The screen flashes my age: 26. Then a figure in a triangle shape, signifying female. After that it displays my height, five feet eight inches. The screen clears to zero, which is the digital scale’s signal for me to place the pads of my feet on top of the sensors. The screen momentarily goes blank, then returns 126.6 pounds. I look up at the fitness calendar from two weeks ago. I weighed 128.8.
Yep. I have AIDS.
I pick the darkest colored scarf from my hair accessories bucket and drape it over my head, symbolically representing the end of my full head of black hair, tying it tightly, to experience the last full rush of blood to my brain. For not only do I have AIDS, but I am dying of it, today.
Somebody should know about this. In my pajama shirt, baggy blue sweatpants, and canvas slip-ons I exit my building and walk over to the local drunkateria, Suds N Buds. Allyson, my MFA cohort studying claymation, is starting a load on the far left row of washers, the good washers. I tell her first.
“I have AIDS.”
Allyson pushes her wide blue eyeglass frames up on her face using her middle finger.
“Did you hear me? I have AIDS.”
“You don’t have AIDS.” She looks into my reddened eyes, scrutinizes my sallow skin, and flicks a bit of dried scale from my chapped lips. “You don’t have AIDS.”
“Buy me a beer.”
“You can’t just have AIDS, dude. There’s particular symptoms. You have to see a doctor. You can’t just self-diagnose.” The lid to the washer slaps down. Allyson scoops the rest of her quarters off the machine and shoves them in her front pocket. I counted them. She has enough to buy me a beer and run one dryer cycle.
Sensing I may become too frail to be useful, I carry the empty basket for her one last time to the booth alongside the serving area. Allyson buys two beers and brings them over. I stare into my mug.
“I might need a straw to drink this.”
Allyson slams her head against the back of her seat, rattling the booth behind her. She’s a massive girl.
“Shut up. Did you finish the book yet?”
I rub my temples. I believe a headache is forming. Discomfort is going to be the norm from here on out.
“That’s why you have AIDS. You’re never gonna finish the story.”
“The story’s finished. Inside. I just need to,” I gesture as if typing, “but the disease is getting in the way.” I lift my beer and sip. “Oh, Rolling Rock. I’ll never know your sweetness after I lose my sense of taste.”
Allyson has a laugh that moves only her chin and her boobs, it truly is a unique experience. She moves her bright red hair to one shoulder.
“Why do you have AIDS?”
“I weighed myself this morning, I’ve lost two pounds in two weeks.”
“Have you been eating?”
“For the most part.”
“Not since that one guy, many moons ago.” I treasure every sip of beer, as I am certain the doctors will tell me no alcohol or weed once I spiral.
“So then how can you contract AIDS? You’re not doing heroin, are ya?” Allyson reaches over and lifts my red-and-blue striped pajama sleeves to check the indents of my arms. “You’re a mess. You’d rather die of AIDS than finish your book.”
“I can’t finish my book, because I have AIDS.”
“Well ain’t that fuckin’ convenient.”
“I have AIDS, Allyson.” Shaquanna and Lorelei happen to pass as I reiterate my announcement. I hear Shaq deliver a full-bodied gasp, then watch as she collapses into the booth beside me. Lorelei kisses Allyson on the lips and sits beside her.
“When did you find out? Just now? Oh look at you,” Shaq strokes my solemn face, “you’re a wreck. Oh, honey. Oh, I’m so sorry.” I’m now enveloped in Shaq’s jiggly arms, and we sway together as she comforts me.
Allyson scoffs. “Oh, honey, puhleese. Don’t indulge her.”
“She ain’t got AIDS?”
“She ain’t got AIDS.”
“I’ve got AIDS,” I assure Shaq. I look over at Lorelei. “I’ve got AIDS.”
Allyson stands, grabs her laundry basket, and motions to move her washed clothes to the dryer. “What you’ve got is writer’s block. Eric, stop announcing you have AIDS. Or at least, go to the free clinic. Otherwise, shut the fuck up, and get back to work.”