Excerpt 1 from Red Hot Sinner Man
By Stephen B. Bagley
The first thing Alex learned about cancer was that it scared other people. Oh, they put on a brave face, they plied him with sympathy, they shook their heads regretfully and spouted things like, “We’ll be thinking about you” or “Keep a positive attitude” or “You’ll be in our prayers.” Then they would delicately ask if he smoked or if cancer ran in his family or did he eat too much red meat or had he worked somewhere where he could have been exposed to a terrible chemical that caused the tumor wrapped around his spine. They wanted to know why he had cancer so that they could avoid it or be relieved that they didn’t smoke or eat red meat or do whatever it was that made him sick. They were afraid of this death that worked in the cubicle next to them. After those few words of concern, those muted conversations, they began to avoid him. Nothing overt. Just conversation fading away when he walked up or sat down at the table in the break room. Dead silences that went on so long that he could hear every rustle of paper, every click of a pen, every cough as loud as the Methodist church bell at noon.
When he realized this, he withdrew. He went silent. He retreated into his cubicle and wished for a door. He felt ashamed, almost as if cancer was some sort of STD, like he was sick because he was unclean, a leper among the washed. He was a sick person among the healthy, and he didn’t blame them for being squeamish about him. Who wants to be reminded of their own mortality? Who wants to hear the ticking of the clock? Who wants to know they won’t live forever? That a disease can strike them down despite all the raw vegetables consumed and all the miles sweated? He had felt the way they felt before Mr. C entered his life. So he understood. He would be quiet. He would die politely. He would make it easy on them since he couldn’t make it easy on himself.
At least that was what he thought he would do at first. Then he met Abby, and everything changed.
(Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. Thank you for reading.)