Ever since the letter arrived, every day has lasted a year. Eight days since the screening. Nine sleeps to go until the re-tests, except sleep won’t come. So Shirley sits in the bath and tries not to look. Tries to look anywhere else but… there. She averages two baths a day, with relaxing aromatherapy oil. She swishes her legs from side to side, watching the bubbles hide the dimples on her knees. She flexes her legs, admiring her muscle tone. She studies her red toes, painted yesterday while her husband watched the Sunday afternoon football. She’s never before noticed the relationship between footballs and breasts. Everything she looks at now is related to breasts, even though she’s stopped looking at her own. Balls of any description, hills, clouds, apples in the fruit bowl, the cold pile of mashed potato on her dinner plate. Eight sleeps to go, seven, six…
They float in front of her in the bath, bobbing to the surface like corks, demanding to be noticed. They look perfectly normal, feel perfectly normal. Left and right, slightly lob-sided as usual. Except usual has been suspended. She hooks herself into her bra every morning with efficiency, briskly, avoiding the mirror. Her husband doesn’t look either, makes no move to touch: certainly not normal. Briskly hooked out again each evening.
Three sleeps to go and her shirts are getting baggier. Nothing with Lycra. Nothing plunging. Her bras are getting bigger. Nothing lacy. More fabric, more coverage. Buttoned-up.
Her husband wants to go to the cinema. “Not tonight,” she says. “Let’s wait and see, eh?”
Her husband suggests meeting friends for Sunday lunch. “Don’t book it yet, love.”
She doesn’t want to worry him, and she knows he doesn’t want to worry her. So they hiccup through their days, worrying anyway, pushing it away. Being thoughtful, drinking tea. But at every turn there are breast-shaped tomatoes and breast-shaped footballs.
One sleep to go… and sleep of a kind does come thanks to a mug of camomile tea with honey plus six herbal sleeping tablets.
She leaves her husband sitting in Reception with his newspaper and i-Pad and oat bars. Minimal refreshments available, warns the letter. ‘It may take some time’, warns the letter. One other man sits alone with his book and his flask. The men do not make eye contact. They do not look at the fish tank.
The examination room is cold. Best for the machine but it makes Shirley’s goosebumps bigger. Her smile is tight as she talks about the weather while a strange woman manipulates her right breast onto the cool white platter. “Lean to your left a little, forward a bit, now hold your breath.”
Shirley squeezes her eyes closed and hums silently to herself as her flesh is squished like the filling in a metal sandwich. Biting, clamping, x-raying, pushing, pulling, like a vice gripping a piece of wood in carpentry class.
After the mammogram, she has one red breast.
© Sandra Danby
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