Saturday, June 27, 2009

growing up

(not a full 1000 words, but Nola needed to be here)

When Nola stepped out of the bathroom and walked thru the hallway towards her room she noticed Ethan’s bedroom door was open. Kate was sitting on the floor against his little bed, her shoulders bouncing up and down with silent heaving sobs. She was holding something in her hands…what was it? Was it Ethan’s stuffed dog, that little one he loved so much? Nola had often seen her mother asleep in Ethan’s bed clutching the tattered dog like a child, her tearstained face evidence of another long night of endless mourning.

But this time Kate wasn’t holding one of Ethan’s toys. Instead she was staring at Nola’s blood stained underpants. Nola approached slowly, not wanting to startle her…half not wanting to disturb her mother but needing to understand.

“Mom?” Nola said, barely audibly.

Kate didn’t turn her head towards Nola in the doorway but her shoulders stopped rising and falling momentarily. “Yes honey,” she said in a voice that sounded softer than usual.

“Mom, are you…what are you doing?”

“I’m just, thinking.”

“About what?”

“About growing up.”

“Oh,” and then she couldn’t resist, “Me or you?”

Kate laughed a little and said, “Both of us I guess.”

Nola laughed back. Then they were silent again and she wasn’t sure what to do next. Her mother seemed different to her and she didn’t know how to deal with it. She didn’t know if she liked it or if she didn’t. It just seemed strange. A part of her wanted things to go back to how they were, her mom in the distance and not so…so…present. But another part of her sensed, or at least hoped, that maybe somehow this would be better. Maybe things would actually get better.

Nola walked into the room and sat down next to Kate, leaning her back against the bed the same way. The two of them just sat there for a while, quiet and comfortable.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

crinkled paper

(Finally, a new excerpt!)

Kate sat on the edge the exam table, trying not to crinkle the paper as she adjusted her position. That sound of body on paper always bothered her, grated on her nerves, but even more so now. It reminded her of the sound of meat being slapped on brown paper at the butcher shop her father ran. That sound was etched in her memory as much as the raw smells, the vision of skinned carcasses hanging from the ceiling and the piles of fat tossed aside while her father sawed the fragmented body parts of animals into palatable sections for someone’s dinner table.

Now, here she sat, waiting to find out if she too would be butchered, if she too were to have the now unpalatable parts of her own body tossed aside, useless, “fit only for the grinder” as her father would say. She shuddered at her own analogy.

The room was cold and cramped, dimly lit. Dominating practically the entire space was an ultrasound machine on a metal stand. Between the exam table where she perched and the machine there was little room left. Everything was functional, cold and sterile, yet in surreal contrast to the rigid technology of the softly humming machine and the hard metal edges of the table there was a large, vibrant print nearly covering what little available wall space there was. Trying to forget the butcher’s knife, she decided to lose herself in the picture.

The depiction was of an Irish cottage and garden, or what she imagined an Irish cottage and garden would look like, all rambling vines and masses of flowers surrounding a whitewashed cottage with a thatched roof. She tried to let her mind drift, to think of what the original artist might have looked like, was this their home, was it a man or a woman? But inevitably all she could think about was Deirdre, dear old Grandee, and how much she wished she were here. Her mounting saddness grew quickly.

How she hated waiting alone like this; it only gave you more of a chance for the mind to wander. No matter how much you tried to keep your self occupied by the inane or the ordinary, deeper thoughts would always manage to prevail, intruding, forcing their way in and leaving you feeling as emotionally exposed as your body was in the ubiquitous ill-fitting hospital gown, like meat on a hook.

The more she tried to maintain her composure, the harder it got until finally the tears came. A feeling of panic and dread rose up in her and tightened every muscle in her chest, closed off her throat so that her sobs came out as choking gulps. She dug her fingernails into her palms, trying to hold back the flood of tears. Nothing had happened yet, no one had told her anything new, no further bad news. If she didn’t regain control of her self the doctor would walk in any minute and find her crying. That thought set her off further and now the tears flowed unrelenting.

She tried to tell herself it didn’t matter, certainly doctors had seen women with breast cancer cry, she wouldn’t be the first. But it did nothing calm her. She feared doctors thinking she was incapable and not telling her what she needed to know, dismissing her as some fragile-minded ninny. She reached into her purse and got out the vial of Valium, then thought better of it. She needed to get a hold of herself without it this time and be completely alert, to have her wits about her. She must understand what was going to be said. This was too important to deaden her senses for.

Mastectomy or lumpectomy. That was what would be decided here in this room. She’d had her exam, her scans, her X-rays. Now this radiologist would do the follow-up ultrasound and finally she would know if she were a candidate for saving her breast.

She’d met a woman named Karen, a teaching assistant at the college, who had a lumpectomy. Now five years later she was healthy and happy, hardly a trace of the scar left. She had willingly, even happily showed it off to Kate in the ladies room. Compared to how Kate’s mother had looked after her own mastectomy, it was as if nothing had happened to this woman, it was a mere footnote in her life story, just a bad memory left in the dust of her past. Kate so wanted to know that this would be a memory for her someday too, not like it was now, some dark phantom stalking her every waking moment. She wanted her cancer to fade out softly like that woman’s scar, a slight shadow the only point of recollection.

Just then the doctor walked in. Kate had managed to compose herself a little after all and being suddenly startled by the doctor’s abrupt entrance further helped shift her focus. “My name is Dr. Ester, Mrs. Collins, how are you today?”

“Fine, well, you know,” Kate managed a weak laugh.

“Yes, well, let’s see what we have here, okay? Can you lie down on the table for me and reach your right arm up over your head. Good, now, I’m going to open your gown…this gel might be a little cold…”

The radiologist took a long time, slowly and methodically running the wand over Kate’s entire breast, centimeter by centimeter, stopping and clicking the computer mouse with his other hand over and over. Sometimes he pushed down hard and Kate winced. This escaped the doctor’s notice completely. Kate’s arm also went numb but she was afraid to move for fear of somehow causing a mistake in the reading. She said nothing, just let the tingling sensation further divert her from feeling anything else.

Finally the doctor said, “I’ll be right back, Mrs. Collins, just a moment please,” and with that he casually draped a towel over Kate’s exposed breasts and quickly left the room.

Now what? Was she allowed to move? She decided she must and carefully moved her arm down from its overhead position, trying not to shift her body any more than necessary.

“Mrs. Collins?”

“Oh, uh, yes,” Kate hadn’t heard the door this time and nearly jumped off the table, the doctor returned more quickly than she thought he would. Standing next to him was an attractive young woman in a white coat. Perhaps a nurse, maybe a woman was supposed to be there during the exam like at the gynecologist? She wasn’t sure there was going to be enough room for all these people.

“Mrs. Collins this is Doctor Neville, I wanted to consult with her on your ultrasound, okay?”

“Okay, sure.” Kate remained laying on her side, her hips oddly twisted, her breast barely covered under the towel and still coated with the gel.

“Did Dr. Placido speak to you, Mrs. Collins?”

“I’m not sure, I mean, I’ve seen him but not since the MRI, why?”

“Well, I spoke to him after sending him the written MRI report and my recommendation was for him to discuss that report with you, are you saying he didn’t do that yet?”

“No, no one has discussed the MRI with me, why?”

“Mrs. Collins, I’m going to call Dr. Placido right now and leave you with Dr. Neville for a bit, okay, I really want to touch base with Dr. Placido before I speak further with you about this, okay?” The radiologist turned and started to whisper instructions to the other doctor as Kate’s mind raced and she felt herself lose the tenuous grip she had on her emotions.

“I want to know what is going on and I want to know right now!”

She heard an unrecognizable voice, strong and deep, nearly shouting. The sound echoed loudly, reverberating in the cramped little space, sucking all the air out of the room. It took her a moment to realize she had spoken the words herself. She was sitting up, breasts fully exposed, crinkled paper torn and sticking to her back. She didn’t care one bit. Not one bit.