifts, and he remembers people from his past. What’s he supposed to make about the fact that he still thinks of her? What’s that say about him? He only considers the answer peripherally, not wanting to delve into its core, even though he senses it, as though through a diaphanous sheath: a violent desire to change what was, the knowledge of knowing he can’t, a bump that can never be smoothed.
SF Wright lives and teaches in New Jersey. His work has appeared in Chiron Review, Steel Toe Review, and The Tishman Review, among other places. His website is sfwrightwriter.com.