MAINTENANCE by Nicholas Claro

For BH

 

 

I’m inside the lobby waiting on an oil change when I hear it. Across the street, a man struggles to hold a sign against the wind. I squint to read through the shop’s window: “You are all going to die.” 

This is what the man is yelling. 

I wonder if his motivation is religious. This makes sense in a nonsensical way. Even if all he’s really doing is standing in worsening weather reminding those who see and hear him of something they needn’t be reminded of. 

We know. We get it. If it’s not your turn, it’s someone else’s. Until it’s yours. 

Last month I thought it was mine. I wiped and blood came back streaked across the paper. Not a ton, but enough for me to think, “this is how.” 

I scheduled an appointment that day. 

I left the doctor’s office with a list of hemorrhoid creams. 

The same day was someone else’s turn. Probably tens of thousands of somebodies. One of them I knew. I got a call from a friend of a friend back home in Arkansas while waiting in line at the CVS, telling me our friend was in hospice. 

“Hospice?” I said. “He’s forty-four.”

“I don’t think you realize how much he drank,” the friend of my friend said.

At home, I Googled “liver cirrhosis.” I read over symptoms. Learned of “edema” and “hepatic encephalopathy.” Looked at photos of healthy and fatty livers, fibrosis livers, of scarred livers resembling rotten chicken breasts. Reflexively, I read certain words aloud like “decompensated,” “irreversible,” and “terminal.” 

Later that night, the friend of my friend called back.

 

A mechanic enters the lobby and I’m already grabbing my wallet. Before he’s close, he mentions good tire pressure. When he’s closer, he holds up a piece of paper. I’m not sure what he’s talking about, though I pretend to understand, nodding when he mentions fluid levels, sturdy belts, kinkless hoses, and how clean the air filter is. 

“You might consider replacing your wiper blades,” he says.

Normally I’d say sure, go for it, but the man is still yelling and I am still thinking about my dead friend.

“Do you take Amex?” I say.

 

Outside my car idles with its door open. They’ve dusted the dash and vacuumed, which I appreciate. I readjust the seat, buckling as the first raindrops smack the windshield. 

At the edge of the parking lot, I wait for the traffic on Second to thin out. To shield himself from the rain, which falls harder now, the man holds the sign above his head. He’s no longer yelling, and the sign doesn’t look like a sign, just a sheet of cardboard. If I hadn’t had to listen to him for the last half-hour, I’d think he was simply someone walking somewhere, who fully intended to beat the rain, but didn’t, because it came much sooner than he expected.


Nicholas Claro is an MFA candidate in fiction at WSU and reads fiction for Nimrod International Journal. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pithead Chapel, Bending Genres, Heavy Feather Review, Fictive Dream, X-R-A-Y, Necessary Fiction, and others. He lives in Wichita, Kansas.

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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