The Big C
Taking The Plunge

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Jacob Clifton: A+ | Grade It Now!
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The Places You'll Go

"She had an edge to her, but we became pretty close this summer. She meant a lot to our family."

There was more but there weren't words for more. It was enough. Even Buttercup understood.

"You must have meant a lot to her too," the daughters said. "Otherwise she wouldn't have left you the house." Marlene added a daughter and a grandson to her life, changed the will, left Cathy the house. Cathy was shocked: It was Eddie who built that house, all those years ago. Stocked it with memories.

In her shock and her ideas of right action Cathy gave the house back again, to the daughters. They'd assumed it was a symptom of Marlene's illness to begin with; that everything they didn't like and didn't understand about their mother, the glorious complexity and the hidden glints of light, were just symptoms of illness. Shoved into a box and put on a shelf for irrelevance, like any other lonely old woman.

Paul won on a scratch-off, at just the wrong moment; Cathy smiled awkwardly at the daughters and went home.

In the mailbox was an envelope: A building permit, exactly three months in coming just as the man said. A pool for the summer, now that it was done.

"Thank you, Marlene," Cathy laughed, looking up into the sky.

They will tell you that not choosing is itself a choice, and that is true.

Cathy had the men in, to finish building the pool. She was giddy. "I want to be able to dive into my pool by the end of the summer," she said, when his look calmed her down; the man reminded Cathy that the summer would end tomorrow.

"You need to find a new dream," said the man, and behind her eyes Cathy smiled brightly, and let it fall.

"You wait by the phone," she said, too disappointed to explain herself now.

Rebecca found Sean, still terrified by her, and the smell of him made her violently ill. "See? You're like the Exorcist! You have so much evil in you, some of it had to blow out!" But Rebecca was pregnant. With his son or daughter. She'd said she was on the Pill, but now she was pregnant.

"What pill was that, Zoloft?"

Rebecca took a breath and admitted some things. She'd gotten kind of lazy about the Pill since turning forty, figuring her Fallopian ship had sailed. He called her stupid; women in their hundreds were having babies by that time. She shook her head.

"You've really got a lot of nerve. I had a completely shitty weekend trying to figure out how and why this Immaculate Conception even occurred. But I've decided even though it's a cruel joke from God, probably, that I'm going to call his bluff. Because I think this is the last shot that I'm gonna get at having a biological child, so: Out of decency and respect, I just wanted to let you know that you're gonna have a blood child in the world. But that's all I'm doing, just letting you know. I don't need anything from you. I don't expect anything from you. I am just letting you know."

She sounded crazy; she seemed more human than she ever had before. All the things she thought that he thought that he wanted her to say. She walked away, flipping her hair, and he couldn't stop looking. They will tell you that not choosing is itself a choice.

Not the road trip, not the beestings, not the kiss from a beautiful prince: Nothing took away the illness, the first time she was able to hope. The day she learned her gratitude. No significant changes, Dr. Todd said. Every doctor's favorite word: Significant. It means everything, and nothing, at once.

"I signed you guys up for a clinical trial they're doing in Boston," Todd said, emphasizing the Jamisons as a team, as husband and wife, as man and woman, illness and health. Noting no significant changes in his relationship to her, or to them, or to the case.

Team Jamison was excited: They loved Boston. Pictures of luggage and airports and suites went dancing through their heads. Museums, when she felt well enough. Old movies when she didn't, on soft sheets someone else would have to launder.

"Starts up in six months. If you get in."

Paul sat down again. Six months was still two seasons away.

"As for other treatment options, besides interleukin-2, there's really just..."

Paul interrupted, called it interlochen-2 for neither the first nor the last time, and tried to put it back on the table. Cathy had fudged that one, in the middle of confession.

"Technically, I could do it," she admitted, leaning back in her chair, easily: "Personally, I can't do it."

Here, she could say anything. Here, especially now that Marlene was gone and she'd given the house back to her beautiful, harsh daughters, was one of the few places she felt absolutely safe. And she knew Todd only brought it up because he wanted so desperately for her to live: "It's one of the only drugs out there with even a possibility of lasting effects. For some people, it's a new chance at life!"

Or she could die on the table. It could knock it out, or kill her. Todd swore the fatality rate was low and she countered that the success rate was hardly better. She pulled out her trump card and smiled, knowing he'd lose the argument this time: "Tell him how it works."

Todd didn't know, of course, that playing the Paul card was her best escape plan, so he explained in earnest.

"Well, it works by stimulating the growth of two different kinds of white blood cells. So a patient would come into the ICU, where we would monitor them and give them the drug intravenously for several days. It's very toxic. There are a lot of side effects..."

Cathy spoke up, without stirring from her chair, shoes on Todd's desk. Pictures of Julie missing, from their usual places. Not missing: Gone. A significant change, but one he accepted weeks ago.

"Burning scabs all over my body. Constantly throwing up. Fluid on the lungs. My veins could shut down. And did I mention I could die on the table?"

Paul stared at Dr. Mauer, desperate for help, but he just shrugged: "I gave her a brochure." She ran with it. She was Cathy Jamison.

"I don't want to get sicker trying to get better, and then just end up dying anyway. That's what I was trying to say about Marlene: There was something kind of beautiful about the way she just... Left."

Confronted with enormity, knowing there was no escape, Marlene took her enemy on. But Paul couldn't, cannot, be expected to understand that one. There is no dignity in death, not when you can hope against death in all its indignities. To give up interleukin, he meant to say, is to pull the trigger on yourself. "She shot herself in the fuckin' head!"

Cathy had already admitted there were avenues of escape; it didn't look to her like suicide yet. But she wouldn't budge. She'd chosen torture too many times already, by not choosing.

Cathy and Todd looked at each other, over the table, and he felt the temperature shift. Team Amanda Montgomery knew what Cathy was capable of doing and what she wasn't doing; they'd had this fight a million times already. If it could have been won, Todd would have supported Paul. But he knew better and so the temperature changed. And without knowing quite why, Paul nodded, capitulated, backed down. Six months. Two seasons, then Boston.

Marlene's front yard was full of trash that was once a life. Inside, the women were cleaning out the house for sale or demolition, asking the same question over and over: Trash or treasure? Trash or treasure?

Cathy brought two dishes, one with food for Thomas and one with chili for the women. She kissed Thomas and told him he was free to come and go, since every time she took him home he'd just come back to Marlene's house. "I am not gonna force the issue. But whenever you're ready, you just tuck your chew toys under a wrinkle, and come on over."

She didn't even think to tell the women that Thomas was already hers. That he had saved her life, and Marlene's, the day she ran him over. That he was family.

"Yoo-hoo, hungry worker bees! I brought over some chili so you wouldn't have to worry about lunch."

The women had never met anything like Cathy before; they certainly didn't know her burdens. When they looked at her they saw a woman, richer and more beautiful than they were, involving herself with their mother and with this latest burden she'd placed on their shoulders. But she was funny, and nice, and she brought them chili, so they thanked her.

Cathy was horrified. Trash or treasure? Gina couldn't believe Marlene had saved her art projects from the second grade; Buttercup easily threw away a picture of Marlene and Eddie on their wedding day. Neither daughter wanted it, but only because they both had copies; Cathy asked to take it for her own.

"I hope whoever buys this place'll be happy here. It'll be so weird to look across the street and not see Marlene on her porch..."

They look at each other, the women. They blush and hope she won't be too much trouble.

"You won't see the porch either," says Buttercup, and Lorna explains her realtor friend told them it would be better to tear it down and sell the lot. Cathy was horrified; when Buttercup produced Marlene's old garden gloves, she snatched them away without thinking.

She hated when they called her hoarder, most of all. More than "trash or treasure," more than the fact that they didn't know the meaning of a single object. She wasn't a hoarder, she was a keeper. Of everything they threw away. She was old, and beautiful, and carried inside her cuckoo clocks and candlelight and cold mornings before school. She was icy Fresca and melted daiquiris and the best mom the Tolkes could have asked for, as adults. She kept the memory of Adam on the lawn, and Paul covered in chips; she kept the memory of Sean in the women's bathroom at a greasy spoon, blushing cl

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The Big C

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