A letter came in the mail from a return address I wasn't sure existed for some time. It still did; the address was the exact same. The handwriting was quick and short, and the request seemed simple enough. I put on my coat and found myself walking down the street under a thick grey sky, one hand in my pocket and the other keeping my hat from being claimed by the wind.
The buildings grew dirtier the further east I travelled. Grime crawled up the sides of the walls from the sidewalk, and the sewer drains gurgled with yesterday's waste. A homeless man in a tattered version of my own coat held a tin cup out to me, mumbling something about spare change. I gave him a handful of nickels and buttons and wished him well before arriving at the old brownstone.
The sign that had once stood in front was marred with rust and beaten up by time, all of the letters missing except for an M and a D.
A For Sale sign hung in the window in front of a thin white curtain.
I rapped a closed fist on the door three times for good measure, and began to tap my shoe on the top concrete step before it opened.
Mr. Porter only opened it up enough to stick out a hand and his head, still marred with age and a lack of hair. He broke a thin smile at the sight of me, and offered me a gravelly, "Welcome back."
The interior of the brownstone looked as if it had been gutted some time before my arrival, as if I'd never been the eager young boy in the waiting room. I knew that Porter still kept his office running for a while since my last visit, but most evidence of that time was gone. That ugly burgundy carpet had been ripped off of the ground, leaving a few stray staples behind in its wake. Voids were on the wall where those ghastly oil paintings of flower arrangements once hung, and all that remained of the waiting room chairs were a few broken legs at the bottom of the stairs.
"I got your letter," I said, eyes drawn down the empty hallway. You could once hear children's laughter at the end, before they'd run to the front door with a piece of a handful of candies. "You said you had something for me."
"Yes," Porter said from behind. I looked over my shoulder to see him cowering near the front door, where the old coat rack once stood. He scratched the side of his face, grating his leathery skin with a shake. He'd always had that tick. "Come with me, will you?"
He took small steps through the waiting room and I followed behind him, reluctantly reacquainting myself with the old place. I couldn't say I followed up on Porter after my last visit; but I was aware at the time that he was getting to the age of retirement. The building was a lot of work for one man, no matter how many blonde assistants he would have on rotation for the front desk. They would always offer you a smile when you first came in, ringing a bell that once hung above the door.
"He'll be right with you, if you would take a seat."
She had been sitting in the waiting room for a long time, digging her nails into the leather of my wallet and finding some comfort in the sound her feet made brushing against the carpet. Her eyes did not stay in one place for long, instead choosing to dart to a new position on the carmine wall every moment.
"Relax," I breathed.
Porter stepped into one of the four rooms he once worked out of; I couldn't help but peek in the other three while he began to go through a few discarded boxes on the floor. The boxes were all that there was left, save for an antique scale that I was sure I once stood on as a boy.
The first was as vacant as the rest of the building and smelled musty, not worth the time to look closer. The second was home to the old front desk in pieces. The drawers lay on the ground in shards, and the chair for the blonde was white with dust. One poster still hung on the grimy wall; an old depiction of our digestive system that was dustier than it was paper.
She died in the third room.
It was as empty as the first room, but even without the light I could see a stain on the linoleum.
She sat on the table with her legs spread-eagle, her bare behind crinkling the tissue-thin paper underneath her. The stirrups squeaked under her weight as they flickered under the fluorescent tube of light above us. I couldn't look at it; it hurt my eyes and hurt my head. Her knees quivered as Porter hummed an unfamiliar tune to himself at the counter, opening drawers as he closed others.
"Are you sure about this?" I asked her.
"I can't." That had been the answer for the week prior, since we found out the real story of what was going on in the depths of the womb. I can't.
"Here we go. Where are you?"
I shifted down the hall until I was standing in his doorway. He stood in the dim light, holding two worn manila folders in his wrinkled hands.
"Your records, and hers. I know you'll need yours if you need medical assistance in the future. Hers are for whatever you see fit to do." The folders were in my hands without me realizing it, mostly because my limbs were numbed by the memories. "I'm deeply sorry. You know that. I always have been."
Back then the walls were painted with a fresh coat of eggshell paint every six months, to keep the place looking bright. It matched the color of the lab coat Porter was wearing. He pulled on a pair of surgical gloves before pushing his glasses further up his nose.
"Here we go."
"I know," I sighed, tucking the folders underneath my arm.
She bled a lot. At first we thought it was expected. Porter, surgical gloves still on, held a compress to the wound on her lower half as she held onto my hand. My concerns grew as her grip gradually began to loosen.
"Maybe we should call for help," I suggested.
"We can stop the bleeding," he insisted.
Her eyelids fluttered like cold butterfly wings as blood continued to rhythmically drip onto the linoleum floor, pooling at Porter's loafers. I held her hand tighter, as much as she couldn't feel it.
"I'm sad to see the old place go," he said, eyeing the environment, "but it's time to move on, isn't it?"
She spoke in whispers, words barely making it past her lips. Her blood seeped through Porter's shirt as his efforts began to withdraw. "Maybe this was a bad idea."
"Maybe it is," I offered.