The Big C

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Jacob Clifton: A+ | Grade It Now!
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Come Clean
d Taft was so fat that he got stuck in his own bathtub. Conversely, James Madison weighed only one hundred pounds -- Which is ironic, considering that his wife, Dolley Madison, was feeding him Zingers and Donut Gems..."

Cathy appears, late again, and drags her brother out into the hallway. The students ooh and ahh, they will miss him when he's gone; she refuses to smile as she closes the door: "Read. Something."

This latest outrage is retaliation, of course. "Rebecca is abstaining from sex. She's on some sort of sacrificial mission to regain your friendship. Sort of a cock hunger strike. I don't fucking get it either."

She thinks the sex is the lie between them; she doesn't know about the lie that is actually between them. This is the study of war and this is the way the world works: On operant knowns. If the sex is the problem then she'll solve the problem. Cathy's lie becomes her burden. But it's one she'll have to carry.

"Tell her she's wasting her time. And you shouldn't worry. The longest she's gone without having sex is two weeks, and that's because she tore her labia while horseback riding in Maui."

Gruesome; Sean loves hearing it almost as much as Cathy relishes saying it. Cathy heads back inside -- to undo whatever he's done and take back the truth they're too young to know -- and when school is done, she heads to Marlene's house for Scrabble. Her word is apse -- "You know, like the front of a church?" -- and Marlene makes fun. "You could have just spelled apes." The world is hard enough without an education; the difference between apse and apes is merely a slight rearrangement. "I paid for a four-year degree, Marlene, I want to use it."

Cathy leads the conversation through the apse and into church. Marlene goes, yes, every Sunday, and when Cathy asks if that's out of desire or a sense of obligation she knows the question Cathy's really asking: "If you're asking if I believe in God, then yes, I do. Pray every day too." For the usual things: Her family, for Eddie to be in heaven, to join him when she goes, one day, and for it not to hurt. Cathy nods. Death is an end to pain, not a start; it shouldn't hurt and it shouldn't be embarrassing. Not for saints, not for Marlene.

Cathy tells her the story, of the tornado and the family, the pastor dead, and how they were too disappointed to go back. How God had rewarded the wicked, killed the good, broken their hearts. Proved what Sean always suspected.

"But now that I'm a dying person, I'm wondering if I should reopen my spiritual options." The tears in Marlene's eyes call them up, from Cathy's throat. She is allowed to be terrified for exactly ten seconds. "If there is a God, do you think he could bring me some sense of peace?"

Marlene laughs, at the very idea: That anyone could give Cathy peace, that anybody but Cathy could ever give Cathy peace, that Cathy wants anything like peace. "He's not a miracle worker," Marlene jokes.

"I think God gives us problems so we can learn to deal with them, not so he can fix them."

God stands where the problems are not; God plays hide-and-seek in the shadows, begging us to turn over every rock, and see what festers underneath. The starving, the hidden, the base neglected orphan parts of ourselves. Catch a glimpse of Him, in the act of turning over; in the way water catches the light, and then He is gone again. God lives in the darkest, sweatiest, scariest places, and begs for you to come and find Him. To confess. He sits in the dark, on the porch, under stones beneath the water, waiting for you to turn the light on. To welcome Him home.

Adam arrives and Marlene calls him Hotshot. He likes it when she does that. She had two daughters. Marlene goes home and when Marlene's back is turned, Cathy can say it: "Say a prayer for me, Marlene."

Marlene prays for Cathy every day, she says; now that her back is turned she can say it. And what on earth did Cathy think she meant, when she said she prayed for family?

Cathy joins her son in the kitchen, worried. "I ran into Andrea, and she said you're an asshole?" It stings, the guilt and the million complex things around the guilt: Her flesh, their easy friendship and his hand upon her breast. The wonderful way she seems to know everything about everything. He thinks about her and he feels so bad that it turns itself into anger, anger in response to her anger, before he can even notice that it's him turning over: "Probably on the rag," he spits, shocking them both.

He nods; it was too far. "We had a fight. No big deal." Cathy explains, as a person who has gotten great at mistakes and the making of them, that life is too short for burdens: "If things are bad with Andrea because of something you did, you should apologize." Truth feels good. Like a slap, or a bright light. Like a little death, so that something new can grow.

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The Big C

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