Read The Child Online

Authors: Sarah Schulman

Tags: #Gay & Lesbian, #Literature & Fiction, #Fiction, #Gay, #Lesbian, #United States, #Genre Fiction, #Lgbt, #Gay Fiction, #Lesbian Fiction

The Child (3 page)

Stew saw an older, sexy guy standing around too, and went over
to ask him for directions to the subway, the one to Penn Station so he could walk to Port Authority and then get the Greyhound back upstate. They talked a bit. Then Stew asked him for directions to the men’s room. It didn’t take more than five minutes of shaking his dick in front of the urinal for the old guy to come in after him and wave his dick around, too. It was a short, thick one. Too short. Stew thought about this guy fucking him and had an image of the top of his butthole plugged up tight, but then miles of empty space where the rest of that guy’s dick should have been.
The guy came over and put his hand on Stew’s shoulder. It was warm and old and solid.
“I love you,” Stew said, without even thinking.
“You’re under arrest,” the man said, zipping up his pants.
At the stationhouse at Midtown South, there were three cops making cracks all night. After fifteen hours of freezing, starving fear, one cop took Stew’s mug shot and fingerprints.
“Your parents are waiting downstairs,” the cop said.
“Oh no,” Stew finally cried. He wanted to go back to jail.
“Cocksucker,” said the cop.
Stew cried.
The cop grinned knowingly. He knew for a fact that this kid’s life was over.
3
Eva’s plan was to lie down on the examination table and offer up her breasts while simultaneously shaking hands with Dr. Pollack, looking him in the eye. Years of yoga made this an option. She wanted to assert herself
and
co-operate. Was this combination possible? If she could stand out in his mind, then–at night–he would lie in bed, suddenly having the revelation about her case that would save her life. She had to catch his attention so that he’d do a good job. If she acted like every other of his many patients, she would be treated like them. And that might not be enough.
This balance was a tricky business.
On the other hand, if Dr. Pollack turned out to be a terrible doctor, one who does a lot of damage, the plan would reverse. She would strive for him to ignore her altogether. Excess complacency was the way to disappear. Then he could not spot her as a moving target for his diabolical ineptitude. Neglect would be the best that she could hope for.
Eva was waiting for a cancer diagnosis that she considered
possible
. However, she also expected to live. If her life was about to change, she knew she had been a good lawyer. But even her career paled in comparison to her two most excellent decisions: (1) Mary; and (2) No children. These were her gifts.
The list of weaknesses was equally obvious. Eva felt she had spent her life not having fought hard enough for … whatever, you name it. Reflecting at that moment on forty years of assorted moments, it was clear to her that in sticky situations she’d often glanced
longingly toward battle but ultimately gave in. Now, being responsible and aware enough to know she had to strategize her doctor, she wondered if she was going to have to face illness. That is to say, to finally be ready to fully fight for something without restraint. But did it have to be her life?
“Hello, Doctor. My name is Eva.”
“My middle daughter’s name is Eva. I have six daughters. Let’s see what we’ve got here.”
The examination table was pushed up lengthwise against the wall. Before, while she was waiting, that wall had provided comfort for Eva’s aching back. But now the positioning became an issue of concern. If the table had been in the middle of the room, Pollack could have examined both breasts by walking around it. But since the examination table was against the wall, he had to sit on it, lean over the length of her body with his body, and reach over her to shift sides. It created a special, extra intimacy.
Eva hoped this was not deliberate. Just bad interior design. Considering her brand-new commitment to the fight, if Dr. Pollack’s bad spatial planning was purposeful, so that he could cop a feel, she’d have to do something. Something. But even the idea of raising her voice made her hands clammy. So she tried guilt. Reminding him of his familial obligations. That he was a father, with children, and those children wouldn’t want him to do anything creepy.
“No sons?”
“My son is a beach bum. He spends all his time at Rockaway Beach surfing, hanging out with girls. Weight lifting. Your breasts are very fibrous. I can’t see anything on those mammograms. Let’s try a sonogram. Alicia, write down
large breasts with significant markings
.”
“What’s a sonogram?”
Eva now had more than two upsetting things to think about, which tended to be her limit. Something was wrong, of that she was sure. A man should not be a breast doctor, and she didn’t trust religious Jews. Plus the examination table was in the wrong place. Additionally, she was upset by the word
large
. It was embarrassing. Plus, she might have cancer. Today.
If she had cancer, it was her own fault. She ate too much fat, and didn’t do Cardio-Step-Kickboxing, and had cigarettes at certain key moments. Also, there was the environmental pollution that she had never tried to stop, and bad genes she hadn’t investigated. But if this guy Pollack was a creep, she should stand up to him. On the other hand, if she was the problem, then everything was fine. This whole situation could potentially be normal if she was simply overreacting. Maybe within the realm of a world in which men were breast doctors, this was all okay. Normal. Maybe she was so out of it that she couldn’t recognize normalcy when it slapped her in the face. It was probably Eva’s own fault that she was uncomfortable.
“I put this electricity-conducting gel on this tiny machine that fits into the palm of my hand. See?”
Dr Pollack placed his shiny, lubricated hand on a wired piece of plastic that slid over her breast.
This was clearly one of those multitudinous moments in which it was better, safer, cleaner, and smarter to conform. Otherwise, being distressed was confusing, and
he
would have the advantage. Eva should just worry about the cancer. She didn’t like this man’s hands on her, but that’s what she got for being such a fuck-up that she could only afford to go to a clinic. Even a clean, expensive one. It had an elite veneer, but still felt like a factory. At this point
she should have been far enough along financially to have her own personal breast doctor.
“I pass the machine over the breast and then.…” He ran his hand over her nipple. “… on the video monitor we can see a picture of the inside of your breast.… He skateboards, too.”
The image came up on the screen.
“Does your son have a tattoo?”
She was sweating.
“No, no, no tattoo. Absolutely not,” he sputtered. “Never. I hope you don’t have a tattoo.”
As he moved his hands slowly on and around her breast, she looked at the hairs on his fingers. The doctor smelled of shaving cream. It reminded her of her own weak-willed, creepy, but never sexually inappropriate father–now dead for so many years. Her father was a Nice Guy. He never yelled. He was a nice, sweet man who let her down regularly in a soft, kind, persuasive, loving way. He was overwhelmed with the experience of not being a boy anymore. By the age of ten, Eva realized that her daddy didn’t know how to set the table. He didn’t know where the fork went. It was an emblematic moment. He died very comfortably. His last words were, “What did I do?”
He got away with it.
Eva wanted to cry, so she looked over at the monitor instead. She and Dr. Pollack watched little cysts come in and out of focus.
“I know,” she said. “You can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery if you have a tattoo.”
“They made them have tattoos.”
“I know about it.”
This was the wrong track.
“Look.” The doctor picked up a ringing phone. “You’re full of cysts. Hello?”
He spoke into the receiver while leaning back against Eva’s supine body. His gooey, hairy hand still slid up and down her breast.
“Mrs Pagano? I’m glad you called. Yes, I’m afraid I have bad news for you. The tumor was malignant.”
Dr Pollack continued to move his hand, cradling the phone on his shoulder, both eyes on the video monitor. Multi-tasking.
“Yes, Mrs. Pagano, you need to make an appointment for a double mastectomy.”
Pollack became slightly absent-minded now, almost glassy-eyed, like he was playing a video game.
“No … no … no. We won’t know until we see the nodes. I am telling you the truth, Mrs. Pagano. We won’t know your chances until we see the nodes … Mrs. Pagano, there is no need to count on the worst.”
He turned to Eva and raised his eyebrows. Then he went back to the monitor. “Nowadays with radiation, chemo, and meds, you may have a good chance.”
Eva felt like a mouse pad. By this point in the proceedings, she knew it was not only
her
fault that she was uncomfortable. Something was definitely not okay about the way the doctor was handling things.
“Call the surgeon, and make an appointment. Who is your surgeon? … He’s good.… Yes, I’m telling you the truth. If I knew for certain that you were dying, I would tell you.”
She had to get out of there. Eva looked over at Alicia. She was filing, oblivious. Eva stared at the appliqués on Alicia’s fake fingernails. So ornamented. Then she imagined her own bare, plain scalp.
Standing up and running away while Dr. Pollack was sitting on her, talking on the phone with his hand running up and down her breast just seemed too hard to do. She eyed her shirt hanging on the door and calculated its distance from her arm. As soon as he hung up the phone she would make a break for it.
“Mrs Pagano, I know this is quite a shock.”
Then, abruptly, Pollack hung up.
“Eva,” he said. “We need to aspirate two cysts and do a biopsy.”
She felt relief and panic. Relief because Mrs. Pagano was gone, off into her own despair, so Eva had only her personal potential cancer to deal with. The word
biopsy
meant that she had to stay put. So she didn’t have to be rude, doctorless, earn yet another person’s disapproval while her problems stayed unresolved. Eva had been saved from disdain by the threat of death.
“Right now?”
“Yes, a core biopsy.”
He thinks this is all okay
, she gauged. The doctor did not feel guilty about his own behavior. Only
she
felt guilty about hers. He thought he was doing her a favor. Okay, as long as he was sincere, though wrong, she could go along with it.
“Wait,” she said. “I have to call my insurance company.”
“Okay. There’s a pay phone in the waiting room.”
“Thank you, Doctor. I need preapproval,” she said metaphorically and materially. “Or they won’t reimburse.”
4
All the way home in the car, Stew convulsed in fear. His teeth buckled and his face split. He knew he had told too much to Officer Bart.
Never squeal on another fag
.
Idiot.
No matter what Stew managed to think up on the spot, Bart always had another question. The guy showed no mercy.
This wasn’t like home, where Stew could just shut down. There, people didn’t answer questions, because they didn’t want to and that was good enough. No. This cop played a different game. He demanded a reason for everything. There was no slack.
Why were you in Grand Central? Why do you have a used round-trip ticket to White Plains? Who did you go to meet?
This was jail. Stew had to say something.
“Some guys.”
As soon as he said it, Stew wanted to kill himself. Idiot. Asshole.
“How many times have you seen these guys before?”
Stew mumbled some number and then couldn’t remember what it was. Officer Bart pulled all this stuff trying to find out their names.
Of course, Stew’s parents didn’t say a word in the car. They weren’t like that. Stew hoped they’d just drop it. And they tried to. But then the next morning the whole nightmare started again when Officer Bart came over to their house. Now Stew’s parents were embarrassed that they hadn’t mentioned any of it and that they hadn’t
found out anything new. The whole family was being forced by the police department to talk about it and pretend to care. They had to put on a big show for the cop. It was uncomfortable for all of them. The whole Mulcahey family felt guilty, and they wanted every sign of their guilt to go away.
“Officer Bart,” Brigid said, frighteningly girlish. “Of course we’re very upset by this. We don’t know what to do. We don’t even now what to feel.”
Stew watched his mother pretend to be lost in her own home in fucking Van Buren, fucking New York. That was her trip, and it was embarrassing. She’d ask the other person what they wanted her to feel and then she would mouth it. That’s how she got by.
Stew’s mother never had a chance. She was brighter than his father, but had to pretend she wasn’t if she wanted to stay married. That was the big joke in their family.
“I could have made a tough, rich lawyer,” she would say regularly.
“Your mother,” Stew’s father often reminded them. “If things had been different, she would have been a killer lawyer.”
Then everyone would laugh. They all knew what a lawyer was; they saw them on TV. Lawyers were ruthless and fucking smart. They win. Real mothers are too smart for their own good. They lose. All of Brigid’s instincts went into keeping Stew’s dad from feeling surpassed. Marty did not want anyone to be smarter than him, but he wasn’t that smart. So the level at which everyone else in the family had to be kept was quite low. This required a lot of maternal regulation.
Officer Bart was waiting. Waiting for someone to talk.
“How should we feel?” Brigid asked him again.
She knew exactly how she’d gotten here, to this very spot. Brigid’s parents had a laundry in Newark, New Jersey. She grew up over the store. By the time she got pregnant, it was clear that she couldn’t bring up a white child in that neighborhood anymore. So she married Marty. Then her father died without a life insurance policy and her mother had to come live with them. The money situation became desperate. Brigid had to shut up and act stupid so that her mother and her children would have food and a backyard. It was all conscious, these decisions at the core of the Mulcahey family. Conscious and unspoken. That’s why nobody talked. Now Brigid’s mother was also dead. Carole, her daughter, had her own baby and then got married. Like Brigid, in that order. The only one left in a state of dependency was Stew.

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