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First Shift


by Chanel Dubofsky


Every Friday night, when he sets the alarm for me, Finn says, "Good luck tomorrow with the crazies." Then he crawls into bed and we lean our foreheads together and after a while, I hear him being asleep, the soft snuffling sounds of his breathing, and the swish of his feet as they wiggle against the sheets.

The next morning, I'm in the entryway of  the clinic holding two cups of sweet, almond colored coffee.  Martin and I kiss each other on both cheeks. I trade him my bag and one of the coffees for the blue smock, with the hole in the left pocket. The hole started when I first started escorting at the clinic four years ago. I was so nervous that I'd spend my shift pushing my index finger hard into the fabric until my heartbeat slowed down. No one else on the Saturday 7-9  am shift is allowed to wear my smock. Martin keeps it hidden behind the security desk next to the manual about fire safety.  Today, he says, "Have a good one, my love," like he always does, and then I push open the door to the clinic and step out.

Lindsay shows up exactly at 7. She's not wearing gloves, and her fingers are long, knobby and purple. She pulls the vest on over her coat, and takes her place  across from me at the door, looking across the street with wide eyes. This is her second time escorting, and our second time together. We've talked about work, the dogs, Spencer and Ira and Pancakes, who regularly pass by with their bleary eyed, sweatpants clad owners. She knows I live with Finn, that we raise chickens on our fire escape. I know she takes the Staten Island Ferry to get here and on the way home, she drinks one beer.

At 8 am, the protestors arrive. A line of people  turn the corner and troop onto the street across from where Lindsay and I are standing. They face us, single file, and begin the Hail Mary,  full of grace. Lindsay sighs and opens the door for a woman who is easily nine months pregnant. I count,40 people today. Gene is in front, as usual, carrying a wooden cross. He's wearing the same brown jacket with elbow patches and tshirt with the name of an obscure band on it that he wears every week, regardless of the season. Amanda's behind him, looking straight ahead, her rosary dangling from her mittened hand, which as usual, make her look like a child.

I open the door for a man and woman, who hold hands unceasingly, even as she signs in at the front desk and goes through security. The man  comes out, ten minutes later and heads  quickly towards the corner, like he's trying to out run himself. I think of Finn, afterwards, bringing me warm chocolate milk and brioche and Ramen in bed and nodding in agreement when I said I was glad we had our lives back.

When I turn back from watching the guy, Gene is talking to Lindsay, leaning close to her, his palm flat against the brick wall behind her, as though this were a bar on a Saturday night. He says, "You're too pretty to be doing this. Do you know that? You're so pretty." He has green eyes, and skin so smooth it looks like something you'd buy in a bottle and apply evenly.

"You're not supposed to be over here," Lindsay says. Gene smiles at her. "It's okay," he tells her, and then he winks at me. "It's okay." "You know it's not," I say.  Martin comes out from behind his desk and walks to the door,  his eyes on Gene, who takes his hand off the brick and steps away from Lindsay. He backs up so that he's off the curb, in the street. "I can stand here, right?" He stretches his arms wide, his jacket flapping around him.

A woman approaches with two little kids, a boy and a girl in tow. The little boy is wearing a backpack that looks like a monkey, and the woman is holding on to the tail. The girl, who doesn't have a backpack, has the little boy's hand in one of hers and a sticky looking Barbie doll in the other.

Before they can get  to the door, Amanda is beside them, handing the woman a pamphlet and waving at the kids. I can't hear what she's saying, but I don't need to. It's always the same-I just want to invite you to think about your decision. The little kids are looking up at her, as she moves her hands and smiles and pretends to listen to what the woman is saying. I stare so hard that my eyes tear. The woman looks at her watch, then at the door of the clinic, then at the ground. Martin comes out to stand beside Lindsay and I walk towards Amanda.

"Excuse me," I say to the woman. "Do you have an appointment you need to get to?" "She's fine," Amanda says. "We're just talking." She's wearing lip gloss and a piece of her hair is caught in it. "I do have an appointment," the woman says, wrapping and unwrapping the monkey tail around her hand. "I'm going to be late." She nods at Amanda, and steps decisively away. "But I thought you said you were going to think about it," Amanda says. Her face is pale, and her voice is cracking. "I have thought about it," the woman tells her. "I'm going to think about it every single day." She puts her hand on the back of both of the little kids'  heads, urging them forward and through the open clinic door.

When I start to walk away, Amanda grabs my arm, hard. "Let go of me," I say, without raising my voice.  "You ruined it," she spits, her face close to mine, her eyes black and feral. "You made that woman kill her baby!" I stare back at her, my face a mask, as I push my finger into the hole in my smock. "I didn't do anything," I say.  "You're such a fucking little girl," she screams. Her breath on my face is hot and sweet. "You probably still suck your thumb!  You probably still wish on your eyelashes!" She's gripping my arm, and when I try to pull  back, the skin twists,  making my eyes water. She laughs, triumphantly, probably thinking she's made me cry.  Martin materializes then, both hands on Amanda's shoulders, pushing her across the street. One of her mittens falls from her pocket onto the pavement.

Gene is back across the street, chanting the Hail Mary again as though nothing's happened. There's no sign of Martin or Amanda.“It's 9,” Lindsay says, when I come back to the door. She reaches out like she's going to touch me,  but then decides not to, her fingers clawing air instead. Inside, the escorts for the next shift are waiting for us to sign out and give them our blue smocks. “I'm sorry,” I say to Lindsay. “It's not usually  like this. I mean, sometimes it's normal.” She nods, eyebrow raised, sweat  on her forehead and neck, and I know I won't see her again.

On the train, I push up my sleeve and look at  my arm. There's a long scratch, and I wish I could remember the moment when it happened. When I get home, Finn will rub it with an alcohol swab and put a Garfield band-aid on it, the same kind that's covering the cut  on his thumb he got slicing a bagel. Then we'll feed the chickens, and talk about the difference between the things that leave us and the things that remain.
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