June 21, 2019 by The Citron Review
by Julie Watson
Women often fall prey to inertia, my gynecologist says. From somewhere under the gown tented over my knees she reminds me that once a woman turns forty, regular mammograms become essential. This means I’m late. I have the good old Midwestern sickness of taking care of everyone else first.
I’m going to walk you down myself, she says. She tells me the walk will help her get her steps, waving her Fitbit high over the tent. We both know she’s doing it so I won’t blow it off, and I would. Walk-in mammograms don’t appeal to me, I tell her. I like to have an appointment when I take off my top. Don’t be silly, she says, it’s easy, like getting a pedicure. Turns out she’s right. It really is no harder than getting a pedicure, except no one leaves ready for sandal season.
I’m offered a heated pink robe, soft as an old boyfriend’s T-shirt. I peel off my clothes in a dressing room just like the ones in Macy’s and wait in a room with People magazine and daytime television, a shallow bowl of mints ready for dainty hands. There are other pink-robed ladies and we smile at one another. How about this ensemble, one of them asks. We laugh because we’re braless and awkward but we’re together, beating inertia—punching it right in the face because we’re responsible adults. I thumb a mint from its plastic wrapper and let the sweetness melt onto my tongue. It’s just like a day at the mall with friends, except no one is having a 30% off sale.
This might be a little uncomfortable, the tech says. She jokes to ease my discomfort and I decide I like her, with her spicy perfume and reassuring smile. I picture us on a patio, sipping citrine glasses of wine over dark green salads topped with unexpected fruit. She twists me into action figure poses and we laugh at my stiff limbs. She tells me what a good job I’m doing. I don’t care much for my body or the way it looks, the things I can’t make it do, but I know how to be cooperative.
You’re the first person I’ve talked to who didn’t get the scoop from a mother or sister, she says. I want to tell her I’m an only child and my mother is dead but I don’t. It would make her smile go away, pity rising in her face, slow and ugly like a tub filling with rusty bathwater. I’m quiet while the machine goes about its work, flattening and photographing. It’s like a Panini press for tits, except no one gets lunch.
We need to take a closer look at your left breast, the scheduler says.
I want to ask if it’s over, if this is it. I need to know if I should start writing goodbye letters and self-publish my latest novel and book a trip to Tokyo on credit but I don’t, I only ask when I can come back. The doctors like to get these things resolved as quickly as possible, she says, and in no time, I’m back in a chair next to my husband, topless by appointment. Later, he tells me that while I was being fitted for another pink robe, the man next to him was called to be with his wife in another room, probably where they share the bad news. My husband says he watched the man go pale and walk to the News Room, the walls closing in on all of them a little. We agreed the walls were hard to get over, dressed in pink ribbons and vaginal artwork. Comforting, I suppose. It looks like a highbrow adult bookstore, except no one gets laid.
The tech takes me to a new waiting room, this one bare except for a few wig catalogs and the sounds of the News Room door drifting open and clicking shut. For the second exam there are many more pictures and no jokes. My breast is folded and pressed with paper airplane precision, my arms an inconvenience. Why don’t you go have a seat, the tech says, while we take a closer look? Time trudges forward like a walk through wet sand. The only other woman in the waiting room is half my age, and we take turns looking at one another while the other looks away. I study her tattoos, the way her eyes turn down with sweetness and sadness all at once. She’s probably kind, but neither one of us knows how to talk. Finally, I’m called to the hall. I walk past the floral prints and pink ribbons; my stomach stays in the chair. Everything is fine, the tech says. I see this was your first time, she adds, wearing a reassuring smile. More than half of you first-timers are called back. We need to get a baseline. I shed the pink robe and hurry to find my husband. I knew it would be okay, he says. He breathes, and only I can hear the stored anxiety.
I think of the girl in the waiting room, alone with the wig catalogs and a view of the News Room door. I go back in time, remembering how to speak, to wait with her and hold her hand. She’s called to the hall where her fear can shrivel like mine and her life can bloom like a flower all over again. Nothing is wrong, the tech tells her, and together we push the air from the bottom of our bellies and laugh at the sound it makes. It’s just like a perfect dream, except sometimes people end up in wigs, wearing pink ribbons.
Sometimes people just never come back.
Julie Watson lives St. Louis with her family. Her work has appeared in The Saturday Evening Post and The Summerset Review, and has earned recognition in the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story and Erma Bombeck Writing Competitions. Julie can be found online at juliewatsonauthor.com and tweets at @julieinthelou.