We went to the hospital to visit my wife’s ex-boyfriend. He had cancer.
He lay in bed watching a basketball game while a nurse took blood from his arm.
We waited in the hallway.
My wife said, “He looks fine.”
I said, “It’s only his knee, right?”
“Something like that.”
“How bad can that be?”
The nurse came out. We went in.
“This is ridiculous,” said my wife’s ex-boyfriend.
He looked very short and hairy in the bed.
“How do you feel?” said my wife.
“Not like I’ve got cancer. I feel fine.”
I didn’t know what to say so I didn’t say anything. Sick people made
me nervous. I wished they didn’t—I knew they shouldn’t—but
“I didn’t know you could get cancer in your knee,” he said. “Where
did it come from?”
“I think you can get cancer in just about any body part whatsoever,” said
“Don’t say that so loudly,” I said.
My wife said, “Show me your knee.”
He flipped back the sheet and showed her his knee. It didn’t look diseased.
It looked like a regular knee.
“There’s a lump,” he said. “Put your finger here and
rub a little bit.”
He placed my wife’s finger on his knee. My wife rubbed the cancerous lump
on her ex-boyfriend’s knee.
“I can feel it,” she said. “It’s smaller than I would
“They say they might have to cut my leg off.”
I had to pee. There was a bathroom in the room but a sign on the door warned
me away. It was only for patients.
I wandered down the hallway looking for a bathroom. I couldn’t find one,
so I went up to the next floor. There were several people pulling IV drips along
the hallways. They clung to them as if their legs would fall off without them.
I found a bathroom and went in. While I was peeing a man came out of the stall
behind me and asked if I wanted a blowjob. I finished peeing and tucked my dick
back into my pants.
“Ah shit, I thought you were somebody else,” he said.
He wore thick glasses and had a dark, Mediterranean look to him. For some reason
I thought he looked Greek. In other words, he could have been anybody.
“Are you a patient here?” I said.
“No, no. I’m just visiting.”
“You give blowjobs in the men’s room of the oncology ward?”
“I like men, all right?”
“Look, I’m really sorry. It was a misunderstanding, OK? I thought
you were somebody else.”
He followed me into the hallway.
“I hope you’re not going to report me to security.”
“Not unless you keep following me.”
“Oh, thanks. Really. It won’t happen again. God, I’m so sorry.
This has never happened before.”
He went back into the bathroom.
I got in the elevator. I wanted to see the view from the top floor. I wanted
to see the lake.
The elevator stopped at almost every floor. People got on, people got off. Some
were doctors. The doctors were the loudest. They laughed as if it were keeping
them alive. People were dying behind every door, yet they carried on as if no
one had ears but other doctors. They laughed in each other’s faces. They
made plans for the weekend. They talked about last summer. They laughed as they
got on and off the elevator. Probably it was just me, though. I doubted most
people wanted gloomy doctors visibly obsessed with death.
A woman got in the elevator with me. She went up two floors and got off. I followed
her. Until that moment I’d had no idea I was capable of something like
She was young. She had long straight hair and walked as if she were passing through
invisible doorways with each step. She reminded me of my wife.
We were in the maternity ward. New people, the people of the future, were entering
the world behind closed doors.
I felt like a trespasser.
I pretended the woman was my wife and we were going to see our new baby, even
though that made no sense, since my wife wouldn’t be riding up in the elevator
with me to visit our new baby. Not unless we’d used a surrogate mother.
Why would we do that?
She turned a corner and kept walking. I stayed about ten steps behind her. We
passed the nurses’ station. Then we turned another corner. Now we were
headed toward the elevator again. She turned the final corner and pushed the
button to call the elevator. We’d done a big rectangle together around
the maternity ward. I waited behind her. She got on. I followed her.
She pushed a button. Then she looked at me.
“Oncology,” I said.
She pushed another button. She hadn’t even asked what floor it was on.
I stood in the corner of the elevator. I didn’t know what was happening.
Maybe I’d fallen in love with this strange woman who wandered like a future
ghost through the hallways of our hospital.
The elevator stopped and she got out. When the doors slid shut I said, “Goodbye,
It was over. I was alone again.
I got out at oncology.
I stood outside the doorway listening to my real wife and her ex-boyfriend. He
was crying a little.
She said, “You’re a strong person. Indestructible.”
“I’ve never thought of myself in those terms.”
“It’s true. Everybody knows it.”
He said, “I guess I’m just at a low ebb is all.”
“Of course, you’ve got cancer! But you’ll get through this.
I promise you.”
Then she said, “Well, I can’t make any promises, but you’ll
get through this somehow.”
“I don’t know if I even want to.”
“Hey, don’t talk like that! It’s just your knee. How bad can
Now she was paraphrasing me to her ex-boyfriend.
“You don’t know what’s going on in my life,” he said.
“I don’t need to know either.”
“No. You don’t. I’ll spare you that.”
“It can’t be so bad.”
“Ah, it’s probably not as bad as you think.”
They stopped talking for a moment. I stood in the hallway.
“I want to tell you something nobody else knows,” he said.
I walked into the room. My wife was sitting on the edge of her ex-boyfriend’s
bed holding his hand. He took his hand away.
“I got lost,” I said.
“I’m not surprised,” said my wife.
A doctor came in behind me and motioned for us to leave.
We went out and got into the car.
“I hate that place,” said my wife.
“A man in the bathroom offered to give me a blowjob. Can you believe that?”
“Who was he? Some lunatic?”
“I don’t know. He looked Greek.”
She started the car and drove us home.
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