The chair that Beth wriggles her bum into, looked at first glance, to be comfortable. Like so much of life, it is not what it seems. The cushion has lost its padding, making it seem to Beth that she is sitting on wood. Her knees sit at an angle that is too high. Her arms are above shoulder height when she places them on the armrests. There is no neck support, so she holds her head stiff and looks straight ahead. She is a preying mantis, all bends and folds, waiting. For prey.
Except that Beth is the prey. She glances towards the door. Whatever comes out of that door is the predator.
Beth looks around her. The area is filled with couples, arms entwined, or at least holding hands while they peruse the trashy magazines strewn over the coffee tables, and a smattering of women waiting, alone, like her. Beth’s eyes rest on a couple opposite her; they are intently staring into each other’s eyes, while their lips are moving. Beth is desperate to hear the words being exchanged. It looks like they are chanting, speaking a mantra to each other. Fascinating. They are a perfect looking couple. She is tall and slim, wearing expensive, stylish clothes and her shoes – my god, thinks Beth, as she looks down at her trusty ballet flats – are stunning. Red, patent-leather stilettos, probably Jimmy Choo. The woman’s partner is equally fabulous: tanned, blonde, strong jaw-line, and a close-clipped high-maintenance beard. Why are they here, Beth wonders.
She never wanted to be here. It was all Dan’s idea.
No, she’s not entirely fair. It isn’t all Dan’s idea, she admonishes herself, shaking her head and reaching for a magazine. She loses herself momentarily in the engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Stunning white teeth. Impeccable hair.
‘Beth Pettigrew?’ a voice calls sharply, interrupting Beth’s reverie into the life of a royal. She looks up at the face, a woman’s, with an impatient frown disturbing an otherwise smooth forehead.
‘Yes, that’s me,’ Beth answers apologetically, unfolds herself as she stands and almost runs to the door where the woman is standing. ‘Sorry, I was miles away,’ she mumbles as she takes the hand that is offered to her.
‘Dr Louise Skyford’, the woman says tersely while shaking hands. ‘Just call me Lou, please.’
This is more a command than a pleasant informal suggestion, Beth notes. ‘Sure…Lou,’ she clears her throat. ‘It’s nice to meet you. Thank you for your time.’
Beth follows her into another room. Smaller. A desk at the window; laptop, printer, paper, pens all neatly stored atop. A Bond villain office chair at the desk. A narrow bed with the requisite blue curtain that pulls around it, for privacy. When there is no one else in the room except for the person on the bed, and the doctor, what is the point of the bloody blue curtain. Two chairs, next the desk. She wonders if these ones are actually comfortable. Lou is motioning for her to sit, so she’s about to find out.
‘Sit, please,’ Lou says, at the same time as Beth chooses the plumper-looking chair. ‘I’ll just take a moment to go through your medical history with you. Then we’ll get down to business.’ She looks around, as if noticing for the first time that Beth is alone. ‘Your partner, is he coming today?’
‘No,’ Beth shakes her head. ‘Not today.’
‘OK, let’s get started.’
After about five minutes of delving into Beth’s family medical history, Lou asks Beth to move to the bed. For a look. This makes her feel very unsettled. Lou is chatting away, something about films and bloods the GP sent over. Beth feels even more unsettled. The room starts to spin, she is glad she is lying on the narrow bed. She almost is unaware that she is naked from the waist down, except for a green sheet still folded, placed over her groin area. Her feet are together, right up touching her bum and her knees wide apart, one touching the wall, the other over the side of the bed. There’s a light on a long, bendy stick that Lou now moves into position.
‘I’m just going to feel your uterus,’ Lou says, quietly.
Beth tenses, her knees involuntarily rise a fraction.
‘Relax, please,’ Lou says. Again, more of a command. ‘Let your knees fall the to bed.’
Beth squeezes her eyes shut. She thinks randomly, weirdly, about Acapulco. She’s never been to Mexico. Anything to get her through the next two minutes.
‘OK, I’m done,’ says Lou as she snaps off her gloves and throws them into the bin. ‘You can get dressed and we’ll have more of a chat.’
Beth rises from the bed and puts on her undies and jeans. She pulls up the zipper at the same time as she steps back into her ballet flats. She walks to the desk, where Lou is waiting, typing notes into her laptop.
‘As you know, Beth, your GP has sent across your file. She has informed you, I believe that your eggs aren’t viable, is that right?’ Beth nods, glumly. ‘And you’re 43, yes?’ She nods again. ‘Well the good news is that your uterus feels fine. The films and the bloods taken recently indicate that it is possible for you to conceive.’
‘Really?’ asks Beth. ‘The GP told me there was no chance.’
‘Yes, I’m aware of that Beth. But it is also why the medical field has specialists, like me. It’s our area of expertise, we have research, experience and know-how behind us. Your GP told you everything she knew to be correct. But I’m telling you that, with my help, you and…’ her voice trails off as she looks at the file. ‘You and Dan may yet become parents.’
‘So my eggs are viable, then?’ Beth asks, confused.
‘You’re 43, so conceiving won’t be as easy as if you were, say, 25. But yes, I think there might be a few good-timers still present. We’ll run some more tests to be sure.’ As Lou speaks the printer is spewing out referrals, one of which she gives to Beth immediately.
‘This is for you, right now. The clinic is opposite my rooms. Go over there and make an appointment. They’ll squeeze you in. Then sit in the waiting area and I’ll call you in again in about an hour. We’ll talk more then.’
Lou rises and guides Beth to the door. She points out the ultrasound clinic door, across the waiting area. As Beth walks across, she peeks at the perfect couple, the woman now in tears.
No one is perfect, our personal viability is fluid, precarious, Beth thinks. She gives a wan smile to the woman as she moves silently past.