We'll Take Her

Are you allowed to do this?

Stop being fucking weird, she says, it’s still safe.

At the moment she’s stronger than me.

I’m reading the booklet about this kind of leukemia. How you don’t want to cut or scratch yourself because with the chemo your body cannot fight bacteria. How the platelets will be low. How you’ll bleed. How over the next several days the drugs, one related to mustard gas, will kill the bone marrow where all these cells are made. I’m shaking inside, trying to be cool.

My wife drags her central line tubing over to the little sink. Now, give me the shampoo.

I hand over the green bottle of shampoo from home. She said the tiny bottles they gave her were shit. The green label is faded because I went bleach crazy, wiping down everything I was bringing in until my son took my arm and said, That’s enough.

She leans over the sink, works in the shampoo. Her red hair is to her shoulders, the longest it’s been in twenty years. She’s decided she wants to cut most of it off before it starts falling out, can’t stand the thought of long clumps on her pillow. When I hand her the towel she drips on her neck dressing and I say, Careful, and she gives me the killer look.

She sits in the chair, out of breath . Now, hair dryer.

I have trouble fitting the plug into the special red hospital outlet. I figure it’s probably illegal or something. My hands don’t work. My fifteen year old son sighs and stops texting long enough to jam it in.

Here in this sealed room, with only negative ventilation, her hair blows gloriously in the fake warm breeze one last time, like it should out there in the countryside. Next she puts the heated curlers in it, bitching at me because I brought the old ones. Didn’t I see the new set, right there by the sink? Truth is I had put everything away, cleaning surfaces, then couldn’t tell one from the other, just grabbed some plastic plug-in box with curlers, apparently the old one.

When it’s set just so, we take her picture.

After that she takes out the scissors, chops it off and places it into zip-lock bags. She wants to donate to a hair bank. Some little girl with this kind of thing might wear her hair some day.

Quit with the long faces. She tells our son to pop in her Celtic Women CD and me to fill the basin with warm water.

The water trickles in as I look out the small window. We’re on the sixth floor of this huge medical center, but it’s not in the city, and across the way there’s a forest. I listen to the Celtic women and those lonely whistles and wonder if there’s a stream out there bubbling over stones. The basin overflows and she says, What are you doing? Just a little water to shave my legs.

She puts her feet in the basin. Her toenails are freshly painted red. They might fall off too.

First I’m thinking I can’t watch this, but something happens. My son puts his phone away and leans in. Something folds us. The flutes are hollow, happy and sad at the same time. And far away. We watch her smooth strokes. We listen to the water splash, tiny waterfalls out there in the woods somewhere. That’s where we are. We are not in this room. We are not sealed. We have her in a stream, wife and mother, cleansing her and getting her ready for some kind of hell, but in the mean time the sun is warm and the water clear.

When she’s better, I promise we’ll take her there. 

Gary Moshimer has stories at Eclectica, Word Riot, Verbsap, Wigleaf, and upcoming in Litnimage and Storyglossia.


Copyright 2009