In the bathrooms of the prostate center all the toilet seats are up. There are lavatories in sports arenas with long metal troughs. Men stand like gargoyles, twenty in a line, cords of firewood extinguishing their own blaze. In the waiting room of the Women’s Breast Imaging Center, the receptionist crooks her arm, then her wrist, to point me in the right direction down the hallway. They have a UNI, she smiles, but it is really a Girlie, where men who have accompanied their wives, girlfriends, mothers, or God forbid, their daughters, are allowed to go. There are no urinals. I am careful to put the seat up, to pee with great aim, and place the seat down when I am done. I wipe clean and pat dry for good measure. This is the last place I want to leave bad karma.
When I return to the waiting room my wife has already been called. I had wanted to squeeze her hand for luck. I sat alongside her for more than an hour waiting expectantly while every few minutes a series of smiling technicians emerged from the double doors with charts and called in Esperanza, Rosalie, Mrs. Murphy, Kristen. Like at Monte Carlo, each new player is admitted to the exclusive high stakes table. All their chips are in on this one turn of the last card. The “river card” is what they call it. Did they fill the inside straight, draw that fifth card in suit for a flush, complete the full house?
Or bust? Such a terrible morbid accurate pun.
One woman is tall and elegant with silken hair, another is doughy and walks with lumbering strides. There is a woman with a cane, a girl in torn jeans and hippie blouse, a young woman whose hair is starting to grow back. The nurse-croupiers are friendly. Why shouldn’t they be? They play for the house. They ask the women how they are. As if there were any other way to be than scared shitless. Some of them smile and say they are fine, stacking their affability up against the house odds. My grandfather, who was an immigrant from Eastern Europe, avoided doctors at all cost. “Vat,” he’d say. “Doctors. They’ll look, they’ll find.”
The large stocky woman shuffles inside, as if she had shackles on her ankles and wore an orange jump suit. She has known enough bad news already not to expect the deuce of clubs to turn. You root for the woman whose hair has started to grow back. It is dark and stubbly, like charred woodland seen from a great height. “Coming for a follow up, one of them asks. “No,” she says, “for the other side.”
I have felt the mass in my young wife’s breast. It is large and ominous. It has weight. It moves like an edamame bean inside its skin. I have resisted squeezing it. I do not want to give it cause for anger. She has been inside for twenty minutes. Several more women emerge who’d been called in before her. I have read both outcomes in their faces, the grim dark stares into the future, and the grateful glances toward heaven. As if the same God were not responsible for both sides of the coin flip. I have envisioned how I would play either hand.
The doors open and she comes out. She has no poker face. Her small hands spray fistfuls of thousand dollar chips over her neck like glitter. I know too well the gambler’s adage that you can win a hand but you can’t beat the house. Today we walk away from the tables a winner. I hug her and we hold on for dear life.
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