After he closes the doors and tells the driver “Okay,” the man asks Curtis, “What brings us out here this time?”  He’s flipping through papers on a clipboard.  “Has anything changed with your wife since…?”  He’s tracing his finger down a list.  Curtis’ face is already buried in the sports page.  He lowers the paper and looks at the man and then back at the sports page.

I tell the man it’s the lump between my shoulder blades.

I’d show him, but I can’t even turn over in here.  Not the way they have me strapped down.  Not with all this equipment and Curtis and the man crammed back here, too.

I say I can’t describe the lump other than it’s a lump because I can’t see it.  I could never turn the right way in the mirror in the bathroom because I can hardly turn around in there.  Curtis has looked and probed but always says it’s nothing.  “No thing,” he says.

I can see the silhouette of his head nodding behind the sports page.

I tell the man Curtis says it’s nothing, but I know it’s there.  I have dreams about it.  It has a pulse.  It’s growing.  Why wouldn’t it?  It gets watered a few times a week.  If I lie on my back at night I can feel it against the mattress.  Hot.  Itchy.  If I go to sleep like that I dream about the lump.  I hate calling it that.  Lump.  A generic term for something that could be festering a sac of pus that could burst subdermally and poison my system.  I’ve told Curtis this.  How many times?  Ask him.  He doesn’t deal with it.  But my dreams.  Almost always the lump has grown out of control overnight except I know in my mind in my dream that it hasn’t.  It has been growing all along but I had hidden it under an Ace bandage or a bulky sweater or sweatshirt.  “Don’t touch me, Curtis,” I’d said for days in my memory in my dreams.  Which I’d never say to Curtis because I love him going on eighteen years.

Curtis rustles his paper, but he doesn’t respond.

I say in my dream I’m denying to myself and the world that the mass is a thing that has to be dealt with because it’s like I’m barely a thing if I am even a thing to be dealt with and then I’m growing something off me that requires a greater degree of dealing with, like here’s a sequel to me and everybody shows more interest in it than they do in me.

The man lights up a cigarette.  He pats down his shiny pompadour and adjusts the rings on his fingers.  He leans in to me.  I feel his hand between my shoulder blades.  He says, “Yeah.  We need to cut that bad boy outta there.”  His cigarette bounces up and down between his lips with each word.  “You got insurance?”

I tell him no.

“It’s gonna cost you.  And that bad boy is huge.  Or keep it.  Hell, maybe it’ll shrink.”

Curtis looks at the man over his paper and says, “Don’t.  For chrissake, what’s wrong with you people?”

I tell Curtis this is what you get when you don’t have insurance.  I keep telling you.  This is what you get when you don’t deal with things.

Curtis asks the man for a cigarette.  Now they’re both smoking.  I’m going to choke to death back here.  Curtis asks, “Can’t you give her the orange pills?”

The man says, “We can’t do shit until she’s admitted.”

I shoot Curtis my dirtiest look.  He shrinks down behind his paper.  I’m not really mad because at least we’re back to dealing with things for right now.


Jeff Burd

Jeff Burd spends a lot of time writing and thinking about writing, and worrying about not writing and thinking about writing. He graduated the Northwestern University writing program and works as a Reading Specialist at Zion-Benton Township High School in Zion, IL.

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