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THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF SHAME / Lynne Butler Oaks WHEN SHE PASSES YOU in the hall, try to meet her eyes. Look away. Watch her smooth progress reflected in the window. She has not looked at you either. You notice her bruisecolored shoes. The soft soles. How thin her ankles are. Back at the surgery station, pretend to ignore the whispers. Check charts. Note alterations of the vital signs. Don't participate by asking questions. You will learn enough to make a rough sketch of the facts. They say it involved violence. They say he may work here. You read the note from the chief of staff asking night nurses to take alternate routes home. To park under streetlights. It has happened before. They think it will happen again. Later, you will learn the man has a signature, like a cologne; a tag line, like an advertisement. It is this: when he finishes, he takes the woman's panties out of her mouth, leans down very close to her face and says: Remember who you were and what you stood for. This disturbs you. More than the bruises. More than the image of a window sliced in a perfect circle so as not to cut the arm that reaches in to find the lock. This makes you think he was raised like you: in a close family with a mother who loved him. Refuse to comprehend. When the hospital's do-gooder tells you to be careful, be brittle. Say: If God was a gal, women wouldn't leak and breasts would be optional. What you really want to say is: There are a finite number of evil acts in the universe and my odds have just improved. The do-gooder will be a nutritionist, or a social worker. She will look at you as if your thoughts have spoken themselves. As if she wants to slap your face. There are no alternate routes to your house. No deceptive curves or corners. Fasten your seatbelt and raise your consciousness about 274 · The Missouri Review the activity in your rearview mirror. Think about the air in your tires, about how fragile they are. Grip the steering wheel. Test your braking reflexes. Stop at the harshly lit 24-hour video store and rent enough blackand -whites to get you through till dawn. Choose Rita Hayworth, Greta Garbo, Tippi Hedren. Make them very old so the heroine can hold herself up on the hero's arm without shame. So that when he gets on the plane she can cry like her life is over. Try to laugh at the way the women work their teeth over the long vowels. The way they snap their sentences like turtles. Imagine yourself through a brushed lens, soft and immaculate. When it ends, use the sofa pillow to stifle your voice and cry with them: I need you. Don't leave me. Take a kitchen knife with you into your bedroom. Examine its edge. Lie down and make a plan. Think about buying a slingshot. Think about the possibility of victory at a distance. The next day, during the patient care conference, you catch the do-gooder studying your face. Wonder if she's always been hostile to you. Decide the answer is yes. Two things could account for this. One: she's a born-again and knows you're promiscuous. Two: she's some kind of activist and thinks your feathered bangs and rose-colored blush are proof you have no sense of entitlement in the world. Glare back. This will surprise her and she'll look away. Or it will intrigue her and she'll lower her eyelids. Smile. Suspect the janitor who reads the trash and knows your maiden name. The anesthesiologist looks at you across the ether screen and softly says: I think you desire me. The mask over his mouth makes his words seem isolated like tissue in a pétrie dish. The speaker plays Schubert. The cellos are weeping. You have just packed the baby's head in ice, frozen it to 15 degrees centigrade. You have stopped the blood. Now the surgeons can cut into her heart. Say: I can meet you...


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pp. 174-179
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