4:34 A.M. Feinberg Hospital. Room 2524. The room is too hot to sleep. The ice has melted in the cup the nurse brought in a few hours before. I unwrap one of the sponge lollipops they gave me and dip it in the lukewarm cup. I pick up the TV remote with my free hand and flip through channels while I swab the inside of my mouth. I search for something to distract me, so I don’t just down the cup of water, disregarding the doctor’s orders and losing even the small relief the sponge lollipop brings me.
I land on Animal Planet. There’s a show about an aquarium. I’ve been there once. Years ago. I remember standing in a glass cave and watching whale sharks swim above me. I felt so small. My best friend stood next to me. Pregnant with her first. Glowing. Two more babies and some years later, I haven’t been back.
I watch the aquarium staff herd two female stingrays into an elevator tank so they can be taken up for their monthly exam. Wild stingrays mate constantly, holding their eggs inside their mermaid’s purse until the young hatch and burst out into the world to try out the tricky business of survival. As soon as they are gone, mother stingray begins again. Captive stingrays develop ovarian cysts without their constant stream of progeny.
I press my hand to my abdomen, oh so gently. Feel the staples beneath my fingers. Underneath the staples and the skin and the fat rolls is a distinct absence, pulsing, reminding me that my last ovary is gone. There will be no more eggs for me. Nothing to hatch in my mermaid’s purse. I’ll never stand under a whale shark and glow with a new life blooming within me. My cyst was the size of a mango. If it had been a baby, it would have been about 16 weeks along. But it wasn’t.
My mango cyst didn’t want to go. My body, so desperate to keep my reproductive tools, allowed it to reach out with long seaweed fronds, reaching and wrapping, grabbing whatever it could reach. My uterus. My intestines. My abdominal wall. It spent a year tying and knotting itself firmly inside of me. They cut it out of me and then cut me open again to take more. “Whoo, boy, that was a tricky one,” the surgeon told me when the anesthesia faded and the pain crescendoed.
A bloodsucker comes in to stick me for my morning draw. Her name tag says Tisa. I ask her if she knew about the stingrays, about how the lack of babies causes them a life of pain. Tisa says she didn’t. I close my eyes, wait for the pinch. I imagine myself gliding free and cool through the ocean.
Diane D. Gillette’s work has appeared in many literary venues including the Saturday Evening Post, Blackbird, and Middle House Review. Her work is a Best Small Fictions nominee. She lives in Chicago and is a founding member of the Chicago Literary Writers. You can find more of her work at http://www.digillette.com.