by Christopher Schnieders
It was an earthquake when the evil strain struck Eva, there in Orange County, minding her own damn business. For Christ’s sake, her daughter Jasmine was not even two years old when the little tingle under her arm twinged as if someone, maybe our mother, had pinched her. Eva inspected her tissues as she had done so many other days. Enough for a lifetime of other women. Those other lucky ladies did not have to perform their own bodily surveillance with such a regular and monotonous schedule. And even if Eva did not particularly adhere to the schedule every week, the inspections were always on the to-do list though she never found anything until that twinge in the shower, when the inspection was immediate.
There was a bead, a pea, a little mass inside her body and under her arm. A lump. A lump that had never appeared on any of the recommended mammograms. No hint ever surfaced under the scrutiny of ionizing radiation. Not once.
Eva called the doctor’s office before taking Jasmine to the local playground for a swing and slide. The last thing she wanted was that phone call. Eva was bright and quick, but she was steadfast in the belief that she did not want to think about the things that she did not want to think about. I was always the one pushing her to think about those kinds of things, but she did not need to consult her husband or me or anyone else in the family. She picked up the phone and made the call.
“Doctors office,” the receptionist said.
“Hi, Kimmy. It’s Eva Vitale. How are you?”
“Hectic day, but we’re managing. How’s that little daughter of yours?”
“She’s a great girl. Thanks.”
“What can we with help you with, Eva? Your regular check up isn’t for another month.”
“I found something, Kimmy. A pea sized thing under my arm.”
“I’m sure it’s nothing. Probably a spider bite. I wouldn’t even think about it again.”
“You’re right. It’s just a bite, but I cleaned our sheets this weekend.”
“We can schedule you for Friday at ten. Is that a good time?”
“I’ll be there.”
The rest of Eva’s day was spent with that little bundle of joy named Jasmine. Jasmine the wonder child, her girl, with a big smile and laugh of burgeoning toddler speed. Jasmine was a cacophony of innocent joy and smarts, racing in circles upon circles before running to her mother for a hug. The swirls and probability and possibility and anything to do with the lump challenged Eva’s exquisite self-control, which had been honed through hard work and the unacknowledged defiance of nihilism. She refused to touch the lump in Jasmine’ presence, even during her daughter’s first hug, full of giggles and trust, when a tiny hand grabbed hold exactly there. Still a smile and language game.
“Tell me Jasmine, what words do you know?”
“Do you know your mommy loves you more than everything?”
“Can you say yes?”
“Let’s go play, okay?”
“Jasmine and mommy play!”
And Jasmine began to run with exuberance, the I’m going to run for so many more years than you run, unacknowledged of course, and all was joy except the swirls of probability, mathematics and the reality that our mother died young of breast cancer, her mother died young of breast cancer, and it was probably the case for our great grandmother as well, but everyone died so young so we don’t know shit except breast cancer. Ah genealogy! Though Eva did not let it hinder her resolve or responsibility. The words “why me” crept into her consciousness, but it was probably just a spider bite. She didn’t need to call the doctor’s office. She was embarrassed to have bothered them with her fear. It didn’t matter that they knew the probability as well as Eva. They were her partners in an inevitable journey, and everyone wanted to take that journey some other time, or not at all. The best communication between Eva and the doctor’s office was mundane. Just like everyone.
Jasmine climbed the steps of the suburban jungle playhouse. She hopped up each step with confidence, in full control of her balance after months of teetering on the edge of wobbling, where every sway backward looked like a full unbroken fall somehow averted at the last second. But now Jasmine was in charge, able to zoom down the big slides all wide mouth smile, and she was even getting to the big swing where she still needed a push to get going. Eva scooped her off the swing, took firm hold of her daughter’s wrists and lifted Jasmine up into a bounding jump in the middle of the sandpit.
There were other families, mostly mothers and girls and boys, marching through the playground and hovering near the swing. Women Eva had known since she joined the sacred sacramental rite of motherhood and embraced her God given right to have a full life, damn it. Her transition into motherhood had been as smooth as ease. Jasmine and Eva fit like the only two members of a mutual appreciation society. Together, they were one horizon. The other parents and kids could see it too and gravitated towards their quarter of the sandpit. Eva welcomed them with an encouraging wave and soon the kids were zipping along with Jasmine.
“Happy New Year, Beth,” she said to the mother of Sebastian, a goofy gap-toothed boy Jasmine like to play with.
“Good to see you, Eva.”
“It sounds kind of funny to be saying Happy New Year still, but I like the sound of it.”
“Me too. There is something so promising about those words.”
“Happy new,” Beth said before they both went silent, watching their children toddling tater tots climbing the stairs, bounding through the perilous dip of the bridge and back again to the big slide (the one with the turns spiraling down). Jasmine and Sebastian broke out laughing after another kid slid down.
“They really need to learn how to have fun.”
“Or we need to learn from them.”
There was so much learning that needed to be done, Eva thought. Jasmine was standing on the bridge of language, barely able to put more than few words together at the same time, real words with full and proper annunciation were emerging daily, and sentences (just barely), but the words had been learned and how Eva longed for their future conversations, mother and daughter exchanging the lessons of life, with jokes of course, subtle jokes shared only between them, knowing jokes that never needed to be said, nothing more than a nod and a wink between mother and daughter, good natured humor, not mean, Eva and Jasmine would never subscribe to mean humor, just to the fact that life was funny, people were funny, animals too. And that imagined humor was just a blip of their deep future discussions, about boys and issues, politics and staying away from politics. It was just a pea under Eva’s arm. Just a spider bite. But that’s all it took to imagine conversations that might never take place.
“How are you?” Beth said. “How have you been?”
“I’ve been great and I’m doing fine. My school year track doesn’t start for a month but I expect to have a good bunch of munchkins this year. We’ll try to corral their little minds and nudge them in the right direction.”
“First graders are a challenge.”
“Everything is a challenge.”