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 (5 page)

“How is Louise?” Eva asked.
Could they possibly still be together?
“She’s fine. She had a boy two summers ago. Devon. Now it’s my turn. Are you pregnant, too?”
“No, I’m here for a mammogram—I mean a sonogram.”
“Oh, I hope everything turns out all right.”
Despite the two intervening decades, Adrianna still looked the same. Even as a co-ed she’d been matronly, but now she seemed unchanged and therefore young. She still had that very annoying slow way of speaking, as if her throat was clogged with sludge.
“You know, Louise and I wanted to do something productive with our relationship, and now we’re happy. Daddy, just burp her.”
“Still in the East Village?”
“We moved to New Jersey. The schools are better there. Middlesex.”
Eva stared at the happy, loving daddy. Was motherhood the only way to get one? Of course it was; she’d already figured that out. Even though her own father was long dead, she knew that producing a child meant she could tell herself it
would
have made him happy, finally. Then she could lament his death, because the inevitable happiness would have given her the father she always craved.
“I’ve got to go now,” Eva said.
“I hope it turns out alright.” Adrianna was preoccupied with the suckle.
On the way back into Dr. Pollack’s office, Eva remembered when she and Adrianna had been friends. When Adrianna first fell in love with Louise and how horrible her father had been to all of them. Eva had never seen the man before, but she remembered the sorrowful nights over long beers as Adrianna faced his brutal judgment.
“Is Louise your boyfriend or your girlfriend?” he snapped.
That kind of thing was so painful back then. So unexpected and unnecessary. There was no respite from it. It tore young women apart.
Eva had never, ever forgotten that phrase. The cruelty. The wish to wound one’s own daughter because she loved. It lingered all those years as a memento of the amazing ease with which people throw things away. She wondered if Adrianna had forgotten all about it.
“What’s the matter?” Dr. Pollack asked when she was finally back in his office. “You have bad insurance?”
“Terrible. I have to pay first, and then they decide
if
and
what
they will reimburse.”
“What are you, an actress?”
“No, a lawyer.”
There it was again. The shame.
“I mean, I was a lawyer. I helped people get welfare when there used to be welfare. Now I’m a teacher. I mean, I’m an adjunct. I teach a few courses.”
“At a college?”
“Yeah.”
Eva had realized over the last few months that if she had fought harder for her clinic, it would not have been defunded. But in this humiliating moment it was thunderbolt true. She had given up too soon. Why did she do that? That wasn’t the person she wanted to be.
“And they don’t give you health insurance?”
“No, Doctor, I have to buy my own.”
“That’s terrible,” he said.
It
was
terrible, and maybe he was her friend after all. He seemed to understand.
“You see, Eva, between the two mammograms and the sonogram you’ve had this morning, the cost is already around fifteen hundred dollars.”
“I’ll have to put it on my credit card,” she said. Then she realized that she wanted this man to know how young she was, relatively. “I’m turning forty this year.” Too young for breast cancer. She wanted him to care so that he would do a good job. Her breasts and
her life were at stake. “My mother had cancer at forty-nine. She survived. How old are you, Doctor?”
“How’s your mother?”
“She’s okay. Occasionally she gets bad infections from not having enough lymph nodes. But she’s okay.”
“I’m forty-six,” he said. “I’ll tell you what.” Pollack looked down on her as she was once again lying on the table, shirtless, against the wall. “I won’t charge you for the cysts. That’ll save you about five hundred dollars, although later you’ll have to pay three hundred each for the lab. But that’s one payment you can put off. I do have to charge you for the biopsy.”
“Thank you, Doctor.” Eva was ashamed of feeling relieved at having to successfully bargain her health care. “That will make a big difference. It really will.”
Losing her job had already taught Eva the essential life lesson that there is a difference between overwhelming debt and even larger overwhelming debt. They all have to be dealt with, but the larger ones take longer.
“Okay.” He was excited, happy. “Let’s aspirate those cysts before my supervisor comes in and charges you. Alicia, iodine.”
Alicia the Silent handed him a dripping Q-tip.
“Okay, here we go.” He tapped the iodine twice onto Eva’s left breast, the one against the wall. “Kootchie-koo.”
Oh God
.
“Look at the screen,” Dr. Pollack said. “You can see everything. Alicia, needle! These sonograms are amazing. Mammograms show nothing with large cystic breasts like yours. Okay. Here comes a little prick.”
“Oh God,” she said.
“Look, you can see it on the screen. Open your eyes. Eva? Eva? Look.”
She opened her eyes.
“There’s the cyst and there’s the needle. There it goes. Watch, watch. I’m right inside you. Perfect entry. Look at all that fluid. The cyst is getting smaller. I’m really sucking you out.”
Help
, she thought. And shut her eyes.
“Amazing. Okay, now out comes the needle. There you go, Eva. Open your eyes. One more time. Okay, here comes a little prick.”
Eva was wildly calculating. First of all, she might have cancer like her mother. Otherwise why would they do a biopsy? Second, if she got up and walked out right then, she would still have to pay the fifteen hundred dollars, and the next place she went to would make her pay it all over again. Plus, she would also have to pay the extra five hundred for the cyst aspirations that Dr. Pollack was giving her for free. And as pathetic as it in fact was, she really did not have another sixteen hundred dollars in credit to cover another round. This is the reality of how decisions get made. Even if the insurance company did cover some of these expenses, it would only be in drips and drabs that would take months of phone calls to get a hold of. That was the deal. Five hundred dollars and Pollack got to do his little routine. She just couldn’t afford to leave. It would all be over soon.
 
Once, more than ten years before, Eva’s mother, Nathalie, had been in the hospital with a bad infection resulting from her loss of lymph nodes. She’d burned her arm cooking, and the infection spread quickly through all the places where the breast and lymphatic cancer surgeries had removed essential tissue. There was nothing
there to hold the poison back. Eva, avoiding her sister Ethel and other disapproving relatives, made sure to get to the hospital room when no one else was in the vicinity. It was eerie and smelled of Lysol. Her mother lay on the bed, exhausted. Eva sat on the radiator and watched her sleep. Then, after some time, she watched her come back to life.
“Hi, Mom, it’s me, Eva.”
“I’m dying,” Nathalie said.
It was so strange. There had been times in her life when Nathalie was hysterically mean, but she was never fatalistic. Despite all of her disappointments, angers, and embarrassments, she had never predicted her own demise. Eva, on the other hand, had been in the middle of witnessing the mass death of her generation and so knew, instinctively, that her mother was not dying.
“You’re not dying,” she said. “You have an infection and you’re on IV antibiotics. Soon you’ll be better and go home.”
“I’m dying,” Nathalie said with a rarely exhibited fear.
Eva had to repress a terrible desire to tell her mother what dying looked like. Why did she repress it? It would have been unfair. After all, this was Nathalie’s moment to imagine her own corpse. To replace that, in her mother’s mind, with the shocking misfortune of gay people her mother despised would be ungenerous. After all, these men’s deaths meant nothing to Nathalie. Nothing at all. It would have been disrespectful. And yet in some ways it could have been construed as a gesture of kindness, a reassurance. Finally, Eva decided to keep her mouth shut. Her mother would not be reassured by the deaths of young homosexuals, because she could not identify with them or extrapolate from them. So Eva said nothing. Nathalie would not learn from her.
Her mother was silent. Eva looked at her familiar face and longed for that old myth she had learned from television–that parents love their children and want to help them. Maybe now, maybe this would be that moment, that chance.
“You’re not dying, Mom. I know you feel horrible, and I’m sorry about that. I wish you didn’t. But I know that tomorrow you will feel better. You’re on IV antibiotics, and by tomorrow the infection will be way down. I know you feel scared, and it’s understandable. But Mom, you are not going to die.”
“Yes, I am,” Nathalie said. “I’m dying.”
She wasn’t kvetching. She was really scared.
“All right,” Eva said softly, the way she had always spoken to truly dying people. “I’m sorry, Mom. I wish it weren’t true.”
Nathalie’s eyes were barely open. But it wasn’t the exhaustion of the dying—it was the exhaustion of the worried. There, in the precision of detail, is where the truth of life’s duration lies.
“I’m dying.”
“Okay,” Eva said. “I believe you.”
“Good.”
“Mom, is there anything you want to say to me? Is there anything you want me to know?”
“Eva,” Nathalie said, terrified. “The greatest disappointment of my life is that you will never get married and have children.”
Of course Nathalie did not die. In fact she had a full recovery and lived to see her other daughter, Ethel, marry a software engineer.
 
Now, so many years later, back in Dr. Pollack’s office, Eva’s eyes filled with tears. She was angry. It was an intimate moment of identification
with her mother. Facing her mother’s cancerous future. Why, in her imagined moment of death, would Nathalie have chosen those words? Nathalie thought she was dying, and that was the message she wanted to leave behind. Why remember that now? If Eva died, her words would be compassionate. Not if, when.
“Now, Eva,” Dr. Pollack was still talking. “Out comes the needle. There you go. Open your eyes! See the fluid? Look! Look! It’s yellow. That means everything is fine. If it were bloody, then we’d have to worry. What classes do you teach? Law?”
“Freshman Composition.”
“You know, Eva. Now that I can see more clearly, I think you don’t really need that biopsy after all.”
“Really?”
“Why? You want one?”
“No.”
She sat up.
“Good. See, I saved you money and you don’t need a biopsy. I must be a good doctor.”
Eva began to feel sick. Was this all a setup for him to violate her? Did he just say that thing about the biopsy to make her worried and vulnerable so that he could play kootchie-koo? She put on her paper vest. She didn’t want to lift her breasts into her bra in front of him. The nakedness was bad enough.
“I’m going to leave now,” she said blandly.
“It was a pleasure meeting you. Let me give you my phone number. Alicia, give Eva my home, office, hospital, and cell phone in the car. Call me anytime. Even if you just want to have a cup of coffee.”
“Thank you, Doctor.” She wanted to vomit.
“Thank you. Alicia, I’ll be with Mrs. Alvarez.” He closed the door behind him.
“That was weird,” she said to Alicia. “Was it?”
“You’re probably not used to men touching you.”
“Maybe that’s it.” Eva took her bra down from the hook on the wall.
“He’s a doctor,” Alicia said with an open heart. “He does it all day long.”
6
Hockey Notkin had been back in his law office for almost a month, but still no business.
He’d done one stolen pedigree pup.
The owner’s cousin had ripped of the Lhasa Apso as a cry for help. Hockey talked the cousin out of being so dramatic, then talked his client into not pressing charges, thereby depriving himself of future income. That filled an afternoon.
Clearly the lack of cases was his own fault, but it had nothing to do with laziness. Hockey just could not bring himself to gear up. He knew that “living” meant recommitting to the serious business of competition, but he kept postponing the vow. One morning he even went to Enchantments and bought all the accoutrement necessary for a warrior ritual: sage, weird music, a funny hat, and a white candle. But he never unpacked the paper bag. As the long, empty days stood stagnant before him, it was the desperation of trying to “make it” that he was more loath to revisit.
“Make it?” he said out loud to himself in appropriate public places.
Make what? Make somebody else miserable, that’s what
. He knew he wasn’t supposed to feel that way. Most people still trying to win pretended it was about making the world a better place, making someone’s dreams come true. But Hockey had left that way of thinking forever. He knew now that for one person to win, another had to lose. And since he was going to live, he couldn’t afford to lose another thing.
It would be a tough adjustment. Hockey had been out of the
achievement system for so long, he’d forgotten how to do it. That last year, the sickest, Hockey had convinced himself that he’d never have the opportunity to compete again. At first, giving up Ambition was a terrible blow, devastating. No matter how ill he became he could not accept the possibility of life without contest. But then, as he’d slowly made peace with all of his other losses, Hockey began to realize that in fact the competition he had relished and lived for was wrong. As it left him behind, competition became a kind of evil that no longer entranced but instead appeared strangely useless. He didn’t just do a snow job on his own diminishing psyche by finding something convenient to believe in. Au contraire, Hockey had actually come to the realization that his new state of consciousness was the
real
truth. Ambition and competition were jokes.

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