I’m in line, waiting for my turn.
A man in a blue uniform approaches me, his tired eyes fixated on the ground, and hands me a stack of paperwork. I sign on the dotted lines, initial where indicated, and forgo reading the fine print, mainly because it’s so small it looks like it’s written in Chinese.
He escorts me to the waiting area, and when I ask how long until the results are in, he shrugs and says they have no way of knowing; it all depends on the circumstances.
I pace the tiny and cramped room, and watch through the large windows as they hook up the machines. My heart flutters a little, and I look around at the others who are sitting, thinking, wondering, all of us joined here today by a common purpose, all of us hoping for the best.
Twenty minutes pass, but it feels like hours. My mouth is dry from thirst, but I dare not consume the stale muddy coffee that sits on the otherwise empty counter. I’m tired of this. I just want it to be over.
The man in blue opens the door, and slowly approaches me, his gaze meeting mine, and I already know the news is not good. I feel a wave of humiliation and disbelief wash over me, and suddenly I wish I had forced my husband to come instead.
“Failed.” he says to me in a monotone voice, and I try not to mistake his callousness for cruelty; I know he’s had to say this to many innocent people over the years.
“No! It can’t be!”
“I’m sorry ma’am. We’ve done everything that we can. I suggest you seek a specialist. It’s pretty serious.”
I walk, defeated, towards the pick up area, and get back in the car, confused and embarrassed, wondering how I will break the news to my loved ones, wondering what the neighbors will think; knowing that I will have to come back and try again, knowing I have no choice.
Because I live in California.
And my poor station wagon Volvo
a gross polluter.