The following is a work of fiction. Those who find similarity to any persons living or dead are really taking it way too seriously. The characters depicted are of adult age, even if they don’t act like it. Though we’re all adults here, certain elements may offend some readers:
* graphic descriptions of sexual activity
* sexual relations without consent
* sexual relations between relatives
* casual drug use
Paige lugged her small suitcase out of the elevator. Her brother’s apartment was number 23. It was just down the hall, but Paige had second thoughts right outside the door. She was going to be such a bother to Paul and his family. Maybe she should just go home?
In her own cozy, little apartment she would have her books and her record albums and her art. And most of all she would not have to put up with well-meaning but pushy family. She wouldn’t bother anyone and no one would bother her. On the other hand, she would also be two train rides and forty-five minutes from the clinic. After a session of radiation treatments, that trip was an eternity.
“Oh, fuck me,” Paige mumbled as she knocked at the door. She knew why she was here. But she didn’t have to like it.
“Paige!” her brother Paul filled the doorway. He had been quite the athlete as a young man – even going to Fordham on a football scholarship – and despite getting a little soft around the middle he still had the look of a linebacker. He gave her the condescending and compassionate look that Paige was getting a lot lately. “You should have called me from downstairs! I could have helped you with your bag.”
“I can still carry a fucking suitcase,” Paige grumbled. She was getting tired of being treated like an invalid. After a scandalized look from Paul, Paige remembered who she was talking to. “I can still carry a gosh-darn suitcase,” she amended.
“I know,” Paul admitted. “But you need to conserve your strength,” he finished weakly.
“I’ll have to remember that,” Paige rolled her eyes.
“Oh, Paige! You poor, poor dear,” Paul’s chubby but sincere wife, Margaret swept into the room with the expected condescending and compassionate look on her chubby but sincere face. She wrapped Paige in a sincere embrace with her chubby, little arms. “I have been praying for you.”
“Oh, good,” Paige said in a dry monotone. “That will help.”
“Yes,” Margaret’s expression became even more condescending. She held Paige’s hand and patted it gently. “With the Lord’s help we will beat that cancer. Just you wait.”
Paige just nodded and gave her sister-in-law a pained smile. She felt an overwhelming urge to die on the spot, just to prove the self-righteous little bitch wrong. If it was going to happen anyway, she might as well get a good retort out of it.
“I’ll just put your things in Lucy’s room,” Paul interjected.
“Lucy’s room?” Paige followed her brother down the hall. “What about the guest bedroom?”
“Oh, I’ve been sleeping in there,” Paul chuckled. To Paige, his laughter seemed forced. “It’s my snoring! It keeps Margie up at night.”
“Oh, okay.” Paige was suspicious of his story, but didn’t want to press the issue. He and Margaret were probably just fighting and Paul was too embarrassed to admit it. He had always been quick to offer relationship advice over the years. The secret to a successful partnership was to put your faith in Jesus, he pointed out more than once. It was no surprise that signs of strain in his own marriage would be swept under the rug.
She followed Paul into the first bedroom down the hall. It was a small room decorated with pink, frilly things and posters for bands Paige had never heard of. An oversized teddy bear sat at the end of the bed covered with glowing, pink spots from the sunlight filtering through the lacy, pink curtains.
“But where is Lucy going to sleep?”
“She’s at bible camp,” Paul said with clear pride. “Working as an assistant counselor. She’ll be there the whole summer.”
“And when she comes back? What if…” Paige trailed off. She wasn’t sure what she meant to say. What if I’m not dead by then? That would be a lovely pearl to drop into conversation.
“You’re welcome here for as long as you need,” Paul put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “I should have that snoring thing taken care of in a couple weeks, anyhow. Then the guest bedroom will be available again.”
“Right,” Paige nodded. Or more likely he would buy his wife some sort of jewelry and she would let him in the bedroom again. Paige looked dubiously around her niece’s pink bedroom. She hoped it would be soon.
“And you know,” Paul began in his I’m-just-trying-to-help voice. It was a voice that Paige knew well. It was inevitably used to say something that pissed her off. “Prayer really can make a difference.”
Was he really trying to start that old argument again? Paige was more than willing to let Paul and Margaret’s mumbo-jumbo slide by with no more than a sarcastic remark. But apparently her tuzla escort brother had recently learned to understand sarcasm. It was more than could be said for his painfully earnest wife. Paige opened her mouth to unleash a profanity laden counter argument, but Paul quickly cut her off.
“I know, I know! You don’t accept divine intervention as a true force in our lives,” he smiled the condescending smile of the faithful. “But sometimes when we speak to the Lord we are also speaking to ourselves. Think of it as … the power of positive thinking.”
“Yeah,” Paige admitted reluctantly. Paul did have a point. Her own oncologist had said much the same thing. Her state of mind could help her body fight the cancer. Or it could drag her down even faster. For Paige a positive attitude might literally be a matter of life and death. Of course, she wasn’t going to give up that easily.
“Maybe I should set up a shrine to the Buddha in here,” she looked around thoughtfully. “And I could work on my mediation.”
“That isn’t what I meant!” Paul exclaimed. He glared at his sister. Paige looked back sweetly and smiled. Paul quickly relented. He chuckled to himself and smiled – a true smile this time. “Ok, you win. Just meditate on happy thoughts, ok?”
“Oh, sure. You know me. Nothing but sunshine and rainbows and extra-aged tequila.” Paige had hoped for another shocked look from Paul, but he had made a quick exit. She was left alone to get settled into her temporary home.
As it turned out, Lucy’s bed was quite comfortable once Paige evicted the giant teddy bear and pushed aside several ruffled, pink pillows. Not that Paige slept well that night. Instead she lay under the pink comforter and stared at the ceiling. Thoughts rushed through her mind like hurried commuters flowing over a subway platform. Each one barely landing in her consciousness before it was pushed aside by the next.
Should she sign a new lease on her apartment? How long was her savings going to last? Did she own anything valuable that she could sell? What was going on with Paul and Margaret? What do you do at a bible camp for an entire summer? Was this thing growing in her head really going to kill her?
“Fuck this,” Paige mumbled to herself and tossed aside the covers. She clicked the light on the bedside table. Paige ran her fingers through her short, blonde hair and looked around the room. There were some books on a shelf in the corner, so she shuffled over to investigate.
Paige loved books, but she thought she was the only one in the family who ever read for recreation. Growing up, the only books in their house were a few cookbooks in the kitchen, a few dusty Readers’ Digest Condensed Books on a shelf, and – of course – the family bible. She couldn’t remember her father ever opening a single one. Not even the bible – he seemed to know what was inside without needing to actually read it. When she was a teenager, both Paul and their father would tease her about life passing her by while she had her nose stuck in some book. Of course, Paige was experiencing life plenty in those days. In the back seat of her boyfriend’s Firebird, for instance. That, she knew, wasn’t what they had in mind. No, if her father had any idea he would have had a coronary. Paul probably would have had a coronary, too.
So when Paige checked out her niece’s bookshelf, she wasn’t expecting much. She thought there might be a Bible and possibly a bible study guide or two – something along the lines of How to Get the Most from Your Bible or maybe How to Work Bible Quotes into Everyday Conversation. She wasn’t expecting anything remotely interesting, but beggars cannot be choosers. Besides, it might be good for a laugh.
Instead Paige found several excellent novels. There was a bible, of course. Two actually: a King James Version and a New American. But there was also The Giver by Lois Lowry, My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult, and even The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
“Oh, I love this one,” Paige whispered when she came across Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. Little Lucy was full of surprises! Paige pulled the book off the shelf and leafed through the pages. It was a good thing for Lucy – and for Paige – that Margaret wasn’t much of a reader either. “Your mom would totally freak if she knew what was in here.”
Paige curled up in Lucy’s bed to read by the light of the tiny lamp on the night stand. Soon she had left her own troubles behind and was engrossed in diabolical schemes, heart breaking betrayal, and a passionate lesbian love affair. At around two o’clock in the morning Paige finally drifted off to sleep with the book still clutched in her fingers.
The next morning Paige wandered into the kitchen, squinting against the light. Margaret was at the kitchen table watching some sort of news program on a tiny television on the counter and holding a steaming mug of coffee.
“Morning,” Paige mumbled.
“Good morning, sleepy head,” Margaret grinned and popped up out of her seat. “I thought the smell of a nice pot of tuzla escort bayan coffee would get you up and around!”
“Nah,” Paige shook her head and grabbed a mug for herself from the rack by the sink. It said “World’s Greatest Dad” but she expected Paul would be willing to share. “My sense of smell is fu- err- messed up. I can’t smell a thing. Everything smells like lemons to me.”
“What? How strange! How did that happen?” Margaret filled Paige’s mug with dark brown liquid. “Was it from snorting drugs?”
“No! I don’t snort drugs!” Paige snapped. “Who the fuck told you that?”
“Oh, I just thought,” Margaret shrugged, “what with you being an artist and all. Living down that way. With … those people. They do that sort of thing down there, don’t they?”
“Shit, Margaret! Not everybody in Crown Heights is a drug addict, ok?” Paige took a deep breath and rubbed her temple with a free hand. “My sense of smell, you see, is affected by this tumor that’s rearranging my frontal cortex. You know, my brain? Remember that?”
“Oh!” Margaret replied with eyes wide. “I didn’t know that! Goodness! You seem so tense. Are you in pain, dear?”
“Not physically.” Paige took a sip of her coffee. It was actually a pretty good cup of coffee. That was a good thing because Paige was not in a frame of mind to deal with bad coffee at that point. “Where’s Paul, anyway?”
“He went in to the office,” Margaret said loudly and with exaggerated enunciation. “He has been gone for an hour and a half already.”
“Ok,” Paige nodded. “You know, I can hear fine.”
“Oh, that is such a relief, isn’t it?” Margaret patted Paige’s hand and turned back to her television program.
Paige spent the morning sipping her coffee and watching television with Margaret. They watched something that was apparently intended to be news. To Paige, it mostly resembled fear mongering, bigotry, and conspiracy theories about the government.
“Isn’t that terrible,” Margaret would cluck with disapproval from time to time.
“It really is,” Paige would agree, “terrible.” That was the extent of their conversation. When the time for Paige’s appointment at the clinic came around, she excused herself and went into the pink bedroom to change clothes. On her way out, Paige saw Margaret standing quietly by the front door with a bulky purse hanging over her shoulder and a light jacket draped over her arm.
“Going somewhere?” Paige asked as she passed.
“I’m taking you to your appointment, of course.”
“Thanks, but I can make it on my own.”
“Oh, it’s no trouble.” Margaret followed Paige into the hallway and turned to lock the apartment door with a key produced from the recesses of her huge purse.
“Don’t you have,” Paige frowned, “something else to do?”
“Well, I’ll have to get dinner ready for when Paul gets home,” Margaret said helpfully, “but there will be plenty of time for that after your treatment.”
Paige sighed and resigned herself to walking to the clinic with Margaret. She hoped that the shorter woman could at least manage to avoid praying, preaching, or otherwise proselytizing for the three-block walk. Paige might be tempted to push her sister-in-law in front of a bus otherwise.
The two women arrived at the clinic without committing murder, which Paige took as a good sign. Margaret settled into the waiting room seat and produced a pair of knitting needles and a great ball of green yarn the size of a soccer ball. Paige rolled her eyes and thumbed through a six-month old copy of Time magazine. Soon her name was called and Paige left Margaret behind.
“Domestic partners are allowed to accompany you into the treatment room,” the nurse pointed out as she led Paige down a plain hallway.
“That’s nice,” Paige shrugged. “But I’m still single.”
“Oh? That isn’t your partner?”
“What? Fuck no!” Paige was taken aback. She didn’t mind that the nurse thought she was homosexual. Paige had enjoyed more than a few same-sex relationships in the past. It wasn’t her favorite but it wasn’t something she was ashamed of either. No, she was insulted that the nurse had linked her with Margaret. “Don’t you think I could attract a hotter woman than that?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” the nurse giggled. “Looks aren’t everything. She reminds me of my Mom. Not the most glamorous, but she really knew how to take care of the people she loved.”
“She reminds me of my mom, too. That’s probably why my brother likes her so much,” Paige followed the young nurse into a small room filled with strange equipment. It was Paige’s least favorite room in the entire city. “It’s also probably why I dislike her so much.”
Afterward, when Paige stumbled into the waiting room feeling like her head had been cut open and her brains scooped out, soaked in lighter fluid, and lit on fire Margaret was the first person she saw. The short, chubby woman tossed aside her knitting and rushed to Paige’s side.
“Oh, goodness, Paige!” she clucked. “You look awful!”
“Thanks a lot,” escort tuzla Paige slurred.
“Oh, you poor, poor dear. Let’s get you home.”
“Good fuckin idea,” Paige mumbled. Her head seemed to weigh a hundred pounds and the room was gently turning on an unseen axis. She felt like she might throw up at any moment. On the walk home, she briefly considered stepping in front of a bus herself. It would at least be quicker than going in for regularly scheduled appointments to have her brains fried.
The two women slowly shuffled down the sidewalk, which was thankfully empty at that time of the day. Paige had her arm over Margaret’s shoulders. Margaret was happily shuffling along, supporting Paige with one arm and her vast purse in the other.
“What do you do all day, anyway,” Paige asked as they waited for a traffic light to change.
“Oh, you know,” Margaret said with a shrug. At least as much of a shrug as she could manage with Paige leaning on her. “Cook. Clean. I keep the place tidy and then I do a real deep clean every Friday. I like to do the grocery shopping on Wednesday. Monday is the day for laundry. I help out at our church on weekends. I keep busy.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Paige said with a skeptical edge.
Back at the apartment, Paige collapsed on Lucy’s pink bed and slept for the rest of the afternoon. When she awoke, she was feeling – not quite good exactly – but at least human again. There were voices rattling down the hall, so she traced them back to the source.
“… can’t keep going on like this,” Paul was saying with strain in his voice.
“No. No, no, no,” Margaret insisted petulantly. What were they talking about, Paige wondered. She considered hanging back in the hallway to listen to more of the conversation, but her empty stomach overruled her curiosity.
“What’s for dinner?” Paige called down the hall.
“Oh, you’re awake,” Paul poked his head out of the kitchen. “How did it go today?”
“Same as ever,” Paige answered without much enthusiasm. No one said much that night at dinner. Likewise, after dinner they retired to the living room to watch television. Paul put on some sort of mindless game show. Paige grabbed the novel she had been reading and curled up on the end of the sofa. She did her best to tune out the television. When she would notice Paul from time to time he seemed to be tuning out the program as well. He would just stare into space with a faraway look.
“Well, I’m going to bed,” Margaret announced when the local news came on. “Goodnight everyone!”
“Night,” Paige replied without looking up from her book.
“Goodnight,” Paul stood and followed Margaret. The two disappeared down the hallway together, but Paul returned a minute later alone. He flopped down in his recliner with a heavy sigh.
“What’s the matter?” Paige asked.
“What? Oh, nothing. Why do you ask?” Paul evaded.
“Whatever,” Paige mumbled into her book. If he wanted to pretend that his life was just peachy keen, that was his business. She looked up at the television. The local news appeared to be covering some sort of dog talent show. Dear God, she thought, kill me now. “Fuck it. I’m going to bed.”
“Goodnight,” Paul said absently. He seemed to have gotten interested in the dog talent show suddenly. Paige rolled her eyes and walked off down the hallway.
She crawled under the pink comforter and lay in the dark for quite a while. She heard Paul turn off the television and pad down the hallway on his way, she assumed, to the guest bedroom. Still she couldn’t relax enough to fall asleep. She could feel the tension tying her midsection in knots and grinding at her jaw. Her body seemed to insist on staying awake until she absolutely collapsed of exhaustion.
She turned on the light and tried reading Lucy’s novel. She had spent the entire evening using the book to avoid Paul and Margaret’s inane television, however, and Paige’s eyes were tiring. The words on the page were swimming in and out of focus. She tossed the book aside and looked around the pink, frilly bedroom. It was starting to look as though she might die of boredom rather than cancer.
Paige got up and paced around the room. There was a poster of four scruffy-looking young men with a band called “tenth avenue north.” Next to that was a very pretty blonde girl in a long flowered dress. Paige didn’t recognize any of them. There were stuffed animals of all shapes and colors. She pulled open a drawer full of t-shirts. The next drawer was full of blue jeans. The drawer on top contained plain, white cotton underwear in neat rows.
“Wait, what’s this?” Paige caught a glimpse of bright red in the back of the drawer. She dug through the white granny panties and pulled out a tiny, red thong. It was risqué even by Paige’s standards. There was nothing but a tiny triangle connected by a few narrow ribbons of fabric. “Well, well. Miss Lucy, you are the most interesting person in this family.”
The proper thing to do, Paige knew, would be to put the scandalous underwear back in its hiding place and go back to bed. She also knew, however, that doing the proper thing had never been her strong suit. “Life is too short” had always been her motto. It was only getting shorter.