I loved her and now that I’ve left I am full of cancer. My genome breaks further each day in a cascading cellular demolition. She’s a physicist so we used to see each other around the University. Once the accident made her radioactive, we saw each other through the leaded glass of her containment chamber in St. Luke’s.
Talking at the intercom about her blood markers, we got around to who she was, her interests. Turned out she was a pianist, as I am. I arranged to get her a little piano, and the doctors let her decorate her sterile cell to look like a living room, plastic plants, the works. I visited her in person, in hazmat gear, and only for a few minutes at a time. But it helped her feel human again. It was a bit of playacting, listening to her at the keyboard, pretending the whole thing wasn’t crazy.
Impossible for me to play her anything in my ham-fisted gloves, I threw them off so I could perform the song that had just come into my mind. I was a Troy craving its Trojan Horse. I improvised with the lilting happy/sad tune. It was the happiest moment of my life.
We arranged to get her a suit so she could go outside without poisoning anyone. Walking the Lakewalk, we wound up back at my place. She stripped in my dim living room, her suit yawning open, her radioactive glow spilling out to warm the space. I led her by the hand upstairs to the dark bedroom.
These days, that house has been torn down, its remains entombed in cubic feet of concrete. Carrot-like growths sprout from my fingertips where they tickled her ebony and ivory keys. I look at the reflection of my scarred and blistering lips in the leaded glass of my enclosure. My dick fell off yesterday. How could she let me do it? Now she’s in the bubble next door and I don’t have anything to say to her.
I hear her perfecting the song I wrote. There was a window between our cells; I hung a tapestry over it. At least I know life is short.
photo credit: Jill Holmen
An index of Jim Richardson’s stories and essays may be found here.
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