Jim Meirose

At the Race Change Clinic

               At the polished desk in the Race Change Clinic sat white coated Doctor Morrison. Pulling a pen from his pocket, he tapped it on the desktop.
               So, what brings you here David? They tell me you want a race change procedure?
               Yes, said David, sitting up. I’m not comfortable in my own skin. For years I’ve known I am the opposite of what I should be. I’ve struggled to live with it, but it’s time to deal with it. That’s why I’m here. I want a race change.
               Okay, said Morrison, picking up a folder from the desk. Poising to write, he swiveled the chair toward David. What exactly is it that’s wrong with what you are?
               I’m the wrong color.
               No, no, said Doctor Morrison, leaning back and tipping up his glasses. There’s more to it than just color. Haven’t you thought about that?
               I—well—I have—
               No you haven’t. Don’t you know there are many things that go to make up race?
               David sat forward.
               Doctor, I just know I don’t fit in with my wife or my friends. I want to fit in.
               And what race are they?
               The opposite of what I am, said David, pointing to his face.
               Oh. Well that makes it more interesting. How did this come about?
               David shifted in the chair and gesticulated as he spoke.
               I fell in with a different crowd in high school from my friends of the same race. It just happened—it happened because I just feel different from them. I feel like the friends I have now, I feel like my wife—I just feel different. It’s about who I should be. But—I feel like they treat me different because—because I’m not like them. I want to be like them.
               Have you spoken to your wife about this?
               David looked down, then up.
               No I haven’t.
               The Doctor poked the pen into his cheek.
               Oh? Why not?
               I guess I don’t want her to know I’m so uncomfortable.
               Like how—come on tell me.
               Okay—like how we get looked at when we go out to restaurants or shows. That’s one thing. It doesn’t look like people are staring—but they are.
               The Doctor pushed out a hand.
               Now, listen—these days mixed couples are widely accepted. You shouldn’t feel people are staring at you, they probably aren’t—especially here in the city.
               David fidgeted, then blurted out I—I suppose it might be just me Doctor but what I think and feel matters! I’m just not right! I just don’t feel right! I need to change!
               The Doctor raised the hand and leaned back.
               Now now, David—calm down now. I know that. That’s why you came here. It’s a big step for people to come here so I know it’s important to you. What about your friends? You mentioned your friends before.
               Yes I think that sometimes they step away and whisper to each other you know, like, like there are things they exclude me from.
               What things?
               David shook his head.
               How should I know? Something—
               Are you sure you might not be imagining this too?
               David laid his hand on the desk.
               I—Doctor, I feel like you’re fighting me!
               The doctor leaned forward, rested his elbows on the desk, and looked David dead in the eye. No David, he said—I feel like you’re fighting me. Give me a really good reason you need a race change procedure. So far you haven’t.
               Isn’t feeling miserable about things enough?
               The Doctor threw back his head, widened his eyes, and twirled his pen.
               How do you know you wouldn’t feel just as miserable after the procedure? Think about it—think about it would really mean to change your race—you’d be anatomically different—you’d be perceived as culturally different—socially you’d be treated different—there are other things too, but you get my drift? The world is larger than your family and friends—there is a whole world of people who would see you differently—don’t you find this scary? Could you handle this? What about at work, at the store, at church, things like that—
               I don’t go to church—
               The Doctor thrust the pen at David.
               Now David! Don’t divert me! You get the point!
               David put his hands in his lap and he looked down at them.
               I just want—to be the opposite of what I am now, he quietly breathed.
               Do you really know what that means, David? Let me give you some advice.
               David looked up.
               Go home, said the Doctor—give this some more thought. Think about the things I’ve said. Then come back later today and we’ll discuss it further.
               All right.
               They rose. The Doctor and David shook hands across the table and five minutes later David found himself out on the city street. The sun poured down and the tall buildings thrust up and the people flowed around him. All kinds of people; male, female, tall, short, white, black, yellow—and he stepped into the stream wondering what people really thought when they saw him. What the Doctor had said had left him confused. What did he want to be? Did he really want to be like any of them, or did he want to be something completely different? The blacks, the whites, the yellows—was there really any difference between any of them, when none of them were like he felt inside? Or was there something completely different that you could be? David dizzily managed to walk toward home—it had been a big step going to the race change clinic. He had really had to get up his nerve. He had not mentioned any of this to his wife or his friends—how could he tell them he was uncomfortable around them? The sidewalk went by under; the buildings flowed by unfeeling; and the people drifted to and fro with their secret thoughts and feelings. And his were just as secret, he realized; we are all locked up inside of ourselves with these imperfect looks gestures words and activities to let others know us. And we cry out to have others know us; this is what David had always thought; but now he wasn’t so sure. What had seemed simple was now complicated; he arrived home and slowly, hesitantly he went through the chrome trimmed glass doors toward the elevator to his apartment. The tile floor went by and the glass windows showed the beautiful gardens in the courtyard of the building and it dawned on him; he must be a racist; it hit him hard in the gut; yes—going to the race change clinic had made a racist out of him—or at least had shown him he always had been one. To even have wanted to go there—he must be a racist—he went up the stainless steel elevator to his door and went in the apartment. He realized he had not said a word since the final All right to the Doctor. What would come out of his mouth now to his wife; he stepped into the foyer, and she came around the corner from the kitchen all in white, her eyes flashing.
               David, she said, taking his hand and squeezing it—you’re home early. Why’s that?
               Oh—the work in the office was real slow so I thought I’d take a half day.
               Racist. Liar.
               Well that’s good, she said. She kissed him on the cheek and let go his hand and headed back toward the kitchen. He watched her. Again secretly as so many times before he thought of her as different; the opposite of him in nearly every way. He stifled this thought because it was not healthy for the marriage which had been and which would still be happy, if he would let it. If only he could get rid of this feeling of otherness that the Doctor’s words had made him so afraid of. There was just one thing to do; he had always confided in his wife; he watched through the kitchen door as she busied herself; her profile was traced on the wall beyond; and her features were not his. This made him unhappy; his fists clenched; he was a racist. He had to tell her, but the Doctor had said go home and think about it; maybe he should do this first; keep it to himself—be a hypocrite.
               Racist. Liar. Hypocrite.
               She turned her head toward him where he stood in the short hall.
               Why are you standing there like that? she smiled at him. You’re too quiet David. Is something the matter?
               He stepped toward her.
               No—nothing’s the matter. I’ve just got some things on my mind.
               What kind of things?
               Oh—work things. You wouldn’t care what they are.
               Racist. Hypocrite. And liar again.
               He shook his head and wiped the back of his hand across his forehead, then looked up.
               You know what Jeanine? he said—I’m going to go for a walk, get some air. It seems close in here. I feel—I feel a little sick.
               She turned to him and stepped forward.
               Oh David—are you all right? Can I get you something? What hurts?
               She looked so different from him; he was so aware of it, as always.
               No, he said, pushing out a hand. I just need to get some air.
               Okay, she said, stepping back. We’ll eat at six. You got your watch? So you know the time? We’re having filets. Nice ones I got yesterday.
               Yes—I have my watch. See you before six.
               His stomach churned as he turned away and went to the door and let himself out. That’s it—his stomach was churning. Maybe he really was sick. Maybe he should go lie down.
               But no—
               He was out in the hall and he went past the courtyard and as usual the flowers were beautiful and this was encouraging—some things don’t change. Some things are just honestly what they are from day to day forever. Some things are lucky enough to be beautiful and stay beautiful no matter what. But then, he thought, this was wrong; they will wilt and die; wilt and die given enough time—he hurried past, to get the dead flowers out of his sight; the pounding of his feet took the thought. He reached the door and was out in the street. The bustle of cars trucks buses and people was still on, multicolored and unstoppable. He stepped out, one of them, ignored by them he knew. A blanket of comfort fell over him; they are thinking about work, home, children, spouses, dinner, this evening—and not of him. He felt suddenly comfortable to be part of this crowd. He felt calmness come up as he walked along with so many others like him; all into themselves, all faceless. The crowd swept him along, and he thought no thoughts until he realized the crowd was sweeping him along back to the race change clinic.
               Faceless—we are all the same.
               Yes! he thought—I will go back there. I have thought about things—I can talk to the Doctor—
               Faceless—we are all—
               David! came a voice. David turned.
               Milt, said David—where you off to, came automatically out.
               Oh. Got to pick up a few things. You got work today?
               No, not today.
               Lucky you. Well, actually, lucky me too. I’m off today too. You know—
               Milt’s nose, lips and skin moving as he talked, his eyes—David was painfully aware of these as he had been for so long now. Milt went on as they stood suddenly still, resisting the flow of the crowd—the current sweeping past with the words.
               —we ought to get together the next time we’re both off—maybe we could go to the game wouldn’t it be great to take in a game it’s been a long time it’s the season for it—
               The words went on and David thought back through his eyes How are you really looking at me thinking of me while you are saying all this would you say it like this or this way or even at all to any of your other friends—what do you whisper about me to your other friends, in secret?
               —okay David—anyway, got to run. Nice running into you.
               Yeah you too Milt. Take it easy.
               The crowd pulled them apart and once more David began to walk and the thoughtless crowd took him all the way to the turnoff toward the race change clinic. He turned against the current and dodged a bus and went down the side street which had fewer people going back and forth but just as fast; he had to dodge them. Regardless of being black white yellow male female tall or short each one had to be dodged just in just the same way; this told David that maybe he wasn’t as much of a racist as he imagined he was—but it was just momentary. He needed to go see the Doctor now—he glanced at his watch—that he had been swept here was a sign; he had to level with the Doctor. The steps to the Morrison race change clinic came up and he went up the broken slate treads and through the heavy wooden door and faced the slight dark eyed woman at the front desk.
               Yes? she said.
               I’m David. Doctor Morrison told me this morning to think some things over and I have. He told me to come back after that. So I need to see him.
               All right, she smiled, picking up the phone. I’ll buzz the Doctor.
               In five minutes David sat before The Doctor’s desk. The Doctor sat leaning forward with his hands twined together on the desktop.
               So, he said to David—you are back. I’m quite frankly surprised. Most I speak to as I did you don’t come back. So what conclusions have you reached?
               David wrung his hands and swallowed hard and then opened his mouth.
               I am a racist, he said. I never thought of myself as one but now I feel I am. And there’s more.
               Yes? said the Doctor, raising his eyebrows.
               It is racist for there to be such a place as this—
               The Doctor’s eyebrows rose further as David concluded.
               I—I think that inside we are all the same. I think there is some way to be that doesn’t have to do with any race. I—I don’t know but I don’t think anybody needs a race change procedure. I think—
               He paused.
               You think what? said the Doctor. Come on, let it out.
               David summoned the courage, then let it out.
               I think you are a fraud Doctor. A fraud and a racist too—
               As David said this it seemed as though all the yellow black white male and female faces that had thronged the streets came together piling up around outside and smothering the clinic—
               It’s racist to want a race change procedure.
               The Doctor’s hand rose.
               Enough, David. This means you are mentally ready.
               The clinic began to collapse under the weight of the faces—
               Ready for what? said David.
               The Doctor picked a folder up from his desk and opened it; David’s folder.
               For the race change procedure, he said. You have a clean and honest need for it. Come with me—we’ll get it over with—
               David glanced at his watch.
               It’s that simple? That easy?
               When you’re ready, everything is easy. Come.
               And David went with the Doctor just as the truth dawned on him of what it all added up to and the clinic collapsed crushed to a mere dot of dust that a mild clean breeze blew away.

Jim Meirose is the author of the novel Mount Everest and has four other novels contracted for publication with Montag press over the next two years. His short stories have appeared in various literary magazines and journals such as Otoliths, The Fiddlehead, Witness, Alaska Quarterly review, Xavier Review, New Orleans review, South Carolina Review, Whiskey Island Magazine, Ohio Edit, Bartleby Snopes, and many others. His short work has been nominated for several awards.
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