It’s at that point in the morning where I can’t hold my pee any longer. My bathroom needs cleaning as it is covered in vomit from when I got a migraine last night. It makes my tiled walls look like a child’s painting. When you have cancer, a certain amount of fear comes with going to the bathroom. Will my stools look right? Is my urine filled with blood?
Everything looks normal, so I pull up my shorts and switch the shower on. I like the water to be scalding in my attempt to shed this diseased skin and grow anew. Foolish? Perhaps, but I don’t care. My dentist has left me a voicemail that I have been avoiding like all hell because they want to pull a tooth every time I visit. If there is one thing I’m not allowing, it’s to be toothless when this shitty disease kills me. I want to retain some dignity, even if it’s not much.
I know I don’t have long left, but what can I do? I have screamed out all my frustrations until my voice box can’t take it. I’m craving pancakes and syrup this morning, which is a big fuck you to my doctor, who keeps telling me to change my diet. He’s always on my ass about smoking, but why does it matter if I’m dying anyway? I’ll add fried bacon as an extra rebellion. My doctor does not comprehend that cancer has already taken a lot of choices away from me. Choosing to eat fried foods is my way of regaining control. If it kills me sooner, then I’ll be glad because I’m sick of waiting.
To serenade my breakfast, I stick on a Pink Floyd record. If I’m going to be a jerk today, then I might as well fill myself with angst. The pancakes are slightly charred, but that makes them even more dangerous, which I love in a sadistic sort of way. I have a friend who makes herbal remedies for severe pain. She leaves me boxes of them on my doorstep like an alternative milkman. Inside the marijuana scented packaging is a chequebook filled with instructions.
1. Mix the mushrooms with turmeric.
2. Take the ginseng and boil it.
3. Add a shit ton of ginger, and don’t complain.
4. Wait until it makes a paste.
5. Swill it down your gullet.
They taste terrible, but if they work, then it must be worth it, right? I’ve got to head to the post office because I need to post some of my book collection to an acquaintance. I know he’ll follow my instructions to the letter, which is all I can hope for. In my moment of reverie, I have peeled a good chunk of skin from my bottom lip. The blood is spurting out, ruining my cream sofa. Usually, that would bother me, but I can’t do anything but laugh.
It’s a tortuously hot day which means that I’ll sweat so much I’ll look like I’ve wet myself. The seedy bars line the avenue, exuding the stench of cheap beer and strong cologne. Plenty of shady characters find themselves banned from the area.
On my way to the post office, I spot a dog in a diaper. For a moment, I’m convinced that this disease is affecting my vision because that cannot possibly be a real dog in a babies diaper. My eyes are not deceiving me because the owners start picking out the little pebbles of poo that have begun to form. Despite my depression, I am sometimes sad to leave this world full of bizarre humour and circumstances. If only I had my camera with me.
“George! You’re about to miss it!” shouts a man with a cane outside of the post office.
I have never seen this man before. How does he know my name? The stranger is half-dressed and covered in a goo that looks like snot. As I get closer, I see that people have gathered around this stranger. In the cramped doorway, a woman in a mask has a box strapped to her chest. She’s selling ice cream, popcorn and soda. I can’t figure out if I’m at the post office or the movie theatre?
“We’ve been waiting for you, George. You have the last ticket.” says the group.
What ticket? I reach around to the back of my neck, where I feel something bumpy. Tracing it, I make out the number nine hundred and ninety-nine. What is going on? I’m not cattle, for fucks sake.
“The show is about to start.”
Before I can respond, they lift me onto their shoulders. None of them look very strong, which amazes me, considering that I’m not light. Inside the post office, a man with red eyes sits behind the bulletproof glass.
“Number?” he demands.
He grabs my hand forcefully through the slot and brands me with a hot poker. I cry out in pain, fighting the urge to hit the guy. The mysterious group take me to a room with an orchestra of human organs. A pair of lungs play the cello, a heart plays the violin, and a liver plays the triangle. The russet orange lights are dimmed as I am placed in front of a sheet of music. I am instructed to bash the symbols every two seconds.
As our symphony continues, a furnace descends from the ceiling. The ash flies out, hitting my skin. Through the glass, I can see the group dancing to the beat. One by one, the organs stop playing their instruments and dive into the furnace, sending the flames back up to the ceiling.
“George! George! George!” they chant.
I drop my instrument in defeat as I realise what they expect me to do. I take one last look through the window, and I see myself. He is me five years ago, well before my diagnosis. His eyes are filled with pity as he watches a man about to burn. Little does he know that he is an onlooker to his own future.
Originally published in Maudlin House