By Sheri Reda
LOUISE WALKED OUT INTO THE WAKING MORNING WITH AN ACHE IN HER THROAT and neck she identified as the desire to cry.
Just an hour and a half earlier, she had stepped out of the L station into of those perfect early mornings on Wellington, with the stalwart graystones and the aspirational stone-and-clapboard three flats and the young new pretenders reflecting a cool, lemony peace. A watery white light sifted down through a canopy of hundred-year-old trees and smiled with benign inclusiveness at the exposed underside of a street under construction. The street had been in pieces as far as Louise could remember, ever since she had moved here as a young college graduate.
Back then, the pieces had been a crumbled muesli cooked up by mid-twentieth century white flight, budgetary restraint, and the ground up Germanic determination of refugees, ex-Nazis, and Roma who’d decided to tough things out. There’d been a dear quality to the rubble and the frayed siding on the clapboard houses and the bare but struggling yards of dirt in front of the houses. Now and then, there’d been some forlorn little play lot, a stand of six or eight mangled fruit trees, an empty storefront, or a tiny industrial space dedicated to the making of sausages or no-name soda pop.
Hippies and musicians and struggling grads had marked out the neighborhood as a possible refuge from gentrifying Old Town. Then poor-but-genteel teachers and editors and the idealistic, non-profit professionals moved in and painted the walls something other than white. They pulled up wool rugs and exposed gorgeous oak floors. They stripped the painted woodwork by hand. And they set up shelves made of one-by-eight boards supported by glass blocks or stolen cinder blocks or milk crates, and then they loaded them up with books and cassette tapes and VHS movie tapes, and candles, as if to say, this is who I am. They didn’t know they were making the place just right for traders.
For four or five years Louise had gloried in her apartment on Magnolia, which she had loved with the fervor of first love, before she was forced out of the neighborhood just as the factory workers before her had been forced out, by rising rents and the impossibility of owning a home there. She still loved those stately old buildings, and the narrow, parked-up streets, which were still mostly intact, unlike their unlucky siblings in status-mad Lincoln Park.
She had sucked up that contentment like a big draught of fresh air on her way into the medical center for her yearly ultrasound and mammogram. Or a yearly ultrasound and occasional mammogram — she was squeamish about shooting radiation into her breasts. Louise had no symptoms. She was merely being responsible.
The receptionist had been kind enough. The insurance analyst had listened when she protested that she had got the order changed to eliminate the $454 co-pay for the ultrasound her doctor said was necessary. The waiting room blandly calm, and Louise had said something kind, herself, to one or two other patients in order to build on that a tone of gentleness and sweetness. The mammogram operator — what did they call themselves, radiology techs, or something? — was competent and downright chatty.
The ultrasound tech, who said her name was Carlie, left something to be desired, but that was probably just because she was young. She’d been silent and slow, going over some spots again and again, without comment, before taking a picture. Louise would have chalked it up to thoroughness, except that she noticed Carlie was missing the sides of her breasts, and since she was lying down, and she wasn’t twenty anymore, much of what would have been the front had dipped to the sides. So she said something.
“You know, I have, um, fatter breasts than a lot of people. They go all the way around to the sides,” she ventured, tactfully, she hoped.
“Yeah, a lot of people have that.”
Louise persisted. “Do you just leave that to the mammogram, then? Because I noticed… the wand didn’t go there.” You didn’t go there, she wanted to say. But here she was, half naked, dripping with some sort of lotion, at the girl’s mercy.
“The mammogram will get that. We just worry about the denser tissue, right around the front, and under the nipple.”
Louise wanted to grouse. She wanted to glare in a withering way at the clear-faced girl with the long, honey-colored hair and not a care in the world and say, Someone else will get it, huh? None of your concern! But there was the nakedness and the drooping, and so she just frowned.
Carlie switched breasts. She pulled the big yellow bolster out from Louise’s right side and stuffed it under the left, She drew invisible rows on Louise’s breast, as if mowing a lawn, then traced a set of paths from the center outward, as if her nipple were a sun, and she were drawing its rays. This time, she reached all the way down and to the sides.
Then, as if she had thought better of something, she went back to the first breast. “Just to be sure, let’s get this.”
Yeah, Louise wanted to smirk. I just came by for the idea of an ultrasound, but let’s do a whole one, just for kicks. But she assented, mildly, as if she hadn’t noticed her victory in getting standard healthcare.
Then she was done. Free. She took off the charming maroon robe, thoughtfully constructed of soft fabric. She put on her street clothes. She smiled, in reverse order, at the other patients, the insurance girl, the receptionist. She avoided the elevator going up and mistakenly got into another one going up. Finally, that elevator, too, descended to the comfy old street, where Louise could go about the business of living. The lump in her throat would subside. It was nothing.