My throat was lined with fiery shards. The rest of my body felt like it was pressed in a waffle iron, clammy setting. It seemed natural I should drive myself through the snow to a grocery store walk-in urgent care clinic. My primary care doctor does not perform rapid strep tests, as they are laboring under the impression it is 1955. I did not want to wait two days for results. If strep microbes were holding a rave in my throat, I had the right—and the duty—to shut it down with minimum delay. I was 96% sure it was strep because several of the kids had positive strep results, diagnosed by a real live pediatrician.
I arrived at the grocery store clinic in the middle of the practitioner’s lunch break. A receptionist directed me to sign in using a computer in the corner. An elderly gentleman was ahead of me. He muttered as he navigated the system, then took a seat. I signed in and opened my book.
The receptionist said, “Do you need to be seen?”
I looked up and saw a woman in her 80s standing next to a row of chairs. “I’m with him!” she gestured across the waiting area to the man. She was wearing a knit Tweety Bird hat with long braided tassels and her clothes were voluminous on her petite frame. She sat on the first chair, across from the man I guessed was her son. Opening her bag, she pulled out a small stack of shiny squares. Lottery tickets. She unzipped a coin purse and took out a quarter to scratch off the little boxes. Sighing, clucking, shaking her head until she got to one that made her smile. She stood and stuffed the bad cards into her bag and disappeared around a corner with the ticket that made her smile. Several more people arrived, signed in, and sat. One man noted he thought he had strep and his doctor sent him there because he couldn’t wait two days for the lab. You and me both, brother. I returned to my book.
“Well, how in the world? Did you win those from the claw machine?” The receptionist’s voice startled me off the page. I looked up to see the little Tweety Lady carrying two large stuffed bears. They were white and covered in pink and red hearts. Each clutched a puffy heart.
“I sure did!” she grinned as she settled into the chair.
The receptionist was clearly amazed. “I never win.”
“Oh, it’s easy. I know a trick.”
Everyone in the waiting room looked up. Several leaned forward. Nobody said a word but it was obvious everyone was listening. What was the trick to winning something from a claw machine? Tweety Lady sensed she was in the spotlight.
“This is what I do. First, I push the crane back until it hits the mirror. It’s gonna bounce. Then, I move it to the right to the other mirror. Hit that. It’ll bounce more and that makes the claw open up real big. Then you mind the timer and put it over the toy you have your eye on. Make sure you choose it before you start! Don’t ever get going with the claw and not know what you want to grab! Drop it while it’s swinging around and it’ll hook under the toy really tight!”
I pictured myself moving the crane exactly in the manner she described. I was going to try it when I was done.
The care provider arrived and unlocked the exam room door. A few minutes later, she poked her head out and nodded. The receptionist called the son’s name. He disappeared. I was next.
His appointment wasn’t long. “They can’t help me,” he told the Tweety Lady. She wobbled to her feet still laden with the bears and they shuffled out. It was my turn. I described my symptoms, the strep in our house, basic medical history. She swabbed my throat and dipped the stick into a tiny test tube. Positive. I knew it.
Claw machine. Where are you? I exited the clinic area and thought about where I usually see claw machines. The front of the store, near the penny horse and gumball machines seemed like a good bet. My usual grocery store doesn’t have a claw machine or else I’d be constantly fending off requests for quarters from the kids. I found the machine and dug two quarters out of my bag. I was nervous and felt surprisingly self-concious. There I was, sick, no kids in sight, standing in front of a claw machine determined to win. I’d only allow myself one try.
I fed the quarters into the slot and the timer started.
Back to the mirror. Crash. Swing.
To the right! Fast! Crash. Swing. Open!
Move it over a toy! Move it!
I realized I hadn’t chosen what I wanted before I began. The blue elephant seemed catch-able, but I second-guessed myself. I pushed the drop button with my thumb and the claw plunged into a pile of polyester fluff and rose shut on nothing. It moved back into position. I felt more disappointed than I thought I would. Armed with Tweety Lady’s wisdom and obvious success, I still failed. I snickered out loud to demonstrate I didn’t care, really. It was just a silly whim. You should see all the stuffed animals and plushies I have at home! I don’t need another!
The grocery store doors parted. I walked out into the frigid air and felt it deep in my bones.