The Wisdom of Lying
Maria was waiting in Baggage. Her head was wrapped in shimmering fabric; her earrings were plastic balls of orange and green. I had forgotten how tall…
“How are you?” Maria asked, hugging me.
I had been living a hermit’s life. It had been a long time since I’d allowed anyone into my life…I felt unexpected happiness in seeing her.
“Fine,” I said, having finally learned the wisdom of lying.
“I have cancer,” she said, “that’s why I’m here.”
“Yes, I know,” I said. “Mary told me.”
“Mary said you have cancer too.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t call earlier. I just got on a plane when I heard of this doctor who does special treatments here. Dr. Hall. Do you know him?”
I did know him. My best friend, Melanie, had died under his care.
“Yes, I know him.” I didn’t say anything more.
“I heard he’s great. Have you heard of this treatment?” I shrugged, hoping she wouldn’t notice. Yes. I’d heard of it. I’d begged Melanie not to take it. On the other hand, I heard some patients got better. I didn’t want to see hope drain from her face.
“It’s a breakthrough cure,” Maria’s voice was alive with enthusiasm.
“I never asked Mary what you were doing,” Maria said after some moments of silence. “I was doing chemo but I can’t do that anymore.”
I didn’t feel able to tell her about my failed treatments…at least not yet. “…oh, chemo…” I mumbled, leaving it at that.
“It’s in my liver,” she said, pointing to her right side. There was a yellowish tinge to her skin. Of course. Why hadn’t I noticed how yellow her skin was before now?
“Can we not talk about cancer?” I found myself blurting out. I didn’t want to tell her what I knew of Dr. Hall. Maybe he could help her. I didn’t want to intrude. I also didn’t want to tell her about my failed surgery or how I had no idea what I was going to do.
“I’d really like to talk about printmaking,” I said. “I really miss it.”
“Okay,” said Maria. “But I’m seeing Dr. Hall tomorrow.”
“…are you still printing?” I interrupted her.
“Do you realize how many people got cancer from working in The Studio? All those solvents…the unventilated space,” she interrupted me.
I looked down at my hands, determined not to speak.
She turned away from me. She was looking into a glass case with an exhibit of Native American jewelry. “I need to buy a turquoise necklace while I’m here,” she said. “Do you know where I can get a better price than these?”
“No. It’s not done like that here, Maria.” I tried to laugh. But her skin was so yellow…
“I’m sorry to shock you and get you out here so late. You know me…It’s so sweet of you to come. But you’ve always been so sweet.” She hugged me again.
I never felt sweet. Not in the printmaking studio and not since cancer. I hugged her back.
“It’s wonderful to see you.” I was serious. I was sad.
“Are you still etching?” I asked. We’d both loved etching with a passion. Some nights we would be the last ones in The Studio, we’d close the place down, smoking cigarettes on the fire escape before we left.
“Do you have a cigarette?” She remembered. I was glad she asked.
“No, sorry.” I tried to laugh.
“It’s okay. I just wanted to know if you still smoked. Because I don’t.”
“I don’t smoke anymore either,” I said. “But what about etching? I had to quit. I couldn’t be around solvents anymore. I started writing art reviews instead,” I said. “I hate writing criticism. I want to be criticized instead. I miss being an etcher. I just want to know if you still do it.”
“Yes,” she said. “I’m still etching.”
I laughed. She reminded me of my life before. She reminded me of New York.
I bent down and reached for her bag.
She let me carry it.
Bobbi Lurie is the author of “The Book I Never Read”, “Letter from the Lawn”, “Grief Suite”, and “the morphine poems”. She is currently working on a collection of stories about/with Marcel Duchamp.
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