When cold February rain swept in from the Black Sea to drench the port city of Varna, Mila pored over the postcard from her merchantman father and imagined herself in Florida: clean sugar-sand beaches and bright umbrellas, tanned men, a purse brimful of ink-scented, green dollar bills. She applied for a job as a summer guest worker at a Miami hotel chain, and in March they offered her a job. When the first stork of spring flew over, auspiciously white, her visa was approved. She decided it was time to tell her brother Anton that she’d be spending the summer in America. Even Sasho wouldn’t miss her. He’d never taken her out for dinner, bought her flowers or perfume, or invited her to his apartment upstairs to meet his mother. He just stopped by periodically with a pocket full of premium German condoms when he knew Anton was out. She wouldn’t miss the sex or the curly, dark hairs that he shed on her clean sheets. And she was done being the last girl in the bar.
She’d learned the routine quickly from Sasho and his cousin Radka, who would have been the last girl in the bar regardless. Radka dyed her hair a cheap, tarty red; her long face seemed frozen in a perpetually morose pout; her hips swayed like the pelvis of an emaciated milk cow. The bartender at the Black Sea Pearl, Sasho’s distant cousin, watered the girls’ drinks. Radka had an eye for young, inexperienced sailors who hadn't yet blown their entire paychecks—and a knack for spotting the telltale signs of a concealed knife or needle-sharp fid in a sock, a boot, under the edge of a jacket, or in a hidden pocket in the trousers. She also intuited just how much rakia to pour into a man to make him too drunk to argue about handing over his money, but not drunk enough to pass out altogether. In Radka’s presence, sailors overlooked Mila’s own flat dumpling of a nose, the beaky overlap of her two front teeth, her skinny, bird-like legs. All she had to do was dress up, sing her usual sets, sip a watery drink at the end, dance, flirt, and invite the men to continue the party at home.
Mila was slower to learn to tolerate physical discomfort and moral outrage. As Sasho had promised, the routine didn’t involve prostitution. But he was deliberately slow to respond when Radka summoned him with a few taps on the pipe in the toilet, and seemed to take a perverse pleasure in Mila’s distaste for sailors with hairy shoulders and groping hands. She longed for a job that allowed her some dignity and paid better than her part-time secretarial job. And she never got over her fear for Anton’s safety if a mark decided to fight back.
Still, even an occasional hidden bruise or two and offended dignity were better than endless days of hunger and want. The transatlantic routes of the Greek shipping company Mila’s father had signed on with after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and COMECON three years earlier kept him at sea for months at a time. In the first weeks of his absences, money seemed plentiful. Then Mila’s tuition and rent on their small flat near the port would come due. Anton tried to close the gap with his entry-level salary from a shipping firm whose owner seldom paid him on time or in full; after her university classes, Mila typed invoices at the ship’s chandlery owned by her father’s friend Dragunov and sang in waterfront nightclubs. But no matter how she labored, economized, haggled, and mended, by their father’s return they were eating rice with tomato sauce for dinner every night. Her cut of the last-girl take allowed her to buy sausage and occasionally a chicken. She’d been the last girl in the bar for six months when the taste of meat began to turn her stomach.
The air at the beach had warmed enough for just a sweater during the day, but she was glad to have her jacket as evening approached. A cold breeze fluttered the trailing ends of her multicolored scarf.
The sun was setting behind the hills that ringed Varna to the west. Low, dark waves crested, crashed, and hissed foam at her feet. Glassware rattled and a few notes of music wafted from the bars and clubs beginning to open for business along the seaside promenade, though the canopied beach beds were still stacked carelessly among the scraggly palms. Florida, she thought, would be warmer. The sun would set later.
She rooted through her handbag for her cigarettes, harsh Bulgarian tobacco despite the feminine design on the package. She preferred Newport menthols when she could afford them. She tucked the bag under her arm, cupped the end of the cigarette to shield it from the wind, and lit it. She exhaled some of her anxiety with the smoke.
“You shouldn’t smoke, Mila.” Anton had come up behind her. Startled, she stumbled over something half-buried in the sand. A dead bird. Another stork, this one black.
“Neither should you.”
He sighed, pulled out his own cigarette, and lit it from hers. “Papa wouldn’t approve.”
“He’s not here. And you’re my brother, not my father.”
“No. I just try to stand in for him when he’s gone.”
“Katia called me last week,” Mila said. She dropped her half-smoked cigarette and ground it into the sand with the toe of her shoe. “She and Marfa and Lidia and I are going to America as hotel guest workers this summer.”
Anton stopped walking and grabbed her arm. “You can’t do that.”
She shook him off. “It’s a good job. Maybe I’ll even get a chance to sing somewhere.”
“It can’t pay well.”
“They pay for our visas, fly us over and back, and pay us four dollars and fifty cents an hour. I’ll make twice as much in one week as you make in a month. Even Dragunov can’t compete.”
Anton whistled softly. But then he shook his head. “It’s not safe, Milka. They’ll make you dance naked in some sleazy nightclub. They’ll take your passports and make you work as prostitutes.” She sensed desperation underlying the affection in his use of the diminutive form of her name; both echoed in her reply.
“Thanks to you, Doncho, I’m already a thief. But I’m done. No more sailors. I won’t be the last girl in the bar anymore.”
“We don’t have a choice.”
“Because of the money? Or something else?”
Anton tossed away his cigarette, and Mila faced her brother in the fading light. Over his shoulder, in the resort area, streetlamps were slowly coming on like dim stars. His face seemed unusually pale and tired. A little worry line streaked between his brows. She reached up to smooth the frown away.
“Sasho asked for some of the confidential ships’ schedules. He’s in import-export, not shipping. I didn’t see any harm in giving him a little information.”
“But he’s smuggling.”
“How did you know that?”
“Stoyanov says he could tell right away.” Stoyanov was the elderly pensioner on the ground floor who served as the building's caretaker.
“It takes one to know one.”
“Stoyanov was a smuggler!”
Anton shrugged. “All kinds of contraband moves on ships, from cigarettes to arms. Everybody has something on the side, or takes a little here and there. Stoyanov, Dragunov, even Papa.”
“Heroin from Turkey.”
Mila gasped. “Doncho, you have to stop.”
Anton shook his head. “He’ll tell my boss about the schedules. Look, I can get us out of this. But you have to help me one last time before you go. There’s an American ship coming in May. You should be happy for a chance to meet some American men before you go. Maybe you’ll get more out of them than you did out of fucking Sasho whenever he wanted a little easy pussy.”
Stunned, Mila couldn’t reply. He’d known?
All the neighbors in their working-class block near the port had noticed when Sasho Chilikov and his invalid mother moved into the flat above Mila's that winter. Sasho, not yet thirty, often fingered a roll of leva, Turkish lira, and dollars twisted around a money clip in his trouser pocket. He claimed to be in the import-export business.
“Best avoid that one, Milka,” the neighbor Stoyanov said when he saw Mila watching Sasho head up the stairs. “If you call one wolf, you invite the pack."
Mila hadn’t found Sasho handsome. A ruff of chest hair around the neckline of his monogrammed sport shirts hinted at hirsute nether regions that she preferred not even to imagine, and she saw only amusement and sly condescension in his dark eyes. But she’d noticed that he wore Italian wool suits with silk shirts on weekdays and pressed Levis with tasseled Gucci loafers on weekends. She invited him to the surprise dinner for Anton's twenty-first birthday anyway.
Mila had squirreled away a few leva here and there for months to buy things for a traditional birthday dinner. On the morning of the party she cut classes to shop, clean, and cook. She scrubbed the tile floors, swept the thin wool throw rugs, polished the brass knicknacks that her father had bought in Turkish ports, and tidied the small shelf of textbooks and novels. To make Anton's favorite dishes she meticulously followed recipes copied on yellowing slips of paper in her mother's tidy script: pork meatballs, fried fish, stuffed peppers. She crammed their small refrigerator with cold salads and shopska’—marinated vegetables topped with salty sheep's-milk cheese—and three bottles of semi-sweet Russian champagne. She put on a form-fitting spring sweater and stretch jeans borrowed from a friend, set her hair with rollers, and applied makeup. Feeling competent, mature, womanly and desirable, she put one of Anton’s bootleg CDs in the player: a Swedish singer, Pandora. The music felt electric. Determined. Even a little dangerous. She bopped to the beat and sang along as she worked.
Sasho arrived at seven. He handed Anton a bag with two long-necked bottles of rakia inside and pressed five rare, expensive white roses into Mila's hands. “For the lady of the house.” Mila took the roses and stepped back. Sasho closed in and kissed her on each cheek. She smelled expensive tobacco and heavy, musky cologne.
Sasho took her free hand. “Come,” he said. In the dining room, he pressed a glass into her hand. “Champagne for the hostess! A toast! Na zdrave, Anton.” He looked each of the dozen guests in the eye, properly, but his glance locked longest with Mila’s. “And to the health of your beautiful sister.”
A second glass of champagne followed, then two of slivovka, then Mila lost count. At one point she perched on Sasho's lap and felt his fingers toying with the hip pocket of her jeans. The flat seemed warmer and she decided to open another window. She made her way to her bedroom with precise steps.
She woke lying on her back on her bed. The flat had gone quiet and the room spun around her. Light from a street lamp washed over the concrete wall of the building opposite her window. A cold gust of wind lifted the coarsely woven orange curtain. A warm, heavy body suddenly loomed over her.
She shoved at the man. He didn't move.
“You have to go,” she said.
“I have to stay.” Sasho's voice was thick and his breathing heavy. His fingers fumbled under her sweater and he stabbed a soft spot on her inner thigh with his erection. “It feels good. See?”
It didn't feel good. She didn't see. She didn't want to see. She closed her eyes: less spin.
“Let me.” He tugged at the waistband of her jeans.
She pushed again with no effect. Let him. It would be easier. She bit her lip until it drew blood, then allowed the whirling room to spin her away into black oblivion.
She didn’t remember leaving the bed or straightening her clothes. She barely remembered Sasho telling Anton with false concern that she was unwell, that he had to see to his mother, that she needed Anton to help her outside for some air. She never forgot the sour, sticky taste of the plum-wine vomit that erupted from her throat into a bush in the courtyard, and the echoing stickiness in her pubic hair and on her thighs.
She swung her handbag, hard, and hit her brother in the side of the head. “We’re done, Doncho. You bastard. You brought that man into our lives. You’re no brother to me! Leave me. Get away from me!” She punched him in the shoulder as hard as she could, then again right on the breastbone.
Anton rocked back and sucked in breath, then grabbed her arms and pulled her close. “Mila, Mila. I’m sorry. Did he hurt you?”
“No, Doncho. No. It was just—easier.” She dashed hot tears away with the back of her hand.
Anton sighed again. “Somehow he makes it seem easy at first, doesn’t he?”
Sasho and Anton strategized over the American port visit for weeks. Sasho insisted that American sailors on liberty carried wads of cash and no weapons, and couldn’t hold their liquor. Mila imagined how she might keep Sasho and Anton from robbing a handsome American sailor, thus redeeming herself for having participated in the “last girl” scheme. Somehow she’d be both sexy and strong, like Xena the Warrior Princess, heroine of the pirated television shows Anton brought home to play in the VCR their father had picked up on a port visit in Italy.
The ship, a frigate, tied up on a Saturday in May. By eleven that evening, Mila and Radka were at the Black Sea Pearl, cocktails in hand. Europop blared through the speakers. Mila tried not to fidget with the edge of her lacy black bra. It was a little too small, too tight; it cut into the top of her breast just above the neckline of her stretchy magenta top. One strappy stiletto had left a blister under her ankle and it ached. She felt invisible droplets of sweat breaking out under her nightclub makeup. She reached up and tightened the elastic around her ponytail.
American sailors, drawn to the bar by a sign advertising free Jell-O shots, stood out in their dress white uniforms and ribbons and patches. Empty chairs held their white hats, and overflowing ashtrays and half-empty glasses dotted their tables.
Radka indicated a group of serious drinkers with a negative shake of her head, and then gestured to a corner table near the back. Two sailors, very young. The blond had a prominent Adam’s apple and more than a trace of adolescent acne. A box of Newport menthols lay on the table in front of him. His buddy, whose ears stuck out like jug handles, took a drag on his cigarette and gestured for another beer.
“I get the blond one,” Mila murmured.
Radka looked at her sharply, then shrugged and went to the bar.
Mila caught the blond sailor’s eye and smiled. She’d heard that Americans always smiled. The sailor smiled back. Mila made sure he knew she was singing the last two songs in her repertoire for him. After she left the tiny stage, she slid into the seat beside him.
“Got a light?” She held a cigarette to her lips.
“Sure.” The sailor pulled out a cheap butane lighter and flicked it on.
Radka arrived with a bottle of bubbly and four glasses. “Champagne?” she offered.
“Sure thing,” said the buddy. “You speak English too?” Radka squeezed into the booth beside him, pressed her thigh against his.
“We are students at the university. I am Radka, and this is Mila.”
It was their usual story, but Mila felt an unexpected surge of irritation. Radka worked in a shipyard as a welder during the day. Mila took a long drag on her cigarette and swallowed the last of her wine.
“Where are you from?” Mila asked the blond sailor. His name was Mike.
“Florida,” he said. It seemed like an omen. His grin revealed large, white teeth that gleamed in the light reflected by the disco ball. Mila thought his overbite charming, and she noticed freckles on his face and arms. His biceps bulged and flexed when he set down his drink, and the blue-and-yellow edge of a tattoo peeked out from under his sleeve.
“Let’s dance,” she said, dropping her cigarette into the ashtray.
They danced through two songs, traded partners with Radka and Pete, then switched back for a ballad. Mike held Mila close. Her head dropped to his shoulder. The bar was nearly empty.
“We could go walk out on the beach,” she suggested.
“But Pete and your friend—”
“They do not need to come. There is a back door. Go to the men’s room. I’ll go to the ladies’. When you come out, go through the door on the right. It’s not locked. I’ll see you outside.”
“I should stay with my liberty buddy,” Mike said.
“It is just the beach,” Mila said. “We won’t go too far. I promise.”
Five minutes later, they scooted out of the bar’s back door, met in the alley between the bar and a currency exchange, and hurried down the steps from the promenade to the gray, moonlit sand. They walked along the water’s edge, fingers interlaced, until Mila steered Mike back toward the rows of palms between the water and the bustling promenade. “We can be more alone over there.” She gestured to a broken-down beach bed, two of its white nylon curtains sun-damaged and torn, that had been pulled behind a palm tree to await repairs.
“Wow,” he said. “Sure.”
They climbed onto the bed, which had a slippery vinyl cover and listed to the left. Mila pulled what was left of the curtains around them. “That’s better.”
Overhead, the Milky Way stretched across the sky, visible despite the lights of the city behind them. A breeze fluttered the edges of the curtains and rustled palm fronds. Waves splashed, down where the sand and water met. She hoped that Radka and Pete had not yet missed them.
Mike raised up on an elbow beside her. He smelled of good tobacco, some kind of spicy cologne, healthy male sweat. Her skin tingled.
“It’s beautiful out here,” he said. “But not as beautiful as you.”
They laughed, rolled back and forth, tugged at each other’s clothes, and fumbled with the snap on her jeans and the thirteen buttons – she counted them – on the flap of his trousers. He mumbled incoherently in her ear and touched her clumsily but gently, too awkward just to be drunk. So she would be his first. A beautiful, experienced European woman, about to make love with a handsome American. She opened her eyes under his kiss and watched the stars wheeling overhead.
Afterwards, they shared one of his Newports. She traced her fingers over his chest. He pointed out the Milky Way; she told him that Bulgarians called it “Straw” and recounted the fairy tale in which a poor man who stole straw from his godfather’s house to feed his own oxen. When the godson refused to confess to the theft, the old man cursed the straw to burn so that no one could steal it again. “The straw burst into flames,” she said, “and it is still burning in the sky.”
“Mila? Is that you?” It was Radka, of course. Mila slid off the side of the bed away from Radka’s voice, straightened her top, and put a finger to her lips. Mike followed her. She grabbed his hand.
“Over here,” she replied. “We went out for some air.” They dodged behind one palm tree, and then another, and then Mila turned and strolled out into the open with Mike’s arm tucked through hers.
“We should go back to our flat,” Radka said. Her cross expression said that she knew exactly what Mila had been doing.
“Radka, I’d rather – ”
Pete cut her off. “We been looking for you two for an hour. Mike, you’re supposed to stick with your liberty buddy. What if Shore Patrol had come this way and seen one of us without the other?”
Radka laughed a little too loudly. “But we have found them, haven’t we? And we’ll just go back to our flat for another little drink or two. Keep the party going, right, Mila?”
Mila, beaten, nodded. “Please come,” she said.
Mila stopped in the courtyard outside the apartment building. “Maybe you should go now,” she told the sailors, “before it’s too late. Don’t you have the, ah, curfew?”
Mike grinned, and for the first time Mila noticed the nicotine stains on his front teeth. “Naw, we don’t have to be back until o-six-hundred. We still got half the night.” He pulled Mila close and started kissing her neck. She batted at him, to no effect.
“Kiss me again, honey,” he mumbled into her hair. He planted his lips on hers.
The heavy front door of the apartment building opened. Radka unsheathed her knife but held it low, by her thigh. Mila pushed Mike away hard. The sailors looked in surprise at Sasho, large and dark except for the gleam of his own blade. Anton rubbed his right fist in his left palm.
“Who are those guys?” Mike asked.
“You will please to let Mila have your wallets now,” Radka said. “One at a time. Do not make any sudden moves.”
This was all wrong. They were never supposed to do this in the courtyard.
“You’re late,” Anton said to her. He didn’t take his eyes off the sailors.
Mila took the wallet from Mike’s outstretched hand. “I am so sorry,” she whispered. He didn’t respond.
Mila took the sailors’ driver’s licenses and military identification out of the wallets and handed them back to Mike. “You will not want to lose these,” she said. “It is trouble if you lose them, yes?” Mike put the cards into his pocket, and suddenly everything went wrong.
Pete grabbed the wrist of Sasho’s knife hand and smashed his forearm. Mila could hear the crack of bone. Stunned, Sasho dropped the knife and sank to his knees. Mike pulled back an arm and hit Anton in the face so hard that he staggered, tripped over an exposed root, and fell to the cobblestones, hitting his head. Mila clapped her hand over her mouth—it was important never to make noise in the courtyard, never to draw the neighbors’ attention—but she glimpsed a face at a ground-floor window. Stoyanov.
Pete kicked Sasho hard in the face with a move Mila thought might have been some kind of martial art. Sasho fell to the pavement, and even in the dim light Mila could see that his jaw was dislocated and probably broken. She gasped. Radka, who had hesitated to come to Sasho’s defense, sheathed her knife and ran.
“Please,” Mila said when Mike drew back a foot to kick Anton. “Please. He’s my brother. He does not even have a knife. It is just the two of us.”
”Come on,” said Pete. “Let’s get outta here before somebody calls the cops or the Shore Patrol.”
“Sasho—the big one with the knife—he had a secret, he was—” she struggled for the unfamiliar word— “blackmailing my brother. This was all his plan.”
“Come on,” said Pete.
“Here is your money,” Mila said. She held out the roll of bills. “Take it, please.”
Mike slowly reached for the cash. He peeled off a five-dollar bill, held it up, and then let it flutter to the ground. “You can keep the change,” he said. “You earned it down on the beach, you goddamned whore. Fuck this shit. Fuck the money. And fuck you, too.”
The two sailors turned their backs and walked away.
Mila left the bill on the ground. She sat on the bench for a few minutes and watched Anton breathe. A trickle of blood ran from a cut on his cheek. Finally she got up, grabbed Sasho by the shirt collar, and tried to drag his still form into the alley. He showed no sign of coming to. His dead weight was too much for her, and the stiletto heels gave her no purchase on the cobblestones.
Stoyanov appeared beside her, his footfalls making nearly no sound. Muttering, he scooped up the bill and helped Mila drag Sasho out of the courtyard and over to the trash cans behind the corner store. They propped him against a wall that stank of piss and cheap wine vomit. Before they left, Mila drew back a foot and kicked Sasho as hard as she could in the groin with the pointed toe of her high-heeled shoe. His head slipped to the left, but he made no sound.
They returned to the courtyard and revived Anton enough to get him upstairs. Mila cleaned the cut on his scalp while he slumped over the table; Stoyanov put the rakia glasses in the sink and patted Mila on the shoulder. After he helped her get Anton to bed, he said, “You will not be seeing Sasho again. I will call some old friends.”
“His mother—” Mila began.
“He never had an invalid mother,” Stoyanov said. “Or any other kind. And you don’t do this any more, either. Understand? Or I will talk to your father when he comes home.”
That very week, Stoyanov convinced Dragunov to give Mila more hours typing invoices in the deserted office on weekends. Later in the summer Anton was promoted to a new position and given a small raise. In September, Katia, Marfa, and Lidia returned from America wise to the guest-worker economy: their dreams of luxury and glamor in Miami Beach had been dashed on the rocky realities of receptionist jobs in a two-star hotel in a family-friendly Delaware beach town and shared accommodations in a shoddy hostel blocks from the ocean. America was clean, they said; the men almost always handsome; the families sunburned, well-fed, constantly smiling, and genuinely friendly. The shops and malls in larger towns like Rehoboth Beach sold everything one could ever want. But on minimum wage, after rent and groceries, even factory seconds of designer goods from the outlet mall had been beyond their means.
They returned to America the following summer, but Mila didn’t join them. She’d met Bruce, the representative of a British shipping insurer who did business with Dragunov. As a teenager he’d been a bass guitarist in a local punk band that had opened for The Clash in the summer of 1980; he took genuine pleasure in her singing. He danced with a surprisingly erotic pelvic shimmy. He brought her flowers every Friday when he was in town, and took her to dinner at the best restaurants in Varna and even in Sofia. Still a goalie in a recreational football league back in England, he could run rings around Anton and argue the merits of all the European and South American clubs with her father. Within a year she no longer noticed the eleven-year age difference or his thinning blond hair.
In the spring he flew her to Bristol to meet his grandmother, who had worked at British Aerospace and been a neighborhood fire warden during the Bristol Blitz. She served them tea in a tiny garden filled with roses and sweetpeas, and claimed to find Mila’s accent charming. Bruce brought out the BMW motorbike he’d hoped to take on a touring holiday in the Balkans before Yugoslavia disintegrated into civil war and insisted that she wear his helmet. He showed her the Gothic arches and neatly trimmed lawns of the excellent public school he’d attended, and they rode up into the Mendip Hills to share a picnic lunch on a damp, rocky outcrop overlooking the Chew Valley. They made love for the first time in an elegant posada on the Spanish Riviera. She decided by the end of that week that romance took many forms, and that tenderness, consideration, and enthusiasm in a lover more than compensated for a certain lack of creativity. When she finished university, she married Bruce, became a British citizen, and moved to Bristol.
Years later, when Bruce was at work and the children at the same superior public school their father had attended, Mila would sometimes sit by the parlor window, light a Newport 100, look out at the surly gray water of the Bristol Channel, and remember that she had once dreamed of the sparkling sapphire breakers of Miami Beach. But when Bruce suggested they plan a winter holiday with the children at Disneyland, Mila insisted that the Mediterranean resorts— Palma, Barcelona, Mykonos—were closer and cheaper. Healthier for the children.
In alternate summers, they would visit Anton and her father in Bulgaria. Anton had saved enough to buy a summer cottage in the forest above Golden Sands through hard work and careful dealings with German contractors. In the off-years, Bruce and Mila rented a self-catering cottage near Weymouth for the month of August. Bruce would drive down on weekends, and Anton would bring his wife and daughters to England for two weeks.
At night she and Bruce would walk hand in hand on the beach while the children ran ahead and splashed in the surf. Sometimes Mila would gaze out beyond them, following the arch of the Milky Way up and over the inky Atlantic swells, west and south toward Florida.
Jerri Bell is the Managing Editor for O-Dark-Thirty, the literary journal of the Veterans Writing Project. She retired from the Navy in 2008; her assignments included antisubmarine warfare in the Azores Islands, sea duty on USS Mount Whitney and HMS Sheffield, and attaché duty at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Russia. Her fiction has been published in a variety of journals and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize; her nonfiction has been published in newspapers, including the Washington Post and the Charleston Gazette-Mail, in journals, and on blogs. She and former Marine Tracy Crow are the co-authors of It’s My Country Too: Women’s Military Stories from the American Revolution to Afghanistan. Of the story published in Collateral, Bell writes, “The “last girl in the bar” scam is common in port cities worldwide. During my embassy assignment in Russia, I went to the police station in the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk at three a.m. to retrieve two inebriated sailors from USS LaSalle who'd been detained for fighting and causing a public disturbance: they’d gone home with the last girls in the bar and been robbed at knifepoint of two hundred rubles—then worth about eight dollars. I wondered what the operation might look like from the viewpoint of one of the women involved.”