How Cancer Complicates Relationships (#fiction)

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IX

Cancer complicates things. By things I guess I mean relationships, though I’m sure it complicates many other things as well. Still, it does a number on relationships. People are just going along planning their lives with certain expectations, and—bam!—cancer throws everything out of whack.

It’s like how people thought Johnny Ramone should visit Joey on his deathbed, but Johnny thought he was the last person on earth Joey would want to see as he drew his last breaths. Would Joey be more of a monster for not visiting or for showing up? I don’t have to figure it out, so I’ll leave it to you decide.

I just know there are some people I would never want to come to me as I lay dying, but others would be forgiven and welcomed on sight without a second thought, because I miss them so much. I don’t think Joey was missing Johnny, though, so maybe Johnny made the right decision. I know I wasn’t going to choose sides, but I never know what I’m doing from minute to minute, so it’s something we have to get used to.

Anyway, Kat knew her husband was wanting a divorce when she got the diagnosis. Just his damned luck she got sick and people would think he was a real heel to leave her in the lurch. Kat was not one of the people who thought that. In all honesty, she wanted him to get out of the way so she could at least have enjoyable sex once or twice before she got too sick, so she wasn’t wanting him to hang around.

Family and friends are sure to have an opinion about whatever choice he made, though, and it wasn’t easy to negotiate everything. How do you explain to your grown daughters that you are happier for their father to leave so you can enjoy getting laid once or twice before you are laid to rest? It can be done, sure, but let’s face it—it’s not a fun conversation.

She managed the whole thing somehow, though. She had an amicable divorce, was happy with how the property was divided, and managed to sleep with her divorce attorney. Not a bad trick, really.

I’m not one to say whether there’s such a thing as a happy death, but some seem much worse than others. I guess death is always traumatic for the living. Even if you don’t know a soul in the world and die anonymously in the street, someone has to find your body. Someone has to report it. Someone has to pick it up. Some find it more traumatic than others, but you are sure to leave some pain in your wake, no matter how hard you try to avoid it.

So that’s something we have to live with. As we die.

The Treachery of Unspecified Cancers (#fiction)

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VIII

He was fun. He was a lot of fun. That’s what everyone said. He was funny and jovial and he just loved to be around people, and people loved to be around him. I swear he could make a joke out of just about anything. And he was cute, so he collected plenty of phone numbers, if you know what I mean.

It’s just that right when everyone would be getting into things and really enjoying themselves, Mike would call. And when Mike called, he always went to him, because Mike was experiencing hellish pain from cancer and needed help and support. That’s what he told us. Mike had horrible pain because he was dying from cancer of the leg.

Now, I’m not saying Mike wasn’t sick or anything like that, but I always thought cancer of the leg sounded a bit generic. I mean, I think Bob Marley’s cancer started with a melanoma on his toe, but I never heard anyone call it cancer of the toe. That would sound weird to me.

I guess people do what they have to do, and Mike didn’t leave the house much. He just kept to himself, taking medicines and things, and just trying to get through each day, hour after hellish hour. He didn’t seem to want visitors, as no one I knew was ever invited over to their place. Because I didn’t see him much, I never gave him much thought. I felt a little sorry for him, of course, and I was glad he had someone to take care of him. But I didn’t really know him—there was no connection to him, see?

So that’s why I didn’t think of inviting Mike when we decided to go to the movies. I didn’t think Mike would be interested in going out late, hobbling around town, and getting home in the wee hours.

To be honest, that’s a lie. I simply didn’t think of Mike at all when we made our plans. But I was surprised when Mike was outside the theater when we showed up. And I was surprised when Mike got a ticket and went inside with us. I was relieved, of course!, to see that he walked with no signs of pain or a limp or anything, and he seemed to be handling the cancer treatments quite well. Really, he seemed strong and healthy. I think he could have taken me in a fight, if it came to that.

And I kind of got the feeling Mike wanted me to know that.

Don’t Advertise Your Man (#fiction)

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VII

You have to be careful. I mean, you have to watch what you say. It’s easy to think everyone will see things your way, but you never know how they’re going to take things.

That’s what happened when she went to talk to Valerie. She wanted to get some things off her chest, and she just knew Valerie would be sympathetic.

Valerie was sympathetic. Of course she was sympathetic. What kind of friend wouldn’t be? And Valerie enjoyed, maybe enjoyed isn’t the exact right word, listening to other people talk about their sexual problems, so she was bound to be a good listener.

So she unloaded on Val. She talked about how her husband was supportive and everything, but the sex was too burdensome. She told Val how he had a slow fuse and could never just “get to business.” She liked a sort of “stick and go” approach, but he always made a big production out of everything with lots of cuddling, kissing, and holding before ever getting around to the good stuff. By the time he was ready, she had lost interest. You know how it is?

Valerie certainly knew how it was. Valerie understood the dynamics all too well because her husband, too, was a “stick and go” kind of person. He never cuddled her or kissed her or stroked her at all. He just went at it, had his orgasm, and fell asleep.

So, as Val listened to her friend sort of just describing her frustration with the burdens of too much kissing and cuddling, Val got a little turned on. Her fantasies were racing through her mind. She’d been lost in a kissing desert, and now her friend was describing a sort of sexual oasis, and, man, she’d like a good long drink.

So Val was a good friend, and a good listener, like I said. She shared stuff about her life, her sexual past, which had a bit of trauma, too, and her frustrations with marital difficulties. She listened intently. She made herself vulnerable. She offered warm hugs and encouragement.

Once she’d set her friend off in a cloud of mutual support, her own needs and fantasies drove her straight to the telephone. She was tentative and nervous, but desire is sometimes greater than fear. “Hi, I was just talking to your wife. She said you really enjoy long, deep kisses, just like I do.”

Love and Factitious Fascinations (#fiction)

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VI

I’ll tell you, when he came out of that waiting room, he sure did look rough. I mean, you’d say he’d really been through the wringer. His friend Bailey was waiting—as patient as she was solicitous. Fighting brain cancer takes courage, of course, but so does supporting someone with brain cancer.

But Bailey was a saint, and it was nothing to her to go round to get her car (they had to use her car, because he’d loaned his Lexus to another friend), meet him at the patient pick-up, gingerly pack him into the car, and drive him for more than an hour to his home in the suburbs. It was another hour drive back to her place, but she didn’t mind, because she was one of those kind-hearted people like they tell you to be at church. Of course she made sure he was comfortable and had plenty of fluids and snacks before she left him.

Bailey was a saint, like I said, and she would have done all this even if he hadn’t told her he struck it rich as an inventor, although she was mighty impressed by those drawings of the roller coaster he designed. Just touching the Mylar gave her a little rush. She’d never known anyone who’d made it big, and of course she was excited he wanted to invest in her bagel shop.

I mean, it really was nice of him to take her to that furniture auction and bid on the front bar for the shop. A lot of people wanted that old bar, as it was in good shape and was old enough to be considered an antique by American standards, but he just kept upping his bid till it was his, or hers, you know. She almost couldn’t believe it. No one had ever written a check that big on her behalf before. No one had ever invested anything in her, if you want to know the truth, but he really seemed to believe in her. If you’ve ever had anyone who really believed in you, then you can understand what she was going through.

She was sad for her friend, of course, but she’d also never been happier. She’d never felt this appreciated. She’d never had this much confidence. She would be happier a little longer, because it’d be another week before she learned the check bounced.

And it would be two more months before anyone asked if she knew what Munchausen syndrome was.

The Sad Solipsism of Suicide by Cop (#fiction #prose)

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IV

It’s not like I was his confidante or anything. It’s just that I did know him and talk to him from time to time, and I didn’t expect to hear anything about him on the news. But there he was.

A white teenager with reasonable grades from a “good” (meaning middle class, of course) family and neighborhood goes off the rails and does something crazy. And there were people on the TV saying how they were completely shocked. They never expected anything like that. It was totally out of character.

I mean this was way before “normcore” was a thing, but he was one of those guys with plenty of money and everything who just wanted to blend in and not bring any attention to himself. If he had any interest in fashion or trends, you couldn’t prove it by looking at him.

So I never gave him much thought until out of the blue they’re on TV saying some fool robbed a McDonald’s with a sawed-off shotgun and then kept pointing the rifle at the cops. They shot him in the leg and he fell and sort of slithered backwards into a cleaning closet all the while keeping that gun pointed at the cops. Anyone other than a middle-class white kid never would have made it that far, but couldn’t have lasted much longer. Texas cops run out of patience with guns pointed in their direction in short order, even when racism and classism aren’t factors.

So he died a bloody death in a hail of bullets, which must have been what he wanted. I couldn’t ask him, but it sounded just like what this other guy I met later said. Little Joey, the boxer, was always going on about how he’d show ’em some day. Joey would often wax poetic about dying on his front porch, surrounded by well-armed cops, shooting indiscriminately at them until he got blown to smithereens from all directions.

I lost touch with Joey, so I don’t know if he ever fulfilled his dream, but I did see a picture of him kneeling down with his fist in the air in front of a regiment of cops in LA. He made it into the LA newspaper and he didn’t even have to die for the privilege. I think his tri-colored Mohawk and metal spikes caught the attention of the photographer, but I can only guess, because I wasn’t there.

Some people just want to die impressively, but I never saw the point. Do they think they’ll be looking up from Hell, nudging their buddies, and saying, “Yeah, I really showed those cops a thing or two”?

On the other hand, I guess it’s better than how many of us die—in a hospital with no loved ones around, no control of bodily functions, and with little awareness of who anyone even is. But how does that matter, either? You go and then you’re gone. It’s simple and I decided a long time ago to stop fussing around about it.

The Lustful Ignominy of Death (#prose #fiction)

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III

The funeral was a real shit show. The deceased considered himself Christian, make no mistake about that, but his religious practice was quiet at best. He was sort of a non-practicing Methodist—just enough faith to count when he got to the other side, in case anyone was keeping score, but nothing more. Loud displays of devotion or, well, almost anything, made him uncomfortable. Maintaining decorum was paramount to him.

Can we just say he came from humble roots and wanted to keep his unrefined past buried? That’s why he’d been careful to lead a life of quiet dignity for the most part. When you’re a retired military officer, people give you a bit of respect, anyway, and he maintained a stable marriage and a reasonable display of material comforts for a few decades.

But sometimes aging men want to grab onto what they think they’ve been denied, and he saw the death of his first wife as an opportunity to indulge his long-denied carnal nature. When she died, he announced rather solemnly that he would take a year to grieve and then look for a young companion with “big tits.” And I guess he pretty much proved that you can achieve some of your goals with just a little patience and perseverance.

And so there she was—part trophy, part embarrassment. She was overtly sexual but also overtly evangelical. You might think of Tammy Faye Baker or something. Lots of makeup and tight clothes. You get the picture. And she went to one of those churches where people dance around and emote profusely. And of course no one would deny it was her right to choose the preacher for the funeral.

So you end up with all these retired professors, engineers, lawyers and so on sitting in amazed silence as this preacher says of the deceased, “I tried to think what he would want, and I realized he would want me to preach.” An hour of shouted invocations and praises followed with discomfort settling over the audience like a heavy fog.

So the man who spent a lifetime seeking quiet decorum was sent to the other side with all the subdued dignity of a summer tent revival. Due to separate circumstances, he was also sent to the afterlife with a cigarette between his lips and missing the ring he was wearing when the body was prepared for burial. Apparently his son thought he deserved the ring and that the cigarette was somehow appropriate to the occasion, and maybe he was right. Who am I to say?

 

Goat Man Tries to Save the World (#prose #poem #NaPoWriMo)

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I used to hear stories around Houston of a Goat Man who would terrorize people from time to time. This Goat Man had a muscular body and big horns like the ones you see on a Dodge Ram truck commercial.

You’d hear all different stories, of course, but the one that stuck in my mind was of a couple walking out somewhere near the Sheldon Reservoir when this goat-headed man jumped out of the woods making some really awful and threatening noises before throwing a car tire a hundred yards in their direction.

Now I guess that would give you a fright, all right, but the goat man seemed fairly subdued to me. I mean, If he could throw a tire that far, I reckon he could have hit them with one if he’d really tried. So, I’m guessing he was just trying to scare them away, and hats off, because mission accomplished.

As far as supernatural creatures with superhuman strength go, I think I’m rather fond of the goat man. I mean, he just lived in the woods and objected to people disturbing him by throwing their old tires and other junk in his home, and I can’t find one reason to blame him.

And maybe he was trying to warn us, too, about what was coming. I mean, he was probably screaming, “Y’all gotta stop throwing all this trash around, or the world’s gonna heat up and take revenge on ya!” You know, he was a supernatural environmentalist.

And he never tried to kill anyone walking around the Sheldon Reservoir, even if the gators did.

Texas Tornadoes and the Power of Prayer (#NaPoWriMo)

Screenshot 2019-04-10 at 05.58.12Oh, Good Lord, y’all, I thank we better git in the house. That sky is darker than Brother Jimmy’s sermon last Sunday, and it’s flashing like a God-damned disco. It’s gonna be a gully washer, all right, but Ronnie’s got the big truck if we git in any trouble, and we can surely trust Jesus will be with us. The last time we had a toad strangler like this, a big ol’ twister turned Alma’s roof inta toothpicks.

They say on the news that Greens Bayou is outta its banks, so y’all come on and let’s pray that God will watch over us. Come on in here away from those windows, and if you hear sumpin’ that sounds like a train, let’s hide in this closet and trust Jesus to know what’s right.

Some time later:

It’s over, so y’all come on give us a hug. It just goes to show Jesus is always by our side, watchin’ over us and protectin’ us. Uncle Raymond just called and said a tornado blew a tree on Bobby’s house and kilt him.

God bless his sweet soul.

Galena Park Memories (a story)

“Hey, Kenneth! You gotta birthday comin’ up, dontcha?” one of them blurted from the end of the counter.

“Yessir,” came the diffident reply.

“I think I’m gonna buy you a tractor. You think you’d like that?” the boisterous Screenshot 2019-03-25 at 13.31.33interrogation continued.

“Yessir.”

“I know you need sumpin’ to pull your head out of your ass!” With that, the guffaws erupted from all four at the end of the counter—all pleased with their comedic wit.

Those bullies said Kenneth was “retarded,” and they seemed to think that made it okay to talk to him like that. I was just a kid and didn’t know if words like “retarded” were bad or not, but I felt sorry for Kenneth. I don’t know how smart he was, but I know he never got my order wrong, and he could make a pretty mean grilled cheese.

He was born and raised in Galena Park, just like them bullies were, except he didn’t seem to mind it so much. I liked him because he never seemed to have anything to prove, and the cherry sodas he made were delicious. He never treated me like a kid, and I never treated him like one, either, even if he was like 40 or something.

I think that’s what bothered them bullies so much. Kenneth didn’t care. He didn’t get mad or cry or anything. He just made cherry sodas and grilled cheeses and kept the drugstore counter spotless all the while.

He was a good man, and them bullies knew it. But they had to try to convince people they were better than Kenneth, because everyone knew they damn sure weren’t any better than anyone else. And they weren’t any better than Kenneth, either.