Kenneth Curtis Brown
“It’s alright if things get too tough I’ll just kill myself.” Kathy said, deadpan as she stared into her reflection in the bathroom mirror. In her hand the buzzer vibrated like some angry beast just freed from any restraints or chains.
Kathy stood there as if Paul was invisible, nonexistent and insignificant. In truth that was exactly how her husband felt and how he looked at this point. A mangled scruff of dirty brown hair had formed over his pallid, sagging, face and his eyes did not hide the last few sleepless nights since he had been given the news.
“Come on, don’t be like this.” Paul pleaded. Still Kathy did not turn to face or acknowledge her husband.
The buzzer moved about violently as Kathy raised it to her scalp.
“She had no right to tell you, that bitch.”
Perhaps this was a better train of thought for her, Paul conceded to himself. Since the reveal two Thursday’s past Paul had witnessed Kathy turn from furious and violent, to inconsolable. Just yesterday he had watched Kathy shriek and sob into her pillow. Now, here she was, somber but seemingly emotionless. With a heavy sigh, Paul realized that this was actually the first time the two of them talked today at all.
“Look, have you even eaten anything? You’re as thin as a shoelace. I swear it’s like you haven’t had anything to eat in a week,” inquired Paul as she stared at the increasingly boney frame of his wife.
The attempt at changing Kathy’s focus crashed and burned. “She had no right to tell you. I was supposed to be the one who should have told you.”
“This is ridiculous!” Paul groaned in frustration. “Does it really matter who told me? It doesn’t change anything! I’m still here, we’ll do this together.”
“She didn’t have any god damn right to tell you.”
Paul began to shake his head frantically. His hands were raised high in defeat. “Why does it matter so much for chrissakes? Besides she’s your sister!”
Finally, Kathy’s head turned to meet the frustrated look on Paul’s face. Her eyes were tired and bloodshot from all the turmoil she experienced in the last few hours. Her lips had grown thin and colorless. To Paul, they were the kind he imagined he would see on a corpse lying in a casket for a wake. Kathy curved her mouth into a slight scowl.
“Because it involves me,” said Kathy. “It was about the only goddamn decision I have now in this whole mess.”
“Sweetheart…” No other words came to Paul. Silent, he wanted to say something comforting, something that would remove any fears she had. But nothing came.
Kathy continued, still seemingly speaking to herself instead of the man she stared at. “You think I have any other choice in the matter? All that radiation they’re going to pump into me, turning into a skeleton? It’s either that or die, Paul. Tell me where’s the choice? Where’s the decision I get to make when everyone’s got ribbons and stupid shirts on pretending they care, rooting me on because it’s the flavor of the month? Huh, go on and tell me!”
The biting tone in Kathy’s words sent Paul back a step. A trickle of liquid descended absently down his cheek. A million and one thoughts racked in his head, of what to say, to do. He thought to go and hug her, but she had been so distant and cold. Recent memories of trying to be the doting husband flooded back to him. He tried to desperately nurture Kathy, to help her or at least take her mind of the news. But it had all backfired. She turned so angry in those past days. Everything he had tried seemed to agitate her and given her excuse to fire back on him.
That was when Paul had become angry back at her. Screaming back, his own frustrations at what had been revealed from someone else growing too great.
“Go lay down and die if that what you want! You’re just using this as an excuse to take everything out on me!” Paul remembered screaming all of that to Kathy days ago. The stupidity in his words was evident the split second they had escaped his mouth. He apologized the moment he had fired his verbal jabs at her. The damage had been done.
Now here he was, trapped in a prison of forced apathy watching his wife suffer. She was a husk, a shell of the vibrant woman he used to know. Paul stared hard at his wife whose own eyes gazed into the mirror, unaware or uncaring for what he thought. Impotent, angry, words bubbled from the bottom of Paul’s gut and navigated towards his mouth to be fired at Kathy. Catching his words at the base of his throat Paul swallowed his initial words and remained silent. Slowly before Paul’s eyes the electric buzzer moved closer to Kathy’s scalp.
“Please, don’t. You don’t even know if you’re going to lose your hair!” Paul pleaded.
“You don’t want to be caught seeing a bald woman. What are you going to do when you’re pushing me around in a wheelchair, or will that be a job for the kids?” Kathy asked in her toneless voice.
Paul dragged his hand up and down his face in an attempted to the irritated look off. He could not risk a foul look deteriorating the conversation with Kathy any further. At this point he was at wits end. The rope that held together his composure had slowly begun to break, ready for all of it to come crashing down.
“It’s not like that,” insisted Paul. “Sometimes you don’t lose your hair or any of that.”
“Hahaha!” A mocking laughter chortled from Kathy. “Are you serious? It’s going to be six months in and I’ll be looking like a skeleton before all of this is through. And then we get to figure out if I’m going to die or not.”
Paul groaned in response to Kathy’s laughter. “Why? We have that stupid party Saturday, why do you want to do that now?”
“No one else knows.”
“After I find out you knew I doubled checked with my sister. No one else knows.”
A confused look smeared across Paul’s face. “So you want to shave your head and have everyone start talking behind your back?”
“It’s better to start wasting away before everyone’s eyes and deal with the whispering little by little?” Kathy shot her eyes sideways to her husband, slowly she lowered the buzzer. “Don’t want everyone asking you what’s wrong with me right off the bat?”
A weakness crept upward through Paul’s legs. The wind knocked out of him, Paul placed his back against the wall.
“Oh, come on!” Anger once again began to bubble upwards from Paul. Kathy stared back into the mirror, head tilted, unconcerned. “How can you say that?”
“You want me to fake it like nothing’s going on? I can pretend, smile and laugh until we leave and make you happy. Or we can just skip the whole thing all together, or you can go by yourself so I won’t embarrass you.”
“But you were the one who wanted me to make the reservations!”
“So you’re mad at me and it’s my fault. I’m sorry,” whispered Kathy quietly.
Time froze for Paul. An apology, that sort of apology, at a moment like this. It felt as if someone had punched Paul square in the stomach. Shaking his head, Paul desperately and immediately recollected his thoughts.
“It’s not like that dammit,” seethed Paul. “Look I just don’t want you to do anything crazy. The diagnosis just happened. I just don’t want you doing anything you’ll be upset about and we can’t fix.”
Kathy’s head bobbed, tilting off to give her husband a tired look. There was no look of anger on Paul’s wife. Her eyes possessed none of the vigor, there was no life in her at all. It was then Paul knew she was a different person. The woman who vaguely reminded Paul stared on.
“We? Fix? I can’t believe you,” chuckled Kathy as she shook her head. “You think this is all something you can slap a band aid on and forget. You just want to do that bit where you pretend like you fixing it all up like that screw up you had on that business trip? Hell, you kept her number a week after you said you wanted to make it all up too me.”
The ember of cynicism in those words ignited a forest of fire of rage through Paul. “Really, after all these years you’re going to bring that crap up!? What you want me to go?”
Kathy sighed, body and soul too tired for arguments. “No, you know I don’t.”
Screaming furiously Paul’s body spun, his fist sent crashing through the plaster of the hallway wall. Wrist deep through the inside of the house, Paul tore his hand free only to send it once more, punching through the wall.
“Just tell me! What in the hell do you want me to do?!” Paul screamed at the top of his lungs. Luckily for the two of them, their tween-age children were at school, and used to the screaming. Rage flooded through Paul who desperately tried to be a better man, a husband long since holding the burden of mistakes carried for too long. “What do you want me to do!?”
Weakly, Kathy shrugged her deteriorating shoulders. She had grown tired of her husband’s dense skull. “Paul, pretty soon I won’t have any choice at all in the matter. I’ll wither away even though I’ll go through the motions and try to be here for the kids and you. I’ll smile be chipper and positive because that’s what I’m supposed to do.”
As quickly as it came, the fire rampaging through Paul was extinguished. A shiver ran down his spine as the adrenaline spiraled. It was then Paul glimpsed at the tear filled eyes staring at their tired reflections in the mirror. Paul took a quick look at the handy work on the wall. If he could, Paul would send a punch hurtling into his skull for his stupidity.
“Well, then just tell me what you want and whatever you decide that’s what we’ll do.”
“I just want to have some control in the situation,” answered Kathy. “I don’t want to wait for the radiation or the doctors and all the damn appointments. I don’t want to wait for something in all this to happen.”
“Fine, go ahead.”
The buzzer, revving with life approached upward towards Kathy’s head. Slowly, the clippers approached. Though formed into a fashionable hairstyle that Paul splurged on for the big event, Kathy’s hair had become increasingly thin. Whether by anxiety or illness neither husband or wife knew. Paul watched as Kathy took whatever control of the situation she needed.
Buzz! Buzz! Buzz!
Kathy never blinked as she worked the sheers. Little by little, the oversized blue t-shirt Kathy had worn for the last two days became covered in clumps of hair. The procedure lasted longer than both of them had anticipated. Statuesque, Paul remained still as he watched his wife destroy every bit of hair on her head. After what felt like forever Kathy stared her bald head in the mirror, bare and naked for everyone to see.
With it all done Kathy was bald as an infant. Finally Paul approached his wife. Cautiously his wraps wrapped around her and brought her close, despite being covered by itchy strands of hair. Sobs muffled themselves inside of Paul’s shirt sleeves. Though he could not fathom the reasoning Kathy had made her decision, and he stood behind that with her. Finally, the small motor inside of the buzzer quieted as Kathy flipped the power switch to off.
“Well, it’s whatever you want,” said Paul as he held Kathy and stared at her naked head in the reflection.
“I guess.” Kathy answered back meekly. “I bet you’re never going to want to be seen with me in public.”
“Do you still want to go out this weekend?” Kathy asked.
“It’s your choice.”