I’d like to tell you about Vanessa, the rape victim who drew the unlucky straw that day. You could smell the chemicals from her recent perm, you could see where she’d dotted pink polish over the chips in her pedicure. She sat on the steel table in a pink paper gown, knees drawn up to her chest, and she stared at the swan mobile. That’s what the mobile is for. We all need distraction. I’d like to tell you all that, so I wouldn’t have to tell you the rest.
But if I don’t cut to the chase, I’ll just describe the mobile forever. Chloe and I bought it in Woodstock. Six Lucite swans, the exact blue of our radiology scrubs, wings and necks outstretched, folded, diving, flying, open for attack.
I won’t talk about the cloying antiseptic, or the warm booties I offered Jessica because the AC was freezing and because I hoped they’d help her feel less naked.
And I won’t tell you how Jessica fixated on the swans when the two State Agents sent to enforce the new protocol –Dr. Ryan and a young radiologist named Todd— introduced themselves. Or how Chloe gave Jessica a paper blanket and Jessica pulled it up to her neck and started humming, deep in her throat, staring at the swans, blocking us out.
But I will tell you that when Dr. Ryan put the probe in my hands, it was heavier than I expected. It looked like the hand mixer my mom uses to blend our Thanksgiving gravy. Only bigger, more expensive. I gripped it so hard that my palms got sweaty. My latex gloves started to bunch up. Chloe tapped the monitor. Todd hiccoughed. The Swans stirred on the breath of the AC. Dr. Ryan made a note on his pad. Finally, Chloe prompted me, “Turn it on.”
I flipped the switch. The probe whirred. Jessica’s hum pitched higher, her fuzzy-socked-toes gripped the stirrups, she pressed her knees together.
“You’re going to be fine” I whispered, stepping forward.
“She’s going to have to open those knees,” said Dr. Ryan.
Jessica pressed them more tightly.
“You need access; open ‘em.” Dr. Ryan ordered me, but my hands were full and Todd was blocking our old ultrasound unit, the only place in the tiny room that I could possibly lay the probe down.
“That’s why, in Texas, we use the bar,” Todd said.
Chloe stood up, “I can do it.” She turned to Jessica and said gently, “Jessica, I need you to —“
“You need to watch the monitor,” said Dr. Ryan. He nodded at Todd.
Todd put his hands on Jessica’s knees. Jessica shrieked and twisted. One sock stayed stuck in the stirrup as she yanked her feet free and scrunched to the back corner of the table, her fingers clawing holes in the pink paper blanket. I thought she’d bolt; all the stories from Texas start like that.
Chloe came to her side, “Jessica, please -“
“We need a gag and restraints,” said Dr. Ryan, who already had the Velcro straps in his hand, “for everyone’s safety.”
Chloe put a hand on Jessica’s shoulder, “It’s not necessary, Dr. Ryan. Please. Jean can watch the monitor. I’ll do the probe.”
“I need to see that Ms. Booker can handle this.” Dr. Ryan addressed Vanessa, “Vanessa, I can’t you a sedative. It would gravely injure any little citizen you might have in there. So, breathe deep. This will be over soon”
Todd attached the Velcro straps and wedged the bar between Jessica’s knees, while Dr. Ryan showed me how to insert the gag. “The trick,” he told me, “is to tilt her back before you open her jaw, see? She can still signal distress, but she can’t swallow her tongue. I’ll have you do the next one.”
“Only if it’s absolutely necessary, Doctor,” said Chloe.
“What’s necessary, Ms. Martin, is that every technician demonstrate proficiency with all the current equipment.” Doctor Ryan turned back to me, “Ms. Booker?” I was still holding the probe. I gathered myself and advanced, but when I touched Jessica there was a keening, an electrical problem with the motor.
No, louder than that.
A water main groaning to burst, rumbling through the floor.
My legs wobbled. The sound roared. The probe got hot. It burned my hands. I didn’t know where to put it down.
Todd caught me.
Todd and Chloe walked me out of the room. I was about to hurl. Chloe shooed Todd away and pushed me through the fire door into the heat of the parking lot. I vomited all over her shoes.
“Pull it together!” Chloe shouted. Only then did I realize the keening was coming from me. “Lou, Martha, Rhonda! Everyone left!” Chloe went on, “It’s just you and me, but with two of us we can manage.”
I heaved so hard I couldn’t breathe. Chloe handed me a paper napkin from her pocket. “I can’t,” I panted, wiping my mouth.
Chloe said she’d do everything. When her break came, we’d pretend it was my turn to watch the monitor. “You just have to do it this once for Dr. Ryan.” I stared across the parking lot and shook my head. Chloe kicked the gravel and went inside.
I’d like to tell you that I got right on a bus and joined Rhonda and Lou in the Washington March. That I sent emails to every government official and media outlet I could think of. Or got very angry on Facebook. But what happened was I vomited for five days straight and my doctor took me off all news and social media.
Everyone compliments my weight loss.
I don’t tell them about Vanessa. I don’t say that when I put food in my mouth, I picture Chloe on her federally mandated lunch break and I know what’s happening under our swans.
And I can’t keep anything down.