February, 2018:

Ants this time.

I.

I flipped through a magazine in the waiting room of the Urgent Care center. The quality of care I would receive from a medical facility in a strip mall between a deli and a perpetually thumping car stereo equipment store remained to be seen, but it was better than nothing. Plus, no appointments required, which I discovered when I called to make an appointment. “We don’t really do that here, just show up whenever.” I showed up on a Tuesday around 10:30 am, a very whenever time.

The three year old issue of Yankee Magazine was unreadable. I can’t read with music playing in the background, and the bass from the stupidly large subwoofers next door was bleeding through the walls. I also can’t read while an old woman sits across from me and coughs those useless old person coughs. She doubled over and spilled the contents of a plastic transparent envelope that was in the purse that she clutched to her chest. The floor was now littered with coupons. 30 cents off toilet paper, half off a carton of store brand orange juice, and a voucher for a sample of something called Brownie Dunkers. She got on her hands and knees, jamming coupons back into her purse with a wild look in her eyes. I returned to my magazine, and re-read a sentence about 2014 New England Summer Hot Spots again.

II.

The nurse called my name, I followed her down the hallway lined with pictures of famous skylines. The first one: New York City. Easy. The second one… probably Chicago? Or Toronto. Or maybe Tokyo or maybe a recreation of a matte painting from one of those movies where they don’t make it obvious which city they’re in. Like, this could be anywhere. “We’re going to be in room B today.” She led me into room B.

I took my place on the table. “Val forgot to give you this depression test, so here it is, and here’s a pen, just fill it out and Doctor Shipley will be with you shortly.” She closed the door and I scanned the PHQ-9 Depression Test, jumping to the last question in case it was the hardest.

Thoughts that you would be better off dead, or of hurting yourself in some way?

Jesus. I slashed an X through the box labeled 1 – Not at all. Back to the top.

Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless?

I looked for a box labeled “I mean yeah sometimes but let’s not make a big deal about it.” Failing to find it, I marked 2 – Several days.

Trouble concentrating on things, such as reading the newspaper or watching television.

4 – Nearly every day.

Feeling bad about yourself – or that you are a failure or have let yourself or your family down.

Another 4.

I added up the score, and though I didn’t know what the sum meant (I flipped it over to see if there was a grading system on the back) I assumed anything higher than 1 signified “get a load of this very depressed man.” I felt my face get hot. I looked at the last question again.

Thoughts that you would be better off dead, or of hurting yourself in some way?

I changed the answer to 2.

 

III.

Three knocks and the door opened. “What brings you in here today?”

I set the test down next to me on the table. “I’ve been having a hard time managing my stress.” The doctor made the “lift up your shirt” motion, which I did as I tried to put my symptoms into words. “I know what anxiety feels like, but lately I just feel…” The doctor placed his stethoscope on my back. “… wrong.”

“Lungs sound good, let’s take a look at that blood pressure.”

“Also there’s this other thing…” Still reeling from the test’s suggestion that I’m depressed and maybe I should think about killing myself, I attempted to slow my heart rate through deep breaths and the calming pastels of a picture of a healthy esophagus on the wall.

“Wow it’s really up there, do you have a history of heart disease in your fa- are you ok?”

“Yeah yeah yeah yeah I’m good.” Ringing in my ears. Eyes closed tight enough that I saw stars. I could hear the blood rushing through my head. And the ringing. My breathing intensified, my fists tightened, there was an audible pop and a second me landed on the floor with a wet thud. Its eyes opened and it started thrashing around on the floor, its naked skin slapping against the linoleum. Doctor Shipley stumbled backwards up against the wall as I wiped the blood dripping from my nose, hopped off the table and snapped the other me’s neck. It twitched, gurgled, then slumped.

“So is that something you’ve seen before, or…” I trailed off as the doctor rushed to other me’s side, laying there dead as hell.

“What the fuck just happened?”

I scanned the shelves, plucked a cotton ball out of a jar, hopped back onto the table and tilted my head back. “That? Yeah I don’t know, that’s why I’m here. I think it’s like… I can clone myself?” I shoved the cotton ball up into my nostril and continued my self diagnosis. I was feeling better already. “I get stressed and one of these guys show up all crazy and then I snap their necks. Like -” I made a neck snapping motion, then stuck my tongue out, much the same way the other me’s tongue was now sticking out of its very dead mouth.

“I mean Jesus Christ yes I can see that, but…” Doctor Shipley poked at the other me’s skin with a pen, slick with some kind of clone juice. I could sense the doctor was attempting to play back what he just saw. Looking up, looking at me, his brain adding details that weren’t there. He must have fallen through the ceiling. Yes, that’s exactly what happened. No, he fell out of me. Sort of. He was probably here and I just didn’t see him. No, there’s a naked and wet dead man in the middle of the floor, you would have seen that. How did he do that. “How did… how did you do that?”

I shifted my weight on the table. “Well the first time it happened after I sneezed really hard. Like, really hard. Like one of those ones that just sneaks up on you. The next thing I know there’s this naked guy tearing up the house, he’s just knocking shit over going all crazy, so I gave him a shove you know? Just shoved him like hey knock it off, and he fell backwards and broke his neck on the coffee table. Which gave me the idea about the whole, you know-,” again I made the neck snapping motion.

“So I’m wondering doc, do clones have weak necks? Is that a thing? Because you saw how easy this son of a bitch went down,” I motioned towards the body with a weak kick, though I was on the table and too high off the floor to make contact.

IV.

There was a quick double knock on the door. “Is everything alright in there doctor?” Everything was not alright in here, but he replied from the floor with a high-pitched, too friendly, “Yup, no problem, just finishing up, call the next patient, thank you, ok then,” rambling sentence. The doctor stood up, rubbed the back of his neck and continued staring at the other me. “How many times have you done this?”

I looked up, poked at the air with my index finger, and for a brief second the doctor probably wondered if a calculator was going to materialize in mid air to receive my addition.

“Probably,” I drew the word out, exhaled a long breath with puffed cheeks. “Like… I don’t know, 50? 60 times?” The implications of this statement hung heavy, but there was no remorse in my voice. Even I noticed that. I answered, “How many times have you murdered a clone of yourself?” with the same cadence that I’d answer, “How many times did you go to the supermarket last year, if you had to guess?”

“But… the bodies?”

“So that’s the really crazy part, you’ll see in a few minutes what happens next. But I was so pissed because the first time, I mean, technically I just killed a guy, right? So I’m going to Home Depot, I’m buying a shovel, the whole nine yards. And look, I never needed a shovel before, I live in an apartment so I’m not digging too many holes. I come back and the guy’s gone. And it’s not like I lost him, so now I’m stuck with this stupid shovel because I did lose the receipt. I swear to god I went from Home Depot to my car and back to the apartment and I lose the receipt in like 20 minu- oh whoops here we go.”

The other me, who moments ago was lying motionless in the middle of the floor, transformed into ten thousand ants and scurried single file under the door and into the hallway. “OH GOD GROSS,” screamed the nurse as she lead the next patient into examining room A or C.

“Well, there they go. Ants this time. Hah. Weird.” I checked the status of my nose bleed and slipped the sticky cotton ball into the slit on a box labeled BIOHAZARD. “So what’s the next step here, doctor? Do you want me to to uh…” I made a wiggly magic motion with my hands, “summon forth another one? Maybe you can run some tests on its weak-ass neck?”

A single ant had broken away from the group and ran in circles between our feet. Maybe it was all of the commotion outside. Can ants hear? Can ants that were once terrified clones, brought into this world and then just as quickly unceremoniously murdered, can they hear? Doctor Shipley crushed the ant under his heel. And I’d like to say I felt something, like a part of me died or whatever, but it was no different than killing the other me’s.

“Get the fuck out of my office.”

I slid off the table and walked towards the door. I forgot I was still wearing the blood pressure cuff. The tearing of medical-grade velcro reverberated off every surface of the room.

V.

“Did you go to the doctor?”

“Yeah.”

“What did he say? Wait, he or she?”

“He. Not much. ‘Get the fuck out of my office.’ Ants this time, it was gross.”

Another me rubbed my shoulders. “We’ll figure it out.”


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