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Fair Fight

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The city is surging around me. I haven’t breathed yet and I’m already fourteen blocks from the apartment. The red and green stoplights are blinking rapidly, changing their names too fast for me to give them separate identities. Everything’s running together, sights and sounds and smells all flooding my body. The world’s shifting, changing beneath my feet and all I can do is walk. The sunset is sliding down the glassy-eyed skyscrapers, a blood-red and rosy pink mixture of passing time. I wish I could stop everything.
July was the first time I sat in a hospital waiting room and breathed in the smell of antiseptic-fueled hope. I read Vanity Fair four times waiting for the doctor to come out, barely glancing at the glossy photos. The TV was mumbling bad news to all of us slouched in the deceivingly comfortable chairs. My dad called but I deferred him to voicemail, figured he could deal with speaking to nothing if that’s what he was going to leave us with. The lady next to me looked like those anorexic models you see in magazines, all bones and angular features, except she wasn’t wearing any low-riding jeans or lingerie so I didn’t think she was that pretty. Her eyes were hollow, red-rimmed, and she had a cheetah-print scarf wrapped around her head. I glanced away before she could see me searching for consolation in her sickly eyes. Dr. Shaw called me into a bare room where she was sitting on the small table, looking frail and scared. He was a tall man in a white coat; white for pure of conscience and superior knowledge judging by his attitude. He spoke like I didn’t know what was happening, like he never let the word ‘cancer’ fall from his mouth. Like I didn’t know she wouldn’t make it. I deleted my dad’s message without listening to it.
August brought the first day of my waitressing job; we needed money to pay the rent. A white t-shirt and black pants made me look five years older than I really was. She told me I looked beautiful through dry, cracked lips and wished me a hoarse good luck. I told her to get some rest, even though we both knew that rest would be punctuated by numerous trips to the bathroom. I forced a smile just for her and bit back a good luck. Luck wasn’t going to save her. As I stepped out the door I realized I had forgotten to tell her she was beautiful. But then I figured I had already lied to her once today; I told her she was going to be OK, so I left instead.
September meant another season of an endless soap opera called high school. I kept my phone turned off in the pocket of my jacket; no one ever had anything good to say anymore. I stopped doing homework, stopped trying, and took care of her. I did the grocery shopping, the housework, and drove her to the appointments. I stared at the pictures of Dr. Shaw’s life he kept on the polished mahogany desk, wondering if he ever went home and cried. I wondered if he ever thought it was too much. I felt like the cherry tree outside our apartment. The cherries were turning red, ripe and ready to burst. I was ready to burst too; there was a time bomb strapped to my chest. I kept the window open at night to hear the world turning over like a new leaf, so I could convince myself I was still alive. I woke up shivering to leave bad dreams and enter a nightmarish reality. She was wasting away in the next room and I couldn’t do anything but stare.
October meant I sat by her bed from the time I got home from school until I had to work. I memorized every stitch of the pattern on her bedspread and how her bony fingers lay on it, barely warm enough to be alive.
Today is October tenth. Today’s the day I came home from school and found her gone. She was just a shell, cold and small in the bed, barely leaving a footprint in the world. I dropped my bag in the doorway and rushed to her side. I whispered, “Not yet, not yet, not yet,” to myself, tears burning in my eyes. I was too young. These kinds of things shouldn’t happen to people who did the right thing. I touched her hand and it was cool; no rush of blood to reassure me. I knew I couldn’t stay there so I started walking the fourteen blocks to the park. This wasn’t a fair fight; not for her, not for me either. The odds had been against her from the start. Why did I have to be a casualty too?
I throw myself on the park bench and bury my face in my hands. I take one long inhale of chilly autumn air and let it settle into my bones. There’s only one thing left to do, so I dig my phone out of my jacket pocket and dial the number. He picks up on the second ring, worry and panic straining his deep voice.
“Becca? Is that you?”
My heart’s starting to ache. “Dad?” I bite my tongue, glance at the sky and feel the tears start. My heart hurts. “Dad.” I repeat his name, trying to shake how weird it sounds.
“Becca, I’m right here. What happened? Is your mom alright?”
“She’s dead, Dad.” Reality’s setting in. My voice cracks. “She’s gone.”





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