“Women in Cheap Jeans”

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.

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About Allison Lee

Allison Lee has been a meeting planner, a copy editor, a greenhouse worker, a baker of bread, and a New York City dog walker. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Madison Review, Cheap Pop Lit, Gargoyle Magazine, The Texas Review, and others. She lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan.