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
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,
"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
"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
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