The sculpture in the atrium of St. John’s Hospital was a nine-foot visual train wreck. It was tortured, and distorted and vague, and its nearly naked body was indecently muscular. Deirdre’s personal opinion was that dead saints shouldn’t sport six-pack abs and she assumed the clear acrylic sculpture represented St. John the Baptist, but she was by no means positive, not being Catholic or a fan of modern sculpture. It was meant to be comforting, she supposed.
Deirdre was not comforted.
The statue of St. John was the subject of local legend. Deirdre heard stories of unexplainable cures, of patients who prayed to or touched the statue and were healed. She wondered how anyone could stand the sight of it long enough to deliver a prayer at its transparent feet.
She sat alone in a lobby overlooking the atrium as unwanted thoughts raced through her head. Mastitis and fibroadenoma, ductal carcinoma and ulcerating axillary masses were words that Deirdre didn’t believe any woman with a mere Liberal Arts degree should ever have to learn, but here she was with a lump in her left breast and she had learned all those words in the three weeks it had taken to get an insurance referral. She had grown to hate Google during that interminable twenty-one days.
The young receptionist had given her an odd look when Deidre checked in. “Are you here alone, Mrs. Patton?”
“Yes,” Deirdre had answered, “I was told I wouldn’t need a ride. I hope that’s correct, because — ” Because why, Deirdre?
“You won’t need a ride,” the receptionist said. “You should be able to drive just fine.” She looked unconvinced.
Deirdre knew what the girl was thinking. Women who came into the center alone with mysterious breast lumps were probably rare. There was usually a mother, or a sister, or a friend, or a husband to provide moral support.
“My husband had to work,” Deirdre explained. “We own a trucking company and he couldn’t get away.” You’re babbling. Shut up.
“I see,” the receptionist responded. Of course she didn’t see at all, and, frankly, neither did Deirdre, but it was too late to fight that particular battle and it was one she was tired of fighting anyway.
Her son could have driven her if she had told him about the lump; it was probably nothing and she didn’t want him to worry. Besides, telling Justin would have led to the question of why his stepfather didn’t come with her. She knew how her son would answer that question: “Because he’s a dick.”
She was thankful when a nurse called her into the back for the procedure. It took her mind off events that were even more unpleasant than the biopsy itself.
It was almost four p.m. when Deirdre returned home. The two tiny sutures in her left breast were beginning to sting, but the procedure had been anti-climatic compared to the three weeks of waiting. She put a roast in the oven, checked the business voice messages and went to lie down while dinner cooked.
Her husband poked his head into the bedroom sometime later and woke Deirdre from a light doze. “How’d it go?”
She nodded against her pillow. “Okay. I’ll know in three days.”
“Friday?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe not until Monday. You know how slow test results can be.”
There was a pause at the doorway, then: “Did you get the payroll tax report done for this month?”
It’s a trick question; be careful. She opened her eyes and struggled into a sitting position. A pain that thumped in time with her pulse had begun to beat in her left breast. “It’s not due until Friday.”
“So, you didn’t do it yet?”
Deirdre was already climbing off the bed. She knew how this conversation was going to end.
“What if you don’t feel well enough to do it tomorrow?” he persisted.
Deirdre forced a smile as she walked past her husband. “I’ll do it now.” She ducked into the bathroom to wash her face.
When Friday evening came without a call from the surgeon, Deirdre steeled herself for a long weekend wait. I can do this, she told herself. What were three more days when the question of her life had been hanging over her head like a carcinogenic axe for almost four weeks? Justin made a rare appearance to have dinner with his parents and that was a comfort. Even though she hadn’t told her son about the lump, or the biopsy, or the sickening fear that had taken up residence in her stomach, just knowing he was looking through X-Men comics in the other room soothed her.
“Justin,” Deirdre called out from the kitchen, “do you want a salad?”
The landline chose that moment to ring and Deirdre was shocked to see St. John’s Hospital on the caller ID. If Justin answered her question about the salad, she didn’t hear him. She glanced quickly at the clock. Seven-eighteen. My god, seven-eighteen.
It was the surgeon who had performed the biopsy. “I didn’t want you to worry over the weekend,” he explained, “so I pushed the lab and waited for your results.”
After placing the phone back in the charger, Deirdre walked to the entrance of the living room. She stood there for a moment, staring at her son. “That was the doctor,” she told him.
Justin looked up from Wolverine. “What doctor?”
Her husband looked up from his laptop. “What did he say?”
Justin and his mother stared at each other across the room. We have identical eyes, she thought, and was glad. Without looking at her husband, Deirdre said calmly, “I’m getting a divorce.”
She didn’t hear what her husband said, or attempted to say. She only heard her son. “It’s about time, Mom.”
Deirdre smiled at him.
Deborah Winter-Blood is a writer, dog mom and displaced California Valley Girl. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications over the past 30 years. She’s recently completed her second novel.