Death Café – Elizabeth Fifer

I am at a clothing store, checking the 00 and 00- jeans. They call it the death zone—at eighty pounds, down to the bone, they’ll fix a peg in my stomach. I am suspicious of every bite. Their hairdos are bouffant and stay in place. Mine is a shiny brown polyester job that sits on a white foam head in the closet.

Imagining treatment I throw up in the parking lot. A genial man shares photographs. “At least a year.” From the front of the room a knitting club hands out multicolored hats with pompons. I collect more than ten but never wear any, favoring a flowered scarf with gold earrings. All I need is a parrot.

When people ask how I am, I say “bad.”

Make a mental note yes, no, maybe. I gain, then lose a pound. I appreciate the plump, estimate their weight. Nothing with cheese, nothing with wheat. I graze on rice protein shakes with advertisements of smiling Olympians on the label.

They say “robust remission” but you never know. Other people are back for a second or even a third time. By now they are in wheelchairs.

I know my medical cocktail’s abbreviation—A B, V, D. For one infusion the nurse comes in a Hazmat outfit complete with visor, gloves, and footies. A drop makes your skin sizzle. I answer two questions ten times a day—Name? Birthdate?

When the nausea comes back all the nurses are cheerful but firm. “You have finished treatment and should be well.” My sickness is either a moral or a psychiatric problem. “Most people feel better by now. Of course if there is underlying depression….” The doctor on-call laughs. He does not have nausea.

Does talking about death attract it? I attend a meeting to discuss the idea of death, not actual death. Treat death as a friend, an old-fashioned admirer who leaves a calling card. Say “No, she isn’t in.” “I won’t wait,” death says. “I have so much to tell but you probably are busy, especially now. Well, there’s still plenty to do. Shoo”—and with this, first a sucking noise—then a pop!—and from the distance—“I wash my hands of you.” But I sense it there anyway, first in one corner, then in another.

About the Author: I am a literary critic and fiction writer, with recent essays in World Literature Today and a book on Gertrude Stein. I live in Center Valley, Pa.

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