About a month ago I pulled my story “Living With Cancer” from an anthology because I wasn’t happy with how it was turning out (the book and my story). I’m rewriting the last quarter of the piece to give more validity to the final actions of Ethan, my protagonist. This story was the first I’d written that (I feel) had a chance at publication and it provided an outlet for feelings I’d had since my mother passed away due to small cell lung cancer.
William Jones reeducated me on the art of writing and I tried to implement his sage advice in my tale in the form of an overarching theme and words specifically chosen to be conducive to that theme. Unlike most of my fiction, this story is very subdued and entirely character driven. There is mention of a monster, but it never rears its head, nor is it even aware of the protagonists. Here the first few paragraphs to give you an idea of what I'm babbling about:
“I love you Ethan.”
“I love you too, Beth.” Ethan murmured as he rolled over in bed and gazed upon his wife’s tormented face. Morning light filtered through the curtains; there, in that wan glow, Ethan could see all the suffering in the world. “Are you ready to get cleaned up?”
“Yes please.” Beth urged. A couple of months back her gaunt face had contracted into a sneer on one side that slurred her speech as the cancer assaulted her with stroke-like symptoms.
With a grunt, Ethan swung his legs over the side of their bed, stood and stretched. The popcorn popping of his joints felt oddly pleasant after a rough sleep. Most days he awoke feeling as if a great weight were grinding upon his shoulders, today especially. Opening the curtains a little to let in some more light, he and Beth went through their morning ritual.
Ethan half filled a bowl with warm, soapy water from the bathroom and put a sponge in it to soak. Laying the bowl down on the dresser, he gently unbuttoned Beth’s pajamas and carefully proceeded to sponge bathe her. Dead skin flakes on her neck and chest sloughed away, leaving angry red flesh behind – symptoms of the radiation therapy.
“How does the water feel Beth, is it too hot?”
“No,” Beth whispered blissfully. “It feels nice.”
Beth had to be bathed every day because a miasma of sulfur permeated her clothing, bed linen, and lingered upon her skin if she wasn’t. The stench of medical science’s often futile war with disease turned Ethan’s stomach; it reminded him of brimstone and the Pit. If asked, Ethan would have readily assented that only in Hell could such a cruel infliction been thrown. After he had washed the irradiated areas clean, Ethan applied a prescribed salve to keep the burns moist and promote healing.