time enough at last

Ellorah stepped inside the office and informed the secretary of her appointment. The woman gave her a numbered ticket and told her to take a seat in the mostly-vacant waiting room. She found an unmarked, plastic-covered chair and sat down until her number appeared on the screen above the reception desk. A voice over the intercom rang out, “Please keep all facial coverings on while visiting the facility and wash your hands often. Your compliance keeps others safe.” Elle scratched her nose over her mask and worried for a moment if anyone had judged her for it. She decided it wasn’t worth obsessing over and instead looked down at the receipt in her hands marked with the number eighteen. An older man walked in and asked if someone had found a book that his wife left behind after her appointment. No one at the front desk had seen it. 

After another ten minutes, number eighteen flashed on the screen and Ellorah made her way down the fluorescent hall to find the room corresponding with her number. Inside the room, she saw a desk with one chair in front and one behind. The lack of personal embellishments led her to believe that this office remained sterile and there weren’t any doctors or counselors that stayed there for more than one meeting. Its resemblance to an interrogation room made her uneasy but she tried to consider it a coincidence. She took a seat and waited again.

The doctor arrived wearing gloves, two face masks, and a pair of clear goggles. She sat across from Ellorah and opened up a thin yellow folder. “I’m sorry you had to come all this way. We like to deliver news like this in person.” 

“It’s fine,” she said. She folded the receipt back and forth in her hands and she hadn’t yet made eye contact with the doctor. 

“How are you doing?” She asked. Ellorah’s eyes raised to see the name on her tag. Dr. Lucear. 

“Fine. I think.” Ellorah looked around the room but her eyes couldn’t catch anything. The walls were too bare and the paper ripped in her hands. Dr. Lucear waited for her to say something else, but Ellorah didn’t have anything prepared. When that became clear, Dr. Lucear opened the folder and moved a paperclip out of the way. 

“Ms. Goff, your tests show that your serotonin levels have depleted without regeneration for a considerable time. Now, this isn’t something to be too concerned about. This is happening to many people at the moment and we don’t think it’s anything to be too afraid of. Unless, of course you’re thinking of harming yourself or someone else. Are you?” 

Ellorah licked her lips beneath her mask. “No, I’m not.” The information was no surprise, and she didn’t know how she would be expected to react. Dr. Lucear shuffled the papers around in her folder and scanned for more information.

“Good! In that case, there isn’t much we can do for you. However, we want to make sure that you and those around you are safe at all times. At this point, since this is such a common situation, we are looking into solutions for serotonin substitutes, but we haven’t been able to find anything with lasting results. How is your home life?” 

Ellorah’s chest tightened and she could feel sweat starting to dampen the back of her shirt. “Fine. I’ll be living alone in a couple weeks.” 

“That could be great! A fresh start,” Dr. Lucear took notes on a loose page and Ellorah tried to see what she wrote without seeming obvious. “Are you seeing anyone? Girlfriend? Boyfriend?” 

“No. I tried online dating but I don’t think it’s for me.” She picked at her fingernails and Dr. Lucear kept writing. 

“Aw that’s too bad. So many people are meeting online now.” Ellorah nodded. “What about your job? Are you working?” 

“Yes. Ten hours per week.” More writing. 

“Wonderful,” she said without looking up from her page. “And how often are you leaving the house?” 

“I go to the park every day, but I stay away from other people.” 

“Okay good. People are either completely ignoring guidelines or never leaving their homes for any reason and that’s a bit dangerous. As long as you’re healthy, that’s fine!” Ellorah couldn’t see her mouth but she could tell she was smiling. “Well, Ms. Goff, I think that’s all I have for you. Do you have any questions for me at this time?” She closed her folder and clicked her pen. Ellorah had spent the last minute and a half trying to say the right answers to be taken seriously. She remembered Mae. 

“Um, actually, can you tell me about Mae Walton? She came here to stay for a few nights and I haven’t heard anything from her.” She looked up at Dr. Lucear’s eyes to see if she could find any information in her gaze. 

“I’m sorry, we can’t give out information about other cases,” Dr. Lucear said. She looked back to her folder and moved the paperclip to the front. She stood up and Ellorah stood with her.

“Please. Just anything? She’s a friend.” The pieces of receipt stuck to her wet palms. Dr. Lucear walked toward the door but stopped before opening it. She turned slowly.

“She passed yesterday.” Dr. Lucear looked up toward Ellorah whose attention had shifted back toward the empty desk. “Remember, if you ever have feelings of harming yourself or others, we’re here for you.” The truth withheld was that until Ellorah had those feelings, Dr. Lucear would or could do nothing to help. 

“Thank you,” Ellorah said through dry lips. Her cheeks started to burn under the mask. Dr. Lucear waited a second before leaving, possibly to read Ellorah’s reaction to the news. When she did nothing but straighten her posture and look forward, Dr. Lucear took that as a sign that she could leave safely. Ellorah shoved the receipt remains into her pocket.

Outside, in the suffocating humidity, Ellorah quickly found a secluded spot to lean against a wall. She pulled her mask off and crumpled it into her hands, heaving air through her lungs and releasing the tears that had been welling up since she left the tiny office. In her head, she thanked Mae for giving her a reason to release the tension that had been gripping her shoulders. “So you’re finished, then?” she breathed. In her head, Mae stood across the alley from her with her arms folded. Ellorah knew she wouldn’t respond but decided that talking to her artificially would be better than standing there alone. “What am I supposed to do?” she cried. Her heartbeat pulsed in her ears and she caught her breath. She still cried, but she was relieved that the painful part was over. She let out a laugh that could be mistaken for a cough and covered her mouth so she wouldn’t be judged by anyone who happened to be walking past. When her breathing and heartbeat were finally back to normal, she decided to go back to her car. With a deep breath, she straightened up and pulled down her jacket. 

The street was empty, not a single person or car in sight. Ellorah looked around quickly, scanning for any sign of life on the previously busy sidewalk. She tried to remember if it had been that deserted when she left the facility, but the silence felt new and unnatural. She started walking. When she passed the facility, the lights were off. The push bar wouldn’t budge so Ellorah looked inside, placing her hands around her eyes to block the reflection. The office was empty. She turned around toward the street again. Overhead, the clouds had blocked any sign of blue sky and she worried that it might rain. Instead of finding her car, she looked for anyone around. Her feet padding against the asphalt of the street made the only sound she could hear. She wondered for a moment why she didn’t feel more afraid. In fact, a curiosity settled in that muted any anxiety she held. She walked down the street admiring the architecture and sign paintings, calmly welcoming her time enough at last. A large sound, like someone picking up a telephone, startled her and she looked to the building tops for its source. A megaphone system with an electronic, static voice relayed, “Please keep all facial coverings on when interacting with others and wash your hands often. Your compliance keeps others safe. Remember, we’re in this together.” 

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