So, please welcome Sally Bellerose …
Stella : You’re at a party and someone you don’t know asks you what you do. What’s your answer?
Sally: Well, to answer at a slant –
I’m in a surgical suite, and it’s no party, my mouth clamped open, the maxillofacial surgeon has cut through my gum and is headed for my jaw, when he asks, “So you’re a writer? You have a book? What’s it’s about?”
Could have had general anesthesia, slept through the whole procedure, but no, I went for massive doses of Novocain. There is no one less articulate than a first time author trying to give a plot summary with a man’s gloved hand wielding a sharp implement inside her mouth. I answer, “Fwee isters gong ah in isha ee.” His assistant, an RN rolls her eyes. “He knows you can’t really answer him.” The nurse leans closer to my ear. “Don’t encourage him. Surgeons are egomaniacs. It’s his own voice he wants to hear.”
The surgeon laughs. They have a bantering style I might enjoy if we had a different surgeon/nurse/patient relationship – like for instance, if the surgeon was working somewhere below my knees, removing a benign mole, maybe, and the nurse had asked me to lunch with her after the procedure at a place that features sweet sticky desserts.
Every few minutes one or the other of them asks if I’m alright. “Ess,” I lie every time.
“Conversation helps people stay calm.” The surgeon winks at me. His mask bulges in the middle because he’s sticking his tongue out at the nurse. Now she laughs. What would make me stay calm(er) would be to have the professionals who are digging more holes in my already large pie hole remain humorless, deadly serious even, while they do so. The nurse passes the surgeon a scalpel that has teeth like a steak knife. “Keeping patients calm is really your job, Hilly,” he says.
The RN’s name is Hilly? I’m a writer, and as I like to mention at every opportunity, I have a book coming out. But I’m a nurse, too. Nurses should not allow ourselves to be called by names ending in the long e sound. Yes, my name does that, Salleeee, but but … I’m not working as an RN at the moment, I’m a soon to be published novelist. Maybe I should have been called Sal when I was sticking catheters in various body parts, but that’s history. It’s clear to me that Hilly is not a good name for a grown woman who is passing sterilized scalpels.
The surgeon says, “Forceps.” The nurse passes the forceps. This makes me think about giving birth thirty-seven years ago and the involuntary muscular system in my pelvic area kicks in with a couple of Kegel exercises. The surgeon and nurse concentrate on my mouth, thank god.
“Did she say, ‘Chicopee’?” The RN asks the surgeon.
I did. Well, attempted to say Chicopee, what I said was “Ish ee,” a garbling of my home town’s name.
“Ask her,” he says. “Far be it from me to massage my ego by addressing a patient.”
“Chicopee, Massachusetts?” The RN looks in my eyes.
I blink twice and say, “Ess.”
“Might need some gutta-percha,”* the surgeon says. “It’s a novel, right? I only read nonfiction myself. Maybe a memoir.” What the hell is gutta-percha? “Beautiful,” he says, snapping off his gloves. “If I do say so myself. Little break while this sets.” While what sets? A break, while metal clamps hold my jaws open well beyond the diameter nature intended? The nurse lowers the pressure of the suction.
The advanced review copy of my book lies on my lap peeking below the edge of the splash gown that covers my torso. He picks the book up. Since I received the manuscript in this oh-so-close to final form, the greatest part of my consciousness has been tied to the glorious physical reality of this book as object. Until oral surgery. For the last hour my awareness has not zeroed in the shiny hand over hand picture on the cover and my name, Sally (eee) Bellerose in contrasting letters below the image. Admittedly, even in surgery, I have been thinking me, me, me, but in a toothy corporal way that is normal in a room where masks and gowns are worn and sterile fields are maintained to prevent infection. Anesthesia, Dear Reader, say yes to anesthesia.
“My husband is from Chicopee,” the RN says. “I bet he’d love to read this book.” She touches the corner of The Girls Club.
Oh no the surgeon wouldn’t dare. But he does. He picks up The Girls Club, opens to a random page, and reads,
“I adjust my bra and shirt and make a futile stab at the sweater. Anne is also fully clothed. Her green sequined sweater is disheveled, her skirt unzipped. She bends over, rummaging through an old steamer trunk at the end of her bed. The slit of her skirt is ripped almost up to her waist. There’s a run in her green tights. I grin remembering the easy ripping sound of the silk lining, the more resistant popping as the stitches in the slit of the skirt’s fabric gave way one stitch at a time in rapid succession as I groped for her, too impatient to wait until my fingers found the zipper. I ripped the skirt of a woman I barely know in a sex-crazed frenzy. Tore her stockings. In the morning I’ll feel sordid, stupid, sinful, scared to death. I feel all those things now, but mostly I feel Anne gazing at me like I’m the most desirable woman she’s ever laid eyes on. I can’t wipe the grin off my face.” He returns the book to its spot on my lap, looking away, but I see his grin.
“Hmm, I wonder if my husband would like that?” The nurse laughs.
“Iz iction,” I say, unsuccessfully trying to force out an f. “Iz a out isher ood.”
“Did she say sisterhood?” The surgeon’s eyes wrinkle above his mask. He’s grinning.
“Buy the book and find out.” The RN winks at me. I wink back, happy that the surgeon didn’t land on the paragraph below the one that he read aloud.