"Which arm do you prefer, hon?"
"You're the phlebotomist; I'm just... the arm," I say, shrugging. I unfold both arms on the padded arm-rests and wait for her to choose. She fastens the tourniquet around my right bicep and palpates the crook of my elbow. I look the other way.
"At least you're not as nervous as the last person I had in here," she says, kindly.
"It's nobody's favorite thing, but here we are," I agree. There's a pause while she considers the vein.
"A little pinprick," she warns me, and I try not to flinch.
I'm still thinking about how needles are no one's favorite thing. "I was talking with my eleven year old in the car this morning on the way to school about getting his COVID shot as soon as he turns twelve. He's not excited about it, but..."
"But it's better than getting sick," she says, her voice cheerful. "My seventeen year old just got the shot!"
"That's great. New England's doing well, I saw in the paper," I offer. Our vaccination rates are the highest in the country.
"We've been lucky. There was the nursing home outbreak," she says, her voice lowering. The nursing home in town is a scant quarter-mile from the office where I'm getting my blood drawn. "And the soldiers' home in Holyoke. But other than that, it's been pretty good here."
"May it stay that way," I agree.
"All done!" She smiles, pressing a wad of gauze where the needle was just withdrawn. Now I look over, and I see the test-tubes full of dark red blood. The color always surprises me. It's so vivid, so deep.
I'm not sure what they're looking for this time, but we can't schedule the next procedure until they run whatever tests they need to run on these gleaming garnet vials.
I wonder how many mini-conversations like this she has over the course of a day. How many lives she briefly touches with her blue-gloved hands.
When I exit the building, I inhale lilacs under the clouded sky.