“Yes, yes,” Youssef said, nodding vigorously.
“Well, I don’t know what else to say. I assure you that a pelvic exam is not the same thing as losing one’s virginity.”
“Will she bleed from this examination?”
Adele stared off into the distance. The room was suddenly becoming smaller. Her hands clenched the cushion; she wanted to break the lining, slip inside it and lose herself in the foam. Her eyes glanced between her father, the doctor and the closed window. Snowflakes were trapped in the screen, making a kaleidoscope of a wintry scene in the grey-black meshing of the panel. She imagined being one of those tiny flakes, melting into nothing but a spot of water.
Dr. Shoemaker cleared her throat and said, “Probably.”
“Then no pelvic.” Youssef smacked his hands together, the sound echoing in the sterile small room, which was dull apart from a vinyl chair, a wooden stool for the doctor to sit on and a countertop covered with a few glass jars stuffed with packages of gauzes, tongue compressors, and bandages. There were no pictures. The most predominant thing in the room was the brown-cushioned examination table with its oven mitten-covered stirrups. Adele knew she would have to slide her feet into those, spread her legs and let the young physician examine her insides. Her stomach began to flutter at the thought of this. She looked at her father and knew he wouldn’t agree to such a thing but rationally she knew this was her only option. Youssef insisted once more, “No exam.”
“Babba, please . . . ” Adele whispered, tears filming her eyes.
He ignored her and continued, staring directly at the doctor. “I’m not risking my daughter’s chances at marrying a Lebanese man.”
Dr. Shoemaker scoffed. “You’d rather she suffer with pain? What if the mass is cancerous?”
“It’s in God’s hands then, isn’t it?”
Adele looked away from her father as he turned towards her, his eyes searching her face for signs of compliance. She steadied her gaze on the doctor. She wondered what this woman thought about them. Primitive. They must have looked primitive -a strict, working-class family.
Youssef muttered, turning away from his daughter’s downcast look, “It’s in God’s hands.” He stared hard at the doctor, his bushy eyebrows furrowing.
“No, sir,” Dr. Shoemaker corrected, “it’s in your hands.”
“Nobody is taking my daughter’s virginity but her future husband!” he shouted. He stood beside Adele. Tightly gripping her arms, he tried to lift her up but she refused to budge, enclosing her fingers around the metal edges; she desperately held onto the steel frame. “Yallah, get up.”
“I’m doing it, Babba,” she said, controlling the tremor of her tone.
Youssef leaned close to her face and raised his voice in a despairing wail. “What? Come on! You can’t have this procedure. You won’t be a virgin anymore. No Lebanese man will want you if you’re not clean. Think about your future.” He pushed some loose curls away from her face then bent down, kissing her on the forehead, his moustache grazing her, his moist mouth feeling cool on her fevered skin. He whispered, addressing her warmly, “You don’t want to do this. Don’t listen to the doctor. She doesn’t understand our culture. Listen to me. Please don’t do this, babba.” He stroked her cheeks. His touch was so tender. This was the first time in years that he’d caressed her in this manner, soft and gentle. She could remember her father holding her in his arms when she was a young girl and how she’d rest her face in the nape of his neck and breathe in his fragrance, a familiar mixture of cologne and sweat. “Please listen to me. You can’t do this,” he begged. She felt sad for him.
Fighting back the tears, she sighed deeply. “I have to, Babba.” She looked across at the doctor who stood by the door, shifting nervously on her feet, almost ready to leave if the emotions became too raw. But then she observed Dr. Shoemaker inching closer to her. Adele tipped her head in the doctor’s direction. “I’m ready.” But deep down, she knew she wasn’t. Her heart pounded at the thought of the physician’s fingers tearing open her flesh.
“Are you sure?” Dr. Shoemaker said, now standing at the foot of the table.
Adele nodded. And at the same time, she felt her father’s gentle hold, releasing itself from her face. He stood with his mouth open. She expected him to argue but he didn’t. He didn’t challenge her, only stared at her one more time, his eyes resigned, before turning around, blindly reaching for the handle, pulling open the door and slamming it behind him. She fell back on the table. Lifting her head, she watched the doctor fit a pair of latex gloves over her hands.
“Are you sure we can’t do another test? You know, like an ultrasound or something?” Adele asked, slipping off her underwear. She neatly folded them and hid them under her other clothes on the chair across the room before hoisting herself on the table again.
The doctor shook her head. “This is the only way. I need to examine you internally, then we’ll do an ultrasound.” She sat on the wooden stool by the foot of the table. Then adjusted the lamp so it would be positioned between Adele’s legs once she opened them for the procedure. Dr. Shoemaker’s shoulder-length hair fell around her face while she leaned over, moving the lamp closer to the stirrups.
Adele sat on the table with her hands under her bottom; she swung her legs over the edge, nervously shaking. Straining her neck, she turned and looked at the young doctor preparing for the pelvic examination, pushing the oven mittens deeper on the stirrups then twisting the latex gloves between her fingers so they fit snugly.
Dr. Shoemaker suddenly patted the spot near the end of the table. “I’ll need you to slide down here and place your feet in the stirrups.”
When Adele didn’t respond, the doctor got up from her seat and gently pushed her back, coaxing her to lie down. “Don’t be nervous. This is very routine. Every woman has to do it, so you should get used to it.” She let out a small laugh. “It’s part of being female, unfortunately. Come on. Slide down and place your feet in these things,” she said, pointing to the foot supports. “It’ll only take a few minutes and I promise to be gentle.” She sat back on the stool and turned on the lamp while Adele slid down and did as she was told. Suddenly, the doctor stood up. “On second thought, it’ll be easier if I just stand.” She said this out loud but Adele thought it wasn’t intended for her. At the same time, Dr. Shoemaker pulled Adele’s legs further apart, the latex made a swishing sound against her bare thigh. “Can you move a little closer?” Adele slowly moved so her buttocks were at the edge of the table. “Much better.” The doctor then opened a tube of lubrication and squirted some on her fingers while her elbow continued to hold Adele’s legs away from each other.
She tried to distract herself by thinking about all the good things in her life: her neighbour Mrs. Foster, her sisters, her friends, the two weeks of Christmas vacation that awaited her, her nieces and nephews who adored her and followed her everywhere, saying she was the coolest aunt ever. She smiled while these thoughts inundated her mind but the sudden piercing in her vagina jolted her out of her pleasant memories. Flinching in pain, she tried to move back but the doctor had a firm grip on her knees. “You’re hurting me,” she winced.
“It’ll be less painful if you try to relax. Your stomach muscles are so tense. Just breathe,” she said, almost angrily, and levered her elbow against Adele’s quivering thigh.
Adele took a deep breath and tried to do as she was instructed but it didn’t stop the pain. She fidgeted.
“Stay still. I just can’t,” she paused, “I can’t get a good feel of your uterus.”
By this time, Adele’s entire lower body was shaking. She closed her legs somewhat only to have the doctor push them apart again, this time quite roughly.
“Stop moving! I’m almost done. Just let me finish.” Strands of hair dropped over her eyes; she blew them away from her face. When she thrusted her fingers deeper into Adele’s vagina, Adele cried out. Then, as though finally satisfied, the doctor pulled her fingers out. She pulled the blue gown over Adele’s knees, which were still spread apart. She walked back to the other side of the room where she snapped off the bloodied gloves and discarded them in a canister.
By now Adele was shivering violently, trembling to the point that she had to clasp the metal edge of the table to steady her body. Her insides felt torn. She raised her head, looking dazed. She stared at the doctor while she scribbled something on the clipboard in front of her. Adele inhaled and exhaled, slowly, quietly. She sat up with difficulty. Dr. Shoemaker suddenly turned around and smiled at her. “You were very brave. You can get dressed now and I’ll get one of the technicians to do an ultrasound on you. Okay?” Walking over, she patted Adele’s arm before marching out the room with her white jacket flapping away from her grey skirt.
Once alone, Adele closed her legs and buried her face in her hands. She now understood what it felt like to be raped.
Sonia Saikaley lives in Ottawa and has previously taught English in Japan. She graduated from the Humber School for Writers and has had her fiction and poetry published in Things Japanese: A Collection of Short Stories, the anthology Lavandería - A Mixed Load of Women, Wash, and Word, Quills: Canadian Poetry Magazine, Writers4Peace, [Word]: A Journal of Canadian Poetry, and other publications.
Volunteers for Issue 7
For sub-editing this issue MTLS thanks:
- Lequanne Collins-Bacchus
- Amanda Tripp
- Bianca Spence
- Rosel Kim
MTLS is grateful to Ian Loiselle for his hard work on web management.
PEN Canada Presents: TAXI Stand Jam!"