Sitting on the bed, a woman held her head between her hands. A strand of hair fell to the ground. She was naked. She stroked her chest, ran her fingers down the scars, tracing the contours of the missing parts.
Before surgery, she had scrubbed herself well. She had smoothed her skin with lotion, made her breasts silky.
She was a proud woman. Sometimes, she felt as if they were still there. As if she was still a complete woman.
But it was a lie. Her femaleness had failed her. The room smelled of chlorine and she was shivering. In the window, a fly fought desperately with the weight of the linen.
‘We are stopping the treatments,’ a man said bowed over a file. ‘It’s not worthwhile.’ Worthwhile that is the word he used.
She did not have children. She tried to conceive before she discovered she was ill. It had not been simple.
She was attractive, but it seemed as if men sensed her yearning, the underlying threat of a woman seeking more than just excitement and affection. Most stayed away, but of course, there was always the work of lust.
When her breasts became sensitive, she thought she was with child. ‘It happens.’ ‘It’s common for women to confuse the symptoms,’ the doctor said as he pulled her dress back down.
She became superstitious. Small things like the place of a vase, the alignment of a table or a portrait on a desk.
She sucked on ice blocks after chemotherapy to chase away the taste of metal, and she let the cubes melt until they were only water. She would not swallow. As if swallowing made her surrender to her fate. Sealing the deal.
She was terrified of death. In the afternoons, when it was warm, but not too hot, she sat in the garden and marvelled at the nature.
A humming bird. Purple lavender. The change of colours of the maple tree. Surely, this was the work of something greater that would embrace her when it would all be over.
Perhaps, it would be a feeling of lightness. A liberation. The flight of a swallow. Or it would be absolute darkness. The fading of a light behind her eyelids. A sky preparing for dawn. She would get lost in her dream.
They brought her a blanket and told her to come soon, or she would catch a cold.
The doctor told her she should get ready. ‘Ready?’ she said. He took her hands. He said there were a few things she had control over.
Things she could oversee. She did not understand. There were the flowers, the music, the reading, he said. The ritual. Not everybody had this choice.
He regretted it almost immediately, it was clumsy, rude even, but he was sincere. ‘I’m just trying to help you.’
With her hand, she smoothed out the creases on the bed. The sheets were coarse, over washed. She plumped the pillow and stepped onto the ground.
He stared at her absently. She covered her chest with her hands and gestured him to hand her the blouse hanging from a hook next to the door.
‘Of course,’ he said. ‘Of course.’ He had forgotten she was naked. He was embarrassed and tried to conceal it, but she saw through him. Just a moment ago, she, herself, had made no attempt to cover up.
Because there was not enough left of her. Not enough that made her a woman. Or worse, a naked one.