Joyland

New York |

The Obvious Metaphor

by Jillian Capewell

edited by Emily Schultz

It turned out the hospital wasn’t such a good place to have a lot of hot sex. This was a disappointing reality to take in for a medical resident when her student loan calculation tool promised a $0.00 balance at age 57, and only if she got the right promotions. There would be no leaving for sexier, perhaps less handsomely paid pastures. She had been at Mercy St. John’s hospital for three weeks. Her specialty was emergencies.

The medical resident had prepared for her imagined life by watching those TV dramas where everyone was attractive and in scrubs. The strong-chinned pulmonologist. The quixotic intern who could say sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia without gagging. The elderly and beloved head nurse whose only purpose, it seemed, was to remind everyone not to always be having sex. Everyone always wore stethoscopes on these shows, except when they were naked. Her favorite scenes turned over in her mind as she read patient charts and arranged her face in appropriate ways when she handed out diagnoses.

On TV, the chance to be a little slutty seemed to present itself before the first commercial break. The medical resident’s new hospital had the latest MRI machines and a gourmet coffee bar on the first floor but no commercial breaks. Her coworkers had stout married hands and wiggly underchins. Still, she wanted to be perceived as the most desirable, as the closest real-life analog to the brain surgeon on the Tuesday-night lineup with the pretty facial scar that looked like a dimple. For this, she contoured her cheeks and usually remembered eyeliner, imagining George Clooney, head of anesthesiology, could walk into Mercy St. John’s at any moment.

At three weeks, no one had invited her yet to the doctor bar for a gin. The medical resident wasn’t even sure there was a doctor bar, a fact that did not align with her careful television research. All the TV doctors knew the best way to handle the stress of literally saving lives was to have a favorite watering hole where someone’s very attractive gastroenterologist ex might show up.

She had been surrounded by bodies throughout medical school—bodies that were supposed to make the human form seem like a math problem. As she weighed the liver of a middle-aged prostate cancer patient, the medical resident—a student then—thought of the cartoon heart that the man might’ve have had on his driver’s license, the noble promise to give himself over for the education of others. But then she imagined him alive, maybe as a nutritionist called into her office for a consult. She’d shut the door and untie his scrubs and, later on, give him a lewd nickname when talking about it with her best friend.

In her first premed class, the professor, who wasn’t even a doctor, had addressed the room while rubbing his peppery goatee. “Who here wants to become a doctor because of what they’ve seen on TV?” The medical resident who was not yet a medical resident had twitched in her wide, swiveling plastic seat, but saw the rest of the lecture hall was still. She was alone in her desire. “No one’s raising their hands,” the not-doctor at the front of the room noted after a beat. “That’s a good sign.” She had raised the small hand in her chest instead.

*

Now it was all organs, organs that failed and organs that didn’t even show up in the first place, organs that burst out of shame for being evolutionarily useless. None made fluids she, in her non-cartoon heart, wanted anything to do with.

She called up her best friend, who had moved to Kentucky to become a dermatologist. The best friend had a nine-to-five life, office doors with long handles that locked at the end of the day. The medical resident envied her until she remembered that her best friend did not have even the smallest promise of a tryst on an adjustable bed while the sun was rising over the emergency room, nor might she ever scrub in on a surgery and stand next to her devastatingly handsome crush as he cut open a chest to reveal the obvious metaphor within.

“I know it’s hard,” the best friend said, “but if I can go out to a wine bar after looking at dicks for irregularities all day, so can you.” Dicks was her best friend’s word for penis, plural.

“I haven’t seen a penis since graduation.” Penis was the medical resident’s word for penis, singular.

“Oh, there was a penis in your diploma?” The medical resident was famous to her best friend for not seeing many live penises during medical school, blaming her studies for her chastity. She liked the idea, though, the idea of being naked with intelligent people who got expensive degrees, just like her. Penises with MDs.

After a month, the medical resident joined an online dating site, though she declined to add her annual salary to her profile. The first man had a balding spot and a devotion to Guinness. He was an accounts manager who spent his free time moderating an online forum about ghost sightings. “People have a lot of trouble signing up,” he said. “That’s where most of the hours go.”

“I guess we both help people,” she responded. “That’s been my dream since I was a little girl.”

*

The next date took a few weeks to coordinate, since the medical resident almost always worked weekends. His station wagon had a plaid blanket in the backseat covered in dog hair. He parked it on the side of the road behind a line of other cars. She wore swishy shorts, a bright tank top, and no stethoscope. They were surrounded by woods, and despite the other cars, they were alone.

A few days earlier, the medical resident found the ghost-sighting website he had talked about. Her date was a pixelated square with bold text that announced him as moderator. “Welcome!” he had written in a post dated four years earlier. “Please be respectful of everyone’s beliefs as you click through the most comprehensive ghost-sighting forum in the Midwest.” The most recent post came from a user called xJasonx, about whether some gray smudges in a photograph could be called a face. The photograph was of a Maltese on a rocking chair on top of a braided rug. “NOT DIGITALLY ALTERED!” xJasonx promised.

Her date took her hand and led her to the trail entrance. There were ruins of an old manor two miles that he wanted to show her. He said that no matter how hot it got in the summer, the stones always stayed cold, and touching them made him believe he had a purpose. The medical resident pictured her date’s face as a gray smudge in a photograph. She pictured him as a hot doctor, tying her hands behind her back with IV tubing. She pictured them in front of the camera as subjects of a ghost-hunting show, the kind she guessed he liked: their faces lit up green-white in the night vision, static in the frame as the background shifted and jerked when they’d heard a noise. Her tonsilled mouth, wide open in the shot where she turned to see the shape of something unfamiliar moving in the shadows.