Mallory's gynecologist tells her that she is going to paint her cervix. She says it offhandedly, like she is planning on getting her nails done or run to the grocery store for more milk.
Mallory lies on the exam table; legs spread wide open, thinking about how the rainbow lasagna with heirloom tomatoes will be perfect for Saturday night's dinner with her husband's boss and his wife. Moments earlier, while sitting in Dr. Green's waiting room, she tore out the recipe from the latest Food and Wine magazine. Brent, Dan's boss, loves anything she prepares. His wife, Stella, is an east coast snob who doesn't believe in cooking. She only believes in Guillermo, her twenty-four-year-old personal chef. She loves to parade him around the dining room table during dinner parties, running her fingers up and down his chest like she's playing the piano. "Gee-air-mo," Stella says, "is from Brazil. We found him while vacationing in Rio." Mallory once asked Dan about Guillermo, what he thought Brent felt about Stella blatantly rubbing him in his face.
"He doesn't seem to mind." Dan told her, hunching over his laptop and squinting his eyes in a way she secretly hated. "He probably has something on the side for himself." Mallory pretended to read her book, but she couldn't help the smile that spread across her face when Brent's name was mentioned. It was easy to remember the way his hand touched the small of her back in the corner of the kitchen where no one could see them.
This is Mallory's third visit that year to Dr. Green, who insists she calls her Bev. Since her last two pap smears came back abnormal, Mallory finds herself in metal stirrups every three months for an exam. She keeps a close eye on her cervix like a mother keeps an eye on her toddler. The smell of iodine monopolizes the room and she swears she hears Bev faintly humming Piano Man. She recalls this time last year thinking about her vagina like she did when she was a teenager: a throbbing insatiable being. Now, it is home to metal speculums, iodine, and Bev's gloved fingers.
"Alright, Mallory. Now we send this off to the lab to see if there are any abnormal cells."
Mallory likes how Bev says we, as if they both were participating in a project, like scouting for whales on the deck of a cruise ship, index fingers rigidly pointing in the air like a hunting dog's snout. Look, there's a gray humpback at 2:00.
Bev finishes, pops her latex gloves off with a magician's showmanship, and swivels in her stool to look at her.
"This may be a case of HPV versus pre-cancerous cells."
"HPV?" Mallory vaguely remembered a vaccine commercial talking about how 99% of the population has HPV and that men are usually the carriers.
"Many people have it and just don't know," Bev's tone is reassuring. "Sometimes, Mallory, it likes to rear its ugly head in times of stress."
Mallory was under a blanket of stress lately that she couldn't seem to crawl out from under. Dan was spending more and more time away on business which meant Brent had to oversee him. She couldn't help but feel guilty about how much she missed Brent over her own husband.
Bev stared at her, looking small and pale in her pink doctor's coat in comparison to Mallory, who decided to wear her royal blue silk blouse Dan bought her for Christmas last year. She looked down at her feet, noticed her French pedicure, propped up as if on display in two metal stirrups. It is starting to chip. Mallory breaks the gaze first, looking over at a poster of an anatomical drawing of a vagina, complete with diagrams. The clitoris looks suspiciously small to be drawn to scale. Staring at the vagina on the wall she's reminded of a medieval history class she took during her undergrad studies.
"That drawing on the wall reminds me of a story I heard in college. I was a history major. Dan convinced me I was being impractical, so I switched to business management."
"Don't you teach yoga?" Bev asked, scribbling something on her clipboard.
"Well, yes. Before I switched majors I took a medieval studies class. During those times, if women were caught committing adultery, her nose and ears were caught off and she was paraded around town. This way everyone knew which part was responsible for her mutilated face. A cut-off nose resembles a, well, you know."
"A vajayjay?" Bev asks, twirling her glasses. Mallory raises her eyebrows, confused. Bev shrugs. "That's what Oprah calls a vagina."
"I don't have cable."
"Listen to me, Mallory," Bev's tone switches like gears in an engine. "You shouldn't have anything to worry about. I've been treating you for over a year now and the probability of having to remove your entire cervix is slim." She puts her glasses back on and stands, peering down at Mallory with watery, dark eyes. "Rest assured we will get this resolved so that you and your husband can go back to trying to start a family again, if that's what you and Dan are still choosing to do."
Mallory thinks about her husband. The more hours he spent at work the more they seemed to talk about starting a family, as if it was a substitute for the gaping hole that had become their marriage. Dan had no idea how she spent her time. How she started playing golf five months ago, or how she volunteers at the women's shelter off of the turnpike, what Dan calls the seedy part of Boulder. He sounded like such a prick when he said seedy. He didn't know about the nights she claimed to be out with friends while he was working late, about how she was really spending nights wrapped in the blanket of another man. She didn't know how to tell Dan she didn't want to start a family, hell, didn't even want to be a mother. The guilt of what she thought was selfishness had been chasing her all year, until she found herself becoming attracted to Brent, Dan's boss. The way he smiled at her during dinner parties or company picnics. She started finding excuses to talk to him away from Dan and Stella. As the months went on, Mallory found herself giving in to Brent's flirtations, which she thought were harmless. Until one night they found themselves alone at a company retreat in the mountains. Dan had promised to unbury himself from work but never left his room. Stella hated company retreats and declined to come.
Bev doesn't wait for confirmation as she gently pats Mallory's hand and leaves the room, the door clicking quietly behind her.
Mallory doesn't move from the exam table. The paper cloth draped across her lap crinkles every time she takes a breath. The metal speculum sits on the counter like a cold art display, and as she stares at the vagina on the wall, the cold feeling invading her from the examination, Mallory knew it was time to leave.