Murder’s fun, Mom—I feel awesome!”
The wood floor in the hallway creaks, feminine fingers curl around the edge of the door, hinges squeaking as it slowly opens … Mom leans into the room.
Had she heard me playfully editing my earlier response to her inquiry as to how I felt?
“Ah, I’m, uh, just goofing off,” I say.
She had, I thought, gone down the hall and outside, heading to an appointment.
“Call my cell for anything,” Mom says, glaring at the clear bag hanging on the IV pole beside my bed. “And, uh …” Crooked grin. “Try not to talk to yourself while I’m gone.”
A team of oncologists agreed to be astonished when I’d reached the ripe old age of nineteen, given that adenocarcinoma had laid waste to my once-athletic body with only tepid interference from chemo/radiation treatments.
As Harold, a Brit exchange student in my old high school, used to say: You’re stuffed.
Mom brightens. “Oh, I forgot, hon’, Phoebe’s coming for dinner.”
That makes me smile. The only women I love are my sister and Mom—or ever will, I guess, both my grandmothers having preceded me into oblivion. I “liked” my former girlfriend, Amber, but Mom and Phoebe are my girls.
“Is Shithead coming?” I ask.
My crude characterization of Mike Keener, Phoebe’s boyfriend, might’ve set her off in the past, when I was healthy, but since I’m past my sell-by date most social constraints are largely ignored.
Mom smiles. “Your sister’s coming alone, my—”
Covers her mouth, eyes filling … she was about to say “my handsome son,” as she’d often done pre-diagnosis. Theater of the Absurd to say it now, given my emaciated body, raccoon circles around sunken eyes and a scalp absent of hair.
Upside? Scars on my bald pate are visible, which is weirdly cool—man, I miss lacrosse.
“Mom, it’s no biggie,” I say.
She puts Kleenex to her nose and blows, sniffing repeatedly as she exits my bedroom, leaving me alone to ponder its interior …
My player trophies gather dust on the middle wall shelf, right above and below my favorite books. In the corner leans Thor, my lacrosse stick, in need of a good re-stringing.
Albert Einstein sticks his tongue out from a poster, long white hair exploding from his formidable noggin—like he’d just grabbed a Tesla coil. An appropriate analogy, because there’s Nikola tacked to the wall next to Einstein, a black and white poster of Tesla scratching his head while pondering a full-color Rubik’s Cube; even though the puzzle hadn’t been invented yet. Wonders of Photoshop.
“Nikko, you vun crazy-smart Serb,” I say, with a remarkably accurate accent of some kind. Flick my eyes back to Einstein. “But I am not talking to you, Al.”
I mean, if he’s such a genius, why didn’t he cure metastatic cancer? Course, the same could be said of Tesla, I guess. I mean, why didn’t—
Get a grip, Ayers.
I glance at the pewter-framed photo of my sister on my nightstand. She’s wearing her red and yellow cheerleader’s uniform, frozen at the apex of a jump, knees modestly to one side, arms expressing a happy V in the air. The pic reminds me of her amazing portrayal of Peter Pan in a Yale drama class production. Suspended on unseen wires, she soared over the stage like a—she was amazing!
Against the east wall squats the carved-wood dresser from Germany that’d once belonged to Grandpa Ayers. He died early too—that is, if he’d been a Sequoia. He was ninety-six years old when he passed, sitting in his diesel Benz outside his swim club. Prior to my diagnosis, the dresser top was often covered by schoolbooks, pocket junk, a maroon backpack, protective gear, and the smooth black pebble Grandpa used to carry—a touchstone, he called it.
Now, it’s just orange prescription bottles, standing at attention as though proud to be lacking efficacy. Though the black and orange capsules take a nice bite out of pain.