From the author: "I'm more of a private dick, but you hear all the penis jokes when you track rogue uteruses." Meet the Columbo of hysteria. An early humor piece, written in 2005.
"In the middle of the flanks of women lies the womb…it is moved of itself hither and thither in the flanks... on the whole, the womb is like an animal within an animal."
--Aretæus the Cappadocian, On The Causes And Symptoms Of Acute Disease, Book II (2nd Century CE)
"People who say it [hysteria] is vanished need to come and work in some tertiary hospitals where they will see plenty of patients."
--Psychiatrist Kasia Kozlowska, as quoted in The New York Times (September 26, 2006)
She was pretty. All my clients were all pretty. You had to love women to do this job. She walked into my office, lower body tucked tightly into a denim skirt that snapped up the front. Twelve snaps. I counted them. Part of the reason I was the best hystericop was because I noticed things like this.
I focused on the skirt and they way she walked into my office. You can spot trouble by the way they walk, half paralyzed but tight at the knees, like something else could drop at any second -- ovaries bobbing like a buoy, peritoneum snapped back like a dehydrated rubber band.
She sized me up, politely but briefly, like a pretty girl looks at a stranger's family photo. No interest. "I heard you're the best uterus tracker out there," she said.
"Hystericop," I corrected. The cop part's a misnomer, though. I'm more of a private dick, but you hear all the penis jokes when you track rogue uteruses. "That's what they tell me." I leaned back in my chair like I'd just been named vice president. "How can I help you?"
"Casey," she introduced herself. "Casey Cavanaugh." She tried to smile, but her face set itself into something awful. "It's been gone a few days now," she said. "I thought, at first, I'd been robbed."
I nodded. Familiar story. Her smile went slack and so did she. I worried that she'd pass out, smack that pretty yellow head on the hardwood floor. I motioned for Casey Cavanaugh to sit on the chair facing my desk, and she crumpled down with a heavy thud. She gathered up her breath as best she could and began.
"My boyfriend said. I was being overly difficult. Super jealous for no reason. Today he had been on the phone. With someone. He wouldn't tell me who it was. When they asked where he was. He told them he was at a friend's house." She lifted one heavy leg and dropped it over the other. "A friend's house."
Instability, muscle weakness, temporary localized paralysis. A definite hard case. Plenty of trouble. But that's my line of work.
I nodded for her to go on.
"Sometimes he won't introduce me. In public," she said. "And I just have to stand there awkwardly. Then introduce myself. Anyway, he said I was being. Hysterical, so he made me. Make an appointment. With my general practitioner."
"And that's when you realized your uterus was missing?" I asked.
Her breathing was getting more regular, but she started to lean sideways like she was asleep on a train.
"Yes," she said. "I thought I'd been robbed or pickpocketed. But I wasn't. I said to my boyfriend, ‘I have a right to be difficult.' I mean, a friend? It never even occurred to me that it could be hysteria. I felt OK."
"It's more common than you think," I said. "You've seen them around, right?"
Of course she had. She wasn't born yesterday. Everyone had seen the worst cases, uteruses gone wild, making out with strangers on street corners; chaining themselves to old growth trees; renting out every copy of "Jerry Maguire"; loitering at department store cosmetic counters, wearing expensive testers down to nubs. No one expected their uterus to go rogue.
Casey Cavanaugh continued leaning to the side, talking about her boyfriend and whether he was cheating on her and how she didn't want him to break up with him but didn't I think he should introduce her.
This would be a difficult case. I did the math in my head. Casey Cavanaugh was at least a week into hysteria. She'd waited awhile before seeing me. Dumb. And dangerous.
Some women just let their wombs go. Older ones, rich ones, the ones that are done reproducing or can hire that out, the ones that can afford to be professional invalids and pay for weekly treatments. Younger ones hire me. Younger, pretty ones, ones like this Casey, who by the time they walk into my office, they're halfway to hysterical suffocation and their uterus is chicken-dancing on a Caribbean cruise ship.
"I didn't have any symptoms at first. I mean, I didn't think wanting to be acknowledged as his girlfriend was a symptom." Casey covered her mouth and giggled. She was cycling onto unpredictable behavior. Classic. Promiscuity'd be next, if I knew anything about hysteria, which I did. Five years in the business and you knew a lot. I tried to keep the conversation professional.
"So tell me about your uterus," I said.
"Well," she said, thinking. "She's pear shaped and pink and has my credit cards."
I wrote that down. "Any pregnancies?"
"None. A scare. Three years ago."
"Any fibroids? Surgeries?"
At this point, she hit promiscuity, transforming from lolling weakly to loosely seductive. "No," she said. "You're cute."
Now when she looked at me, she looked with interest. She batted her eyes at me as she slowly slid off the chair. Slow and slack. I reached for my handkerchief in case I'd have to wad it between her teeth. It's happened. But she just slid down like a boneless filet. I worried whether she was going to crack that pretty blonde head on the floor.
I walked around my desk and pulled her up. It was like hoisting a bag of garbage. A pretty, sweet smelling bag of garbage.
"Don't you think I'm cute too?" she asked.
Five years in this business. I knew better than to affront a hysterical woman. I wouldn't want to be affronted, "Adorable," I said. "Absolutely adorable."
She grimaced at me. Back to that terrible smile. Time was wasting.
"Let's get down to business," I said. "Any strange charges on your card?"
An ordinary case.
Not every womb goes rogue. Some don't even leave the body. They just wander around in the woman's abdomen and thoracic cavity, causing chronic belching and agita until they reattach themselves. Others do steal away, but only for a holiday of sorts, and they're more than happy to return. I don't even need my instruments. I spray them down with saline solution and ask politely.
I always said that the ones that did go rogue required a different approach.
Some hystericops talked of the importance of understanding the uterus, the pressures of being neither whole nor just tissue, caught between realities and legalities like petulant teenagers. They talk of setting down boundaries and consequences, of how to reestablish authority over your womb, to search its behavior for underlying stresses and troubles.
I didn't share these ideas. Male guilt. In my opinion, there was no reasoning with some wombs. Some uteruses are just born bad. You can talk and talk to their raw smooth muscle and they flex their cervix at you as a taunt, leap onto the bumper of the next passing car while their woman slowly strangles.
Casey Cavanaugh's had charged up some easily traceable extravagances, lingerie and expensive perfumes. It seemed like a typical, self-indulgent rogue case. I strapped my instruments around my waist--saline bottle, dilatators of graduated sizes, and a speculum that was just to show I meant business--and went to case the mall where the purchases had taken place. It was a posh arcade on the second floor of a downtown hotel, popular among escaped uteruses. They had a great bubble tea place that served an oatmeal smoothie that I liked. I could charge it to the account, and sometimes, the girls behind the counter would have some information about wombs they caught stealing from the tip jar.
I ordered an extra-large smoothie. The counter girl told me she'd seen nothing today as she wrote me out a receipt. I sat with my smoothie and watched the well-appointed shoppers. Ladies in designer safari wear dragging small children and smaller dogs, both with rhinestone collars. Teenagers in professionally ripped jeans doing their best to appear both bored and available. One or two uteruses bounced by, window-shopping the boutiques. Neither of them were Casey's.
Then, there she was. She looked like she belonged inside Casey Cavanaugh. She bobbled primly, pink as smoked salmon.
I could smell the purloined cologne--violet, vanilla, and burnt toast--barely disguising the tinny blood and endometrial mucus that was her natural smell. As she nodded by, I could see a thin gold chain around her cervical canal.
She stopped at the French café next to the bubble tea place and scanned the seating area. A man stood up from a table half hidden by a wax fern and waved at Casey Cavanaugh's uterus. She flexed in greeting and delicately waited as the man pulled out her chair, topped with a booster seat. As he sat back down, he nudged her chair closer so they were both camouflaged by the fern.
I cursed a little, sucked down the last of my smoothie, and stood up. As I walked over, I belted my trench coat to muffle the jingle of my instrument belt. I slipped the maitre-d a fiver for the adjacent table.
The man ordered them two espressos and two croissants, pronouncing them "kwo-sannns." He had eyebrows like a nail brush and thin fingers. I never trust a guy who pronounces "kwo-sannns" and whose eyebrows are wider than his fingers. He put his arm around her and she jiggled with glee. From her fundul cavity, she produced a small box—-a flask for him, probably purchased with Casey Cavanaugh's credit card.
He finished his espresso and croissant, then hers', and when he leaned in to whisper to her, I knew what was going on. Old story. He'd rented some sleazy hotel room or had invited her back to his dirty cold water flat. This was when I decided to make my move.
I opened my coat and stood at the table. I didn't have to say a word. The thin fingered eyebrow guy turned white, then yellow, and ducked and ran. Out on the bill, straight out of the mall, and as I could tell by the uterus' sagging posture, out of her life. She squirted wistfully as I sat down in his chair.
"Time to go home," I told her.
She puffed back up and faced me. I tensed up, expecting her to run too, but she just sat in her booster chair over the empty espresso cup and regarded me.
This took me by surprise. I could have sworn the uterus just asked me a question. I shook my head. "Come on," I said, unsheathing my saline bottle.
I know he was a sleazebag, but I liked the attention. She ducked my spray. I'm a grown uterus. She straightened up. You didn't answer my question.
"OK," I said. "You're a uterus. You can't talk. You need to come with me back to Casey Cavanaugh."
You know what it's like, she said.
The uterus was talking to me. I stared at her. Close up, I could see that she'd dusted herself with a shimmery powder. Her smell was intoxicating. She looked at me so sweetly, innocently, pleadingly.
You met her. She's completely inane.
"Even if that's true," I said, "you have a responsibility to go home."
She doesn't like poetry or foreign films or walking on the beach, she continued. And I can't tolerate that asshole she's dating.
I pinched the bridge of my nose. I wondered if there had been some hallucinogenic mold on the oatmeal.
He thinks the whole point of sex is to punch me repeatedly in the cervix.
I looked around. Everything else appeared normal. People sipping from their demi-cups at the surrounding tables. The wealthy shoppers poking at their PDAs. The girl behind the bubble tea counter resting her slick black head on her hands. I didn't understand what was wrong with me. The womb was right there. I could just reach out and grab it, and this whole case would be closed. I'd get paid and whatshername would recover. But I couldn't move.
I need romance. I need adventure. I need, she paused, and contracted her cervix beguilingly, someone like you.
I don't want to be alone. She leapt onto my lap and perched there, waiting. Come on now, she said.
A shiver swept through me like a wind rattling a tree. I felt a pull and a drop, then a shove. I sat, transfixed. The uterus slid her cervical neck, like a hand, down the front of my pants. She grabbed hold and yanked.
My own uterus, coral-colored and bloody as a newborn, jumped out beside her. They rubbed each other with recognition and joy. I looked down at myself. Sure enough, there was a black hole dorsal to my bladder framed by white iliac wings. My fallopian tubes bobbed around and my peritoneum was snapped back like a dehydrated rubber band.
And as the two uteruses skipped off together, I threw back my head and laughed like a maniac.