The nurse held Jeremyâ€™s left arm with a practiced gentility that would have been motherly if it wasnâ€™t so detached. His real mother was in the waiting room, wearing the kind of plastic smile that adults paste on when theyâ€™re the most upset. Jeremy was used to that smile. People did it a lot around him, especially his mother. He was getting really sick of it.
The nurseâ€™s smile wasnâ€™t like his motherâ€™s. She wasnâ€™t upset on the inside; she just didnâ€™t care, which Jeremy figured was part of the job. Doctors and nurses couldnâ€™t go around caring about their patients or they wouldnâ€™t be able to do their work. He watched her gloved hands carefully lower his arm into the vat of softening solution. As usual, it tingled, and he winced.
â€œI know this hurts,â€ the nurse cooed, â€œbut if you just tough it out weâ€™re going to get you all fixed up, okay?â€
â€œIt hurt more when I made them,â€ Jeremy muttered, but he didnâ€™t take his eyes off of the scars on his arm. The marks were still pink around the edges, new and raw, but they were already softening. In ten minutes theyâ€™d all be gone again, washed away with the rest of his failed attempts to make his mark in life.
â€œAll right, you can take that arm out now.â€ The nurse turned aside to pick up the smoother, checking its power before turning back to Jeremy. Her eyes were on the clipboard in her off hand. â€œIt says here youâ€™ve had this procedureâ€¦ seven times before? So this must be old hat to you, huh?â€ She smiled at Jeremy, who stared back at her sullenly. â€œI guess you donâ€™t need the restraints, then.â€
She pushed aside the soft straps that were used to hold patientsâ€™ limbs in place for their first or second scar removal and put the clipboard down, taking Jeremyâ€™s wrist in her hand. The other hand brought the smoother down and turned on the power. A low hum was all that came from the device, but as she pressed it down and ran it slowly across the marred skin, all of the imperfections smoothed beneath its tip. Jeremy could feel the scar tissue breaking down. The sensation was distinctly different from making the cuts; while that was a sharp pain, bright and alive, this was the dull sting of conformity.
â€œSeven times, huh? So this is number eight?â€ She was smiling again, trying to make pleasant conversation. â€œYou must get hurt a lot, huh?â€
Jeremyâ€™s eyes never left the slowly diminishing scars. â€œYeah. I do.â€
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