Five Needles to the Neck by Emily Harrison

‘Do you want to follow me?’

Not today, or any other, despite how kind she looks. But inside hospital walls you’re loose limbed, tender skin, so you trail behind, down a sparse corridor and through double-doors until she tells you to take a left into a room that’s machines, linoleum, and medicinal disinfectant.

‘Hop onto the bed and get comfy,’ she says. ‘It won’t take long. This is Doctor ——-.’

He is perched on a metal swivel chair next the bed, eyes unwilling to shift from a black computer screen.

The procedure is straightforward. Just above the tube of your trachea lies the lump. It was picked up on an ultrasound for a different worry. One that jutted like a marble below your jaw. One, it turned out, that wouldn’t kill you.

Before the biopsy begins the nurse asks if you’d like to hold her hand. You can’t be given choices. She reaches out, wraps her slim fingers with yours.

‘If it helps, think of a beach.’

‘Which one?’

She blinks. ‘Any.’

The doctor leans forward then – coffee breath bleeding.

As he slides the first needle in, you transport yourself to buoys in the bay, rainbow huts on the concrete promenade. Seagulls snapping. Red lights from the arcades dancing off the sea.

But then he shifts and the thin metal scratches. Grip the nurse’s hand.

‘You’re doing well.’ Her voice is ointment for the press of needle two. She says the same for the pierce of three.

Needle four and you dip into her eyes. They’re bright enough and wide enough that the lines of her irises resemble the spokes of a bicycle. The strip light fixed to the ceiling catches a residual shimmer of gold eyeshadow on the rounds of her lids and she has a mole where her left eyebrow tapers to point. Does she set make-up over it, to mask its pinkness? She shouldn’t. It suits her fine.

When the doctor pulls back on the plunger for needle five, filling the barrel with liquid cells, she let’s go of your hand.

The results of a biopsy aren’t instant. It’s four weeks before you find out if it’s cancer. You picture the lump growing, the disease spreading on a slow slide around your body.

‘Thank you,’ you say to the nurse, as she shows you out.

There are some forms to fill in at the desk down the hall. Medical information. Something confidential. She touches your shoulder to direct you. ‘Just doing my job.’

You turn to tell her that she doesn’t need to be so modest. You might’ve fallen apart without her – gone straight through the floor and into the cardiology unit. What if you landed on a scalpel? Split yourself apart. But the door is already closing, and the doctor is handing her the next patient chart.

Emily has spent the past two years studying for a Creative Writing MA and now she’s not sure she has any creativity left. She has had work published with X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Ellipsis Zine, Barren Magazine, STORGY Magazine, Idle Ink, The Molotov Cocktail, Litro, Tiny Molecules and Gone Lawn to name a few.

Twitter: @emily__harrison