"It can’t get any worser,” she said.
“But,” I protested, “that’s not even a word. How could I believe you if you speak ungrammatically?”
“Worser is an archaic word. Believe me, it’s not going to get worser,” she reiterated.
I didn’t believe her, about the use of the word, or the malady. I didn’t believe anybody anymore. Everyone was full of shit.
I walked out of the doctor’s office and into my car. I put my hand to the spot: the big lump on my stomach. What the hell was it? It had to be cancer. But, the doctors said, “it wasn’t,” that it was “some kind of oddity,” but, “it isn’t cancer.” Ten doctors. Over a thousand dollars in medical examination fees. And no answer. Insoluble. But, they said it wasn’t cancer. That’s all they knew, and said.
Bullshit, everybody had cancer. In my mind I was fucking dead already.
I drove away—rubbing the mound on my stomach—confused, sad, and sure that my life had reached culmination.
So, I gave myself two months to live: maybe a month or so more—or less—but nothing beyond that. So, a couple of months to live, I thought. Should I rob a bank, rape a beautiful girl in the middle of a crowded street, kill someone, kill myself, or better yet, do all of the above?
I wasn’t malicious. I could possibly harm myself if it came to that,
but not other people. I didn’t have that right.
I sat down at the end of the bar opposite the two patrons. I looked at the emblazoned BUDWEISER and MILLER LITE signs in front of me. “Give me a beer and a shot of bourbon,” I told the bartender.
“What kind of beer and bourbon?” he asked.
“Anything that’ll cure the cancer blues.”
He came back with my order, placed it in front of me, and looked deeply into my eyes. I felt his commiseration swimming into my eyes. His sympathy made me feel awkward. I lit a smoke, and he walked away.
The television was turned to CNN. The caption read: 6 U.S. Soldiers Killed In Iraq.
“It’s all a bunch of shit,” one of the old gentlemen told the barkeep. “The whole goddamned country is falling to ruins. After WWII I didn’t think I’d see anything like this ever again. That president should be shot. What do you think?” he said, gesticulating to the T.V. screen, his head turned to mine.
“I don’t,” I responded curtly. “I don’t think about war; it’s out of my control.”
“What the hell do you think about, boy?” he questioned with a belly full of whiskey and contempt.
“I think…,” I said, stopping to take a nip from my beer—then continuing—“…I think about paying my bills, shiting, sleeping, and sometimes—if I’m lucky—fucking.”
He grumbled something to the other man, presumably his drinking buddy, and left me alone after that.
I didn’t want conversation with some doddering old fool. I was thirty-years-old and full of my own almost-middle-age problems. I had to face it, up until this point (the cancer point), I was an utter failure: I was single, a janitor, and now—damn that son-of-a-bitch who pulls the strings up there in the clouds—I had the disease that keeps giving, cancer.
So, with that being said, I was in no mood to listen to this asshole’s drivel about war and peace, love and hate, death and life, bullshit after bullshit.
I lit another smoke, ordered another round of booze, and drank.
This went on for about an hour: the old guy prattling about his hatred for the American government, economy, his status quo, everything. I was drunk at that point, and somewhat zoned him out, but not completely. I was catching little statements of pith he was uttering. Some of them made sense. Some of his declarations were nearly impossible to censor.
Then, a woman walked in—a typical woman—not too pretty, not too unsightly. She was just another woman. She was slender, breasts were all right, legs long, hair auburn. But her face looked like she succumbed to eons of sorrow. She sat down, to my left, a stool separating us. The barkeep brought her her drink. She hadn’t asked for anything, clearly she was a regular.
“That’s on me,” I said. Untypical of me, being that I’m an extreme introvert, especially with women.
The barkeep gave me an awry look, but took my money.
“Thanks,” she said, “that’s nice of you.”
I didn’t respond. I had forgotten how to speak to women.
“My name’s Memory,” she said.
“Yes. Do you have a name.”
And that was it, for awhile. No speaking. Just the old men in the corner, the guys on CNN babbling about some foreign catastrophe that nobody in America cared about, and a cloud of sadness quivering above me and my new friend, Memory. Memory, really?
With a name like that, she’s got to be a prostitute, I thought.
Finally, the old men stumbled out of the bar. They both gave me looks of disdain before they left. I felt like going in the parking lot and kicking both of their senile asses.
I looked over at Memory. She was watching the T.V. The screen was flickering, and shadows were bouncing off her face. Certain aspects of her face were beautiful; I had to admit. Her forehead was too long, but her ears were perfectly and wonderfully aligned with the rest of her head. She had bags under her eyes, but her lips were big and sensuous like a huge watermelon brimming with juice. Maybe it was the alcohol in me, but she began—right before my eyes—to morph into a golden goddess.
She turned her face to mine, and shamefully, I turned away.
I felt her staring at me.
Then, suddenly, I remembered I was dying. I directed my hand up my shirt and felt the lump of doom near my bellybutton. I slammed my beer and ordered another one.
“Wait,” Memory exclaimed.
“This bar sucks. Let’s get out of here and go to my place.”
I didn’t hesitate. “Okay.”
Maybe she was a prostitute, maybe not. I didn’t care. I was dying, maybe. Anyway, I needed to feel love, even if it was fleeting and shallow love. I needed something for one night, anything. And Memory would do. She would definitely suffice.We drove back to her place, in her car. The conversation was all drivel; it was awkward without the alcohol to spur us.
We were walking up the steps to her apartment, and suddenly she reached over, grabbed my head, brought it closer to her own, and planted a kiss on me. She tasted like alcohol and cigarettes.
We walked into her house.
We sat on the couch, a bottle of vodka being passed back and forth. Everything felt good again. The lump was a distant memory. Sometimes you just needed an escape like this to ephemerally forget about all the hardships for awhile. Awhile was good enough. That’s all I needed, just awhile.
The conversation was good. We talked about the moon and the sun and beaches and sand. We shared dreams and created fruitless futures for each other. We knew that after this day we’d probably never see one another ever again. But, all we needed was each other for this one moment—one moment only. After that, fate would work its magic and do what it had to do to us.
Then, at dusk, we went into her bedroom. She took her shirt off. Her breasts felt good in the darkness, almost like groping a fleeting dream in the night. We did what we had to do. And when we lay down after finishing, we shared cigarettes, still passing the bottle between us.
She began rubbing my stomach. I took her hand away lest she’d question my malady. She commenced her rubbing again, but this time I let her go; it really made the moment beautiful and majestic. We felt like eternal lovers destined to never see each other again. I told her this; she agreed.
She got up and went to the bathroom. I felt the area of my stomach where my ruin was. But, I couldn’t feel anything. I got up, frantically, excitedly, and scuttled to the mirror. I traced the area of the cancer. There was nothing there. I scrutinized. Nothing. No more cancer. Then, I realized that life was somewhat good. Maybe I needed to be thrown into the mouth of a lion, and survive, to appreciate what little happiness I had.
Memory came back. I kissed her, told her I had to go, that I’d be back. She didn’t attempt to hinder my inevitable departure. Moreover, she knew I wouldn’t be back. I knew I wouldn’t be back. But, that was all right, for both of us.
I took a cab back to my place with Memory in my memory. Maybe she was a gift from God. Maybe she cured me. I didn’t have the answers, nor did I want them. I reached in my back pocket to pay the driver. There was a piece of paper with my money. It read: MEMORY—575.333.6779
I paid the cabby and got out. I walked up my steps with Memory’s number in my hand. I wrinkled it up in a ball and tossed it into the street.
Sometimes it’s better to leave a moment alone, never touch it and tarnish it with love. Love, as I learned from experience, can only sully beautiful moments. I wanted to keep this one. I wanted to go back to that moment now and again when things got bad.
I walked into my house. Everything felt good and right. It felt like, for that little moment, things could never get worser.
Michael Shannon has a B.A. in writing and will be pursuing
his M.F.A. His first novel, Janitor, will be released
in the autumn of 2006 by Dispress. His work has appeared in Down
in the Dirt, Enigma, The
Oak, Poetry Motel, and Dispatch.
Copyright 2003-2006 AntiMuse