There’s a bloodmobile parked outside the office, so I get in. I haven’t given blood in awhile, not since I thought I had AIDS. I should make up for that.
The pretty nurse sits me down, and I’d like to say something funny. Last time I gave blood, years ago, a nurse told me I was a phlebotomist’s dream. It’s the big vein in my right arm, thick right up at the surface. Easy to find. I want this nurse to tell me so, too, but instead she gives me a rubber ball to squeeze. Through the bloodmobile’s windows we watch a bird strike the side of my fifteen-story office building and fall, and then she jabs me with a needle, and a little later she gives me a cookie. I imagine the men coming through her truck, biceps bare. Probably she’s married to a doctor. He has a nice smile and speaks softly but gets too angry when he drinks.
Probably she worries about this, but I’m not the one to reassure her.
One of the girls in the office dresses nicer than the rest of us. It’s a t-shirt and jeans kind of place, but she’s in a pretty dress, and her hair’s always done, never just a ponytail. Dress for the job you want, or something.
My first day I wore a tie. I was the only one, including my boss. One of the other guys, he’s got big arms but a beer-and-nacho gut, he joked I was too dressed up. It was a warning, too. It was do you think you’re better than us.
I did, actually, but I reckoned I’d keep the secret. And now here I was, t-shirt and jeans, and the girl in the dress doesn’t look at me.
I have a fondness for needles, since heroin. That’s my ace at parties. That’s the line I deliver when I can tell everyone thinks I’m dull, because my stories all involve coffeemakers and mandatory overtime. The one time in my life I tried drugs, I skipped straight through to the hard stuff, and the story isn’t great but it’s got a lot of coincidence, and people love those bits. They love when things happen for no reason, if it’s true. Everyone wants to live in a godless universe where it all still comes out all right.
It was after that that I gave blood, the one time until now. I was nineteen. The needle of dope I’d shared with this girl, who was strung out but pretty and followed me into a bathroom, and I guess I was lonely. I didn’t even want to be there. I wanted to go home. I always make my worst decisions trying to get home.
All day I sit at my desk with a wad of cotton secured to my arm by a bright blue bandage. It’s uncomfortable, but people walk by and notice. Nobody wants to spend their lunch hour giving blood. I am the only one. It’s even better than a tie.
I never thought of myself as homeless, at nineteen. I just slept on a lot of couches. I just didn’t get any mail.
The girl in the dress walks past my desk, and for the first time I can remember we exchange a look. The crook of her left arm is wrapped in pink tape. It looks nice. That’s stupid to say, but it does, because she’s wearing a soft yellow dress, and the pink looks good with it, and I ache at how far away it all is. She pauses for a second, like she might say something, might tell me I should dress better, but then she goes on. Not back to her desk, but toward the stairs.
Before I really know it, I follow her out. All the small talk in my head, none of it’s right. I want to ask about her fondness for needles. I want to ask if she’s been tested for AIDS. I want to ask if she’ll please take me home.
The stairwell is metal and so also loud, and I’m down a whole floor before I realize she’s going the other direction, is indeed on her way up. Ascendant. The inside of my elbow aches to the tune of my pulse, which is elevated because I am not in very good shape, if I am being completely honest with you. I eat well these days. I am working on my own nacho gut.
I don’t want to seem like I’m chasing. I could have been wrong about the glance. Maybe I got blood on my shirt. Maybe my hair is a mess. So we go up and up, me behind her moving slow, and by the time I get to the top of the last flight of stairs, she’s already on the roof.
It was an oriole that hit the building while I gave blood. Black and gold, delicate up close. My office is all blue glass on one side, I can’t imagine it looks like anything but sky to a little bird. I looked at the nurse expecting comment, but she just kept looking out the window, like if she waited long enough the bird would flap up off the ground, comically stunned. Maybe little cartoon people circling its head, that sort of thing.
I wanted to tell her that this was just a thing that happened on this side of the building, but it would sound too cold. Everything is just a thing that happens. It’s all coincidence—that we looked, that there was a bird, that it died.
I have these thoughts, but I don’t give them to her. She’s already taking my blood.
I didn’t know there was roof access here, but there I go, climbing a ladder.
The girl in the dress is out in the sun. It’s a bright day, but cool. She’s walking toward the edge. The wind is strong up here; my t-shirt flaps across my back and her dress snaps against her legs. If she jumps, there’s not enough blood on that truck to refill her, but I don’t think she’s thought about that.
If I don’t say something, and maybe if I do, she’ll keep walking, and then there won’t be anything left to walk on. Short flight, then little cartoon orioles making circles above her head. I only gave blood to see if the nurse was pretty. To get to wear the blue bandage. Because I have a fondness for needles. I didn’t know it would tie me to this girl on the ledge. It still doesn’t have to. What I do know, though, the thing I’ve learned to get here, is this: home is the place you’re called back to.
So I call out to her. And then I call again.
Blood spatter image by Karta24 (Image:Give_Blood.jpg) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons.