Excerpt from Broken For You by Stephanie Kallos, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Broken For You

by Stephanie Kallos

Broken For You
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2004, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2005, 400 pages

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As if he doesn’t know, Margaret thought. "Seventy-five."

"Seventy-five." Dr. Leising nodded thoughtfully. He glanced at Margaret before resuming his study of the film. "Depending on the characteristics of the tumor—which we can’t clearly define without getting in there and removing as much of it as possible—with treatment you have a chance of living as long as several years or as little as two."

"How much of a chance?"

Dr. Leising didn’t look up. "Twenty-five percent."

"That’s with treatment?"

"Yes."

"What happens if we don’t do anything?"

"Excuse me?"

"I mean, if I only have a twenty-five percent chance of surviving this anyway, why don’t we just leave it alone?"

"Maybe I haven’t made myself clear, Margaret," Dr. Leising said, as if he were speaking to a nincompoop. That was when he resumed his discussion of Margaret’s slices in a way that clearly constituted the American Medical Association’s form of filibustering.

So, this was her choice: She could either undergo a lot of treatment and die, sooner or later, or she could undergo no treatment at all and die, sooner or later.

"Is something wrong?" Nose Ring had returned. "You haven’t tried anything."

Margaret swallowed hard. Now that all of this lovely food was in front of her, she found that she wasn’t hungry after all. She took a sip of tea, just to be polite.

"Is that your grandson?" Nose Ring asked, leaning closer. "Cute."

She’s quite a young girl beneath all that makeup, Margaret realized. And much too thin. "Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"

Nose Ring shrugged. "What is it?"

"Well, it’s a rather trite question, I suppose, but if you found out that you had only a short while to live, maybe a year or two, how would you spend your time?"

The girl frowned. She picked absentmindedly at her fingernails, and showers of silver glitter flaked off and fell toward the floor. Margaret tried to follow the trajectory of the glitter, but it seemed to vanish into thin air.

"I suppose I’d think about whatever it is that scares me the most—relationshipwise, I mean—and then do it. Do the opposite of what I’ve always done."

Margaret studied Nose Ring. She’d always assumed that people who embraced dramatic vogues in fashion were actually compensating for an innate dullness of character or chronic insecurity. She’d expected someone who looked like Nose Ring to offer a superficial answer to her rather trite question: "Take up hang-gliding! Sail around the world! Race hot-air balloons!" Something along those lines.

"It would be a last chance, wouldn’t it?" the girl went on. "To break all your old bad habits?" She caught herself worrying her hands and promptly stopped. "Well anyway, here’s your bill. Pay whenever you’re ready." She made her way back to the counter, looking pensive.

Margaret contemplated her own habits. She stared at Daniel’s photo. He had been at that age when most children are self-conscious in front of a camera. But in this picture his expression was relaxed, serious, and sage. "You can see exactly what he’s going to look like when he’s twenty!" Margaret remembered saying to Stephen all those years ago, when the package they’d ordered came home from school: one 8x10, two 5x7s, four 3x5s, and many, many billfolds.

But Daniel would never be twenty. The 8x10 remained unframed. The billfolds were never passed out to school friends and teachers. Margaret wondered if Stephen still kept a photograph of their son in his wallet, along with pictures he surely carried of the children he had with his second wife. His living children.

"Jimbo?" Nose Ring was on the telephone, speaking gently. "I’m sorry I yelled before. . . . Yeah, I know. . . . I love you, too. You want me to pick up some Häagen-Dazs on the way home? . . . No, I’m not kidding."

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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