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The 'C' word


I didn't decide to go on a drinking binge. I slipped into it naturally, like a glove on a cold day.

Her call rattled me.

I placed my phone on the bar and peered at it until I could no longer stand its silence.

I turned it off and shoved the damn thing deep into a pocket.

If she wouldn't talk to me, then I wouldn't talk to anyone.

She told me not to call any more. She said she would ring when she was ready. If she was ready.

"Just wait," she said.

"How long am I supposed to wait?" I asked.

"If I not call in a few day…then...well...not be angry."

Of course I'd be angry!

Her English was broken, but I could still read between the lines. If she didn't call by the weekend, then she'd never call. That's what she was trying to say. It would be goodbye. Forever.

I said I'd only wait until Friday. After that I'd ring every day.

She laughed. "Ring for what?"

I must have sounded desperate. I just didn't want to lose her. I wasn't thinking clearly, and she was mocking me. How could she be so goddamn flippant?

"Please, call tomorrow," I pleaded.

"Cannot," she said.

"Then call the day after tomorrow."

I tried to make her promise. She wouldn't.

Our conversation had been tense, awkward. Full of unsaid regrets. She tried to console me. That felt odd.

She spoke soft, sweet, slow. She said I would be ok.

At least she didn't say goodbye.

I slammed down the phone and picked up a rum. It was the only thing to do. I finished the first and ordered a second. I carried on drinking until dawn.

Apparently, T-Bone took me home. Apparently, I refused to leave when the cashier tried to close, so she sent a girl to bang on T-Bone's door and fetch me.

T-Bone didn't bother to get dressed. Apparently, the uncivilized ogre plodded up the street in his flip-flops and jocks. No doubt his beer gut hung over his groin, and he looked naked.

I told T-Bone to go fuck himself. So he says. I don't remember any of that.

Sometimes we make decisions without fully appreciating the impact on others until it's too late. They move on. Things slip out of our control, yet remain our fault. Maybe I'd screwed everything up?


Tomorrow came. I spent it in bed. My temples throbbed.

The phone's silence grew increasingly brutal. Violent. It ripped into me.

'If she calls, she calls,' I told myself. 'If she doesn't call, well, it's out of my control.'

At some point, it was within my control. Kind of. At some point, I could have chosen another course of action. I could have said and done things differently. But now, there were no more cards in the pack.


I considered pounding my head against the wall to make it ache some more. Sometimes the only reprieve from hurt is pain. I wanted to smash her out or my head.


The following day, I woke with a colossal headache. I staggered back to the bar and resumed where I'd left off.

I liked having a headache. It was a small comfort. It was a distraction from the heart.

I didn't turn on my phone until the afternoon. There was no way she'd call before evening, but I turned it on early, just in case.

She didn't call. It frustrated the hell out of me, but it wasn't entirely unexpected.

I dissolved hours in drink. I wanted today to rush towards tomorrow. That's when I might hear her voice.

T-Bone barged into my room. "What the hell is up with you, ya fuckin' dick?" he blurted. "Since when have given a shit about any girl?"

I only told him that I missed her already. Or more to the point, I missed how things had been when we first met. That's all he knew. I don't talk much. I write things down. Besides, it wasn't possible to explain things to him, or anyone else.

I'd asked her little about her life, and I'd asked even less of late. I tried to avoid it. Like T-Bone advised, best to not give a damn, for sometimes caring for someone is too great a cross to bear. I'm not strong enough for it.

I lay in bed, trying to recall all the details of her life that she'd shared. She was brought up by monks in Isarn, the poor North-East province of Thailand. There'd been trouble in her family, so her mother took her to a temple when she was five and left. She said the monks were very kind. She loved them still. They taught her to read and write. They never touched her. That was the only terrible thing about it, she said.

Buddhist monks are barred from touching women and girls. She had nobody to hold her, nobody to hug. Then the monks took in other children, and now she had arms to sleep in.

She said the monks never spoke about sex. She was pregnant at fourteen.

She reconciled with her mother after her own child was born.

Her mother tended to the baby. She moved far from their village to find work, but she was back with them now.

She was quite. Softly spoken. Innocent. Trusting. She didn't drink alcohol or eat meat. She never complained. She didn't get angry. She never had a bad word for anyone. She was totally unlike me.

I didn't pursue her. But she kept reaching out, like moonlight. God knows why. She forced herself upon me with a pervasive gentleness. I resented it now. She should have left me alone. I’d known her for a few years already, and now, I wished I'd never met her.

I was living and working in Thailand. She was always pestering me visit this and that temple with her. We hung out. She was not my girlfriend. Not my lover. She was a friend. I hardly cared. But then everything changed. And now, as I lay in bed, my head ached with memories of her.

T-Bone turned to exit my room. "Oh, for Christ sake get over it. Stop acting like a heart-broken looser," he said.

He didn't understand. He couldn't understand. There was no way to bring myself to talk about her. My lips couldn't say she was dying.

I peel my brain like an onion, but I can't recall her telling me she was sick. There is a gap. I remember her healthy, full of life, laughing, fresh, young. And I remember her ill, dull skinned, a bag of bones, seemingly old. Her hair coming out in clumps. Vomiting. Pathetically tired and weak. I have no memory of the transition.

Only once did I ask her what the illness was.

"I not know name in English," she said.

It was a lie of course. I didn't say anything. I just remember thinking it wasn't fair. She was only twenty-four, and it just wasn't fucking fair.

Yet still, she never complained.

She asked to come and stay with me for a few days.

She couldn't sleep. Nights have never passed so slowly. She lay doubled up on my bed, whimpering. I kissed her balding head.

I felt so fucking useless; unable to reach into her body, and transplant her illness into my own futile flesh, I wasn't real. Weightlessness and insignificant, I vanished beside her. Only her suffering remained.

She returned home, to be with her mother and child. I was glad when she left.

I called her occasionally, but it didn't want to. I hated calling. I didn't need to know about this. I only called her out of duty. But she always thanked me.

"How are you doing? Are you in pain?"

"Hurt a lot," she'd say.

I asked little else. I just told her she was brave. My hero. She insisted she was no different from everyone else. Still, I don't know how the hell she stood it. It dragged on for too goddam fucking long!

She said she found peace through mediation.

"I stay at temple now," she informed me one day. "I just try be calm. It's ok. Monk say we all have to die."

We do. But not so young. Not so horribly. Not in such a cruel, drawn-out manner.

I wanted to drive a stake into the heart of God.


"When are you going back to the hospital?" I asked.

"I think not go back," she replied sheepishly.

I was too horrified to reply.

"I think not stay hospital anymore. But I not sure. Doctor say have maybe two more year."

"Sorry?"

"Maybe two more year."

"So you can get better in that time!" I said.

"No." she said.

"Of course you can. Why not?"

"Well, can have operation. Doctor say maybe operation take everything out and be ok."

"Great!"

"But doctor say fifty percent I not wake up from operation."

That's bullshit, I thought. What the fuck do doctors know? They just make up this rubbish. Years and percentages! They state them like facts, but they don't have a fucking clue. It's just guessing.

"What are you going to do?" I asked.

"I not have operation."

"No?"

"If get two more year, for see daughter, I happy."

I told her that it wasn't enough. I said after two years she'd want two more.

"I don't know," she said.


I should have kept my stupid mouth shut. It wasn't my buisness. I was being selfish. She was at peace with her two more years, and I should have left it there. But still, I just couldn't stand the thought of a count down on her life. I drew in a breath.

She said there was really nothing for her to decide anyhow.

"How do you mean?" I asked.

She said the operation cost too much. She had no free medical care that we foreigners enjoy in our counties, and she didn't have the money for another operation.


"I can pay!" I blurted.

She was silent for an age. "Really?" She finally said.

"Of course. If you want. How much is it?"

She told me. "Too much," she added.

I told her not to think about that.

Why hadn't she ask earlier? Didn't it occur to her? Was she embarrassed to ask? For Christ sake, it was only money!

"Maybe better have two more year, than fifty-fifty have nothing," she said, now backpedalling.

I didn't say anything. It wasn't my place. But then she asked, "What you do if me?"

I couldn't lie. I said I think I'd risk the operation. But that was just me. And I couldn't really say without being in that position. But probably I'd risk it. I think.

"Then I do that," she said.

"No! You have to decide for yourself," I protested. "You can't just say you'd do what I would do!"

She said she'd think about it, and call me back in a day or two.


"I don't know how to decide," she said when we spoke again.

"I'm so tired. I don't know anymore. If you want give money for operation, I have. If you think better not give, ok. I just want be peaceful now. I no have energy for think about this. Only want be calm. I not want stress for make decision. Thank you for decide for me."

I couldn't make myself sick enough on the third day after her operation. I would stay as feeble as possible until she called. I would vomit upon the world until it drowned in my spew.

I wanted to wallow in a gutter. To be kicked by passers-by. To be pissed on by dogs. I wanted to be beaten to a pulp; anything to relieve the weight of what I'd done.


Had I stolen two years from her? Two years! From now until two years hence! How could I live through that time if she did not? Two years is a fucking long time to cut off someone's life!

Seven-hundred and thirty days. Seventeen-thousand five-hundred and twenty hours. She could have spent this time with her daughter.

I'd hack decades off my life to give her back a single day I'd stolen.

Why hadn't she called yet? I had no one to ask. I didn't have her mother's number or even the name of the hospital. I never asked or it. I hadn't wanted to know. Maybe I'd thought it better to keep everything vague, like a dream? I didn't want to give her illness credibility though details. Besides, she had my number. That was enough. She said she'd call when she was ready.


I waited to see if I'd killed her. The silence of my mobile tore me apart. Every passing second pierced me like a dagger.

Over and over, I screamed at her in my head, "For Christ sake, Just fucking call!"



 

* This is something I wrote around 2007 about someone I will always think of. It's not the typical, satirical fiction on this site, and I really don't feel that comfortable posting it. Anyhow, WTF.

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