She scanned the green walls, the edges of the counter that threatened her, the stained coffee mug idling on top. It smelled antiseptic, and she wondered if being too clean could be a bad thing. She closed her eyes and imagined her doctor, smiling evenly, his blond hair cut like a bowl of glass noodles. You have nothing to worry about, he’d say. It was a mistake. The x-ray was clean.
The door opened. Her doctor walked in with calculated strides. She aspired to be like him one day. Maybe she’d work in a lab, or treat animals. He kept his eyes at the floor, an x-ray pinched between his thumb and index finger. But where was his smile?
It would not come. Nor would his assurance that her blackouts were temporary. Only a series of questions to avoid the punchline.
How are you feeling? How was your week? What are your summer plans? Have you ever seen the snow?
The next day, only one word remained, clinging to her throat, unable to be removed.
Cancer. She was dying before she had a chance to live.
Therapy. Chemical Therapy. They drove needles into her wrists and shins. Fused her veins with tubes; poured vials of orange fluid. Her legs shook when she stood, so she slumped in her wheelchair and closed her eyes until she found herself drifting in the ocean, the ebbs rocking her to sleep.
You only live once.
She glared at her parents. It was their fault. They’d mixed their bodies. Created her first cell. Made her divide. Again. And again. And again. Until she was born. And now she was dividing again. Dividing to death.
Your body is responding well, her doctor said. He prescribed more pills. More chemicals. Showed her numbers and larger x-rays with brighter colors than before. Charts. Data. His face caught the sunlight through the window and collected its Vitamin D. The sunlight that strained her eyes when her parents rolled her through the park.
Her brother ran a razor across her scalp, slicing through remaining patches of hair. The strands curved like feathers to the floor. In the mirror, she saw a stranger with bruised cheeks, a pointy chin, saggy eyes. The clock ticked away. Her life, ticking away.
The doctor is not available, the receptionists said. They covered their mouths and whispered. Something about a disconnected number. A fake address. Her father demanded to know where he was. But they would say no more.
Her eyes grew heavy in the patient room. It smelled antiseptic, but dirty. Where was her doctor? Her doctor whose eyes glimmered like the ocean blue? Did he not care about her?
The new doctor walked in. His eyes dulled brown like dirt and he wore a wrinkled coat that matched his face. His skin paled in the sunlight that grimaced through the window. His hair was buzzed, uneven, harsh.
Your doctor, he said. He—
His voice trailed into the tick, tick, tick of the clock.
What? Her doctor what? Was he okay? Would she see him again?
He held the x-ray to the light. The cancer was not there.
He’s not coming back, he said.
It was true. Her doctor would never return to the hospital. He would only visit in her dreams as she clenched her blanket and broke into chilled sweats, shaking until every cell in her body ached, until every chemical unbalanced.
Andy is currently revising his first novel.