Extract from: Cancer Pirates
She would have never guessed that radiation for prostate cancer didn’t make you lose your hair. That’s what she wanted to tell him when he opened the Volvo door, but as usual she lost her nerve and kept her mouth shut. Instead she just plopped herself down on the passenger seat, on top of all the random crap he called his “office supplies”: the Walgreens pharmacy bags, the Depends receipts from Walmart, the pages of stapled medical documents.
“Oh, wait!” he said. “Just, um. Nevermind.”
He drove away like he was perfectly okay with everything.
Now they were parked outside the plant nursery, the engine still running as he ran inside to get something: more suet for the birdfeeder, a thermometer for soil, fuck if she knew. Dealing with nature was his thing, in the same way that writing Yelp reviews of restaurants she’d never been to was hers. She kept her eyes on the dashboard clock: if he came back in the next five minutes, and they didn’t hit too many red lights, they’d still be able to make it to the radiation session on time. He liked going to the early morning ones because you’d see fewer of the worst cases. “Dying people are late risers,” he’d said once, cracking his knuckles in the waiting room, and she’d looked up at the ceiling and asked him if he thought Cosmopolitan magazine was sexist. The Walgreens bag squeaked every time she moved her butt.
In order to feel like a nice considerate girlfriend instead of a stupid useless one, she started pulling out papers out from beneath her and tossing them in the back. It felt good to just throw shit everywhere, like she just plain did not give a fuck. It was especially delicious when the coffee-stained WinCo receipt hit the window’s bull’s-eye. WinCo was where the cashier had asked her if she’d liked to make a donation for cancer, forgetting to say “research.” “For cancer? I’m against, motherdick.” She’d left without grabbing her pennies from the little cup.
They were already in Week 3 and she still had no idea what it was like. She hadn’t been able to bring herself to ask him. Was it a laser beam they shot at his body, a giant cancer zapper? How did it know how to detect tumors? Did they light up on his body like a Christmas tree? She used her fingernails to pick the loose dimes off the floor.
Or maybe it was a big machine that they wheeled you into on a gurney, like on those medical TV shows she couldn’t watch anymore: a black machine, beeping and blinking. Maybe being inside was peaceful, like a meditation retreat, a way to finally get away from it all. Or maybe it was like being inside a coffin. Maybe designing it that way was the medical establishment’s way to prepare you to be dead, a sick kind of heads-up. Doctors. She wanted nothing to do with them.
The complete story can be found in our UEA Special Edition Volume Three
Julianne Pachico grew up in Colombia and now lives in Norwich, where she is completing her PhD in Creative and Critical Writing at UEA. In 2015 she was longlisted for the Sunday Times Short Story prize. Her pamphlet "The Tourists" is available from Daunt Books.