Editorial Note – Prepping For Bee Stings by Eric Shay Howard

“Out,” she says. My tongue drops and she rolls the swab against the back of my throat with her gloved hand. She smiles and hums while she rotates her wrist.

This must be how the hundred or so writers feel while they wait on my ass to figure out what the fuck I’m doing with my life.

Note: This short story was written by our Editor-In-Cheif, Eric Shay Howard.

Prepping For Bee Stings by Eric Shay Howard

I sit in the black metal chair against the wall in the office to the left, past the key-coded door after my name has been called. The gray examination chair at the end of the room is prepped with thin white paper. I can only think about how far behind I am on fiction and poetry submissions at the magazine, so I wait forever while reading the titles of the many pamphlets on the wall opposite me. HPV And You. What Your Young Man Needs To Know About Sex. How to Talk To Your Teenage Girl About Sexuality.

The door opens after another forever. The doctor looks to her left, then to the back of the room towards the prepped swabs and tubes laid out on the counter opposite the gray chair.

“Ah, I was wondering where the swabs were at,” she says. She flips through her chart as she walks to the counter. “How have you been?”

“It’s hot outside,” I say. I stand up and then sit back down.

“It’s supposed to get cooler this evening,” she says. She sits in the office chair at the counter.

“Good,” I say. She rolls up closer to the counter and lays down her clipboard.

“So did the nurse go over what we’re doing today?”

“Yes.”

“Have they done your blood yet?”

“No.”

“Okay. It’s basically two swabs, one in your mouth and one in your rectum, and then four vials of blood. We’re checking HIV, obviously, then syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. What we’re also checking for is mainly your kidney function; we want to make sure your kidneys can withstand the medication. You’ll have to get tested every three months while you’re on it, just to make sure you stay negative. As soon as your HIV comes back negative, I’ll give you a call and you can go pick up the Truvada. What pharmacy do you use?”

“The CVS downtown.”

“4th street?”

“Yes. Should I go over there?” I point to the gray chair.

“I’ll come to you.” She marks over the top paper on her clipboard and takes a swab tube. “The first one is the oral.” She rolls towards me. “Open up. It needs about ten seconds.” I open my mouth and stick my tongue out, then pull it back in. “Out,” she says. My tongue drops and she rolls the swab against the back of my throat with her gloved hand. She smiles and hums while she rotates her wrist.

This must be how the 100 or so writers feel while they wait on my ass to figure out what the fuck I’m doing with my life.

She places the swab in the tube and seals it, rolling back to her desk and exchanging it for the other set before she rolls back.

“Alright, now the rectal,” she says. She pulls out the swab.

“The back end?”

“That’s right. Yeah, there’s no good way to do it. Just drop ’em.” She smiles and waits. I stand and turn around before dropping my jeans and cotton briefs. “Bend over for me.” I drop my hands to the back of the metal chair. I feel the light poke of the soft material, then briefly wait out the cold plastic as it twists and turns.

Am I behind four months? Or is it five? Math always comes at the most inconvenient times.

“Alright. There we go. I’ll give you a call when the HIV comes back and then you can go pick up the Truvada. If anything else is just slightly off, we’ll take another look after 3 months when we draw again. If something is way off, I’ll call you and we’ll have you come back in immediately.”

“5 months,” I say. Her lower lips drops and then she seals her mouth back before taking a breath.

“Hmm? No, you’ll be back in here every three months. Did you have any other questions about the medication or what we’re doing?”

“Um, no.”

“Okay. Do you know if your insurance covers anything?”

“I think so. I think there’s a few dollars co-pay.”

“I can give you a card from the manufacturer. It’s supposed to help cover any out-of-pocket expenses or co-pays. I’ll have to go find one, but we’re all done here.” She rolls her chair back to the counter and stands.

“Did we do the blood?’

“That’s in the lab next door. You’ll follow me out of here.”

“Oh. Okay. Thanks.”

She smiles and picks up her clipboard. She walks to the door and ushers me towards it. She points to the corner at the end of the hallway with more black metal chairs opposite the brown lab door. “You can wait right there and the nurse will come and get you soon. I’ll find you one of those cards in just a minute. Prep for little bee stings.”

I walk to the chairs and pick the one furthest from the lab door. Two older men are on the cover of Out Magazine on the top of the stack of reading materials between my chair and the next. Nonfiction could be fun. Maybe a change for a month or two? I’ve really fucked it all up, haven’t I? It’s all collapsing in on itself.

“DJ?” A woman says. She stands with her head out the door. I stand up. Once inside, the door shuts behind me quietly. “Is this your first time starting Prep?”

“Yes,” I say.

She aims both hands towards the black metal chair with a flowery cushion. She pulls the needle from the wrap and hands me a ball to squeeze while she mashes on my right arm. “Just a little bee sting.” For the next twenty minutes I sit quietly against the short table, answering short questions about any pain I’m in with “I’m good”, watching the red flow from me. Doctor Snyder returns with a red card holder that reads Gilead and exchanges big words and a laugh with the nurse. Just before the end of the third vial, the nurse frowns and sighs.

“You’re all dried up,” she says. She pokes around my other arm for a few minutes and then my other hand. “This looks promising. Sorry, we’re almost done.” She pokes my hand with a new needle. I twitch. “Sorry.” When nothing comes out, she pushes and pulls on the needle. A darker red fills the line. “It’s going a little slow, but it’s coming.”

I wait for another forever and think about whose email I should answer first. There’s that poem about the picture that I accepted a few months back before my post-college crisis. Then the others I accepted, though they haven’t emailed me. Maybe they’re not worried. Maybe they’re just standing there bent over their chairs waiting for the doctor to pull out the swab and they think everything is fine. Have they even felt the bee stings yet? “Just a little more.”

*

Eric Shay Howard is the founder and editor of Likely Red Press. He has a BA in English from the University of Louisville. He lives in Louisville, KY. You can find him on his blog at ericshayhoward.com.

Eric Shay Howard - Louisville - Cropped Headshot
Creative writer and editor Eric Shay Howard. Photo by Kyle Richard Dixon.

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