Later Then
Andrew Roe

Then the doctor started talking about options. They were, unfortunately, at this point, somewhat limited. It was possible to try A, or B, or maybe even C, and new treatments could always emerge, but that was about it, due to the late stage, how advanced and pronounced things were, and as he said all this he also flipped through her abundant chart and kept scribbling notes, tapping his foot, stroking his bearded chin, seemingly in two places at once in his head despite the gravity of the subject matter, his eyes careful to avoid theirs, as if eye contact would force him to admit modern medicine has its limitations like anything else. He was young—too young, Miller thought, both now and six months ago when their old doctor retired and the younger doctor, Pierce, took over the practice. But they were loyal people and so they stayed.

When they got home they didn't know what to do. Everything had changed and yet here they were, in their house, the same house they'd left only a few hours ago. For weeks his wife had been feeling off. I'm just really tired, she repeatedly said, apologizing because Miller had to pick up the slack and do things he wasn't used to doing. Emily slept a lot, and when he wasn't figuring out how to sort the recycling or use the food processor, he watched TV alone. Later he'd tell her about the shows she'd missed, usually apologizing for not being much of a storyteller, he was never very good with words and such. They canceled a long-planned cruise to Mexico. Bridge dates were rescheduled. We should go in, he finally said. I don't know, she said, it might be nothing.

They went in. Questions, tests. Waiting. Blood work and scans and specialists. More waiting. More doctors. It could be this, it could be that. Valuable time passing. They hit the Internet. Did countless searches, absorbed the results, tried not to get too frightened. Diseases you've never heard of, obscure conditions that ravaged the body and mind. Then more tests. They went in again, again, again. And now they knew.

"It's lunchtime already," he said. "Would you like something to eat?"

Before leaving in the morning they'd forgotten to turn off the coffee maker. The house now smelling burnt and vulnerable.

"No," she said. "No thanks. I'm fine. I'm not sure what I want to do."

"You sure? I could make you a sandwich."

"I think I just want to sit. Let's sit."

They sat down on the sofa in the living room. The curtains were still drawn. Light leaked in from outside, a meager attempt at illumination. He felt the weight of the moment and didn't know what to say or do. He felt it, the moment, in the temples of his forehead and deep in his chest, a sensation he remembered from when he asked Emily to marry him, from when each of their children was born. He looked down at the coffee table and saw the newspaper he'd read yesterday. It was a different object now. Transformed. The same pictures and words, yes, but they had been altered between the time they left and when they got back. He glanced around the walls, the room, the hallway leading to the downstairs den where he sometimes napped and read U.S. News and World Report and biographies of dead presidents. He thought of the backyard outside and the white gate and beyond that their peek-a-boo view (quoting the real estate agent who sold them the house) of the Pacific Ocean. This was where they lived. This was their home. And yet it was all different now. The carpet—it was a color he no longer knew the name of.

"We should call Tim and Amanda," she said.

He nodded. This was true. They would have to tell their children, another dread.

"But later, okay?" he said.

"Okay," she said. "Later then."

So they sat and waited and after a while he turned on the TV. They sat there and watched one show and then another until it got dark, the screen glowing before them, a forgiving radiance that neither wanted to end.

"It's getting late," she said, her voice sounding tired and drugged and ancient, already half gone.

And he wanted to reach over and touch her face, her arm, to see if that would be different too, her skin, her lips, also transformed, but he couldn't bring himself to do it, not yet, he wanted to touch and verify but he also didn't want to frighten or alarm, it was another important moment, one that he knew he would relive many, many times and he didn't want to do anything wrong or make her jump or disturb her, but then he realized she'd fallen asleep, his wife, Emily Marie Kennard, girl and then woman of his dreams, all these years, all this history and significance, and he just sat there and gave up and did not give up and believed and did not believe and listened to her breathe and it was a beautiful sound and a resilient sound and it was hard to imagine that such a thing would cease happening, that it would be gone from this earth and from him, and soon. Miller didn't want to move. They could try A, B, or C. He listened to the house settle, an old, familiar, soothing creaking now rendered new and alarming.

Andrew Roe lives in Oceanside, California. His debut novel, BELIEVERS, is forthcoming from Algonquin.

Read more of his work in the archive.

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of Arnold Chao.

W i g l e a f               04-10-14                                [home]