PLEASE READ THE FOLLOWING CAREFULLY: THIS IS A RAW SAMPLE FROM A WORK IN PROGRESS CALLED “THE BALDIE CHRONICLES.” IT IS NOT YET PUBLISHED. IT IS NOT YET FINISHED. (PROTECTED, THOUGH) THE COVER IS SOMETHING THAT I THREW TOGETHER ABOUT 5 MINUTES AGO. I AM ASKING FOR COMMENTS, THOUGHTS, OPINIONS, WHETHER OR NOT YOU ARE INTERESTED. IF YOU READ, PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT. THANK YOU.
Elizabeth Gardner was sitting in Dr. Keiller’s office wondering what it was that had brought her to an oncologist.
The mammogram tech had muttered something about “calcifications” and taken extra views of Liz’s left breast. Dr. Chevalier, the radiologist had said something about a “definite mass” and referred her to Dr. Keiller for a biopsy.
Liz started a bit. “Excuse me?”
Dr. Keiller smiled. “It’s okay,” she said. “A lot of patients have a hard time focusing once they’re in here. Tell me about your mother.”
“Um, she died six months ago. Lung cancer.”
Liz nodded. “Pack a day. Marlboro Reds.”
Dr. Keiller made a note. “Did she quit?”
“Not even with an oxygen tank.”
“Gone 5 years. Car accident.”
“Me? I’m still here.” Liz joked. The doctor barely smiled. Okay, not time for humor. “I’ve never smoked. Up until a couple of years ago, my co-workers were allowed to smoke at their desks, but I never did.” Sensing the next questions. “Look, I’m not much of a drinker and I don’t do drugs.” She gestured at her rounded body. “My thing is food.”
“How about your grandmothers? Aunts?”
“No. No breast cancer there.” Bitterness and spite that went to the bone, perhaps, but not cancer. “One grandmother died of kidney failure and the other one had heart trouble.” Like no heart, Liz thought.
“You brought up food. High fat diet? There are studies linking it to cancer.”
“Doctor, truthfully, there may be studies that link too many orgasms to cancer. I eat a lot. Probably more junk than I should.” Liz was having a hard time holding onto her cool. “If this IS cancer, is dieting going to reverse it?”
“Probably not. The studies aren’t complete.”
“So, where do we stand?” Where do I stand?
Dr. Keiller flipped a page in her appointment book. “Next Tuesday, I have an opening at 1 PM.”
“I’ll take it.” The doctor wrote out a card with the information. Liz shook her hand and left.
As she walked back to her car, Liz’s brain kept circling back to the conversation. Breast cancer. Maybe yes, maybe no, but…
I don’t need this; I really don’t, thought Liz as she climbed into her car. She tried to focus on navigating the twisting streets of the North Shore, but part of her mind was replaying the last 6 months in her head.
First, her mom had died after a long bout with lung cancer. Liz remembered the oxygen tank, the endless drifts of used Kleenex (some spattered with blood), the pills. She remembered pulling her mother off the kitchen floor one night because Delia had been sneaking out to the garage for a smoke and was too weak to make it. The first home health aide had stolen money and a credit card. Liz had found out the second one used to go out to meet her boyfriend in the middle of her shift. After that, Liz had pulled strings to get Delia checked into the local hospice. They’d made a point of telling Liz what a difficult patient she’d been while talking about the generous donations the families of other patients, nicer patients had made.
About 2 months after her mother’s death, Liz’s old faithful orange cat, Brubeck, had died. He’d seen her through high school, college, law school at night, heartbreak and been a huggable furry rock in her life. Millie Wentworth had offered to get her a kitten right away, but Liz had refused. You can’t replace such a good friend; Brube deserved to be missed and mourned.
Liz also found out she’d flunked the bar exam for the second time. By one point. One lousy, rotten, stinking point. And Brubeck wasn’t there to let her cry into his fur.
With any luck, the mass would be a cyst. And she’d promise her doctor that she’d cut down out coffee, chocolate, anything with caffeine. And she’d promise to lose weight and exercise at the same time.
At a stoplight, Liz thought, with any luck, it would be a cyst but luck hadn’t been part of her life for a while.
She pulled into her driveway, turned off the engine and sat for a minute. In hindsight, she was glad that she’d decided to pass on her third attempt at the bar for now. She would have really waffled it.
As she unlocked her back door and entered the kitchen, Liz noticed the dirty dishes in the sink and a loaf of bread left open on the counter.
No answer. Liz could hear muffled music. Morgan was probably in her room with the TV on. Before heading upstairs, she loaded the dishwasher, put away the bread and wiped down the counters. Morgan was not very conscientious.
As Liz walked through the living room, she noticed the phone was off the hook. That meant one thing: Sean was here. Ducky.
Liz was just about to knock on Morgan’s door when the music paused and she heard Morgan moan loudly and a man’s rhythmic grunting. She also caught a faint whiff of pot smoke coming from under the door. Lovely. Well, that explained the mess in the kitchen. Morgan’s boyfriend was a moocher, a stoner and spoiled rotten by his well-to-do parents. He always seemed to turn up after Liz had gone grocery shopping. Morgan never had any real food of her own; she seemed to live on boxed macaroni and cheese, takeout pizza (with leftovers staying in the fridge until Liz threw them out) and Diet Coke. Despite Liz carefully explaining that she wasn’t shopping for the entire household, a lot of food disappeared each week. And it had become necessary for Liz to hide the liquor.
The music stopped and was replaced by muffled conversation. Liz crossed her arms and leaned on the wall. She had a pretty good idea of what was coming next.
The door opened a crack and the talk became clearer. “C’mon, Baby, just cook up that beautiful steak. You always make me work up a sweat, you bad girl.” Liz heard what sounded like a slap, probably on Morgan’s ass. “She won’t miss it. It’s not like she’s going to starve anytime soon.”
As they emerged from the room, Morgan was saying, “We’ve gotta get rid of the pot smell because…”
“She doesn’t allow it in the house,” finished Liz. Morgan and Sean stopped dead in their tracks. “It’s in your lease. No illegal drugs.” She had meant to talk about her upcoming biopsy with Morgan, but this wasn’t the moment.
There was silence for a minute. Liz stared calmly at the pair who began to fidget.
Sean spoke first, “Look, it’s just some pot.”
Liz didn’t move. “I don’t care. It’s illegal. I don’t want it in my house.”
Morgan got defensive. “You have booze.”
“I don’t get to hold onto it very long, do I, Sean?” Liz answered sharply. He looked uncomfortable. She continued, “If this was 1930, I wouldn’t have booze in the house.” Liz was exasperated. “Morgan, this isn’t the first time we’ve had this discussion.”
Morgan shifted on her feet. “I know and we weren’t gonna smoke, but Sean was telling me about this new strain and it’s primo bud and, well, he was showing me and the next thing you know…” she shrugged, caught Sean’s eye and giggled. He pinched her ass which made her giggle even more.
“I don’t care if it’s smoked, raw, rolled in cornflakes, dipped in chocolate or the Breakfast of Champions…”
“Oh hey, this one is called ‘Breakfast of Champions,” James interjected.
Liz gave him a look and he shut up. “Do not bring it into my house in any form.” Liz looked at both of them. “Is that clear?” Morgan looked sulky.
“And Sean?” He looked at Liz.
“That ‘beautiful steak’ is earmarked for something else. You have a job. Buy your own damned food; I’m sick of feeding you. Starting right now, unless you buy it, you don’t eat it. And since Morgan hasn’t gone grocery shopping, I guess you two are leaving to find something to eat.”
Sean looked shame-faced and mumbled something about being broke from buying weed. Liz made a mock sympathetic face. “And…what a surprise…here you are with the munchies. How could you have known?” She turned to Morgan, “So it’s going to be a bag of Cheetos from Cumbie’s. Sounds perfect.” As she turned towards her own room, Morgan took a last shot.
“God, why are you such an uptight bitch?”
Liz turned and looked at her. “It’s an ugly job, but someone’s gotta do it.” She walked away from the pair and shut the door behind her. She thought she heard, “Hippo” come from the other side of the door.
Liz pulled on her favorite old sweats and padded downstairs. She needed Millie. And she needed nachos. As the chips and cheese bubbled away in the microwave, Liz dialed Millie’s number. Millie answered as the microwave dinged its end signal.
“Hey, what’s up?” Millie asked.
Liz dumped salsa on the plateful. No mystery why she wasn’t a slender reed. She dug in. “Might have a problem.”
“Only one?” Liz could hear the sound of Millie struggling with a zipper on her end. “I could make out a list for you.”
“Starting with my lousy taste in friends. Har dee har har. No, this is serious. Focus.”
“I can’t stop for too long. Getting ready for a date.” Millie was breathing heavily.
“Oh, yeah? Do I know him?”
“I doubt it. His name is John; he’s in the DA’s office. We got each other’s coffee at Dunks the other day and there was an argument and he said he thought I was cute and…”
Liz snorted. “Really? Are you sure it wasn’t more like he got your coffee and you clobbered him with your briefcase? I’ve seen you before you’ve had your morning coffee. It’s not pleasant.” She crunched on a loaded chip. “Thank God I don’t have to do that nonsense anymore.”
She heard Millie mutter, “Yeah, right.” Millie was not a fan of Brad, Liz’s boyfriend.
“Stop crunching in my ear. We’re going out. What’s the problem?”
Liz told her about the mammogram and upcoming biopsy. She heard Millie’s activity stop.
“Liz, what do you think?”
“I don’t know what to think. Biopsy’s not until next week and I have to keep going until then.”
“Do you want me to cancel and come over there?” She would have.
“No. You go bamboozle this guy into thinking you’re wonderful and tell me what lies I’ll need to swear to later.” Liz hung up the phone and finished her nachos. As she rinsed off the plate and loaded it into the dishwasher, Liz thought about her life and where she stood.
35 years old, parents gone, no siblings, cousins she didn’t see often (and didn’t really want to, either) and she had people calling her “Hippo” behind her back. People who were living under her roof mostly because she didn’t want to be alone.
Liz made her way to her living room and sofa. She hugged a pillow to her chest. It wasn’t warm and purring like Brubeck had been, but it would have to do. She drew herself into a ball around the pillow and closed her eyes.
35 years old and never really lived, she thought. I’ve existed.
She buried her face in the pillow for a minute, trying to pretend it could purr.