The First Week of After

A couple learns about a cancer diagnosis:

I watch your hand starting to shake as you write down information that will sit on a small square of paper for months, impossible to get rid of. I stand two feet away and watch your lips. I hear you say, Is that all you can tell me…. Right here, midsentence, your eyes move to mine, and in this instant I have the feeling that I have it all wrong, that I am misreading the shaking, the tone—that it is not the worst thing and that I just slipped for a moment into that parallel universe that floats next to ours, the one we all peek into when somebody is an hour late driving home in heavy rain, the one most of us back out of, returning to the familiar world where the unthinkable happens to other people. And then the frozen moment passes, and you finish your sentence. I hear you say, Is that all you can tell me, a tumor-like growth? The words have force enough to move matter; they push me two steps back.

It is a simple moment. A tumor-like growth.

“The First Week of After.” — Margaret Malone, Missouri Review (2008)

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