The Big C
The Ecstasy & The Agony

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Jacob Clifton: A+ | 8 USERS: A+
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Getting Away from Already Pretty Much Being Away from It All

Quick as he can, to rip off the band-aid as he puts it, Todd explains that the trial they talked about is only accepting patients who've had prior treatment. "I was trying to get into this trial to get treatment. So it turns out I have to have had treatment to get treatment? That's a real Cancer-22." Her voice nearly breaks.

Her decisions evaporate around her. Next time it'll be, "This trial is only for patients who have told their husbands and families about their condition."

Dr. Todd promises to keep an eye out for more, as she lets the water run. Trying to keep the bitterness out of her voice, she tells him to go read an x-ray. She thinks about leaving the bathroom, and then she doesn't. Tears drying on her cheeks, she calls Lenny, nodding to herself. "I need an escape," she says, indictment running through.

That night, out on the deck, under the stars, candles lit in hurricane glass, chipper music on the CD player, Adam gone to anything but a rave, Paul celebrating his promotion, Lenny with his sleeves rolled up, wearing shorts and a pretty pink button-down, having already taken the E, waiting for it to hit. Wondering what it will be like, as he laughs at her lovingly. Cathy Jamison even does drugs like Cathy Jamison.

"I'm really glad that we're doing this? But apparently all that rave dancing is life-threatening. We could get hypothermia. Our organs could slowly bake inside of us 'til they shut down." He tells her she's being paranoid, and she nods her head: "The internet said that would happen too!"

The important thing, she tells him, is to play no dance music. Especially Abba, she says, because she loves to dance to Abba. It would give her kidney failure, she promises. What she means is that she wants escape, she wants this pill to take all her fear and inability to extemporize, and shove it away so that anything can happen at all. Bacchante, maenad. She's not afraid it will drive her mad, she's afraid it's raised her expectations too high. That it will be escape but not escape enough, like Lenny, like a Brazilian wax, like the Bahamas, and before you know it she'll need to run further.

"Maybe if the Internet had an English accent, it wouldn't sound as scary as it does," she groans, but when he tells her she'll be safe, she does believe him.

"My mom would choke on her tongue if she knew there were no parents here," Adam admits, and thanks Brent's brother Trevor for driving them. "Don't thank my dickhead brother," Brent whines, "I'm washing his car for a month for driving us." Including the rims, Trevor grins: "Later, ladies."

They look small, tiny, callow, unfledged. Ladies. They stare at the older kids and wonder how time moves so fast. Andrea appears, shouting. "Ew! Who the fuck let in a couple of freshmen?" Adam's happy to see her. Too happy: "Cool party, huh?" She warns him there's no bouncy castle, and he finally tells her to shut up; he reminds her that she's only two years older than he is.

He has touched her breasts.

"Come on. I'll show you where all the drinks are. Maybe we can find a sippy cup."

Ecstasy, any drug, is two things: The inside and the outside. On the inside, things are good but on the outside it just looks lonelier than ever. Being sober with someone on drugs is a sobering and lonely experience. It is very sad, even though they are so very happy.

"Where do you think we go? I mean, when we go, Lenny, where do you think we go?"

He thinks it's drug talk; he thinks it's casual meandering, big-sky thinking. It's not. She's petting a dog she can't look at most days. Today it has a British accent. Lenny's answer is drug talk, casual meandering. "I mean, I think that the energy just stays in the earth, in the air. Energy... It can't be destroyed, so I think we become a part of everything."

She doesn't hear drug talk. She hears the truth she's been trying to hear. Andrea, consuming the world, consumed by passion, part of it: Not locked inside it, like Cathy thought, but alive with it. Sean, smeared with the world, neither energy nor matter but something free, something both. Paul, bringing the sand into her living room. She spent so long feeling like a part of nothing, apart from everything. Cancer was the proof. This is better.

"God, the answer is so obvious." She stands, looks up into the moon; she is beautiful and he sees it, the way she suddenly shines. "I'm not afraid anymore," she smiles. It's a party she was already invited to. "Death. Sharks. Anything." Not even big cats, he asks? Not even lions? No. They're a part of nature too, just as she always suspected. Off comes her shirt. He kisses her stomach, in the night.

Paul hears the music but doesn't think about it; he shouts into the house. "Got my suit! Forgot my tie! Maybe I'll get the one you gave me for our anniversary! Eh, maybe I'll shred that one and get another one..."

Out on the deck, he sees them. Without the narrative, the drugs and the escape and the oneness of all nature, their passion seems outsized, scary, devouring. They love the touch of one another's skin, tonight more than ever. But without the drugs, without knowing about the drugs, they just look intoxicated on each other. It makes it so much worse. It makes so much more sense.

Sean and Marlene, on the date with Earl. They trade opening jokes about the food, their age -- "I'd go for the corn on the cob, but I didn't bring my good teeth," he says; "If I'd known they were gonna bring us all this bread, I would have brought my big purse," she replies -- and Sean smiles. He knew this would go well. They're the same. Not because of how old they are, but how young.

"You know what I'd really like to eat?" Earl asks, and the whole diner shivers. "You."

Everybody freezes. Sean jerks, mortified; not the kind of shock he likes. He looks pretty clean tonight; he looks very nice. Marlene takes him in, that measuring look, as Sean demands an apology. "I may be 82 years old but I got a tongue that can lick the paint off an outhouse," Earl tells him. Sean and Marlene slowly look at each other: It's the same surprise and judgmental delight she had the first time she saw Aunt Allison. Maybe she will eat this one alive, maybe she's loving it. Marlene's anger is a constant and therefore a poor barometer.

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The Big C

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