Opening the Box

“So, yeah, I’m having some issues, you know, down there. Well, not just down there. Other places, too. I’ve been talking to my mother on the phone and I know that the fatigue, the blood, the having to pee all the time, the nausea—I know that’s what happens when you’re pregnant, and my mother keeps assuring me that’s what it is. I haven’t told Dave any of this yet, by the way. Well, my mother keeps telling me I’m probably pregnant, but I don’t know.  Are the cramps supposed to be this painful? They’re normally sharp for me, when I’m having my, you know, like sharp pointed pain between my hips. These cramps, they’re dull, larger, or something, less painful, but more nagging. And the blood—she called it spotting on the phone—there’s more than there should be, I’m pretty sure. And well, I’ll just tell you, the last time Dave and I—the last time, I didn’t—I didn’t climax, and, well, can it even happen, in that case? It was about two weeks ago this was the only time it could have been. The only time in awhile. God, why am I telling you this. The only time I think it had been six months since the last. He’d been drinking—at Evan’s house or the bar—he never tells me anymore. You don’t need to know that. Well, he’d been drinking, point enough, and he came home and I was in bed already. You don’t need the details. Well my point is he walked in and woke me up with a kiss. Here you’re thinking it’s romantic, I know. Not that it isn’t. But, God, really I must sound hysterical. So my point is he came in and woke me up so quickly, and well, it was all over so quickly that I didn’t even think he had, you know. He’s never been quite so…fast, before. And so I definitely wasn’t able to in that quick burst, and I don’t think he did, either, so what are the chances, even, is my point. So all of this has been making me—despite what Mom says—all of this has been making me think it’s something else. Then, yesterday, I was walking down Main Street and all of a sudden I felt something slimy. This sounds crazy. I thought I had soiled myself. I ran into the hardware store and had Ed show me the bathroom, clenching my legs the whole time and I got to the bathroom and sat on the toilet and what I saw wasn’t what I thought it would be. Like, phlegm, almost. Like what Dave coughs up and spits into the grass when he’s mowing the lawn. Well, I saw that, and I knew something was wrong. So here I am. God, sorry for going into the whole story there.”

Peter coughed and said, “Could you lie down on the table for me, Dora?”

It was gonorrhea. Peter had known the moment Dora had walked into his office with that confused look on her face. It was his gonorrhea—the gonorrhea he’d acquired, most likely, in an alley in Burlington from a man with a sun tattoo on his neck. The gonorrhea which had somehow traveled from Peter’s rectum to his penis, which he in turn had passed on to Dora’s husband David, which had somehow spread from David’s rectum to David’s penis, which David had given to his wife, Dora, which had made Dora pick up the phone to call her aging mother, which, Peter worried, had gotten Dora’s mother excited about a long-awaited grandchild, which, alas, was not an embryo but rather a sexually transmitted disease—a sexually transmitted disease that, although common in other parts of the world, had never infected anyone in this isolated town until Peter had brought it back with him from his trip to that bar in Burlington .

Normally, women would be going to an OB/GYN for this type of thing, but he was the only doctor for miles, so they always ended up coming to him. The thing that frustrated him, now, with Dora on the table, was that he could see how pretty her body was, could see, even through her patient’s gown, hints of the hourglass shape other men seemed to obsess over, could see how her skin was clear and smooth and rosy, could see the way her full lips puckered as she frowned, could see the way her back arched underneath her as she shifted her weight onto her pelvis.

But Peter could only enjoy a woman’s beauty as one might enjoy a pleasant landscape painting. He would never be able to feel the pull of her in his groin, would never feel his blood rush, as others might, with her lying almost naked on his table. He thought of how his body reacted to the man with the sun tattoo and how it reacted to David.

Peter had thought of calling David. He’d first seen the discharge a few days after they’d walked to that shack in the woods. He had swabbed himself, sent the swab in for testing in a Burlington lab, waited seven days for the swab to come back, and prescribed himself an antibiotic. He’d thought of calling, but he hadn’t—to protect his cover and to protect David’s, he’d thought at the time.

And now he was paying for it. He got up from his chair and walked over to the foot of the table. A few years ago, he had jerry-rigged a set of stirrups from the chopped up legs of a wooden chair and a few old leather belts. He strapped the stirrups to the table, now.

“Lift your legs up into these, please, Dora,” he said, guiding her feet with his hands. “I’m going to take a quick look, okay?”

She nodded.

Peter lifted up her gown and was greeted with a foul odor. The stench seemed to be blowing like a breeze out from between Dora's legs. His eyes watered. Beneath it all, he smelled something rotten and—he thought it was a trick of his nosesomething sweet.