Filling in the Blanks
by William Michaelian

Last name, first name, middle initial. Home phone. Work phone. Permanent mailing address. Person to call in case of emergency. In the first blank I wrote George. In the other blanks I wrote N/A.

George, the receptionist said. We also need your last name.

I donít have a last name, I said. At least none that I can remember. I turned the form around on the counter so it faced me again. Next to my name I wrote N/A. There you go, I said. Will there be anything else?

The receptionist rolled her eyes. Sit down, she said. Weíll call you in a few minutes.

There were no empty chairs, so I sat on the floor next to a potted plant. I propped myself up against the wall. There were scuff marks all over it, and here and there some small writing. I found one message that said, With any luck, the world will end. That cheered me up.

For a long time, no one said George. They said Daniel, and Roberta, and Martha, and Arturo, and Benjamin, but not George. They said Gary, and a door by the receptionist opened, and a big guy got up out of one of the gum-reinforced plastic chairs and walked slowly to the door and disappeared. Ouch, he said, when he was about halfway there. Poor old Gary. He was limping pretty bad.

George, this big fat nurse said after about an hour.

Thatís me, I said. I hauled myself up off the floor and tried to straighten my spine. Everybody looked at me, like who the hell is this guy? Had I known the answer, I would have told them. Instead I coughed, even though I didnít need to.

In the examining room, the big fat nurse took my blood pressure and said, How are you feeling today, George?

Not so good, I said.

Oh? Whatís wrong?

I donít know. I hurt all over.

Inside, or outside?

Inside, I guess.

Uh-huh. Where inside?

Right about here.

Here? Where your heart is?

Yeah. But I donít think itís my heart.

What makes you say that?

Well, a long time ago, my old man told me I didnít have a heart.

I see.

Yeah. He said, You know what your problem is, George? Youíre a heartless bastard. Thatís what he said.

The nurse put her stethoscope over my heart and listened. She listened for maybe fifteen seconds. Then she started moving it around and having me breathe. Your lungs sound fine, she said after listening both front and back. Theyíre nice and clear.

What about my heart? I said.

It sounds fine too, she said. I donít think you have anything to worry about. Now tell me. How is your digestion?

Not too good, I said. But then, the crap I eat, itís no wonder. And most of the time, I donít eat at all.

Thatís not good for you, the nurse said.

Tell me about it, I said, looking at her big arms, thick neck, and round face. Tell me about it.

The nurse turned red. She was okay, that girl. She was getting paid, thatís all. You get paid, youíre bound to eat regular meals, plus maybe a little ice cream thrown in. Canít fault a person for that. Me, Iím a French fry man. Trouble is, theyíre not too good once they sit in the dumpster.

The doctor is very busy today, she said. But if you like, I can have him come in.

I thought thatís why I was here, I said.

The nurse smiled and left the room. I looked at the tongue depressors, and at the little trash can with the button you step on to make it flip its lid. Iíve always loved those things. There was a patch of dirty sunlight coming in the window. Or maybe it was the window that was dirty. Either way, it was too high up and too small to see very much. The floor was nice, though. Black and white squares with weird stains.

Awhile later the door opened and the doctor came in. George? he said. Iím Dr. Burt.

Hi, Doc, I said. Howís it going?

Oh, not too bad. Busy as usual.

Yeah, thatís quite a crowd you got out there. Looks like youíre pretty popular.

Well, I donít know if popularís the word. Now. What can I do for you?

Iím not sure. I feel bad, thatís all.

Letís see. It says here your pulse and blood pressure are normal, and that your lungs are clear. Are you experiencing any pain?

Some.

Can you show me where it is?

I pointed to my stomach.

And what does the pain feel like? Dr. Burt said. Is it sharp, or is there a burning sensation?

It burns mostly, I said.

I see. Is it burning right now?

Yes.

Okay. And when is the last time youíve eaten?

I donít know. Yesterday, I guess. No, wait. It was the day before. Yeah, thatís right. The day before. I found a burrito and had that.

A burrito. And you havenít eaten since?

Nope. And before that . . . wait . . . no, uh . . . letís see.

Dr. Burt sighed.

Iím not doing it on purpose, I said. If thatís what you think. Iíd work, but no one will hire me.

Iím not blaming you, the doctor said. I just wish there was something I could do to help. He looked away. It was easy to see he felt bad. Poor guy.

Hey, I said, donít worry about it, okay? I wasnít really expecting anything. At least I know my tickerís working, right?

Right. You know, I do have a sandwich in the refrigerator. Why donít you take that?

Thatís nice of you. But thereís no way Iím going to eat your lunch.

Why not? I probably wonít have time to eat it anyway.

Nope. Really. Iíll be fine.

The doctor forced a little smile. Okay, George, he said. Okay. Well, I guess Iíd better get going, then.

Sure, I said. Thanks, Doc.

Dr. Burt left the room. I buttoned up my shirt and walked back out through the waiting area, then went outside. Before the door had shut behind me, I thought I heard somebody call my name. But I didnít bother turning around. See, I hear things all the time, and they hardly ever turn out to be true.

William Michaelianís newest releases are two poetry collections, Winter Poems and Another Song I Know, published in paperback by Cosmopsis Books in San Francisco. His short stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in many literary magazines and newspapers. His novel,
A Listening Thing, is published here in its first complete online edition. For information on Michaelianís other books and links to this siteís other sections, please go to the Main Page or visit Flippantly Answered Questions.

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