"It all looks so good," Margaret said. On closer inspection of the girls face, Margaret was alarmed to see that she was wearing a gold ring through her right nostril. She tried not to stare at it. "What is your soup of the day?"
"Split pea," the girl said, and sniffed.
God, Margaret thought, I hope she doesnt have a cold.
"Well, in that case . . . Ill take a slice of raspberry cheesecake, a slice of pear ganache, the crème brûlée, and the caramel flan."
Nose Ring began punching the buttons of a small calculator. Her fingernails were painted dark blue and sprinkled with glitter. They looked like miniature galaxies. "Do you want whipped cream on your flan?"
"Excuse me?" Margaret said. "Whipped what?"
"Cream. On the flan."
"No, thank you," Margaret said without thinking, but then, "I mean yes! Why not? Whipped cream!"
"Will that be all?"
"Tea, perhaps. Do you have peppermint tea?"
"Have a seat," Nose Ring said. "Ill bring it out when its ready."
Margaret awaited her desserts. On the café walls there were several black-and-white photographs of empty buildings, streets, docks, parks. Margaret didnt much care for them. There were no people in the photographs, and something about the time of day the photographer chose or the angle at which he took the photos gave even the most benign landmarksthe Seattle-to-Bainbridge ferry, the pergola in Pioneer Square, the Smith Towera menacing, doomsday appearance. They made Seattle look like a ghost town, and they reminded Margaret of an old movie. . . . What was it? It took place in New York City; it was about the end of the world. . . . She had found the movie very disturbing, although she couldnt say why. She couldnt for the life of her remember the name of it.
"The World, the Flesh, and the Devil," said Nose Ring as she arrived at Margarets table.
"That old black-and-white movie about the end of the world. You were saying that you couldnt remember the name of it."
"Uh-huh." Nose Ring began unloading dishes and tea things from a large tray. "Harry Belafonte, Inger Stevens, and Mel Ferrer. The World, the Flesh, and the Devil."
"Unless you mean On the Beach."
"I dont think so."
"Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, and Fred Astaire? Directed by Stanley Kramer."
"No . . . I wouldve remembered Fred Astaire."
"Or you could be thinking of Fail Safe. With Henry Fonda as the president."
"I think you were right the first time."
Nose Ring stood up straight and announced, "Im a film student."
"I see." Margaret smiled and nodded. She made another effort not to look at Nose Rings nose ring. "Well, that must be very interesting!"
Nose Ring sighed. "Do you have everything you need?"
"Yes! Thank you! It looks lovely."
Nose Ring resumed her place behind the counter.
Margaret took a small, yellowed photograph out of her wallet; it was a school picture of Daniel, taken when he was eight. She stared at it.
The whole thing was quite simple, really.
According to Robert Leising, MD, and the various other neurology, oncology, and so-on-colleagues with whom he had consulted, Margaret had a very common type of malignant brain tumor: an "astrocytoma." A slow-growing star. The traditional treatment was surgery followed by radiation.
"Whats the prognosis?" she had asked.
"Well," and here Dr. Leising had pulled one of six sheets of film off the light board and scrutinized it, "your age is?"
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
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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