Visit to the Doctor

Pages 74-76 (Black+Red edition) and Pages 56-57 (White edition)

After I’ve filled the small bottle left ready for me in the little washroom, I take off my clothes, behind the screen, and leave them folded on the chair. When I’m naked I lie down on the examining table, on the sheet of chilly crackling disposable paper. I pull the second sheet, the cloth one, up over my body. At neck level there’s another sheet, suspended from the ceiling. It intersects me so that the doctor will never see my face. He deals with a torso only.

When I’m arranged I reach my hand out, fumble for the small lever at the right side of the table, pull it back. Somewhere else a bell rings, unheard by me. After a minute the door opens, footsteps come in, there is breathing. He isn’t supposed to speak to me except when it’s absolutely necessary. But this doctor is talkative.

“How are we getting along?” he says, some tic of speech from the other time. The sheet is lifted from my skin, a draft pimples me. A cold finger, rubber-clad and jellied, slides into me, I am poked and prodded. The finger retreats, enters otherwise, withdraws.

“Nothing wrong with you,” the doctor says, as if to himself. “Any pain, honey?” He calls me honey.

“No,” I say.

My breasts are fingered in their turn, a search for ripeness, rot. The breathing comes nearer. I smell old smoke, aftershave, tobacco dust on hair. Then the voice, very soft, close to my head: that’s him, bulging the sheet.

“I could help you,” he says. Whispers.

“What?” I say.

“Shh,” he says. “I could help you. I’ve helped others.”

“Help me?” I say, my voice as low as his. “How?” Does he know something, has he seen Luke, has he found, can he bring back?

“How do you think?” he says, still barely breathing it. Is that his hand, sliding up my leg? He’s taken off the glove. “The door’s locked. No one will come in. They’ll never know it isn’t his.”

He lifts the sheet. The lower part of his face is covered by the white gauze mask, regulation. Two brown eye, a nose, a head with brown hair on it. His hand is between my legs. “Most of those old guys can’t make it anymore,” he says. “Or they’re sterile.”

I almost gasp: he’s said a forbidden word. Sterile. There is no such thing as a sterile man anymore, not officially. There are only women who are fruitful and women who are barren, that’s the law.

“Lots of women do it,” he goes on. “You want a baby, don’t you?”

“Yes,” I say. It’s true, and I don’t ask why, because I know. Give me children or else I die. There’s more than one meaning to it.

“You’re soft,” he says. “It’s time. Today or tomorrow would do it, why waste it? It’d only take a minute, honey.” What he called his wife, once; maybe still does, but really it’s a generic term. We are all honey.

I hesitate. He’s offering himself to me, his services, at some risk to himself.

“I hate to see what they put you through,” he murmurs. It’s genuine, genuine sympathy; and yet he’s enjoying this, sympathy and all. His eyes are moist with compassion, his hand is moving on me, nervously and with impatience.

“It’s too dangerous,” I say. “No. I can’t.” The penalty is death. But they have to catch you in the act, with two witnesses. What are the odds, is the room bugged, who’s waiting just outside the door?

His hand stops. “Think about it,” he says. “I’ve seen your chart. You don’t have a lot of time left. But it’s your life.”

“Thank you,” I say. I must leave the impression that I’m not offended, that I’m open to suggestion. He takes his hand away, lazily almost, lingeringly, this is not the last word as far as he’s concerned. He could fake the tests, report me for cancer, for infertility, have me shipped off to the Colonies, with the Unwomen. None of this has been said, but the knowledge of his power hangs nevertheless in the air, as he pats my thigh, withdraws himself behind the hanging sheet.

“Next month,” he says.

I put on my clothes again, behind the screen. My hands are shaking. Why am I frightened? I’ve crossed no boundaries, I’ve given no trust, taken no risk, all is safe. It’s the choice that terrifies me. A way out, a salvation.