As he sits in the car, parked on the street outside the medical clinic, Tom is unsure how he is feeling. Anxious, confused and mildly worried, he thinks. Also vaguely amused. It’s as if, if someone were to poke him in the ribs, he’d collapse into uncontrollable laughter. Hysterical, perhaps.
But if he had to boil down what he felt deep inside, to give a categorical answer to the question, it would be at this present time, acutely aware of his anus. He’s not sure if he’d actually say anus, a cuttingly medical term. He’d probably say bum or arse to make it less awkward. But if he said one of these more generalised words, one might think he had body image issues, a fixation on its size, which is not the case.
Anus. There’s no getting around it.
He’s already come into uncomfortably close contact with it, so the fact that referring to it by its proper name makes him uncomfortable strikes him as prudish. And demented. More or less demented than the image of himself in the mirror, bent over and twisted sideways like a Möbius strip, trying to get a glimpse of his sphincter, is hard to say.
He feels itchy. Or rather, his anus feels itchy. Walking to across the road to the clinic with the itch still there is going to make it worse, so he moves from side-to-side in the car seat, preparing himself.
In the waiting room Tom reports to the desk. He is directed to sit in one of the bland chairs arranged in a large horseshoe shape around a wall-mounted television. The volume has been turned down to a murmur, but the harsh orange hues of morning programming flood the corner of the room.
It has not yet turned 8:30am but there are a number of people waiting. He wonders whether the doctors have to psych themselves up before they see anyone, steel themselves for a day of mitigating greater or lesser degrees of human misery. Pity the doctor who’s got him first this morning.
He feels the now familiar itch – perhaps that’s the wrong word; itch suggests a transience, something that can be cast away quickly, whereas this is something consuming, so intense that it crosses the border into pain, not in the way it feels, but in how it forces all his other thoughts to disappear in a flash of blinding light.
He feels whatever it is and in an effort to distract himself looks at the other patients, wondering whether their various ailments are as potentially embarrassing as his. He instantly regrets the thought and spends the next few minutes staring at the carpet beneath his feet, its random, pixellated colours resembling 8-bit vomit.
Considering where it is likely to be in the next few minutes, as Tom walks into the doctor’s room he considers whether it would be appropriate to shake the doctor’s hand.
“What can I do for you?” she asks softly. Tom is unsure of the protocol and aims for levity.
“Sorry to give you the arse end of the day this early, but I think I have a haemorrhoid.”
He’d expected at least a chuckle from the doctor, but what follows is a few minutes of detailed interrogation about the man’s shit. The doctor refers to shit as a movement and the more she says the word, the more Tom feels an involuntary smile forming. He wonders when the doctor is going to say anus and whether, in this newfound, medically dictated intimacy the two now share, he’ll be able to keep his shit, as it were, together.
‘”Well, let’s have a look,” the doctor says. “Jump up on the bed.”
‘Bed’ doesn’t seem right, given its narrowness, stark white linen and the fact that he’s about to have a finger inserted into his anus. It is too casual, too restful. With the words ‘inspection table’ rattling silently within him, he climbs up and faces the white wall.
The doctor pulls a privacy curtain behind him. “I just need you to pull your pants down.”
Tom wriggles his jeans down awkwardly. As soon as his downy arse is exposed to the fluorescent light he feels a latex-covered hand grab the right right cheek and pull it upwards. He’d expected the doctor to be more delicate, and counterintuitively, the full presence of her firm hand feels curiously intimate. Maybe she’s ensuring she can fight against involuntary clenching.
Before Tom has time to think any more, the doctor has pressed her finger inside. At first, it’s a foreign sensation, as if he has been aggressively invaded and his insides are retreating further into his body. Then, he becomes aware of how connected he and the doctor now are. Perhaps not on a mental level. But physically he can think of only two other ways to achieve this level of togetherness.
The doctor removes her finger. Her gloves smack against each other as she takes them off. “You can get up now,” she says, “you’ve got a small external pile.”
The doctor begins to explain the condition, staring straight at Tom as she curves her index finger and thumb into an anus and pushes her other index finger, a blood vessel, down through the cavity.
“It’s not too bad. It should clear up over the next few days. And if not, we can always lance it.”
Lance. The word is visceral. “That sounds kind of military.”
“Funny you should say that. Actually, Napoleon had the same condition,” the doctor says. “There’s an old tale that that’s what cost him the Battle of Waterloo.”
“But it’s not what killed him, right?”
“No, that was arsenic.”
“So what’s lancing?”
“We’ll worry about that if it turns out you need it,” she reassures him. “But for now, get some of this cream for the itching, drink lots of water and the rest should clear itself up.” She hands him a piece of paper with ‘Proctosil’ written on it.
Tom sits in his car having paid, passed through the clinic doors and walked through the car park with a degree of nonchalance designed to throw anyone possibly attuned to the nuances of his careful gait. He turns the key and pulls into the early morning traffic.
Though he’s still aware of the discomfort, now he’s seen the doctor, felt her gloved finger inside him, heard her reassuring words and held the piece of paper with the name of anaesthetic cream scribed on it, it is more abstract, less shot with anxious immediacy. Curiously, if someone were to ask him how he feels now, he might be able to say good and actually mean it.
As the bumps of the road thrum beneath him, he drifts back to the doctor’s piece of trivia. Anuses of people past. Historical ani. It is a subject he has never considered before. Napoleon. Cleopatra. Ghandi. Churchill. Mao. Truman. Holt. Windsor. The thought is somehow comforting.
With this list of the world’s greatest arses getting longer, Tom changes lanes, veering from left to right without looking. Only once he has done so does he realise he has cut off a man in a blue car.
Guilt courses through him and he raises his hand apologetically. In his rear vision mirror the male driver is yelling, eyes narrowed, lips curling and slapping. The driver pulls into the inside lane and accelerates, his middle finger outstretched as he passes. His lips mouth ‘asshole’.
Though Tom knows he is in the wrong, as quickly as it flooded in, he feels his guilt receding. The man’s reaction, the sheer aggression, strikes him as unhinged and unconsidered. Even as he pulls away, the driver’s hand remains out his side window, middle finger upstanding. The man is speeding. Had he not been, Tom may not have cut him off. His sphincter tightens and he lets his car slow, backing off.
The blue car swallows the hill ahead and disappears. As Tom follows it over the crest he sees that in the two lanes ahead cars are stuck for hundreds of metres, crossing the intersection in groups of three for four before the traffic lights turn red and car brakes respond in kind.
The blue car is stationary, last in the line of unending traffic. Tom needs to turn left at the intersection slip lane, but with the traffic backed up, he will be sitting behind the blue car and in all likelihood, unchained abuse, for some time. As he slows, he feels the familiar jolt shoot through his anus. He shifts in his seat.
Then, he senses an opportunity. The bike lane is unused. It’s wide – wide enough for a car to fit. Tom smiles. He cuts up the inside. Road reflectors blip under the tyres.
The blue car is coming up on his right. As he passes it the driver flashes in Tom’s side mirror. ‘Fucken–‘ the driver barks silently, before disappearing in a rush of metal.
Tom reaches the slip lane, turns onto the clear road ahead, presses the accelerator and feels the car rumble through his seat. The traffic stutters behind him.
How Napoleonic, he thinks.
When not working as a copywriter, Rory Kennett-Lister writes with reckless abandon about whatever manages to hold his attention. His work has been featured by The Lifted Brow, Seizure, Overland, the Australian Book Review and others. A selection of his writing can be found at rorykennettlister.com. For intermittent tweeting see @RoryKL.