I first saw the ad on the back of a dilapidated station wagon parked on the side of the road between town and the old community centre.
Change lives. Give blood.
Below they had a number you could call. I thought it strange that there was no address, no volunteer nurses in white clothes handing out free cookies and water to pale, dizzy folk. Just that ad, and the busted up car.
I had never given blood before.
When I met Delphine, I had just turned my life around. The details are not important. It’s just the usual humdrum tale of low self-expectation, crime, punishment and redemption everyone’s heard a thousand times before.
We met in a bar, as people sometimes do. I saw her from across the room, and she saw me. The former was understandable, as she was quite striking with her long black hair and pale complexion. The latter was less so, me being slightly overweight and with my beat-up features. Red faced at the time as well, more than likely. I had already drank a few beers. That’s probably what gave me the guts to spin over to her side of the room and start a conversation.
“I really like guys who are selfless,” she said at one point. “You know, volunteer at homeless shelters, give to charity, donate blood, stuff like that. Such a cliché, I know!”
Then she laughed. I would have built a house for every homeless person in the city for that laugh.
That night, after we traded numbers outside the bar and went our separate ways, I dreamed that we were together. She wouldn’t say anything, she just made this high-pitched whine in my ear. When I woke up, I saw I had fed some adventurous mosquito who had made it all the way up to my floor. I rubbed the bump on my ear and thought of her eyes, bright blue, hidden way back behind her dark hair.
I hate mosquitoes, I have since I was a child. Their very existence disgusts me. They feed on the lifeblood of other creatures, like tiny vampires without the sex appeal. I was sure I was allergic, that if enough of them bit me, I would simply swell up and burst.
Delphine and I met again, a different bar this time. We talked a lot, laughed a lot as well. When we got back to mine, we both cried as we talked about our lives. She said I could be a good person. I believed her.
I saw the ad again the next day, this time on the side of a boarded up townhouse. I thought of Delphine’s type of guy, and I called the number as soon as I got home. They asked my name, age, weight, blood type and exercise habits. They were thorough, and I found myself telling truths to a complete stranger over the phone. Had I taken drugs in the past six months: no, I don’t take drugs anymore. Did I have any sexually transmitted diseases: no, I was tested after prison.
I was asked if I could come in for a donation that same day.
The lady at the counter when I arrived was in pristine whites, with her blonde hair pulled back in a bun and a pair of horn-rimmed glasses perched on the end of her nose. She gave me a sunshine smile for just under a second and after I had filled in the forms she directed me to the one unoccupied waiting chair. There was a man in the other chair. He was led away first, down the hall and to the left.
I was called not long after, the waiting table magazine unopened. My palms were a little sweaty. The doctor, or whatever he was, didn’t seem to notice as he shook my hand.
“Hello, Peter. Are you nervous?” he asked.
“I’ve never given blood before,” I said.
“Don’t worry, it’s perfectly natural to be nervous the first time. Please, follow me.” He led me down the hall, and to the left.
He looked at the bump on my earlobe, his fingers lightly brushing it.
“A mosquito bit me last night,” I said, “is it a problem?”
The doctor smiled.
“Possibly an allergy, but it shouldn’t pose any risks. Please, after you.”
The room was a white-walled rectangular box, with one metal trolley against the wall to lay on and a wastebasket in the corner. On the opposite side a huge floor length curtain covered the wall. I lay on the trolley and rolled up my sleeve.
“I’ll be back in a minute to take your blood,” the doctor said as he left the room. I heard the click as he locked the door behind him.
There was a whirring noise as the curtain slowly pulled back to reveal another room identical to mine behind a glass wall. The man who had gone before me was strapped to the trolley in his room.
I jumped off the cot and started banging on the door.
“What the hell is this?!” I shouted.
A metallic-sounding voice came over a hidden speaker in the ceiling.
From a vent in the wall in the other room, mosquitoes started pouring out like vibrating mud. Hundreds. Thousands. More than that, uncountable. They swarmed around the man, and his screams were soon muffled by the sheer volume of insects.
“It takes roughly 1,200,000 mosquitoes to drain a human body completely,” the voice from the speaker said. The other room looked almost full of them. “In the wastebasket, there is an emergency hammer for breaking glass. If you break the glass, you can save this man from a painful death.
Are you a selfless person, Peter?”
The Blue Ridge Project: A Novel
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