The steel door opened like a trap, revealing a man wearing a mask.  White coats and pastel scrubs were washed together under fluorescent lighting, dissolved against eggshell walls, forming the maze my mother, father, and I had snaked through with a lulled consciousness.  It wasn’t until we were about to step into the elevator that the image of a sick man snapped everything back into focus.  He couldn’t have been more than thirty-four, with dirty-blond spiky hair, square-ish rimmed glasses, a loose-knit sweater, jeans and Converse.  He would have been a normal, everyday sight, just another piece of the labyrinth we navigated, except for the paper medical mask looped around each of his ears, covering his nose and mouth.

The image of a man in an elevator is not terribly jarring.  It’s the image of a man somehow dehumanized–without individuality or identity, missing parts of his face–that is frightening.  A man that leans against the wall of the car with a distorted reflection, still and quiet.  Waiting.  A specter of what may come.

We board the elevator and move to the opposite wall, leaving a polite but purposeful gap between ourselves and the ghost of our fear.  My father looks up at the numbers, watching the lights move to the right as we ascend.  My mother looks to the floor.  I wonder about taking a picture of the man, Ala some portrait in the New Yorker.  But the camera on my phone isn’t good enough to capture the image I want, everything I see.  The lighting’s wrong, and there’s no way to snap the photo discreetly.  I think about asking the man if I may take a photograph of him for a moment, but that seems in bad form.  Disappointed, I continue to track him in periphery, attempting to diagnose the disease that must have caused the need for a mask.

He looks like he could be gay.  I wonder if he has AIDS.

Fuck, Liz–(I check myself)–Not all sick, gay people have AIDS.  And not all thin people are gay.  You fucking idiot.

Nothing else comes to me before we arrive at the 14th floor.  The door opens, and my parents and I file out, still maintaining a silently paranoid, almost reverent distance from the Dickensian apparition who directs our gazes forward, to stare blankly into a future unknown.