There’s another reason I did it, Dana says.
Forced yourself on me? You just took what you wanted and didn’t even ask me. Just got on top of me and fucked me and had your way. How would you feel if I treated you like that?
Erik, you sound like I raped a virgin. Listen ,you’ve just gotta get well. You cant if we’re fighting over something like that.
What’s the rush? I say. It was aggressive chemo and radio and it’ll take awhile. A year or five, what’s the difference?
Just get over it fast as you can. Have you seen the news lately?
No, I groan. I try not to.
Don’t you turn on the TV?
I get my news online, I say. But I’ve avoided it since before I got sick. Why?
Nothing. It’s prob’ly better if you don’t. Just more bullshit to upset you.
You sure there’s nothing going on that I should know about?
Don’t be paranoid, honey.
I have to get some walking done before I get too weak. I try to run on the treadmill but i’m out of breath after a tenth of a mile. So early on this June morning I dress quietly and go out the back door. Pale, milky light guides me by the shadowy side of the house in shade of beech and maple. Stepping out of the grudging shadow into full daylight. Past vines and ivy, dappled leaves weaving brushstrokes on the canvas of pallid sky as they sway with the summerwind.
When I reach the sidewalk I have to stop and catch my breath. Just walking around the side of the house has done this to me. I walk a quarter of a mile and back to the house and I am inundated by fatigue and sweat. I take off the cotton t shirt and wring the sweat out. It seems like I sweated a gallon. Back inside past Dana watching an old movie to the shower and a skin pop and a long nap.
I walk a little further every day. June edging toward a heat wave. Green and fawn woods shade the view of the hills. Birch trees, sultry evenings, beer colored dawns. It’s full daylight at five and the birds start and will not shut up. This part of Europe boasts steep, rolling hills. Power lines near the house run up a steep, mile long hill supported by unaesthetic towers to a brick house that I wonder about. I set a goal to walk it by the end of the summer even though I can barely do a mile on the flats.
So I go for long walks in the fields by the woods. The towers and wires hum like a tuning fork. When I tire I rest under a tree or sit on a bed of pine straw. One dank morning I find a place where trees grow in stark solitude on an otherwise barren patch of ground. Three trees bunched together leaning leeward from a wind that has long since passed. An oak tree that seems to be standing on tiptoe because the spring rains have washed the soil out from beneath its roots. A hundred yards up the hill I struggle to where the woods end.
Beehives line the mowed lane running up the hillside along the power lines. There’s a peculiar echo here. I yell a couple of times and it bounces off the hill a couple of times and returns in the stagnant air. The buzzing increases as I walk on up and I realize it’s just the humming of the power lines.
By this time i’m running three miles on the treadmill and doing some very careful weight training. Dana gives me worried looks but IDK what it means. She seems scared and recalcitrant. In the middle of the night I wake from a nightmare of being buried alive and walk past her to the kitchen for a glass of water. She’s watching old movies and crying. I know something has to be wrong but the more I quiz her the more anxious and evasive she gets.
It’s well into the summer and I’ve worked myself up to walking almost to the top of the hill where the brick house is. Middle of one afternoon I come in from stifling heat and she is in the spare room watching TV. She wears beat up jeans and a faded pink tank top that droops in front. Her bare feet are up on an ottoman and she is twiddling her toes. She’s just painted her toenails; I can smell acetone. Before I got sick I used to paint them for her. It was a nice and intimate ritual and I feel my horniness emerge from behind a veil of sickness. But chemo played hell with my sex drive and I’ve been afraid to try. Since the morning after I came home from the hospital when she forced herself on me we have done nothing at all.
Whatcha watchin? I say.
I’m watching this.
Want something? I want something.
Bottled water would be nice.
When I get the bottle of water from the kitchen I can hear movie dialog all the way back there.
Thank you, she says, taking the bottle from me. Something?
We’ll both watch this, I say.
You don’t know what’s going on. I’ve been watching it for over an hour.
I’ll catch up.
I don’t want to have to explain!
You don’t have to say a word.
The movie’s not worth explaining.
I’ll catch up by watching.
But you’re interfering.
I’ll be quiet and watch?
You’re interfering by watching, she says.
Her last remark pleases her with its trenchant insight and she stretches, smiling in a kind of coiled yawn. I’d like to wipe that smile off her. I guess she wants to be alone with a bad movie. It’s all she does all day.
You work too hard, I say.
Shut up. I like my work.
Now that you’re retired you work too hard.
I’m watching this, she says.
I’m enjoying her soprano go up the register as she gets more irritated.
I give up and take a shower and grind up an Oxy and snort it. They’re getting harder to get but without em life wouldn’t be worth it. Besides, I am so sore and tight from exercise that without them I wouldn’t be able to move. My stomach will no longer tolerate Alleve or even a baby aspirin. The living room is shadowed and empty, the new peach colored sofa yawning at me politely. I get bored quickly and go stand in the doorway again.
She is watching that movie, body and soul, and working hard to tune me out. Finally I give up and go to the bedroom. It’s cool and shady in the late afternoon and would be delightful if it didn’t seem claustrophobic. She comes in for our conjoint afternoon nap 15 minutes later. I wait for her to undress but she doesn’t.
What’s going on with you, Dana?
You cry at a dumbass movie on TV that you poked fun at when you saw it six months ago. You feel some kind of urgency for me to get well fast but wont tell me why. What RU hiding from me?
She looks at me carefully and says, It’s your imagination. All that chemo they gave you has come out of you and you even smell like yourself again. But you’re still not right. I have to worry about you on these long ass walks but I know you have to take them to get better. We may have to-
She shakes her head as if she’s said too much.
You’re not seeing some chickie on the side, RU? I say.
She leaves the room and I curse her and drop off asleep.