BRIBES for the ferryman of the dead.
The obol is the coin the ancient Greeks placed on the eyes and the mouth of the dead to keep them dead.
I thought of Charon’s obol when, during a recent mammography, laboratory technicians taped metal discs on my nipples, my first experience as a mammogram veteran since I started taking this annual procedure to monitor a lump in my breast discovered more than four years ago.
The procedure entails the positioning of one breast at a time between two plates, which compress and take an image used for screening for or diagnosing possible cancer. Since one breast mass had been aspirated years ago and required the regular monitoring, I have become a veteran at donning on a robe that opens in front to make it easy for the mammo technician to take one breast at a time and position this on the plate like a slab of meat I might consider buying and grinding for all-lean-meat patties to munch on while binge-watching horror movies at home.
This particular hospital, though, followed different protocols from the other one where I usually had the mammograph. Instead of a dour technician who splashed alcohol on her hands after positioning each tit (shudder my udders, could have been her mantra), two young women gently coached me to moving this way or that so each breast could have her best angle taken for the radiologist to read and interpret.
“You are so courageous,” praised one of the nice ladies. So unlike the other woman who wept copiously, observed her colleague. I wondered why the lady was reduced to tears when the plates clamped with a grinding sound like teeth gnashing as I screamed and forgot to ask the question.
To endure previous mammos, I taught myself to think of language. Take “abreast.” The word means “side by side and facing the same way.”
Human breasts are attached from birth like twins that yet grow estranged. Has one breast ever looked at the other to comment on the weather or the putrid state of politics? Yet ours is a culture that ogles breasts obsessively when these are cut off and displayed like specimens or pop trophies.
The mammogram room then is a disguised confessional. It is not pain that I flinch from but the discomforts of self-examination. Charon ferries the boat that takes souls to the underworld. His obol provides the soul sustenance for the journey, as well as prevents it from rejoining the living.
The pleasant ladies forgot to remove the discs taped on my nipples. I peeled away the tape to rejoin the living, feeling I had left behind two strangers holding Charon’s coin.
September 07, 2019
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