At the clinic on Leadenhall Street, the most luxurious place I’ve ever had my flesh ripped open, I find myself with an urge to justify his presence. “He’s doing a postgrad,” I tell the nurse as she’s taking my temperature, “in feminist writing.” She looks like there’s at least a generation between us, and I worry she won’t get it, but she looks less confused about it than I still am. When he first spoke of going back to school, I couldn’t have been more of a cheerleader. He’d been restless; he’d been pacing the room, asking me about my work, stopping me from working. “Finance,” I asked, “or management?” “Literature,” he said. I turned to take a quick look at our bedside tables. Antique, varnished mahogany, and empty.
“He read half of the Oprah’s reading list in preparation,” I quickly want to add. “There’s more to him than those shoulders.” I don’t have time. I’m half an hour early, but they’re ready for me. Before going in, I need to check my blood pressure. I need to pee, too. I never enter a room with a single needle in it unless my bladder’s dry like the surface of the Sun.
“Let’s go,” Nate says, and I think, surely they won’t allow it. They do. The nurse is male and not in the slightest distracted by Nate’s presence. He never takes his eyes off me. I jokingly tell him about the last time, when I was so worried about keeping the nurse over time, I let her make the incision before I was properly numbed. “Jesus,” Nate mutters, and I laugh to drown him out. The nurse laughs too. “It won’t be the case today,” he says and indeed it isn’t. He’s not afraid to put that lidocaine needle all the way through my skinny arm. It’s like being crucified. Oddly enough, it feels great.
The nurse asks me about the plans for the day. I tell him I cleared my whole schedule for him. More laughter. Then, “the implant’s out,” he says, lifting the bloody thing over my face. “Brilliant,” I answer, looking away. After staring at those nightstands for long enough to get my composure back, I said the same to Nate. Brilliant. I might have also said it when I realized Dad wasn’t coming back from that late-night cigarette run. It doesn’t mean I don’t miss him sometimes.
The replacement procedure is even quicker. I wish I had the skill of filling holes so effectively. I fight the urge to ask the nurse about his private life. I can only hope he’ll write a book one day, about hurting people without pain and making them whole again with no effort.
“Just take your time.”
“Oh no, I’m fine.”
“I think you need a minute.”
I follow his gaze to Nate’s greenish face and quickly turn away to hide my eyes rolling. Before the feminist literature, before a statistics college degree, he was an athlete. I witnessed strained muscles, torn ligaments, joints swollen to thrice their size. I injured my own neck, giving blow jobs when he couldn’t move his hips for a month. Now here we are – him with half of a feminist literature degree, crying over a bruise and a cut, when all I need is someone to carry my bag to the station for me.
He does carry it, though. He offers to carry me too, but we can’t agree on the specifics. I want to climb on his back, ride him like Hannibal would an elephant. He’s not into it, believing my arm is about to fall off, killing me on the spot. We walk. Past the glowing office buildings, past the Royal Exchange with beautiful things in its windows. “Do you want one?” Nate asks, and I take him up on it, laughing. Bruised and bloody, you can have yourself a nice thing, darling.