You lie on a narrow table, alone. The cool room is bright with florescent light. A cheerful mural of the seasons curves to the ceiling on vinyl tiles at the tops of all four walls. You imagine others on similar tables, looking at the same scene. You close your eyes. You prefer the darkness to the blooms of the faux spring.
Day after day, you walk into that room, in street clothes from the waist down, hospital johnny on top. You see the platform, and looming above and behind it, an enormous machine, a linear accelerator. You can only see part of it, the arm that reaches over the table; the rest of it lurks in a row of cabinets that spans the width of the room behind the table.
You greet and chat a bit with the crew, usually the same two, occasionally others, sometimes a student. They are always upbeat, respectful, kind, funny. You say your name and lie back on the slender platform. It is covered by a foam mat and a small sheet. You rest your head in a cradle while one of the techs slips a triangular foam block under your knees. You take your left arm out of your gown, pivot it above your head, and place it in two supports, one at your biceps, one at your wrist. After that, you do not move.
You have no shame or modesty. Your breast is merely another body part. You are in for repairs.
One of the techs turns out the light. Red and green beams dart out from the equipment above you. The techs raise the table, slide it left or right, adjusting angles as they line up the beams with the blue and black lines and dots drawn on your chest. They tug the sheet slightly to move your body. They open the gown more to expose other Sharpie marks on your abdomen. When the male tech does this, he gently pinches just the edge of the fabric with his fingertips. You always, always appreciate his tenderness.
When they are satisfied with your position, the techs leave, turning on the light as they go. The door they shut behind them is five inches thick.
You are now merely a target. You are reduced to your body; your body is reduced to its cells, and the hulking machine is there to scramble them. Your healthy cells will easily repair themselves, but your cancer cells, if any have eluded surgery and chemotherapy, do not. You lie and wait and trust that the science is sound, that the machine is calibrated, that the angles are correct, that the techs have aligned you perfectly. You lie and the machine hovers and whirrs above you. You hear several clicks, then finally, the buzzing. Sometimes you count: one Mississippi, two Mississippi. The buzzing stops at fifteen. The arm, eighteen inches away from you, rotates to a position below your body. Because your head is still, you never actually see it down there. You wait for the buzzing. You find it peaceful, lying there, with just the humming and clicking machine to keep you company.
Yet, maybe once a week, perhaps because it is so peaceful in the quiet chill, your mind wanders and with a jolt, you remember, really remember, why you are here. Each time it happens, it is almost a physical shock. You feel a little crazy. You feel how absurd this all is, how utterly impossible. You feel the sting in your eyes and you quickly blink it away. You try to think of something else. You don’t want the techs to see you cry, and while you lie here, you can’t raise a hand to wipe tears away. You stop it before it starts.
When the buzzing stops, the arm of the machine swings up and away from your body. You slip your arm back into the sleeve of the gown and close up the front as the techs walk back into the room. They slide the table away from the machine and lower it so you can hop off. You crack a little joke, say goodbye, say thank you. You walk back to the changing room and then out to your car.
You’ll do this again tomorrow.