“The Atheist’s Tunnel” by Lisa Glatt

Lisa Glatt


A woman in a bright yellow coat wraps the cuff around my arm and asks me first about headaches, and then about cramps, and then about my mother, dead early from breast cancer, which makes me just a tad more interesting than the young women here whose mothers are still breathing. It’s my first visit since she died, and the woman wants to know how I feel, do I feel OK. She remembers I lived with my mother while I wrote and nursed at once. I didn’t nurse, I say, I was a miserable bitch in the next room, I was what my mother called a bummer, but she’s not listening anymore, this cheerful woman dressed up like a flower. She’s leading me into the examining room, where teddy bears and buttercups line the walls, where a three-foot picture of Santa hangs even though it’s April. I’m in that paper robe, leaning back into position, wondering about Santa’s perseverance when the doctor enters. He wants to know my mother’s age, which breast, and I’m surprised when I say left, not because I know it, but because it’s there on my tongue, and then I’m moving toward him, and I’m thinking that it’s a wonderful thing my love and I don’t have sex on a table like this, that he doesn’t see me in this light, that he doesn’t peer in with sticks and tools. Just then the doctor pipes up, saying my cervix looks great, and he says this with such enthusiasm that I suddenly see my cervix made up for the prom, lipstick and blush, a pink glow that speaks of health and wellbeing. He wants to talk about life and death, about heaven, and I’m wincing, not because the speculum is cold, but because I know how unpopular my beliefs are, even here among these scientists, so I say nothing as the doctor chatters on about his own dead mother. Oh I understand how you feel. I was just thirty when my mother died, but I believe in God, you must believe in God, you do believe in God? he says, his head popping up from between my knees, and I see him, a believer in latex gloves, a balding orphan in bright light. I force a smile and he returns to my crotch. You must believe in heaven, he continues, talking right at it. I’m certain that when mama went she went into a tunnel, a beautiful tunnel, he says, at the exact moment his finger is scooting into my ass.

from Rattle #25, Spring 2006
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