At first, the doctors thought it was a boil. Not that she’d ever known what a boil was, outside of something hideous that happened on the cheeks/foreheads of the elderly. Something between a mole and tumor, with all the properties of a wart. Gross. Boils were something that happened to a body in protest of its inevitable demise–a signal from the universe that change must exist, or that sunscreen actually is a good idea. That’s fine, perfectly normal for a 75 year old widow. But not her. Not yet.
From the day she noticed it, her thoughts became haunted and she spent her waking hours skulking between stunted moments. How could she have a boil? Red and inflamed with a noticeable pulse, pulling precious life from the compressions of her middle-aged heart. She was only forty, exercised daily and shopped in the organic section of the local Co-Op. Her physician believed her to be in exceptional health and her psychic told her that she was living out the blessed existence of a uniquely light karmic load. She lived a life of perfect reinforcement and social comfort that kept the seething neuroses below the threshold of her awareness. Friendships with just enough truth to seem real, and money for the rest of whatever she needed. So the boil…it changed everything with subtle insistence, a pebble cracking her stained glass world.
But she took solace in the fact that it was on the underside of her left breast, and considering the cracked desert floor her love life had become, she was at no risk of being discovered for the imperfection that eventually came to define her. Or so she thought.
Trevor changed that. And the boil seemed to grow in direct proportion to her anxiety about it, about him, or what he meant or should mean to her. She couldn’t deny the serendipity, and boil be damned, she wanted to see what Trevor was packing. But more than that, she feared–like the condemned marching toward gallows–that her work was unfinished and would remain so as long as she denied the presence of another in her life.
Their first night together, she kept her bra on, and never fully lost herself to the heaving man–thinking instead about the sentient disfiguration on her chest. As he squirmed up and down and side to side and grunted and she thought about surgery, she noticed the cliched tattoo of Ouroboros–the snake who eats his own tail, or the world which consumes itself–on Trevor’s right pectoral.
The third night together, she forgot about the boil. And by the sixth night, it had disappeared. The doctors had no explanation for a boil in remission, and they had no time to make something up. They shrugged, and she shrugged. On their 466th night together, after a failed lovemaking attempt, Trevor told her about Stella.
Single again, she looked through pictures of high school, thinking of her mother, and what she would say if she were capable of speaking. What advice she might impart that could staunch the bleeding from the timeless wound of infidelities’ repeated invasion. She would cluck and moan, and the hug. It was all too familiar. But this time, there was no mother. No empathic beacon to share the turning of life’s predictable wheel with. It felt like an interruption.
And then the boil returned. Though this time it was different. Harder, smaller, more symmetrical. Closer to a wart coated in scab. Same place, just under the now-drooping left breast. She didn’t notice it for some days after the break up because she hated to look at her aging body in the brutal hue of cheap fluorescent light.
The doctors, different doctors, labeled it “growth.” And that was that.
With no mother and no man, the boil blackened. And laying in bed, she thought about the others, and all the talks of other women she had endured. Each night she dreamt of the one she thought was the one and all the times she had nearly been saved from herself. Then she woke up, clutching at her boob, index finger rubbing the charred button, jaw tightened to the point of fatigue.
She needed a man. Mother would shake her head. But mother was dead. Mother couldn’t take any of her pain or praise her childish attempts at painting or encourage her to take the photography course she’d always dreamed of. Mother couldn’t cry with her and share her own stories of perpetual betrayal. Besides, she’d heard them all. No, there was nothing else to do besides what she’d always done. She’d heard the savior or the soul mate exists in the place you’ve always known, hidden in plain sight.
She scratched at the boiling wart and looked at the clock. Lou’s was still open. Two more hours. The shadows of a waning moon against winter branches danced along her wall and reluctantly, exhausted and exhilarated, she sat up wondering what she would wear.