Small Talk

I had brought a book with me to the doctor’s appointment. The wait is rarely long at all for my doctor, but books seem to break the ice. “What are you reading?” they’ll ask. “What is it about?”

The doctor at the Women’s Center had gotten a blank, disinterested look on her face when I presented her with The V Book, and I took this as the most information I’d gotten out of her that entire appointment. “I thought you were a gynecologist,” I said. “No,” she said. “Then why am I being billed for a specialty appointment?” I could have said. “Why are either of us here at all?”

But this time, I was not at the Women’s Center, I was down the street: because when things go wrong for long enough in one part of your body, other parts follow suit. The nurse led me to the scale.

“Why are you here?” she asked.

“Because it hasn’t gotten better, it’s gotten worse,” I said.

“What is that book?”

She nodded at the floor, where Samuel Johnson is Indignant rested on top of my purse.

“Short stories.”

I rolled up my sleeve. She was still staring at the book, stethoscope in hand. “Is it you?” she suddenly asked.

“What?”

“The picture on the cover. That woman! It is, isn’t it? You.”

I looked down, picked the book up.

“No . . .” I said. “That’s a picture of a statue.” I didn’t tell her it was a picture of a statue of the Virgin Mary, because I wasn’t sure if that was embarrassing, not to recognize a statue of the Virgin Mary.

“Not a painting?”

“I’m pretty sure it’s a photograph . . . I suppose it could be either, though. The lines are very soft.”

“Let me see it closer,” she said. I handed her the book, and she stood there, one set of fingers on my pulse, the other grasping that book, and she looked back and forth between my face and the cover, back and forth. “It is a painting,” she declared. “It is a painting of your face.”

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