The pleasant surroundings disguise why we are here. Walls covered in sand colored, cloud textured wallpaper meet the floor of tan, sculpted Berber carpet. Lobby chairs with soft, muted geometric patterns line the walls trimmed in warm wood grain. Quiet, upbeat Jazz plays over the ceiling speakers and the aroma of brewing coffee is a screen for what waits beyond the tall, curved wooden wall.
Men sit alone in the upholstered chairs wringing their hands and staring at the floor. Women come and go through the art-glass windowed door: middle-aged women in suits and heels, teenage girls in brand name t-shirts accompanied by mothers, elderly women in pastel colored velour track suits with matching purses. Some smile at the woman holding the door and some mumble to the floor as they pass through.
Beyond the door are dimly lit rooms filled with electronics and machines of plexiglass and steel. The women on this side of the door are resolved. This is humiliating and uncomfortable but it must be done. Each woman disappears into her own closet-sized room. The directions are simple. Strip to the waist and put on the shoulder cape as a parody to modesty. Step forward and while keeping feet flat on the floor stretch your spine so a stranger can stretch and manipulate one naked breast on a cold steel plate at the height of which your collarbone usually resides. The stranger, who does this job many times a day, lowers a plexiglass plate trapping your body in an impossible pose. “Hold your breath,” she commands and you comply though your instinct is hyperventilation. The exercise is repeated with a different pose and then on the other side. The stranger makes light conversation in an effort to mask the intimacy you are sharing.
You dress and are released back to the world. The men waiting in the lobby look up hopefully as you come through the door. You’re not theirs and disappointed, they look back to the floor. Relief at having the task complete makes you feel light. A treat is in order so you drop by your favorite coffee shop to log on to the free Wi-Fi and remind your friends to schedule their annual routine mammograms today.