The driver headed for the door right next to the elevator and unlocked it. No one saw us. Inside the apartment, the first thing I noticed was a long kitchen table—no chairs or tablecloth or salt and pepper shakers in sight—bringing to mind, in a rush, every story I’d ever heard about bloody abortions performed on kitchen tables. But the driver passed through the kitchen and stopped at the head of a hallway. At the end was a bathroom with a door on either side.
We waited. After a minute or two, a man in blue scrubs and a surgical mask stepped out from one of the rooms. Was he the doctor? He carried in his arms a woman naked below the waist, eyes closed, limp as a rag doll. A tampon string dangled from between her legs. A bloody string. Was she dead?
The man in scrubs pushed open the opposite door with his shoulder, the inert woman in his arms. A minute later, he emerged empty-handed and nodded to our driver, who waved us down the hall.
I glanced in the room that the man in scrubs first exited. No one else was there. Was he actually a doctor? Whoever he was, he was alone. I saw an examination table, and on it, a sheet with big blotches of fresh blood. In the second room were six cots, lined up barracks-style perpendicular to the wall.
Women were in three of the cots. I could now see that the newest arrival was breathing, though still unconscious; a second woman was lying on her side, semi-conscious and groggy; and a third, conscious, was sitting up, her sheet wrapped around her. Even at dawn, we hadn’t been the driver’s first run of the day. Soon he would take these girls back to wherever he’d picked them up.
Meanwhile, the man in blue scrubs assigned us each to a cot, and told us to take off all of our clothes except our brassieres. With his surgical mask off, I could see he wasn’t the doctor I’d met on Friday. Did doctors say “brassieres”?
He told us to place our clothes under our cots and put on hospital gowns. Then he gave us each a plastic sandwich bag with pills, telling us they were antibiotics that we should put in our jackets now because we would be too groggy to remember afterward.
Then he left, and when he came back, I was the only one who had finished undressing, so he gestured to me to follow him across the hall. I saw that he had removed the bloody sheet from the examination table and replaced it with a clean one. A huge plastic pail filled with sheets and bleach, now tinted pink, was a few feet away. The smell was overwhelming.
Patting the table, the man told me to climb up and lie down. There was nothing to do but comply. Then I remember him telling me to count backwards from 10.
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After that, I don’t remember much of my time there, except a flash of returning consciousness in the cot room, the waves of nausea I felt as the man in scrubs hurried us into our clothing and out of the apartment, and the driver holding the door open as we got back into his car. I’d been the last picked up and would now be the first out. When I got to my stop, the girl in the red parka leaned over to hug me, and I hugged her back. She told me she remembered me from the doctor’s office and asked whether that had been my boyfriend with me. When I nodded, I saw something in her expression that seemed to confer on me an odd kind of status, and it made me want to cry.