Mother hugs her purse,
what she does when
out of her element.
Mostly unassailable
in her pressed slacks and blouse, matching jacket,
she makes me wear a dress
for the appointment. She is always making me
wear dresses. My legs stick
to the leather chair,
a drab teen in the psychedelic 70s.
The office is different
than the examining room of our family doctor
with cherry bookshelves and books, a globe.
I think of the places I would rather be.
Mother thinks I’m fixable.
Perhaps I am.

The doctor breezes in
as doctors do.
I sit in a chair and don’t bleed.
He considers me over the rims of his glasses,
eyes full of bark and fizz like root beer.
Squares of sunlight fall on a leather reading chair and hassock,
plaid blanket spilling to the floor.
The doctor clears his throat,
unseals a jar of butterscotch from his desk,
ring of dime store glass,
smell of burnt sugar.
Despite myself, I salivate.

The doctor tilts the jar towards me, eyebrows raised.
His tweedy jacket and trousers don’t match.
I unwrap a candy, golden cellophane crinkling,
calculating how much farther I will jog later.
The doctor asks questions.
Mother answers. I don’t interrupt.
I do stash pork chop in a napkin at the dining room table.
I can subsist on an apple a day.
I run for miles at dusk, up and down our hilly suburban streets,
eternal light of the catholic church shining at my back.
I read cookbooks for recipes I won’t eat.
Clothes hang on me.

The doctor paces behind his desk.
Mother balms her lips.
I’m good at starvation
but don’t really want to vanish.
I don’t know what else to do.
A boyfriend says he’s through.
I take it as a sign,
an undeserving kind.

Enough, says the doctor.
See this? He points to a print in a frame.
I’m a doctor of chemical messengers.
What you see here triggers response.
Cells are activated.
How does this make you feel?

I see a bridge
and lilypads.
Private space of a gardener.
I could be the gardener,
foreground too verdant for words.
Being a woman is not easy.
All that lushness, ripening.

Did a woman paint that?
I ask the doctor, my voice weedy.
She could have, he says,
steepling his fingers, convinced of the the body’s
elegancies. Mother looks at me,
sets her purse on the floor,
her eyes the same brown as mine
like dark chocolate
like urgency.

© Tori Grant Welhouse