I am killing you. Right now. Right now I am killing you.
It’s hot in you. Slimy and writhing. You only think of your exteriority, the fluff of your hair and the moisture of your skin. Oh, a dry-spot; better add cream. Teeth are stained: less cafecitos, more baking soda. What dress to wear over my body?
But most of you is inside you. The muffled, murmuring borborygmi of your liquid self, the dismantling of last night’s dinner by a bath of exact acids. The highways of veins and arteries, quiet marrow stockpiled in your bones. The pus and phlegm congealing in the lightless depths past your throat. You’ve had a sore throat. You think it’s nothing.
And you’re right. That’s nothing; that will pass. I am killing you in another part of your body.
Pain. Your body is supposed to tell you when something like me is killing you, and pain is its language. Considering the system-level wreckage I am causing, you should be wracked. Doubled over, nearly immobile, vomiting, unable to keep anything down. Weeping and weeping. You should be praying for death right now, the pain should be so great.
But you would know to seek me, at least. They would hospitalize you, run tests–blood and x-rays and cone biopsies. And when they could do nothing more, they would dope you up and ease you out of life in an opioid fugue that would leave you too stupefied to say proper goodbyes. But the pain would be less; there is that.
You feel no pain. Not yet. By the time pain arrives–it will come on with sudden violence; it will astonish you with its cruelty–the initial tests will shock your doctors. “Why did you not come for treatment sooner?” they will ask. They will not believe you did not know. They will think you were scared of being deported, even though Cuban and you’ve been a naturalized citizen for decades. You won’t be in any condition to reply by then, though. By then pain will rule you: rule your mouth and your movements and your every possible thought.
But for now, nothing. Consider it a mercy if you wish.
Could I be treated? Assuming an early diagnosis–impossible, I promise, but we’re playing pretend here–could your life be prolonged? I am, you see, so very deep within you. So interwoven. Oh, all the needed meat I would take with me if you tried to cut me out. One look at me and your doctors would start using phrases like “making you comfortable.” It’s idiomatic, a English euphemism, but you’ll cotton on quickly enough.
Meanwhile, there is today. Your throat is a little scratchy, but that’s nothing. You make a hot gargle of salt and lemon and honey that your Mami used to give you when you had a sore throat as a girl. Always does the trick! And now you’re ready for the day. Not that you will do much; you work cleaning businesses seven days a week, but today you were feeling unwell and stayed home. You drink soup and watch soaps and will make dinner for your husband Javier a little later on. You spend the morning cleaning the house which is clean and doesn’t need cleaning. You fall asleep in a chair when Florida’s at its hottest. The little window air conditioner that smells like urine struggles with all its mechanical might to keep the living room under 85. It fails. But you’ve slept sweaty all your life, and hell, maybe sweating has even helped you, for when awaken in the fabric recliner, you feel better. You heat some rice and garbanzo soup from last night and think about which of your friends you might be able to call. Alas, they’re all at work. You remember your son, Osvaldo. Your dead son. Your spoon stops thoughtfully over your soup. After a short, debilitating sadness, you take your bicycle to the cemetery and, among all those headstones wavering in the heat, reaching like gray-white flames to the sky, you tend to your dead son’s grave the way you hope someday someone will care for yours. It won’t work out that way; Javier will have you cremated and pour you out somewhere. He won’t remember where; your death will derange him more or less forever. He will remember pouring you out over a bridge over water. But there are a lot of bridges in Florida. Lots of water.
You will never know about any of that, however. No need to concern yourself. It’s natural enough when weeding a grave to ponder your mortality, but it’s meaningless. You care now, sure, but death is the death of caring. I am emptying you of care. Right now you are being emptied.