Dr. Betty Liu is about to put her hand around another man’s penis for the first time since her husband died.
She wraps herself up in a lead apron. Stretches the surgical mask around her nose and mouth, sheathes her fingers with purple nitrile gloves.
“I’m going to wash your pubic area with betadine,” she says to Mr. Kawasaki. “Then I’m going to insert a rubber catheter, and inject x‑ray dye.”
Six months ago, her husband Kwan unexpectedly dropped dead at age 63 on an early morning jog. Had no idea his coronaries were filled with so much friable cholesterol. The night before his death, she didn’t know it was the last time her hand would be around him, her mouth, her lips. “You’re just getting me even more hungry,” she said, when he began to reciprocate the pleasure.
“Why didn’t we try more of this when we were younger?” he said afterward, though she was so entirely spent and satiated at that point that she was already asleep, and didn’t get to hear his final words.
Mr. Kawasaki is lying on his back on the fluoroscopy table. She unties his hospital gown, peels the adult diaper off of him, breathes through her mouth to mitigate the odor of stale urine. She saturates cotton swabs in betadine, coats his genitalia in a layer of brown cleanser.
She’d done plenty of urethrograms before Kwan died, but most of the patients had been old white men who looked nothing like her husband. Mr. Kawasaki has her husband’s face. The features not exactly, but rather the dignity of an aging Asian man. The softening of the eyes, the high protruding cheekbones that turned shiny as the skin ripened. She had trouble distancing herself, from this man whom she’d never met before. Maybe it was unprofessional. But as she dips the tip of the catheter into clear lubricating jelly, her eyes start welling up.
“You’re the only one I’ve ever been with,” she told Kwan, as he lay on his back in her tiny studio apartment. It was their last year of medical school, a few months before he would propose to her. “You fell from the sky into my lap.”
“I’m glad I rescued you from your solitude,” he said, running his fingers through her tight perm that she just had refreshed in a Japantown salon. She saw him glance at her closet, the rows of plain white blouses and neatly folded trousers.
“I’m happy by myself,” she said, speaking with a Taiwanese accent that Kwan told her he adored. “I think about G‑protein receptor loops every five minutes. I don’t need anything else, except maybe some good Taiwanese food.” She rose up, took a couple steps toward the kitchen, and pulled a plate of pork buns from the fridge.
“You’re like a horny teenager,” he replied. “Except you think about microbiology instead of sex.”
“Why would anyone think about sex?” she asked.
Moments before, when Kwan had guided her hand to him for the first time, she felt like she was making a scientific discovery. “It’s just like a garden hose!” she exclaimed, unable to suppress her laughter at the moment of his climax.
“Imagine all the things you would’ve missed out on if you’d refused to go out with me,” Kwan said.
The water was starting to boil. She laid the buns onto the parchment paper, and set them inside the steamer.
“You have a stricture,” she tells Mr. Kawasaki. She points to the narrowing on his x‑ray film. His face is stoic.
The urethrogram now finished, she lathers her hands with disinfecting soap outside the procedure room. She remembers washing her hands in her apartment all those years ago, in front of Kwan sprawled out on the carpet. She had let the water run over her hands forever. Looking back on it now, she realizes he must’ve been so offended by her laughter, her complete lack of tenderness during their first intimate moment together.
Upon returning home, she hangs her white coat up in the walk in closet, and peels off her scrubs. She looks at the rack filled with Kwan’s clothes, the stuff she doesn’t have the courage to remove yet. His white coat with the curled up stethoscope still dangling from the front pocket. She loved it when the two of them happened to arrive home at the same time. The hug in the living room while wearing their respective hospital attire.
She searches for something comfortable to wear for the rest of the evening. She’s taking a set of plaid flannel pajamas off the hanger, when she catches her reflection in the mirror. Her chest and waist, thickened with age, between her beige bra and underpants.
When she lamented to Kwan about her weight gain last year, he bought her a collection of lingerie, lacy peek-a-boo garments with garter belts and frilly trim. He said it was romantic growing old and fat together with her. Each night, he’d choose one for her to wear, and she’d model it for him, swiveling her hips while he watched, fingering his chin.
After his death, she put the lingerie in a cardboard box, and stuffed them in the garage behind the broken rice cookers. She’d never be with another man again. It was how she was built—100% devotion to her husband. Her appetite, her capacity for satiation, she had resolved to shut this part of herself down for good.
In the quiet of the closet, she hears Kwan’s voice.
Honey, tonight I prefer you to wear nothing at all.
She drops the pajamas on the floor. She walks to the kitchen, feeling the cool air of the house against her bare skin.
Eliot Li has work forthcoming or published in Pithead Chapel, The Pinch, Flash Frog, Cleaver, and Gordon Square Review. He is a graduate of Harvard College, and got mostly B’s in all his writing courses.