The Big C

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Jacob Clifton: A+ | Grade It Now!
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Emily Dickinson Lied
never wrong, not really. Just used to being in control; used to being the one whose vision describes the universe. And she's not wrong now: Rebecca could stand to breathe in, just a little bit. See what happens when the space isn't filled with fantasies and hope and the dashing of that hope, again and again. To be "quiet," as Rebecca puts it. To listen to the loudness and be lonesome, until she stops wanting it so much. Just a little bit, nothing too big. Until she can look into a man's eyes and see just one future, or none at all. To know what love actually feels like, not what she thinks it's supposed to feel like.

"I do need to just be quiet for a while. But don't steal my hope, Cath. It's all I have."

And is that what it is? Is that was Paul was saying? Is it possible to love people so fiercely, so righteously, that you strangle the hope right out of them? All she wants is for them to be safe, the whole world to be safe; to save the world and preserve it for later, in her absence. To store their happiness and hope somewhere unbreakable, to know they'll never be hurt again, when she's no longer there to protect them. She's been doing it so long for herself she thought it looked like love. It certainly feels like love; she has surrounded herself with people who would go off the rails, if it weren't for her. They've proven that. So it must be love, then. Right? Adam stepped out into the street once, when he was only four years old; there weren't any cars coming but her heart nearly stopped. And when she shouted, tried to tell him about the world. That was love.

All he knew was that she was shouting.

It's not that Emily Dickinson lied, it's that her heart couldn't bear the truth. That hope calls out across a wild ocean and dares us always forward, into darkness. To light it up. She kept herself, wrapped in cotton like a doll, shuttered up in prose, and she filled the world. She locked her songs in boxes and spoke through her letters. She was safe, and she was cold, and she wore only white. And the unbearable truth was this: That it was never hope that sang. It was only ever Emily.

Cathy gives Rebecca her key, and Rebecca takes the stage.

That night, tea and cozy bathrobe before bed, Cathy looks out across the hose, to say her silent goodnight to Marlene, her greatest friend. The first one she let in. Normally the lights are off, by this time of night. The things old people like. Tonight, though, it's different. Tonight, Marlene is searching through the thatches and brush outside the house, on the lawn that was so pitiful once. That's bloomed into new life. She's looking for something, moving fast. Like that key, rooting around in the darkness under their seats, begging for mysterious luck. The same spots, again and again.

"What are you doing?" Cathy asks, in a careful hush. Marlene hates to be startled. She moves like a ghost, like a woman in white.

"I can't find my damn purse. Will you help me find my purse?"

Cathy nods. "You know, I think I saw it inside?" She holds out a hand, to her oldest friend, and the smile on Marlene's face is brighter than ever. Innocent, and trusting. Not the wise light of her better days or the glinting humor of her anger. Something far more terrifying. Lotteries. Marlene smiles, eyes shining bright, and says the words Cathy wanted to hear least of all.

"You're very sweet," says Marlene. And, "Who are you?"

Cathy swallows, and her shoulders drop. She smiles, to keep from crying, and takes Marlene by the hand, guiding her in.

Marlene wakes up in a start, on her recliner, covered with an afghan; Cathy's feet are perched on the ottoman. Marlene knows the jig is up, but thinks they might pretend: "When did you get here?" she asks, even though she already knows. The price of being known is that they'll know.

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The Big C

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