The Northville Review
an online literary journal

Beth Posniak Fiencke

The big news in the cancer ward is all about that motherfucker John Edwards.

Cheating on a woman with stage 4 — no one can believe it. And the kids and the two Americas.

“His political career is down the tubes,” they say. His wife’s days are numbered, I know.

I always thought he looked like a pumpkin — a cute one, not a big angry jack-o’-lantern. But ever since they caught him, his eyes and lips have sunk into his face. He’s a shrunken balloon — a pathetic child. He’s been left out to rot past Thanksgiving, and he knows it.

Hanging his head in shame.

“He’s got some nerve,” says a woman in the oncology waiting room. “Too busy getting his ya ya’s to take care of the wife who needs him. I thought that man had values.”

“What’s a ya ya?” I ask her, really wanting to know.

She looks up, stony-faced, trying to read my expression.

“No, I understand what you mean,” I say. She nods, turns back to the purple scarf she’s knitting. She’s pudgy and has all of her hair. I can’t tell whether she’s waiting for someone, or for treatment herself.

When my friends come, they eye the door and watch the clock, but they’re still my friends.

They’re here after all, with their shifty eyes. I tell morbid jokes, and watch them twitch.

“Don’t leave me those tulips,” I say. “They might grow tumors too.”

Or, “Those would really be more appreciated in the AIDS unit.”

“Breast cancer has not made me appreciate the color pink any more than I did before, bitches.”

No one gets my humor anymore. They can’t tell when I’m joking, the social worker said.

It’s nowhere near as bad as it could be — no bone scans needed in my case yet. It barely even got to the lymph nodes. We’re just being extra careful, as the doctors say. But if I had a husband, and he did that to me? There’s no way I’d want to die in his arms. Not to save face. Not for anything. I don’t believe in karma.

I pull my sweater on and look for a magazine. I’m always hot or always cold in this building. It’s like I’m going through menopause at thirty-two, but really I’m just preparing to lose my right breast. First my hair, but that will grow back. According to the plastics guy, my bosom could look better than ever in just a year. With some scarring.

A few years ago I was lonely. The men I dated bored me. My friends were planning weddings, getting pregnant. I collected chopsticks on my coffee table, and subscribed to too many magazines. I craved excitement.

Now I have support groups and sisterhood circles. My friends bring me chicken casseroles when I’m home, toddlers in tow.

The men I used to go out with are getting married or getting promoted. One of them brought me roses after the first surgery. He’d grown a double chin, and his skin was sallow in the hospital lights. They all send cards.

The nurse calls my name, and the knitting woman smiles at me. “See you in a minute,” she says.

Radiologists are more cheerful than surgeons, but they leave you alone in the room. I take off my shirt, and stretch my shoulder. I am tired.

The doctor comes in, and picks up my chart. “What’s happening?” he asks.

“Same old, same old.” This doctor has stubble, a five o’clock shadow. Two years ago I would have met him in a bar, gone to a hockey game.

He positions the machine and shuts the door. They let me play music in here, but it’s crap.

I wonder if John Edwards played music for that other woman. If he holds Elizabeth’s hand when she gets sick.

The lights are low, and I lean my head back as the green light begins to shine into me. I close my eyes and count backwards from 100. “I am nothing,” I like to think to myself during these treatments. “A collection of energy. I have no mass.”

This is how I fall asleep at night. I can understand where the pumpkin head was coming from. I know what it is to share a bed with illness. To want to hold something young and fresh and warm.

About the author

Beth Posniak Fiencke lives in Arlington, Virginia where she enjoys watching television with her husband and two cats.