Cancer by Mike Powers

Pale, sunken in faces surround me. They glance across at me as they walk past, dark circles surrounding their eyes, vague with disappointment.  They’re searching for an answer. An answer no one can give them. Their bones are protruding, their muscles weak. Their bodies simply tired. Searching eyes look up at me, from the children wondering why. You can see they are exhausted. Exhausted from the toxic inhibitors that have been running through their bodies, attacking the trauma within. An array of pinks, greens, purples and reds lay bruised upon their weakened arms. Evidence of a low platelet count. Evidence of a body under attack.

Hairless heads complete with an absence of eyebrows, drive the cars that sit next to me on the roads. A hearse pulls up behind me, another adjacent to me. They are just so common these days, people tend to not even blink at them. A nurse pushing a wheelchair crosses the pedestrian crossing. In the wheelchair, a lady, eyes bulging, head rolling from side to side with every bump in the road. Her skin is pale and taught. An ambulance rushes past me, sirens screaming. Another bed the hospital doesn’t have. Another person to wait in the corridor. Another person it will be just too late for. Statistics say one in three have the dreaded big C now, and as you look around, you can see it.

The city streets resemble hospital corridors. Men, women and children with white blankets covering their fragile bodies populate the sidewalks. Drips hang from the ones with wheelchairs, attaching to their hand, in a red and bruised patch. They look cold. Under the blanket, you know they are nothing but skin and bones. The drip filters through their system, sustaining their life and rehydrating them. But most of the time it isn’t enough.

Walking through the supermarket doors, I fight with my conscience. Why am I doing this..? Why do I continue to buy her another packet, another frustration? She knows that it is bad for her. She knows it contributed. But then again, is it too little too late? Who am I to judge? I walk throught the supermarket isles grabbing as I go. There is no time for cooking, quick and easy is the go. Packaged foods; chips, pre cooked frozen meals, and fatty fast food. Could this contribute? Some studies say yes. Buts some doctors say no. I chuck in some fruit to make my trolley look better.

We step out the car with our heads held high, this won’t be the last. We pass another person taking out a wheelchair for their wife, daughter or their son. We are all going to the same place. The sign looms above. Walking into a doorway the walls surrounding us covered in names of patients once before, into the dark gloomy, silver plated elevator just big enough to hold four. Floor 3 emerges as the doors open and we are greeted with bright light. Out and around the corner I realise I am not the only daughter or friend. I am just one in a crowd. This place, the Innovation for Cancer Centre, reminds me of a supermarket. People walk in, line up, get there goods, and leave again. It is just common practise. After we wait in a cue for the receptionists to take names, we’re left standing, the seats are full with elderly, young and brave, all still holding on for that breakthrough and a reason to blame there sickness on. A medium aged man walks past and offers a selection of coffee, teas and biscuits to lighten the mood, most take him in others too afraid to let another one in, I wipe the vomit from my mother’s face, so dull and lifeless, the room smelling of chemicals and bile.

Next patient, I look around, oh wait… that’s her. Pushing past the waiting cues you walk down a corridor full of trolleys with files until you reach a door, inside you feel closed in. The door shuts and your left in a white room, the only colour on a picture of random lines, is this how they want us to feel? Closed in? Unimportant? She is just that one in three; a simple number.

“Nothing more we can do!”… The words go straight through me.

“What if she stops smoking, what if she eats better?”

“Nothing you do now is going to stop the cancer.”

“But could it have been made less aggressive?”

Nobody can answer, nobody knows the answer.
“Did the chemo do anything?”
“She tried but it’s too aggressive….”

 

If it’s too aggressive and the drugs don’t do a thing why is it being offered, why are patients, innocent people led to believe that chemo is the best option, is chemo doing more harm? Do the stats of death to survival warrant polluting a body? It is so severe that you can’t even wash patients’ clothes with other washing due to residue spreading and harming others, so then why inject it? My mother says she is cold, I place a blanket over her, tell her to close her eyes and imagine she is on a warm, sunny beach, somewhere that is not here. Anywhere but here.

Supposedly modern medicines are here to help us and guarantee our survival in this world, but its modern medicine that takes everything you have left and washes it away, injecting someone with morphine because its scheduled and they think they are in pain, using haloperidol to control the jitters caused by the morphine and injecting buscopan to stop the chuckling in the chest due to the body shutting down, you do it because you care. But in the back of my mind the questions loom. Am I killing her? Am I the reason she can’t talk? Am I stopping her from breathing properly?

My mother closes her eyes. I sit quietly next to her, reading my trashy magazine. Shit, this world is full of shit. While glancing round the clinical smelling room, I notice a table of magazines. Well there has to be something on there better than the trash I am currently reading. As I wonder over to the table, the people stare at you, the same vague look in their eyes. Some look sad, some frustrated, and some give you the look of ‘you’re next.’ They are probably right.

I pick up a random magazine. Women’s Health, oh how fitting. I flick through the pages, without purpose. Fitness articles, healthy food articles, articles on how to improve your quality of life and how to be happy. It’s hard to be happy when sickness is all around you. Our way of living, our lifestyle is full of carcinogens, ranging from radiation, processed foods and preservatives in packaged foods to even simple daily things such as barbequing, which can form benzene, a simple carcinogen. Are they serious!?! We can’t even eat without potential harm. With a flick of the page an anti smoking campaign props up from the page. Colour scheme, red back and white, how original! This magazine isn’t helping me rid my mind of questions.  So does cigarette smoke to contribute to cancers in other parts of the body, is the air we breathe polluted and causing our bodies to shut down before our time? I am sitting reading this magazine, with my mother, sitting next to me, getting pumped with a drug that is attacking her cells, the bad ones, but the good as well. It makes you wonder. This is my mother, my brother’s mother, my dad’s wife, my grandma’s daughter and my future kid’s grandmother. Carcinogens surround us; we live in a world full of them. How do we avoid them? We can’t. I guess she is just that one in three. A simple statistic.

 

Carcinogens or cancer? Hmmm. Well it is contentious!

 

 

 

 

 

Elsie by Katie Claryn

Elsie looked in the mirror and sucked in her tummy. The lit up numbers on the mirror told her her age, height, weight, and vital organ stats. She ignored them all, especially the blinking red light tracking her liver. Yep, definitely losing fat. She wanted to be in shape before they started their family, so she could keep up with whatever ragamuffin came home with them. She grabbed her bag and left for work. At the train station she zoned out waiting for her ride to work. Loudspeakers hooted out their advertisements, and a giant smiling baby with droplets of tears on its eyelashes peered off one of the huge bill boards. “Please feed me. Donate today!” the animated speech bubble begged. Pulling out her screen Elsie wired fifty dollars to the RSCC. No wine tonight then.

Lisa had busted Fleur out of the pound when she was ten, and even that was pretty old for a rehome. Lisa took on all sorts though, the babies and the teenagers. Sometimes they were dumped at her gate, found crawling on the road. So another trip to the doctor it was, with another bill to pay. They lived there until they died though, or were adopted. The new laws made it tough, kids like Fleur might stay there their whole lives. Fleur was one of the older ones at the shelter, already fifteen, anywhere else would have killed her. Unless someone adopted her, she couldn’t move on in life. No job, no education. Time was running out for teenagers. So many times people called asking for a baby and dodged Lisa’s questions about why not an older child? Some were blunt though: too much baggage.

There was a protest happening when Elsie and David went to the Royal Society for the Care of Children. Placards reading “RSCC: Gratefully using your donations to kill me” with grainy photos of babies, red stickers everywhere. Elsie pushed open the door and a frazzled secretary smiled at them. She led them down a hallway and left them to browse the children. They pressed their noses against the glass or gurgled from their bassinets, some with toys spread across the floor, some had books, while others had nothing. They knew what they wanted; girl, baby, blonde hair to match their own, Caucasian. There were none. Elise and David left, promising to come back in a few weeks, and to keep an eye on the website for new arrivals. On the way out a protester shoved a small book into her hand and Elsie responded with a nervous smile. Thinking the protester mights tart yelling at her, she made a point of carefully tucking the book into her bag.The RSCC do a great job Elsie thought on the way home.

A child sat in a glass room as Elsie and David browsed the windows and didn’t even glance at the seven year old. Blood and cornchips; sharp, salty, grainy. The only thing the child ever tasted when she is in here, the corn food was meant to sustain not nourish, and tasted pretty cheap. She can hear the girl in the room next to her pacing again. Three steps, turn, five steps, turn, three, five, over and over. Teeth brushed, breakfast done, gums bleeding. Must be reading time then. She picks up her book and lets the colours from the pages blur while she daydreams about her family. They will come soon. She falls asleep re-reading the sign over her bed: The RSCC Loves You.

Elsie flicked through the brochure the RSCC had given her, but she had already read it twice. Elsie’s screen had started sending targeted ads for children available. She didn’t want one of those kids though. It wasn’t even illegal, this unscrupulous breeding for profit. You had no guarantees of health though with those children! At least the RSCC made sure the children were healthy, and if they weren’t they put them out of their misery. Behaviour was a problem too. The RSCC made sure your new child was well behaved, not violent, or shy, or fearful. The poor mistreated babies had to be put to sleep otherwise, it wasn’t their fault, but it was for the best. It was better for society Elsie reassured herself; you need to make sure you only have well behaved kids out there.

Lisa picked up the phone and called RSCC again. Yes, that child would be PTS tomorrow. No, you can’t have her for your no-kill shelter. Why? No law says we have to give her to you. The phone went dead, and Lisa wiped away her tears before any of the children saw them. There shouldn’t have to be a law when it comes to protecting a child’s life. Lisa went and prepared for her double shift at the factory, so she could have the money to save more lives.

The Diesel Engine by Timothy Berky

The sound of a diesel churning truck engine rumbled faintly in the distance with a threat like approaching thunder.
Emily wiped an arm across her forehead, and felt the sweat in her escaping fringe drag across her skin. Posters stuck on fences of chicken-wire were illuminated by the dozens of small bonfires like that which Emily diligently tended were emblazoned with slogans such as ‘Seek Truth!’ and ‘Fact is Freedom!.’
The time horn sounded across the cold night, and a gate into the enclosure swung open as the third shift arrived for the late night shift. Emily reached into the bin beside her and took out a handful of thin paper back novels. She relaxed her fingers and let the paper slide through her fingers onto the hard packed dirt, and bent over, cursing under her breath to pick them up.
If her replacement saw her slip a dog-eared copy of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray into the gaping top of her regulation gum boots as she picked up the novels one by one and threw them into the fire, he made no sign of it. She wasn’t the only one who did.
The book chaffed against her leg on the walk home almost as much as the pay check in her pocket grated on her conscience.
She lived only a couple of streets away from her work, close enough that even windows shut tightly and stuffed door snakes to stop the draught on cold nights couldn’t stop the pervading smell of smoke that seemed to soak into her very bones – or so she’d been told. She wasn’t sure she could remember what smoke smelled like.
Once her front door was shut firmly behind her and the bolt drawn across, Emily reached into the top of her boot and withdrew her contraband. She walked through her hallway and into the dated 90s kitchen, before crawling down under her kitchen table, and reached to pull up the loose floorboard hiding her cache of illegal goods.
She showered, stripping off her work clothes and letting the hot water wash away both soot and sins.
There came a knock at the door. Feeling the books hidden under her kitchen like a tangible presence at her back, Emily peered through the tiny peephole in the centre of the door, stepped back, unbolted it, and let the assorted
troupe of fellow members of The Society for Periodic Table Appreciation into her house, and then bolted the door firmly behind them.
The six other members of The Society for Periodic Table Appreciation arranged themselves in a circle around the coffee table and unpacked the shopping bags they’d brought with them, filled with packets of biscuits, the makings of hot chocolate, and in one case, a container filled with home made mini quiches.
Snippets of conversation made their way to Emily as she leaned against a kitchen cabinet and waited for the kettle to boil.
“I think, like, Neville could have been it, you know? I know everyone gets all teary eyed at Harry, but Neville is a bona fide just found out i have herpes badass.”
“I find the parallels between Lily throwing herself between Harry and death and Narcissa lying to Voldemort’s face to save Malfoy really beautiful. How many mother figures have we lost?”
For the first time in months, Emily almost through she could smell smoke.