They come to the family health clinic on walk in days. Some come in pajamas. The line starts early—maybe seven a.m.—and slithers around the building and into the alley like a Midwest anaconda. Most know the drill. Doors open at seven forty-five with sign-up by eight.
Out in the alley this human snake sways to stay warm in a frosty, ten degree morning. Mothers jiggle little bullet-shaped bundles.
There are men here too. First in line could be an ex-boyfriend—add nearly twenty years. I am the tail of the snake. From here I can only make out his profile. But when we enter the clinic and he passes me to find a seat in the back, I see the many canyons on his face. I imagine he is a bricklayer or a train conductor. Perhaps a house framer. I look away, embarrassed. I know nothing of these trades.
I want to ask him what time he arrived to be first in line. But then a twinge in my gut like a rat stuck in a snake’s body. I’ve had trouble with men who are punctual, orderly. Men who want to rearrange the hours in a day. Or rearrange my sweater drawer at two a.m., because they can.
I glance at his scorched canyon face again. Did his wife chide him this morning for leaving unnecessarily early? But she must know him by now.
I am number 17. I hold the plastic tag between the sleeves of my sweatshirt. I am not proud like these mothers. I am here for myself, no one else.
Number one, jolts the receptionist. Without looking directly at me, Canyon Face walks towards the counter, taking a last second detour around my row of chairs. I sit like an endcap in a grocery, but I do not want to advertise myself.
He leans in. Nice hollyhocks.
I am not the only one with embroidered flowers creeping up my pant leg. Hadn’t guessed he could be a gardener.
The sun rises late in Michigan’s January. A thin line of light seeps from a window and travels across the tile floor towards me. As number 17, I will not be seen today at the clinic. I set my tag on a chair. I walk six blocks to a flower shop, but it opens at ten a.m. I am just a woman in cheap jeans, face pressed against a glass window.