The Exam, Part Three
The study lasted–well, they later told her it was six weeks. She’d lost count by day four.
She returned to the doctor’s office each morning, and since Daddy had to leave early for work, most days she got belted into the back seat in her slippers and nightie and sleepy fuzzy hair. She always got put in a gown (and usually taken out of it) as soon as she arrived anyway. And it didn’t matter if she’d just had a bath or not; they always stripped her down and scrubbed her clean before they started.
Her head was different, inside and outside the doors. She knew that, but she found it hard to recall one version while she was living in the other. Her body felt different here, too. She wasn’t allowed to forget any part of her physical presence for long, and she became very used to any of the dozens of students treating her like a loose-limbed doll for checkups or demonstrations. She’d been hesitant about that, a little, at first. After a few days in the straps, she learned to comply.
Some days were play days, when she and other girls would be put in a room with toys and asked to try things or answer questions, while most of the staff watched from the other side of a mirror. Some days were Uh-Oh play days, when the straps came out, and the other girls got to make her the toy. Some days were good girl days, when they’d put sweet things in her mouth and sweeter things in her private parts, and she’d spend hours giggling and arching and edging and end up with a serious case of the squirmies.
Some days were bad girl days, when they’d put her on the table, and bring out the blindfold and the cold metal instrument tray and the cuffs. She didn’t like the bad girl days. Not even a little. No matter what they said.
The doctor was always there, even when she couldn’t see him. She grew to know his hands from everyone else’s: they way he was so careful with her, so precise, the way his palm on her back soothed her and the way his fingers inside her made her jerk and squeal. By the time Daddy came to pick her up, most days, she was well past the point of comprehending grownup words, but she could hear them quietly discussing her progress. She hoped the doctor always told her Daddy she was a good girl. She knew he sometimes didn’t.
There were two bad girl days in a row. Then three. Then four. Then this-many. She was very, very deep in scary space; she had stopped being able to come out of it even after Daddy took her home. She squirmed in the back seat, thumbsucking, trying to work up the nerve to say that she didn’t want to go back, please, please, it was a nuh-uh, it was too much.
That was when they kept her overnight.
She tried so hard to be brave, even when she could hear the other girls being shepherded off and picked up, even when she knew she was alone with all of them and the doctor was pulling on gloves and spreading her very wide. Even when she heard the click-buzz of the scariest implements, and felt the tip of the metal sound. Even when she felt the click of the oral speculum worked between her teeth.
They made a wet and thrashing mess of her. They reduced her body to a string of helpless muscles and raw nerves, and no matter how many times she inarticulately begged her they wouldn’t let her come, and then once she got really scared of coming they ignored her pleas to stop. This wasn’t punishment: there was no smirking or mockery, no attempt to see if she’d learned her lesson. This was a procedure. They were working, quietly and with professional competence, to break her.
The operation was declared successful at 5:34 am.
She woke up in her own bed with her Daddy stroking her hair. She was still aching, but her memories of the night seemed distant and foggy, locked in something at the center of herself.
“Shh,” said her Daddy. “You’re home now. The study’s concluded. You’re back here with me.”
“Do I have to go back?” she managed, curling instinctively around her blanket.
“No, no.” Daddy smiled. “The doctor wants to follow up with you, of course–he’ll be making a series of house calls.” Her heart skipped, for a complex and confusing number of reasons. “But all the primary work is done. Their next project is working with the data you and the others gave them.”
She wormed her head under the soothing hand, one fist against her lips, exploring the new space she’d found her head in. It didn’t buzz quite like it used to. Instead, very softly, it sang.
“Daddy,” she said, “how did the exam go?”
A little chuckle. “Oh, my little girl. You got the best possible score.”