Eva’s Mother

Silvia Ferreri

Artwork by Olaya Barr

“Mastectomies cause a lot of bleeding,” Radovic said during one of our meetings. “But there is nothing to fear. It’s quite normal.”

It’s normal to ask to have your organs explanted at eighteen. I made you a girl. I continue to repeat this to myself. I don’t know why.

I can see what’s happening inside there, even from this side of the closed door. I know every step in detail. I studied them, learned them by heart, as if knowing the stages of this martyrdom could make it easier to bear.

The road the knife will take has already been drawn: two green circles around your breasts to mark the butcher’s path. Radovic cuts. A cascade of blood falls dripping along the sides of your body to the table and lower down, to the tiled floor. He yells for the assistants to suction the blood and dry the floor. Someone throws a rag on the red puddle. Your breast is big, the flesh overflows. Radovic strips it away, he hollows it out.

He disembowels the fish carefully. More blood. I imagine Radovic swearing in Serbian that the breast is enormous, never-ending. He pushes the flesh back in with his fingers, trying to position it while his assistant controls the red torrent. It coagulates. Now you smell of burnt flesh. He isn’t nervous, isn’t worried, but he knows he has to be quick, because you’re losing a lot of blood. I can see him with needle and thread as he observes the red gauze that fills the waste bin next to him. I can see his assistant, a tall man, younger than Radovic, slightly bent, handing him the thread, while Radovic continues digging. I can see the three of us walking along the beach at sunset, the best time of the day, when the light is a warm glow. I see you, just over a year old, walking next to me, unsteady, tottering because of the sand and your lack of experience. I see your father, farther ahead, looking toward us, admiring us through the lens of his camera. We throw a kiss with our hands and laugh. I see you moving too close to a rock, and, before I get a chance to act, I see you trip and fall, hitting your face against the hard surface. I see your father running toward you. He picks you up and I see your face lined with blood. I see the terror in his eyes. I see him taking off his shirt and wiping the blood off your face, trying to understand. I see that he is trembling, and he doesn’t say anything, and he runs with you in his arms toward the road, toward the car. I see me running after you. I see the blood as it keeps spilling onto his shirt. I see the hospital, I see his shirt on your face, and I see his bare chest. I see you lying on a bed in the ER, and the hands that are holding you down as they sew you up, a few stitches under your eyebrow. I see me next to you and I’m caressing your hair. I see myself blowing lightly on your face to make the pain and the heat go away.

I see your father with his shirt on, covered in blood, crouching next to you as he listens to your breathing, as he whispers words of love in your ear.

I see all this as if I were sitting before a screen and watching an old movie in faded colors, silent and cocoon-like. The images flash by, and all I can hear is the sound of the moving pictures, a deep sound, in the background, low and steady.

Radovic has closed you up. He has sewn the last stitches on your butchered chest. Finally, the bleeding has stopped. What remains is a lump of purplish skin dotted with sutures. A long raised line that crosses your chest from one end to the other, outlining two waves of dark, dry blood.

Near the bed, the waste bin is overflowing with bloody gauze.

We’ve killed the enemy.

Her remains lie at the bottom of the bin.

There is nothing in you now that makes you a woman. Nothing vaguely similar to a woman. Not hair, not a uterus, not breasts. A rag doll. My mother bought me one once. It was a long, tightly stuffed torso, with brown woolen hair sewn to one end, and a mouth painted on it, and eyes and a nose. The wool fell off almost immediately. It was what you are now. A torso. Without dents or lumps.

All you have to do now is begin to transvest.

It’s time to prepare for the circus.

First of all, the nipples have to be sewn back on. And from now on they will be a man’s nipples on a man’s chest.

Radovic asks if anyone has a tape measure. He raises his voice: “Someone bring me a damned tape measure.” The nurses and the assistants are silent. They know it’s a serious oversight. No one answers. Radovic bursts out laughing, shakes his head and opens his hand wide in front of his eyes. He looks at it and starts measuring your body. When he thinks he is at the right place, more or less, he asks for two metal cutters, like the kind you use to make chocolate cookies, round, heart-shaped, star-shaped. He sets them down where the nipples are going to be, and presses, drawing the shape in the flesh. Cutting the dough. When he sees the round mark, he cuts into it with the surgical knife and asks for the two areolas. First the left, he says. Then the right. He sets them down like decorations on a boiled wool bag. Like two flowers. Two flowers of dead flesh.

“They aren’t just sewn,” Radovic had explained, celebrating his techniques. “The nipples are grafted. This means that in time the vascular connections will be restored and they will regain the full functionality and terminals.”

It’s all right, Eva, I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. I’m keeping watch from this chair in the corridor. I’m looking out onto your martyrdom, onto the place that will lead you to a new life.

I’m here and I am watching over you like a tedious guardian.

Diastolic pressure 86.

Systolic pressure 130.

Oxygen saturation 100.

Pulse 87.

I’m not moving from here. I’m ready to blow on your wounds again.

The more time passes, the more the rest of the world seems as faded as a memory. It’s just me and you. We are an iceberg that has separated from the continent and is drifting aimlessly toward the center of the ocean. It’s just me and you, sitting together, but without looking at each other, shoulder to shoulder, searching for something far in the distance, toward infinity, waiting for one or the other to yell: Land ho!

But it’s another land, someplace new, where you can finally be who you want to be, and I can finally rest.

translated from the Italian by Matilda Colarossi