Plague Monsters

by Dani Clark

Monsters plagued the path to the clinic when Tangee and Ace got off the free bus. Every block they walked held rudimentary figures, illustrations of ghastly faces arranged on the sidewalk with black spray paint and filled in with colors. Each monster bragged a different facial expression, denoted through the gape or draw of its mouth. Tangee had seen these monsters before, to her they looked like jujube candies with character. Unclaimed by signature or initials, she’d never discovered their artistic maker. Some smiled, their goony tongues lapped the sidewalk. The monsters surrounding the clinic seized in horror with line-tight eyes, chalk-teeth bared.

Inside the clinic, Tangee spoke to the medical receptionist through the plexiglass. The partition kept sick people separated from the people who helped them, “He has a small irritation. Not big, but raised from his skin.”

The plexiglass slid open at the bottom, for people to slide paperwork and identification cards through. The nurse behind the partition wore pink scrubs, rosier and shades darker than her blonde hair. “What do you mean it’s raised from the skin? Is it three-dimensional? Like a rash?”

“It’s rashish,” Tangee nodded. She scratched her head on the shaved side, where her thick hair sometimes grew back bushy and curling. Different from the lank, brown hair she left long on the other side. “Ace roll up your sleeve, let her take a look.”

The crowded waiting room wore dinge impressively. Monsters hid in the clinic, framed the sliding glass doors. Their grim faces waded deeper into the reception room, cantaloupe mouths downturned, sweat bulbs on their painted foreheads. Ace rolled the plaid shirtsleeve, pushing fair-haired dreadlocks over his shoulder. A doctor came to the partition. He watched with the nurse as Ace displayed the pox.

The nurse pulled back from the window, a hand on her chest. The doctor leaned forward. Tangee watched their faces but didn’t look at Ace’s arm. She’d seen it before: a pocky-swelling, unchanged and sequestered above his elbow pit. A small irritation, only quarter the size of her own rashy nuisance. She ignored her outbreak everyday while it sizzled like sunburned skin when the fabric of her shirt touched it. Always hidden when Ace fussed about his malady.

“There’s a perfect remedy for that!” The doctor grinned, “Quick and efficient too- we’ll just cut it right out!”

“Cut out?” Tangee looked from the partition to Ace’s arm, “With a laser? You can zap the top layers of skin off or something?”

“Laser? No, this isn’t science fiction here. That infection is real. It’ll gangrene if it spreads. I’ll take this medical instrument,” -the doctor lifted a domestic handsaw to the partition- “and hack the arm above the infected area until the limb is completely severed. After that I’ll take the disengaged section of the arm, buff away at the infected area with the saw, then sew the rest of his arm back on. It’s as simple as that procedure Angelina Jolie had in her breasts.”

A number of thoughts confronted Tangee: competency of staff, efficacy of the procedure, wonder if the handsaw was ever sterilized, “That might be out of the question. He uses both of his arms and hands all the time.”

“Have you done this procedure before?” Ace asked as he nudged Tangee from the partition. His palms rested on her shoulders as he moved her out of the way.

“Of course, of course! It’s routine for this kind of inflammation. I was in Zaire during the Ebola breakout of ’95, Myanmar during the ‘squito epidemic of ’05, and most recently treated a group of reality TV celebrities with terrible complexions. Payment is required, of course.”

The nurse tilted her head and stepped back from the partition.

Ace held his debit card and stooped to place his arm through the partition opening. The doctor braced the arm against the counter and placed sawteeth to Ace’s skin.

“If you got the experience then…” Tangee shut her eyes when Ace did, manicured eyebrows pinched together with worry. The mental image of serrated fangs hemorrhaged behind closed lids. She peaked as the doctor slid the instrument across Ace’s flesh, the saw gliding like a bow across violin strings.

Blood spatter sprayed the partition with each swipe. Fanned across the walls. Hit the nurse’s face and smiling mouth.

“Does it hurt much?” Tangee asked, guarded from the splash by glass.

“Of course it does,” Ace turned his face away, his body a claw stuck inside a bear trap. “They’re sawing off my arm.”

A head-bandaged monster on the wall frowned from his place behind a row of injured people seated in the lobby. Tangee’s first encounter with a Plague Monster was months before, when she walked past the gentrified side of Lake Merritt. The monster smiled from a building on the other side of the inlet, one tooth protruded from line lips. The painted words scrawled beneath the face said keep going, and she had.

The doctor rocked the saw across the arm once more before it came free. After lifting the limb to his side of the partition he held it over the counter’s edge and kicked it several times, his knee in a high karate chop. The bone splintered, and the rashy section broke away.

Ace sighed at the sight of a fresh and rash-free limb in the doctor’s hands and turned, putting the bloody stump back through the partition. The sewing kit came out and then Ace’s arm was re-appendaged, forearm angled slightly to the left. The result was slightly crooked, but firmly attached. He wiggled his fingers and smiled.

“That’s it then?”

“Neosporin as needed until the puss stops. Come back in if it turns green.” The doctor handed Ace his receipt, globules of red plasma soaked the paper as he passed it through the partition. They nodded at one another before Ace and Tangee turned to leave.

“What do you think about that?” Ace asked as they headed toward the sliding glass doors, “I’m good as new and never left the waiting room.”

“Unique I guess. Maybe a little bit overkill. Got the job done.” Tangee used her fingernails to delicately grate, through her t-shirt, against the rash on her back. She turned to look at the reception room as they walked out the door. A Plague Monster on the wall dared her to look away, snot thinly running from its undeveloped nose. She couldn’t face the jagged paint drawing. The nurse, pale and rosy, wiped traces of diluted pink blood from her teeth.

Dani Clark has an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from St. Mary’s College of CA and a B.A. in English Literature from UC Davis. Her recent publications include Crack the Spine Literary Journal and an upcoming feature in S/tick. Excerpts from her novel-in-progress have been featured in Pure Coincidence Magazine and Misplaced Book. She lives in Oakland with her snake, Goliath. 

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