Nebraska Center for Writers

BROKEN FOR YOU
by Stephanie Kallos

WHEN MARGARET HUGHES FOUND OUT she had a brain tumor, she stared at the black-and-white images illuminated on the screen behind her physician's desk-"slices," he called them. She was surprised to see that her brain looked like two halves of a desiccated walnut.
Her physician spoke of cisterns, vessels, ventricles, a star. Of cells that had forgotten how to die. It was so complicated, so difficult to understand, but in all fairness she had no one to blame but herself. She was the one who'd insisted on seeing the images, made him promise that he'd be straightforward, tell her the names of things, explain why she'd been experiencing these headaches, these slips of the tongue, errors in cognition, apparitions. The fact that he continually referred to the images as "slices" only made matters worse; Margaret had already been so flustered before her appointment that she'd left home without finishing breakfast.
Dr. Leising pointed out the mass effect of the enhancing something-or-other as seen on Coronal Slice #16. Margaret's stomach rumbled.
I can't believe it, she thought. I forgot to eat my jelly toast.
Her physician concluded his speech and asked Margaret how she wished to proceed, what interventional options she wanted to pursue, and was there anyone she'd like to call. "Stephen perhaps?" he suggested, rather too lightly. "Mightn't he want to know?"
Well, of course her ex-husband would want to know. Couples don't go through what she and Stephen had without forging some kind of enduring connection-even (although few people understood this) a complicated, battle-comrade kind of love.
But there was something irritating in Dr. Leising's tone-as if he didn't think she should hear his prognosis in the absence of a male shoulder to weep on. As if she couldn't handle things without the benefit of counsel by some father-by-proxy. Margaret had managed her own affairs nicely for most of her life. She wouldn't be railroaded, pitied, or bamboozled now. I might look like a nice, diffident old lady, she thought, but I'm not about to be treated like one.
She asked a few pointed questions. Dr. Leising gave answers which she considered unacceptable, evasive, patronizing, and then launched into yet another discussion of her "slices." Would it never end?
Margaret couldn't listen anymore, so she excused herself to the rest room, took the elevator down to the street, and walked until she came upon a cafe with the words "Desserts, Etcetera" painted on the windows. She deliberated. On the rare occasions when she had to leave the house, she made sure to have as little contact as possible with other people; on the other hand, she was so hungry that she felt nauseous. Peeking through the window, Margaret saw that the cafe was open but empty of customers. This was satisfactory, so she went in.
Inside was a display case filled with artfully presented pies, cakes, cookies, and an assortment of French pastries. Margaret whispered their names: Génoise à l'orange. Mousse au chocolat. Crème Brûlée. Roulade à la confiture. She felt better already. Hanging over the counter was a menu written on a large chalkboard which included sandwiches and soups as well as desserts.

Reprinted with permission
from Broken for You
Copyright © 2004
by Stephanie Kallos
Grove Press


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