By Rachel Farrell
We’re sitting at a coffee shop two-top, this woman and I, looking at the antique postcards preserved beneath the table’s polyurethane finish. The Colosseum is here in sepia tones, next to illustrations of gladiators armored for battle. What wonderful places there are in the world, we say—what landmarks to visit and explore. Then I tell her the news, and it is like a slick wet turd has been deposited between us—a heavy, stinking silence that cannot be fanned away.
She says to me, How much time have you got?
There is no answer for this and so I tell her I don’t know, that everyone is different, that disease is unpredictable. I show her the lesions blooming like berry clusters in my scalp and under my sleeves—the negative currency, the proof that my immune system is not enjoying a golden age. When I look up, I see that a change has happened on her face, that I am different to her now, that I am one part human and one part biohazard. She puts her hand over the top of her drink and studies me. At first I think she is wondering what I’m withholding, but then I see she is wondering what I’m not. She is thinking about the invisible rays flowing freely from my breath, contaminating the air around us, touching down on the porous cloth of her skin and spoiling her immortality.
Maybe I am different to her because my death is happening and hers is not. Hers is not happening as she coats her fingernails in Corvette red and plans a trip to the Keys. Hers is not happening as she phones the property manager to report the neighbor’s barking dog. Hers is not happening as she speeds down the interstate, passing mounds of buried trash, hoping that the green humps are filled not with coffee filters, broken glass, and used tampons, but clear clean dirt and the wild, searching roots of nearby trees. Her death is not happening, and she secretly believes it never will—that she’ll be the first of the modern saints to leave this world undiagnosed and unailing, ascending to Heaven like Elijah at the sound of the trumpet, her body unscathed and unravaged by time’s agents.
We are silent for a minute, and then I tell her I am thinking of moving someplace warm. I tell her I am thinking of getting a tattoo, or a horse, or a tattoo of a horse. For what reason? she asks, and she is so sweet there, so sincere in her meanness and her struggle to understand, and I tell her, To live. Then I take a long sip a sip of her latte and leave.
Rachel Farrell’s work has been featured in Ninth Letter, Pank, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and Michigan Quarterly Review online. She is a graduate of the Helen Zell Writers’ Program (Fiction, ’13) at the University of Michigan. She lives in Whigham, Georgia.