‘Have you noticed any changes in it, colour, size, shape?’ Doctor Buchen asked. She was scrutinising a large mole below her patient’s left collarbone through a magnifying lamp.
Petra shook her head. She was sitting on the examination bench in her bra and jeans; still surprised she went to the GP for a flu shot, and wound up with a referral to a melanoma clinic. Especially as there was nothing wrong with it.
‘But there’s nothing wrong with it right?’
‘Only sometimes.’ Petra said.
Only when it was trying to tell her something.
‘And it’s always been there, since birth?’
Well no, since Petra was eight, when the first miracle happened, after she was anointed with the blood of Blessed Jacinta of Fatima. But, well, telling the doctor that would only complicate things.
‘Yep. As far as I know.’ Petra said.
The doctor nodded, ‘I don’t suppose you’d remember in any case.’
Remember? How could Petra forget? She had never seen Nan run so fast. She’d come back with that tiny bottle from Portugal she kept on her dressing table. She said later it was a blessing that the asthma attack happened at her place.
‘I really don’t like the look of it. I’d like to do a biopsy right away. Is that okay with you?’ She switched the lamp off.
‘Cut it out?’
‘No, probably not the whole thing, sorry. Though, that depends on how it looks inside. I’ll just take a five-millimetre square or so. Then if it’s benign, your GP can freeze the rest off for you later.’
Why did everyone assume she wanted to get rid of it?
‘This morning. I’d prefer not to have to wait, these things can be quite aggressive and I’d rather be on the safe side.’
‘Ah, I’m not sure.’ Petra said.
‘Do you have to be somewhere? I realise it’s a bit of an inconvenience but…’
‘Only five millimetres?’
Doctor Buchen nodded, ‘I’ll get you a consent form.’
It wasn’t just a mole, it was her protector. Most recently there was that night when Petra went out to pick up a pizza after work. It was only three blocks but, she had her iPod so didn’t hear the siren. She just saw the little green man and was about to step out onto the crossing when the mole began to itch savagely. She had to stop on the median strip to scratch it, digging her nails through her shirt. The ambulance, lights flashing, rushed past her nose a second or two later. Petra knew she’d be saved from certain death.
Then there was the time she was late for school because it itched so bad she’d scratched it til it bled and then it wouldn’t stop. That was the day of the gas leak and three Year-Twelves passed out. It was all over by the time she got there.
Nan had told her she was blessed, and she’d only ever known about the first miracle, when Petra had had the asthma attack.
Perhaps a small piece out of it wouldn’t make much difference.
How about the time it stopped her eating the oysters that her dad got food poisoning from? That time bushwalking, when she stopped just before that brown snake slid across her path, when she’d walked home from softball practice instead of getting a lift with poor Stephanie…
She should have started a list, or at least told Nan about the other miracles. She would have understood, and then she’d still be here, and the little bottle too.
Petra sat in the waiting room in a plastic chair, the consent form in the clipboard on her lap. An old man with a crusty scalp and the tops of his ears missing flicked through a New Idea across from her. A printout with tear-off phone numbers seeking volunteers for a study about transcendental meditation and cancer, and a colour one seeking handmade items for an upcoming fundraiser for the oncology unit were Blu-Tacked to the wall above his head. She’d seen the same notices in the lift.
What were the chances it was malignant? Her mole would never harm her.
Nan had taken her to Mass with her and told the priest, he’d muttered something and made a cross in the air. Old ladies patted her head and gave her barley sugars and Tic Tacs from their purses.
Could she already have cancer, like that girl in the ad who died? The one who used solariums? Petra had never tried to get a tan. Not intentionally.
It hadn’t appeared right away, Petra had washed the saint’s blood off her upper chest only to find it’d left a faint red stain. Her mum said it was probably just red wax and metho some enterprising Fatima local had bottled to flog to gullible pilgrims. Gullible pilgrims like Nan. That had shocked Petra; But it had worked, she could breath again! What had really worked was getting her out of that house full of dust, her mum had said.
‘But she said it was blood from the little saint who saw Mary!’
‘Saint? They haven’t even made her a saint. Honestly, that woman.’
The stain had gradually condensed in size and shape until it resembled a squashed cranberry, a bit smaller than a fifty-cent piece. Petra kept it covered in high necklines and never told anyone.
She didn’t feel any pain. Just a weird pressure on her upper chest. The faces of Dr Buchen and the nurse hovered over her. At first she wasn’t sure where to look, but then found herself focusing on the clumps of blue mascara on the doctor’s lashes.
Dr Buchen’s eyes narrowed above her blue paper mask. The nurse produced a clear plastic jar and the doctor deposited something in it. It was out of Petra’s field of vision.
The nurse handed the doctor something and the pressure became a mild tugging.
‘Ok, just suturing now. So, Petra we have removed the whole mole.’
‘What?’ Said Petra.
They’d cut it all out?
‘It’s nothing to worry about,’ Doctor Buchen said, ‘I just didn’t want to miss anything. It is pretty unusual looking.’
‘You should have said!’ Petra bent her neck forward as far as it would go to look at what they’d done, but it was physically impossible for her to see.
‘I’m sure it’ll be fine. We’ll just wait for the results. You can relax for now.’ Doctor Buchen took a piece of gauze from the nurse and taped it to Petra’s chest. ‘You can get dressed.’ She removed her mask and gloves, and turned towards the sink.
Petra stood and retrieved her shirt from the back of a plastic chair. She pulled it over her head, and picked up her backpack. The doctor had left and the nurse was now tidying up, rolling up reddened gauze and disposing other used supplies into a yellow contaminated-waste bin. She noticed Petra was dressed, ‘Wait here, I’ll just get you the post-op instruction sheet.’
Left alone, it didn’t take long for Petra to find it. The specimen jar was sealed with a yellow lid and was sitting on the bench near the sink. She flipped open her backpack as she crossed the room.
She picked it up; her mole was unrecognisable in the chunk of gore in the bottom of the jar. It looked like an offcut of meat. It was out of her now. Separate from her. What did this mean, that she was no longer blessed? It was a mistake. Was there some way she could have it reattached? Do it herself somehow?
The nurse returned, ‘Not very pretty is it?’ She thrust some stapled printouts at Petra and held out her other hand for the specimen jar, ‘I’ll take that to pathology.’
Petra relinquished it; she’d wasted her chance.
‘Call the number at the top in five working days and we’ll tell you the results.’
Making her way home on foot, Petra was acutely aware of the stitches holding the sides of her wound together, her bones as they moved beneath it all, her own blood, and her skin keeping all of it from spilling out. She could be so easily damaged by any random event, and now there would be no warning. Next time the ambulance would crush her or the snake would bite her. She was on her own, the reassuring itch replaced with a numb hole.
Crossing the road, she checked twice, and hurried. She glanced at other pedestrians; any of them could be unstable, about to lash out without a reason. Wasn’t there a shooting in the car park at the local McDonalds the other night? What if a stray bullet? What if she ate bad sushi or choked on some popcorn. That stuff happens.
Once inside, she locked the door.
Examining the fresh wound and four black stiches in the bathroom mirror, Petra wished she still had the little bottle of blood from Fatima.
Nan had hit it out of her hand when she’d bought it to her the last time she fell, ‘Not that! I said call an ambulance!’
It had shattered on the tiles of the hallway, the red stuff mostly sticking to the tiny shards. Petra had tried to gather the pieces together.
‘Please call them Petra!’
The ambulance came and Nan got a new hip and a blood infection. Someone, probably Petra’s mother, threw out the pieces of the little broken bottle.
She should have made a list.