Sunday, April 16, 2006

microfiction: the secret of my strength

Death visited me when I was fifteen. She came to my house. She had kind eyes, and hung over my shoulder whispering words into my ear, gentle, comforting. There was really no need to remind me how beautiful she was. When it became evident that I was too afraid of her to listen, she sat at the kitchen table, sipping the iced tea I'd made, flexing one wing slowly. She'd bumped it on something, she explained. Then she set the glass on the table and left.

When I was twenty-eight, I learned that my wife of four years had found someone wealthier, sexier, and more upwardly mobile than me. Impossible, but true, I joked. After one of the many late days at work that had let my wife carry on her affair, death rode home with me. She had the same kind eyes, but looked haggard. It's what you're drinking that makes me look this way, she said. I don't like it either, I told her, but it grows scar tissue on the brain, so it's healthy. Cynthie was all I ever wanted, this is the only way I know how to forget her. Death's lips would curve up a bit at the corners then, and she would drop her eyes modestly. It's unlike her to be modest, but it makes her surprisingly pretty.

For ten months she sat beside me in the car as we crossed the bridge. Everyone does seventy minimum there. A twitch of the wheel could do it. We both knew it, and I held my chin high, not looking at her for six miles, concentrating on the acrid aftertaste of scotch. A few times, she rested her hand on my leg, and I traced my damp fingertip on the back of her hand, felt the tendon and bone under her skin. It was nice. The twists and turns along the backroads to my house are more hazardous, but I could do those in my sleep. According to Cynthie, I had done, several times.

Then I started seeing a counselor, a brusque, powerful woman a little older than me. I liked the way she could argue without raising her voice, knew when to negotiate and when to stand firm with me. She, my lawyer, and a good friend helped keep my feet on the ground, and I no longer spotted death hitching a ride at the toll booths.

Now my doctor says I'll see her in four months. To quote Moore, "You know that kind of cancer that eventually gets better? Well, that's ain't the kind I've got." But I don't fear her any more. How could I be afraid of such an longtime friend? After I spend some time seeing places I've always wanted to see, I may be calling on her, the secret of my strength.

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