Rebecca Housel

How long could she wait? The MRI machine hummed and knocked ceaselessly in the next room.
People were slumped in their neutral toned chairs, just waiting. She kept looking at the
receptionist, pleading with her eyes for the woman to please call her name. The receptionist coldly
filed her long, curved, bright red nails. Only she knew the horror of hopelessness; the receptionist
didn’t know, didn’t understand. People waiting in the neutral chairs knew about pulled
ligaments, locked jaws and hip dysphasia. Yet, no one there recognized the humbling notion of
mortality as prophesized by that buzzing, humming, knocking monster of a machine.

A nurse in a white coat enters. The nurse in the white coat checks her clipboard, “Rebecca
Housel.” Time to go. She leaves the neutral waiting room. The room of waiting zombies. “Come
on back and change into this gown,” says the white-coat.

“I’m not wearing any metal, no bra; no make-up. I don’t wear the gown. You will have to check
me with a wand.”

“Our policy is very clear. You must change into the gown.”

“I’m being very clear, I don’t change. Use the wand.”

The white-coat looks at her through slit eyes. The white-coat does not appreciate having her
authority challenged. The white-coat turns quickly and steps into the room marked “Magnet.”
The white-coat returns just as quickly and motions her in.

“We’ll be using the wand, so just stay still,” the white-coat says, as if it were her suggestion.

The wand beeps as it sweeps over her head. “Do you have any hair pins in your hair, miss?” asks
the gentle radiologist, who knows what shadows mean on film.

“No. It’s titanium mesh.”

“I see,” says the gentle radiologist, who understands what that means.

She’s lead into the small space with the monster machine. She knows what to do. She hops up on
the table that slides into the magnet. The white-coat silently straps and cages her head. She
cannot move now, or the images won’t come out. The white-coat pushes a button, sliding the table
into the magnet. The magnet is only inches away on all sides, not a tight squeeze, but very close.
Like a lover. Only it’s the monster who tells what’s inside.

The loud knocking is not unsettling. It comforts in its repetitious patterns. She pretends to be a
mutant, as if from a comic book, being checked in a high-tech machine. She is a mutant. Her
cells have mutated. Mutated into little, carnivorous monsters. She wants to cry, but doesn’t. She
doesn’t want to move. The images need to be clear.

The test is long; dye must be injected halfway through. They can never find the vein. The
“needles” never stick the butterfly in the right place. It takes time. And she must be patient. Why
is she always a patient?

Done. She’s freed from the monster that swallows her whole. The images sit on computer screens
in the room outside. The white-coat and radiologist and “needle” look at her with pity. No
arguments now.

In an hour, she will be back in a neutral room of zombies, waiting for answers. She feels dizzy
and drained. If she had to be a mutant, why couldn’t she have some powers, like in the comic
books? She muses flight might be nice, or maybe telekinesis. She imagines fantastic costumes
that fit tightly to her skin, and indicate her power. She would have long, long hair and an
exaggerated beauty. She would have some kind of cool name, too. Like Venus, or the Chocolate

Instead she gets names she understands from the Latin, like Astrocytoma, the star tumor. Its
points help it reach far into her brain, her only galaxy. When it shines, it makes her body convulse
and shake like a shivering leaf on a windy fall day. She is just as vulnerable as the leaf. Just as
easily shaken and crushed. Why must the star shine so brightly? She is too young for the
brightness, the ever-increasing light!

But youth does not matter to the hungry mutant cells. Nothing matters. Not her beautiful boy,
nor her loving husband. Not her religion. Not her career. Not even her life, which if taken, will
kill the parasitic mutants, too. But suicide is part of their mission–similar to the horrible humans
who strap bombs to their bodies and walk into crowded cinemas and restaurants in the desert.

She quiets. Peace. Her name is called. She takes the long walk. Her doctor greets her with a
smile. Why does he always smile? Does he think she’s here for pleasantries? By choice? Maybe
he thinks his smile is a mask, hiding his true nature. The smile doesn’t do its job. She knows.

“The scans are just fine,” he says. She knows they are not. She knows there is a wisp of shadow, a
ghostly remnant that will haunt her. It only sleeps, for now.

“Let’s check again in another three months.” More smiles. Like a hungry animal bearing its teeth.
She smiles back. He is not the only animal. She is becoming savage under her skin. A warrior of
vicious, insatiable hunger. She has scars from past battles. She is marked.

She knows the war rages on inside. Like all heats, it sits still for a moment. Sleeps. Even hungry
mutant cells need rest. It just means they are recharging their batteries. Her body betrays her.
Like Cassandra. Making things easy for the aggressors.

The poison makes them sleep. She wishes the poison killed, instead of drugged. Some were
ripped out mercilessly, but others remained. Hidden in secret chambers. Shadowed by healthy
matter. A covert operation. Yet she knows. She understands and cannot be fooled by the current
quiet. She’s become an expert on her body. Few learn the expertise needed for this skill. Not
even the doctors can tell with all of their instruments of detection.

She begs her strong, silent God to aid the sleep of her enemies. To keep them at peace, at rest, and
undisturbed. She doesn’t mind the occupation, as long as they sleep. “Keep your friends close,
but your enemies closer,” the cliché reminds her to remember the old truth. She can never forget.

Others play, careless, thoughtless, blissful. Her play is never care-free. She cannot take simple
breaths, or simple steps, without understanding. “Oh! That men could read the book of fate!”
Shakespeare pleads, and so does she. But to know fate is to know death.

People think she is pessimistic because she acknowledges her fate, as people acknowledge that
“one day” they too, will die. Humans must die. We are made for it. To consider that eventuality
is normal. She is normal, like any other mutant warrior fighting the enemy within. What’s so
strange about that?