--From Geist 40, available now. This piece won the 2000 Writers’ Union of Canada annual Short Prose Competition for Developing Writers.
1The disease effects a silent spinal coup and slowly shuts down the nervous system.
2Frequent migraines and numbness in the fingertips of the third and second fingers of my right hand and the second finger of my left hand. I sit at a desk all day and have not participated in a sport--organized or not--since high school, so probably the full effects of the disease won’t be felt until a much later stage. But they’re coming.
3Scattered photos, letters and birthday cards that offer no sympathy. One card has the words Get Well Soon written in cloud letters across a bleakly blue sky. That time of innocent headaches, baffling numbness.
4Taken from, I think, somewhere near the beginning of Richard III.
5The bland distraction of a failing marriage, the acute pain of a medical doom.
6She does not yet know. She believes that I am merely being treated for migraine spells. I will tell her after it’s all over. I hope I don’t spit it at her in anger--even in my state, I can recognize what an asshole thing that would be to do.
7I don’t actually remember saying this, but she has always insisted upon it, so okay.
8It would have been five years this March, though we lived together for two years before that. Dated for eight months. She was the new accounts manager, I was a new account--that whole story. Our friends Anne and Dan met in the waiting area of an emergency room, the day after one of Pierre Trudeau’s sons died in an avalanche in B.C. They agreed that the press should lay off, and that they should go for a coffee after her leg and his arm were looked at.
9In a church--her idea, oddly enough. I threw up at our reception because of all the cold medicine I had taken. See photo.
10Toronto, for three years; briefly in Montreal; briefly again in Halifax; briefly in Toronto, again; barely long enough in New York to have a phone number; now, finally, in Toronto, again.
11Our reasons, or the ones we provided: a) her career was going well; b) my career had stalled; c) bad memories of our parents as parents; d) strained interaction with children of friends and neighbours; d) terrible world, etc.
12Drake, our nervous, unfaithful beagle, 1996*-*99. The tip of one ear was still stuck in the furry blood on the minivan’s fender. Rest In Peace, as you never did with us. See photo.
13It’s the only non-pasta-based dish I can make with any level of confidence.
14Conversations became redundant. Sex had to be snuck up on. Genuine convictions were quirky obsessions.
15Fights like these were moments of relief, of progress. We meant the awful things we said to each other, and that kept us going for a while.
16That sitcom about the family with their own talk show. It was on Thursday nights and went nowhere, though one of the kids, I think, sings and has her own talk show.
17Taken from a conversation overheard at a party. Friends of hers. Music absorbed the scalpel-sharp laughter. The confirmation of suspicions I had nurtured for months, fed by evidence that shed its circumstantiality in hindsight.
18I know that she doesn’t know that I know, and I also know that it’s all over between her and him. I still have the option of airbrushing this hairy patch from my memory.
19A “paralysis-friendly” apartment: something with ramps, guide rails, automation. Coded door lock, push-button flush. The spacious bathroom stalls designed for the elderly and handicapped were for me, as a child, futuristic jungle gyms. Or the interior of a space station where research into zero-gravity pooing and peeing was the primary mission.
20I haven’t yet wept. Not even when my doctor struggled to damn me between absurd hiccups. His desk was bare but for a jar half-filled with red and white candies. There was one crumpled wrapper at the top of the pile. I chose to focus on this as my body sunk through the floor--not because the wrapper represented me or anything, but because someone had bothered to put it back in the jar.
21My doctor has also warned me of intermittent depression and morbidity. I think you can already see what’s funny about that.
22A hangarous mega-store in the northwest end of Toronto, in the land of railway tracks and power lines. Passenger jets fly over low enough to cast shadows. Sale stickers three feet high, twenty-five checkout lines of a dozen souls each. Excellent, affordable furniture and free delivery.
23A light shade of green, not as cheerful as probably intended--like candied bile. You see a lot of new Volkswagens in that colour.
24Between examinations, the growing intensity of my clumsiness is the only gauge I have of the disease’s progress. Silverware clatters to the table. I light cigarettes at midpoint and have to dab piss drips from around the edge of the toilet bowl.
25It’s surprising, the number of people who cry alone in cars. Once you become aware of the tendency, you spot it everywhere. I once spent the better part of a sclerotic rush hour watching a heavy, bearded man sob in his delivery truck. A few times on the way home from the clinic, I pulled the car over, expecting to be overcome, but nothing.
26I thought this was from a song by Nick Drake. Or The Smiths, or Neil Young. It’s actually Phil Collins.
27It’s not that I don’t believe relationships can begin and blossom under the cloud of a wasting disease, it’s just that I fear my attractiveness cannot sustain a worsening of the odds.
28Like this one, from three nights ago: a bear cub and skunk romping happily in an underground parking lot, blocking the way to my car. I remember being more afraid of being sprayed by the skunk than attacked by the cub’s unseen mother. There was a whole other part about being stuck backstage in a labyrinthine theatre while a comedian I know told terrible, cutesy jokes on stage--I don’t remember much about this part, or whether it had anything to do with the skunk-and-bear cub part. I did have an erection throughout, however.
29Despite all of it, I would love to be the one who meets her after me.
30No sensation there, either, now. Watch me stick this pin into the tip of each of my fingers and toes, seeking another dim bulb.