When Margaret Hughes found out she had a brain tumor, she stared at the black-and-white images illuminated on the screen behind her physicians desk"slices," he called them. She was surprised to see that her brain looked like two halves of a desiccated walnut.
Her physician spoke of cisterns, vessels, ventricles, a star. Of cells that had forgotten how to die. It was so complicated, so difficult to understand, but in all fairness she had no one to blame but herself. She was the one whod insisted on seeing the images, made him promise that hed be straightforward, tell her the names of things, explain why shed been experiencing these headaches, these slips of the tongue, errors in cognition, apparitions. The fact that he continually referred to the images as "slices" only made matters worse; Margaret had already been so flustered before her appointment that shed left home without finishing breakfast.
Dr. Leising pointed out the mass effect of the enhancing something-or-other as seen on Coronal Slice #16. Margarets stomach rumbled.
I cant believe it, she thought. I forgot to eat my jelly toast.
Her physician concluded his speech and asked Margaret how she wished to proceed, what interventional options she wanted to pursue, and was there anyone shed like to call. "Stephen perhaps?" he suggested, rather too lightly. "Mightnt he want to know?"
Well, of course her ex-husband would want to know. Couples dont go through what she and Stephen had without forging some kind of enduring connectioneven (although few people understood this) a complicated, battle-comrade kind of love.
But there was something irritating in Dr. Leisings toneas if he didnt think she should hear his prognosis in the absence of a male shoulder to weep on. As if she couldnt handle things without the benefit of counsel by some father-by-proxy. Margaret had managed her own affairs nicely for most of her life. She wouldnt be railroaded, pitied, or bamboozled now. I might look like a nice, diffident old lady, she thought, but Im not about to be treated like one.
She asked a few pointed questions. Dr. Leising gave answers which she considered unacceptable, evasive, patronizing, and then launched into yet another discussion of her "slices." Would it never end?
Margaret couldnt listen anymore, so she excused herself to the rest room, took the elevator down to the street, and walked until she came upon a cafe with the words "Desserts, Etcetera" painted on the windows. She deliberated. On the rare occasions when she had to leave the house, she made sure to have as little contact as possible with other people; on the other hand, she was so hungry that she felt nauseous. Peeking through the window, Margaret saw that the cafe was open but empty of customers. This was satisfactory, so she went in.
Inside was a display case filled with artfully presented pies, cakes, cookies, and an assortment of French pastries. Margaret whispered their names: Génoise à lorange. Mousse au chocolat. Crème Brûlée. Roulade à la confiture. She felt better already. Hanging over the counter was a menu written on a large chalkboard which included sandwiches and soups as well as desserts.
An anorexic-looking girl with short blue-black hair and black lipstick was talking into a telephone behind the counter. "I dont give a shit, Jimmy," she was saying, her voice tense and hissing, "You CANNOT use the juicer at three oclock in the morning, I dont care HOW aggravated your vata is!" Margaret waved to get the girls attention. "Gotta go. Bye."
The girl hung up and loped to the counter. "Yes," she enunciated through clenched teeth. "What can I get for you?"
From Broken For You by Stephanie Kallos, (Chapter One, pages 5-12). Copyright © 2004 by Stephanie Kallos. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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