The first incident occurred during the week of Jill and Thomas’ wedding, during the time when they were living in a boutique hotel near the city’s central-most traffic circle. Thomas’ parents, too, were staying at that hotel.
The doctor’s office was forty miles away. Jill had hated the workbook given to her there, the one which was replete with test questions and cartoons. She had abhorred, as well, that waiting room’s large, wall-sized depictions of severed flowers. Those paintings portrayed disemboweled blossoms.
Thomas’ parents had made a point of inviting him up for tea while Jill drove alone to the clinic. He had shrugged at his brand new wife and had mouthed something about familial duties. Jill drove alone.
The doctor’s receptionist had been as detached as had been the doctor’s floral paintings. That the small, gray-toned, woman’s speech, all of those years ago, seemed confused. She slurred, when she addressed Jill, not because she had been the victim of pills or of potions, but because she had suffered from delusions of grandeur and as such necessarily had to patronize all of the doctor’s patients.
Accordingly, Jill graciously received the comic-styled instruction book, but made no effort to converse with the mistress of records and time slots. Thus affronted, that strident office assistant gawked at the newlywed like a raptor might sound off at the sight of a freshly pulped raccoon.
Neat decades had passed. Jill pulled at the threads of dry blood under her fingernails as she recalled that antechamber and its horrific guardian. She shook her head in remembering that the actual examination room had been worse.
That space had been papered, on all four of its walls, with a medley of large blue roses twinned with tiny pink chrysanthemums. The room’s curtains matched as did Dr. Rubenstein’s smock. A West Usambara Two-Horn could not have been better camouflaged.
Tired of cleaning under her nails, Jill went to wash her face. She noticed a tawny streak on her left cheek. She had been a rash and even a bit sloppy. She wiped off that brownish line of veneer.
The good doctor had shaken first her head and then her finger at Jill. Jill’s urine had been dark; Jill had become dehydrated. Jill had deigned to allow the insufficient consumption of liquid to worsen Jill’s retained respiratory secretions.
Jill had bend her head and had said nothing about not wanting to be a coughing and spewing while marching down the aisle. She wished Thomas had accompanied her.
After admonishing her, the doctor extended an arm towards Jill. The young bride imagined the doctor’s limb to end in a didactylic paw. She spit, inaudibly, at the physician.
On their first date, Thomas had worn a white carnation. His parents had insisted that Jill buy that flower for him. Years later, a wiser Jill purchased roses, baby’s breath, or lilies of the valley for Thomas’ buttoners; she stayed away from carnations, a flower she had always loathed.
Thomas’ parents, initially, had found Jill quaint, even pretty. For prom, Jill had worn a blue, gunny sack, cotton creation edged in lace and quilted in strategic places. Her gown had swept her ankles and had accentuated her satrapy-style sandals. They had taken Polaroids of their future daughter-in-law.
After the children came, Thomas continued to defer to his parents. Once, after returning home late from a clandestine meeting with them, he found the front door bolted. Jill would have preferred Thomas to have taken up with another woman than to have betrayed her with regressions; there were few social directives for how to deal with a spouse who strayed in Thomas’ fashion.
Eventually, her tumors returned, growing like kudzu. Thomas, his mother, and his father, partied with the children while Jill had endured surgeries. While Jill coursed through radiation and chemo, Thomas, his parents and the children vacationed on the Balearic Islands . The adults had claimed that Jill was too radioactive to be anywhere near the preschoolers.
Jill survived, anyway. She witnessed her son and her daughter grow into elementary school students and then into teenagers. She applauded them at their respective college graduations. Both times, when contiguous seats had not been available, Thomas sat with his mom and dad.
Intermittently, Jill returned to the knife, to the nuke and to the chemicals. She had even outlived one of her oncologists. She added yoga, acupuncture, fascia massage, and chiropractic to her arsenal. She became interested in the literature of Shulamith Firestone, of Ti-Grace Atkinson, and of Valerie Solonas and spent many hours delving into the life stories of Liu Pengli of China and of Jack the Ripper. She discovered that a murderer would only be dubbed a “serial killer” if he slayed three or more people.
Eventually, the children married and moved to distant towns. Thomas continued to spend his evenings with his parents, helping them with groceries, escorting them to bridge games, and otherwise being a dutiful son.
After completely washing face, Jill torched her old sweater and her ancient dungarees. She was burning that large pile of leaves, which had fallen from the sugar maple, anyway. Thomas’ schedule still rarely allowed him time to help her with the yard work. At least he’d retain his parents’ company.
by KJ Hannah Greenberg