portion of the artwork for Daphne Buter's story

We All Have Brain Cancer
Daphne Buter

I woke up too early and went downstairs. Dreams haunted my dreams. Sometimes the silence in a house can be so big it swallows space. Next I had the feeling I’d been sucked into the center of a dark tube. I became the stationary eye of a rotating wheel of a machine. I listened to my heartbeat, until the sky above Amsterdam began to live.

My husband came downstairs in his pajamas. A tall man with funny hair. He looks like a novelist. A fat, unhappy novelist. For the last couple of weeks he would leave for the attic every morning, to write. He has looked better since he started writing. Maybe he was a real writer.

This morning he told me I should read what he just wrote. I thought about the thousands of times I’d asked him to read what I just wrote, and he’d always answered, “Not now.”

“Not now,” I said.

* * *

The streets were drowning in mist. We live in a gray swamp. Mist puts me down into narrow thoughts. It reminds me of movies about Jack the Ripper.

Not many birds in the skies either. One car drove down our street a few minutes ago. This is very much what my life is all about right now.

A sky without birds above the houses. Streets drenched in the wet mouth of Amsterdam. A writer husband who is writing a novel in the attic.

Last night I watched our girls sleeping. Their faces in the twilight of the room looked serene. Their hair smelled like grass and pee.

When my friend Misty called me this morning I could tell by the tune of her voice something was wrong.

“Do you have a minute?”

“I have several. What’s up, Misty?”

“Cancer.”

“Cancer?”

“A big lump the size of a fist in my brain.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“You think so?”

“That’s bad news.”

“Is it?”

The other day I thought that any generation can be compared to a tree full of leaves, and then a leaf starts to rot and fall off, and then another, and then another … It kept me thinking what my leaf looked like. My dying leaf. I’m sure it will drop off suddenly when a breeze comes out.

* * *

Three days later I phoned Misty again.

“They pulled me through a scanner,” she said. “They pinned needles in my body for a biopsy or something. They will cut me open next week.”

“Is that good or bad news?” I asked.

“Only God knows whether news is good or bad.”

“Since when do you believe in God?”

“I believe in God since I fear that he’s not there, goddamn it! she shouted in my ear.

* * *

My husband came down again, now with his manuscript in his hands. He put it on the table in our living room and began to read the pages. Every few minutes he whispered something like, “Awesome. Oh my God, this is unbelievable.”

I ignored it, but then he said to me: “This is out of this world. This is great. Do you want to read the first page? You’ve got to read this.” His eyes glistened with tears.

“Not now …” I said with a lingering voice.

* * *

Two Jehovah’s Witnesses came to my door. They said the end of this world is near, and that soon Jehovah will make a new Earth.

I had to admit they looked very happy. Their faces were like flashes of light and they smiled all the time. They smiled so much it made me wonder if I looked amusing. But I didn’t look amusing. They just smiled so happily because they were convinced Jehovah could destroy me, and all the other disbelievers, at any moment. They looked at me like I was a person who would evaporate before their eyes. They made me feel I was nothing but the breathing remains of something that was already history.

* * *

“What is your book about? What is the title?” I asked my husband, only to break the silence that hovered in the house since I had rejected his offer to read his book in progress.

“I have to keep the title a secret,” he said. “But I think the thesis of this great novel is that life and death are one.”

“Impressive,” I said. ”Amazing, just like leaves crashing down from trees or something?”

“More like trees crashing down from leaves,” he answered, grinning.

He looked just as happy as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was trapped.

“Misty has brain cancer,” I said in an attempt to castrate his joy.

“Of course she has,” he said, beaming. “We all have brain cancer.”

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 45 | Spring 2015