Bliss

by Amber Wheeler Bacon

Sarah worked with Beth at a public library downtown. Chris was a biology professor at University of Louisville. They met at Beth’s birthday party.
     At the party, Chris quoted Winston Churchill and Hemingway in the same conversation, and Sarah couldn’t tell if she liked him. When she went to smoke a cigarette on the back porch, he followed. Muted voices came from the re pit at the side of the house, but they were alone on the porch. He took the lit cigarette from her fingers and flicked it over the railing. When he kissed her, she blew the last of the smoke into his mouth. They ended up at his apartment. The sex was drunk and sloppy. They kept laughing. Everything seemed hilarious back then.
     Sarah woke up buzzing the next morning, as if Chris had flipped a switch somewhere inside her. Driving home, she had the thought that she would put up with a lot from a man who made her feel this way.


     A month later, they walked in Cave Hill Cemetery behind his house while red sauce simmered on the stove. Sarah told Chris about her father’s death when she was twelve and how she still sometimes visited the funeral home. “It’s on my route to work and back,” she said. “When the parking lot’s packed, I can’t resist.”
     She was embarrassed when Chris took her hand and squeezed it.
     They followed a stone path to the oldest cluster of graves. There was a headstone shared by a man and woman dated exactly one hundred years before. Anders and Susan, it said. Then, underneath: The crown of all our bliss.
     When it started to rain, they went back to his house. Chris put on an Alice Coltrane record while she started water for noodles. Everything in his kitchen had been his parents’ when they married. It all looked so quaint and solid: the casserole dish with its fading bundle of wheat on each end, the mustard-colored Tupperware, the boxy Seventies toaster. Sarah’s mother had worked at different gas stations all her life. They’d moved from apartment to apartment. She wanted Chris’s childhood, one filled with wholesome objects in earthy hues from his mother’s kitchen.
     After dinner, they had sex on the sofa. Sarah’s breast was in Chris’s mouth when he pulled away and sat up. She had the sudden fear that he was going to kick her out of his house.
     “Be my wife,” he said instead.
     The next morning, Sarah showed up to the library flushed with her secret engagement. The heat she’d felt with Chris stayed with her. She lowered the thermostat to 64 degrees, but couldn’t cool her body down. She went in the back office and put on headphones. She opened a box of newly ordered books and listened to Velvet Underground—pretending Lou Reed’s sexy voice was Chris. When Beth came in the room, Sarah didn’t hear her. She jumped when Beth tapped on her shoulder.
     “What’s the deal with the AC?” Beth said. “Patrons are freezing their asses off.”
     “I’m getting married,” Sarah said and hid her hand because she didn’t have a ring yet.
     Chris and Beth had gone to college together. He said she was a drag with no sense of humor. Sarah had laughed, then felt bad because even if she wasn’t very funny, Beth had driven her to work for a month when she broke her ankle. Plus, she wrote her Christmas cards on paper she made herself from recycled magazines. She was the type of person Sarah wished she could be.
     “I guess I’m the matchmaker. Hey, congrats.” Beth gave Sarah a stiff hug. “Does he still do that thing?” she said. “With stories?”
     “Thing?” Sarah said. The buzzing sex feeling sputtered like a flickering light.
     “He always started stories in the middle,” Beth said. “It used to drive me crazy. He never gave context.”
     Sarah had never noticed how he told stories.

When planning the wedding, Sarah wanted to carry hydrangeas or snapdragons down the aisle, but her mother said they were too expensive and ordered white lilies instead.
     Sarah chose a brown dress.
     “Shit brown?” her mother said over the phone.
     Sarah hung up, then texted, “Somewhere between taupe and champagne.”
     Chris didn’t want to invite Beth, but Sarah insisted. “We met at her party!” she said.
     They were married at a glass factory, surrounded by metal, concrete and beautifully wrought glass ornaments. As she walked down the aisle, Sarah smelled the lilies and thought of Peterson’s Funeral Home. Sarah, Chris, and Beth wrapped themselves in boas and donned fake mustaches for the photo booth at the reception. Sarah tried to throw the bouquet in Beth’s direction, but her aim was off.
     Afterward, Chris and Sarah pulled out of the parking garage in a 1952 Chevy they’d borrowed from a friend. Sarah unzipped Chris’s pants. To start their marriage with a blow job in such a fancy car seemed like a good omen. Before she could get started, though, Chris slammed on the brakes. She popped her head up to see what was wrong. There was only a woman standing on the street corner—fortyish, with red hair and freckles. The woman stared at Chris and he stared back.
     “Who’s that?” Sarah said.
     Chris turned left onto Muhammad Ali. It was such a slight turn, the blinker stayed on.
     “I almost hit a cyclist,” he said.
     She let him catch his breath.
     “But that woman. Who was she?”
     “There was a cyclist. He went down Fourth. I didn’t see him until the last minute.”
     She lifted her hand from Chris’s crotch and turned off the blinker. “I saw a woman. Who is she?”
     “A professor,” he said. “In my department. We’re on a grant together. She wrote me this letter at the end of the semester. I didn’t tell you because it wasn’t a big deal. She was embarrassed.” He fumbled with his penis, getting it back into his pants, and zipped one-handed.
     Sarah moved back to her side of the car and buckled her seat belt. She had the realization that she barely knew the person she’d married. She turned her head to look out the window so he wouldn’t see the fear on her face. But there was still the buzzing inside, too, which had started the moment Chris took the cigarette from her the night they met. The buzzing said love and fear were the same thing and they would be happy together.
     In the side mirror, Sarah saw that her hair had fallen and her mascara had run. Her cheeks seemed to sag. It was the dancing, probably, and the booze, and the moment in the bathroom after Chris had smeared cake across her face. They’d decided ahead of time that their marriage called for the smashing of cake. Sarah had rinsed her chin, then stared at herself so long that her face began to morph. It was a habit from childhood, but it saddened her today, the knowledge that nothing, really, was permanent or fixed, even her face. Even her face on her wedding day.
     Once Sarah and Chris returned from their honeymoon in Mexico, Beth told Sarah about her cancer. “They left a message during your wedding,” she said. “Can you believe it? I call back and get news I’ve got stage two cancer.”
     “Where is it?” Sarah said.
     “The lungs,” Beth said. “I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life. I guess some people just have bad luck.”
     Sarah’s chest was tight. She suddenly felt guilty for being Beth’s supervisor. Beth didn’t have her MLS, so Sarah was over her, though Beth knew what every Dewey Decimal number stood for, even down to three decimal places. Then Sarah remembered that Beth was one of her only friends, and she felt scared, too.
     That evening, she stopped by the funeral home. It was the rst time she’d gone since meeting Chris. She sat in the parking lot and watched men and women with umbrellas—mostly old—enter and exit the building.
     When Sarah told Chris why she was late getting home, he said, “I don’t like it. It’s morbid. You could even say it’s disrespectful to the dead.”
     “You never said anything before,” she said.
     “You only mentioned it that once. I thought you’d stop going. That with me, you wouldn’t need stuff like that.”
     “Beth once said something about the way you tell stories,” she said. “It sounded like you guys knew each other pretty well.”
     “Beth’s boring.” He turned up the volume on his game, Bears and Packers, and slid his hand up her thigh.

She’d read an article online once about a study done in Chicago. There were fewer domestic abuse calls on nights the Bears won than on any other nights. Chris had grown up in Indiana and been a
     Bears fan since the Ditka and Refrigerator years. She always wanted to make the joke, “Bears won. No beating!” but she didn’t know who else would think it was funny. And she didn’t want to give people the wrong idea about Chris. He wasn’t a violent man.
     Sarah moved his hand further up her thigh. She liked feeling possessed by him, as if she were only his, as if he needed her. “I don’t think cancer’s boring,” she said.

A few months later, Sarah stopped wanting orgasms. Chris had always been concerned with getting her off. She appreciated that. But one night, she looked down in the middle of her orgasm and he was going at it so fast on her clit, she thought, “He’s trying to kill me.” And there was the lighting behind her—from the lamp on the dresser—which caused just enough shadow on Chris’s face to make him look skeletal.
     After Sarah came, she couldn’t have him inside her, so he asked her to suck his balls while he jerked himself off. She didn’t want to touch him, but closed her eyes tight and said three Our Fathers—a prayer she’d learned in vacation bible school—and finally she felt his testicles shrink against her tongue. When he got up to go to the bathroom, she slid under the covers and put the comforter over her head.
     Chris lay back down over the comforter and pressed against the lump that was her. “Was it a good one?”
     “Sometimes they hurt,” she said.
     “Was I hurting you?”
     “It wasn’t you. It’s just scary sometimes—wanting something to not end and then it always does.”
     He slid under the covers and tried to get through the barricade of blankets and sheets she’d tucked under her. His hand found her hip. “Nothing has to end.”
     Sarah felt around the foot of the bed for her pajama pants and pulled them toward her with her toes. The pants were a type of protection from Chris’s hand. “Do you mind sleeping on the couch?” she said. “I need extra room tonight.”
     She did this occasionally after sex. It was his skin—she didn’t want it touching her. She didn’t even want her own skin touching her. She spread her arms and legs in a way where no body part had to touch another body part. “It’s weird, I know.”
     Chris walked into the hallway hugging his pillow. She wasn’t sure how to make him understand that sometimes pleasing him meant losing some of her. Sarah didn’t know what she’d lost—there wasn’t a word for it—but her skin knew. She thought of saying “I love you,” or “Come back,” but she didn’t want to give him anything else that night, not even words.
     When Sarah had called her mother to tell her she was getting married, her mother—three hours away, working at a gas station in Nashville—had said, “When am I going to meet him? Who is he?”
     “Who is he? He’s going to be my husband,” Sarah had said. “That’s who he is.”
     And he still was—her husband—she just didn’t want him touching her was all.
     The next morning, Chris left for work and went in for a goodbye kiss, and there was the shadow of the skeleton husband who had scared her.
     Sarah started closing her eyes during sex so she wouldn’t have to look at him. She faked these big blowout orgasms so he wouldn’t suspect anything. Once, she came accidentally. It was Beth. She came because Chris was behind her, squeezing her nipples, and she had this vision of Beth, of her breast in Beth’s mouth. She thought she’d live. Sarah thought she could somehow make Beth live. She thought they’d all live just then. But it wasn’t Beth, not yet. It was Chris. It was his death Sarah must have felt.

     Beth’s cancer started in the lungs, and then it was everywhere. Sarah was right there, lasagna in one hand, box of tissues in the other. Beth was out for three months during which time she lost a breast and a piece of her lung. Then there was a remission during the spring, a brief period of time when Beth was able to work as long as she could sit instead of stand at the circulation desk.
     Except for the fake sex, Sarah’s marriage seemed in a kind of remission, too: he was kind, she was kind, they made soufflés. On their anniversary, Chris bought her a fancy picnic basket and filled it with expensive cheeses. They tried out every park in Louisville. They slept in on Sundays with a book and ate Saltines and peanut butter in bed. He didn’t complain about Sarah’s visits to the funeral home. They got a cat and named her Elvira.
     But then in June, Chris started watching ESPN until he fell asleep on the couch and a scaly rash appeared on Beth’s torso.
     “It’s an allergic reaction,” Beth said.
     Sarah, in nurse mode, took her to the staff bathroom at the library. “Let me see it.”
     Beth lifted her shirt. Sarah had forgotten she’d lost a breast. There, in Beth’s esh-colored bra, sat one nice breast on the left. On the right, it must have been an insert—the cup sort of stuck out on its own. The port for chemo had been inserted close enough to make it look like it belonged there—a smaller, bruised, third breast. “It’s probably my detergent,” Beth said.
     “This is not from detergent. It looks like it hurts.” Sarah pressed her fingertips against Beth’s stomach. Her skin felt like a snake’s scales being rubbed the wrong way. She was burning up. “This is the kind of thing you see a doctor about. Like now.”
     Beth pretended the rash was nothing, but went to the bathroom every fifteen minutes to reapply anti-itch lotion she got over the counter from Walgreens. Sarah sent her home once it started moving up her neck and onto her hands. “It might be contagious,” a patron complained. Sarah agreed—it didn’t look sanitary. When Beth finally went to the doctor, she found out that her rash was a form of skin cancer that had metastasized from somewhere else. Sarah couldn’t remember from where because it had already been so many places.
     “Seriously, it was like she was human, but snake-like. A snake with tumors,” she said to Chris.
     He sat across the table from her, chewing his baked salmon, slowly.
     “This is a human being—I think she’s dying,” she said.
     “It’s depressing,” he said. “All you ever want to talk about is Beth. I got that NIH grant, you know? It’s a small one, but I thought you’d ask.”
     “That earthy woman—from the street corner. Is she on the grant?”
     “She’s a colleague,” Chris said. “That’s all.”
     Sarah should have known her marriage was in trouble, but Sarah spent most of her evenings at Beth’s house. She stood at the sickbed with the family. She held their hands and led them in prayer. Beth’s mother said, “You’re such a gift, Sarah, but shouldn’t you be home with your own family?”
     This shocked Sarah. She’d been starting to feel like she was a part of their family.
     “She was right,” Chris said that night. “I’m your family. It’s not like you’ve got no one. Why do you need Beth’s family, too?”
     “When you pray over someone’s dying daughter, you get to know them.” “We should make a family. You want a family so bad, let’s have a kid.”
     “A kid,” Sarah said. “We should have a kid.”
     What she wanted was something beautiful between them. Something to take care of. She wanted to know that, together, they could make something live.

Still, Sarah began to suspect: the late nights in the lab, a couple of weekend trips. She began snif ng Chris’s boxers while doing the laundry, but she could never catch a whiff of anything except his soap. As a kid, he’d loved the com- mercials of the Irishman in the shower. They’d gotten a customer for life—one whose balls always had a whiff of pine.
     Beth’s parents got a second mortgage on their house so she could participate in an expensive clinical trial. They rented an apartment in Indianapolis. At work, Sarah did her job and Beth’s, too. She refused to hire anyone else. “Beth will be dead and buried before I replace her,” she told the HR lady at the county.
     It was during this time that Chris got a text from the earthy biologist at 6 A.M. His phone buzzed on the nightstand. He was already up making coffee. Sarah picked up his phone. Good morning, sunshine was all it said. Then the smiling emoji with jazz hands.
     She walked in bare feet to the kitchen, held out the phone. “I’ve never once called Beth, ‘sunshine.’”
     “Beth’s not very sunny,” Chris said.
     “This isn’t funny. Who is this woman? Sneaking love letters to a colleague, using stupid emojis. What is she, fifteen?”
     “You’re right. It’s silly. The woman has a crush on me.” He stepped toward Sarah and put his hands on her waist. “It’s nothing. I need her research for this grant.”
     When Sarah got home that night, the apartment was very still, with just the sounds of the cat scratching at the litter box and the clock on the wall. She ordered Mexican takeout, then walked to the corner to pick it up. She sat at the kitchen table with her spinach quesadilla, waiting. As the light faded, she watched the shadows spread into darkness. Chris texted and said he was work- ing late again.

A few weeks before Chris’s birthday, Beth called Sarah and asked for work to be sent home, even offered to do it at no charge. “My mom sits around crying,” she said. “And my brother. He’s treated me like shit my whole life. Now all of a sudden, he’s God’s gift. I’m going crazy over here.” So every morning Sarah emailed Beth the patron call list and Beth sat in her bed, phoning people to tell them their books had come in. Or that they had a late book or owed a ne. This wasn’t necessary as notices were sent via email, but it gave Beth something to do.
     “We’ve got to invite her to the party,” Sarah told Chris. “She needs us.” “It’s my birthday,” he said.
     “Can’t I invite who I want?”
     “Why are you so cruel when it comes to Beth?”
     “It’s cruel to invite my own friends to my birthday dinner?”
     “She’s your friend. We met at her party. You were friends.” Then, to make him forget about Beth, Sarah got on top of him. “Let’s make our baby.”
     Sarah closed her eyes and tried to think about life and beauty and the two of them huddled over a tiny, diapered, snugly wrapped thing. She tried to remember the buzzing feeling, the heat. She got up, turned on every light in the room, then got back on top of Chris. Still, shadows were everywhere. She thought of Beth’s cancer. She thought of the biologist on the street corner. Her husband was alive and inside her, but the closer she got to him, the more dead she felt—or he felt. She couldn’t tell which.

Beth looked awful at the party—thin, that scaly rash up and down her arms, a prunish lump on her forehead. She sat beside Sarah at dinner. They’d reserved a large table at the Ru San’s on Bardstown, where they cut the lights every thirty minutes, blared Aerosmith, and customers drank shots of sake.
     Sarah screamed in Beth’s ear while she watched Chris and another researcher at U of L down their sake during “Dream On.” “We’re trying for a baby. We want a family.”
     “What?” Beth said.
     “We’re going to have a baby!”
     “You’re pregnant?”
     Sarah could see in Beth’s shaky smile that she was faking it. Sarah decided it was because Beth would die before she had the chance to have a child. The lights came back on and the music stopped. “Not yet,” she said. “We’re trying.” There was a look of relief on Beth’s face, and a quick glance over at Chris, who happened to be looking at the two of them. He raised his cup of sake. “To family,” he said, and turned the cup over to show that it was empty. Reaching over the table, he found a full jar and poured himself another cup.
     Beth took a sip of her sake, which she hadn’t touched because she was trying to eat healthy, lots of broccoli, spinach, anything known to kill free radicals. Sarah picked up a fork instead of her wine—she already felt drunk. And anyway, she didn’t want a family just then, not with the man who sat at the end of the table. She stabbed a California roll with her fork and stuck the whole thing in her mouth. When she put the fork down, she saw that she’d gripped it so tight her fingernails made indentations in her skin: two tiny moons on her palm.
     That night in bed, they were both drunk. Sarah was angry, but it was the kind of anger that didn’t have a source. Or if it did, she couldn’t remember what it was because it had started so long ago. “What was up with the look? And that stupid toast?” She held up an imaginary drink and did an impression of Chris. “Beth must be really sick,” he said. “She looked bad.”
     “You didn’t even want her there.”
     “She used to be pretty. Not beautiful or hot, just pretty. She was sweet.” His voice had a dream-like quality. She couldn’t remember him sounding like that before.
     “I thought we were talking about a baby,” she said. “Our family.” Chris passed out before he could answer.

Sarah stopped by Peterson’s Funeral Home more often. She started going in. There were mostly wakes in the evening. She pretended to know the deceased. She watched wives wring their shaking hands, husbands stiff and bent. She ate pigs in blankets and cucumber sandwiches.
     Toward the end of some viewings, attendees gathered in the chapel of Peterson’s and stood, one by one, making declarations about the deceased. This was Sarah’s favorite part. One night, there was a woman in her forties, dead from a head-on collision. Her uncle stood. “She coached her son’s soccer team. She did research. Made up these drills for the boys. She was meticulous. That’s how she went about life,” he said.
     The woman’s sister stood up. “Kathy was my best friend.” Her voice cracked.
     Sarah stood, too. “She was a wonder to all of us,” she said. And meant it.
     The morning Chris died, she looked at her toast and mottled egg whites instead of her husband and said: “The vacation dates. Did you ask yet? I already bought tickets.” She raised her eyes to see if she’d gotten the tone right. Concerned, rather than annoyed.
     “I’ll get the okay today. Promise.” He gave her a quick peck and was gone, leaving her alone in the house with her lukewarm tea and the cat circling her legs for food.
     When she got to the library, she sat down by a cart of old books. None of them had been checked out in seven years so their records were being deleted from the catalog. Once a record was gone, you couldn’t get it back. Her phone rang. Chris’s number, but not his voice.
     “You need to get to the hospital.” It was the chair of the Biology department. Sarah heard sounds instead of words: a toilet flush in the public restroom, the page—an elderly man—pushing a book cart with a squeaky wheel across the carpet. “He was face down on the floor,” the chair said. “Unresponsive.”

When Sarah arrived at the hospital, she paused in front of the automatic doors. Her husband was six foot one. He drank smoothies. Men like her husband didn’t die young.
     At the registration counter, a man asked an elderly woman for her insurance card. The lady pulled at the cards inside her wallet with what looked like claws unable to close. A twitchy man with sunken eyes helped the old lady. Sarah felt she couldn’t move until the woman found the right card. A sweaty, reddish child sat in his mother’s lap and coughed into her armpit. No one here looked healthy. It seemed a blessing, though—these strangers and their small dramas unfolding.
     “My husband is sick,” she said aloud to no one in particular. “They found him in his office.”
     A doctor approached. He was the type of good-looking that made a woman think of sex. Cary Grant as a lumberjack. Sarah realized it had been weeks since she and Chris had had sex. “I’m sorry,” the handsome doctor said.
     “My husband is healthy,” Sarah said. “It was his heart. Cardiac arrest.”
     Over the doctor’s shoulder, Sarah watched the junkie and the old lady. They stared up at the television bolted to the wall near the ceiling. On the screen was footage of a flood two states away.
     The doctor led her toward the double doors—a sign above said Critical Care. For a moment, she thought the sign had to do with her, that it was she who would be cared for.
     In the hospital room, Sarah was alone with her husband. The room smelled of mint and ammonia. She put a hand on Chris’s bare arm, waiting for some kind of connection, the buzzing she’d felt that first night at Beth’s house. With two fingers, she pushed down on the clammy skin, but it was like pushing into bone. She didn’t understand how all of the fluid in Chris’s body had stopped moving—how quickly he’d gone from being alive to being dead.
     She walked to her car. The parking lot felt insubstantial underneath her, un- able to hold her weight. She wasn’t sure what to do or where to go, but Chris’s mother, his wonderful, round mother, who wore long skirts and used her oven at least once a day, would be at their house soon. His father was flying in the next morning from a business trip in L.A.
     Chris’s mother arrived at one in the morning. Sarah spoke of memory foam pillows and bagels for the morning, as if she could distract this woman from the obvious fact that her son was dead. Sarah talked in depth about cardiac arrest. “It’s different from a heart attack. Electrical impulses to the heart mis ring. All this time, there was a defect.”
     “We never knew,” his mother said. “He’s an angel now. God called him home.”
     Sarah tried to imagine Chris floating around in heaven with wings attached to his back, but she kept thinking of the physical body—her husband’s physical body—rotting.
     They had the funeral at Peterson’s, of course.
     Beth’s immune system was low from treatment. She sent a wreath of flowers in her place. Sarah wondered if the earthy biologist would show up. Every time she saw someone with red hair, her voice caught, but it was only a group of red- headed cousins on Chris’s father’s side. The Chair of the Biology Department told Sarah that the woman had ridden in the ambulance with Chris. She’d held his hand as he died. “I thought you’d want to know,” the chair said. “He wasn’t alone at least.”

Six months later, Sarah was alone. She spoke with Chris’s mother occasionally, but they weren’t close. Sarah went to Nashville every month to visit her mother. Each time they went to the Grand Ole Opry, even though Sarah didn’t care for country music. Regardless, her mother bought them drinks and Sarah came home with souvenirs.
     Beth was back at the library, experiencing some success from the clinical trial, but she got out of breath unloading the book drop and still sat in the high stool at the circulation desk. Sarah brought Beth back a beer mug from Nashville. It was in the shape of a cowboy boot. She gave it to her the day the biologist showed up at the reference desk in tears.
     “It was me,” the woman kept saying.
     Sarah walked her to a study room with a table and two chairs and closed the door. Through the window, she saw Beth at the circulation desk, watching. With her hands on the biologist’s shoulders, Sarah pressed her into a sitting position. “I did something bad,” the woman said.
     The biologist put her hand on top of Sarah’s hand, then brought it to her lap. Sarah thought of this woman holding her husband’s dead hand in the ambulance. She felt heat coming from the biologist’s body—from between the woman’s legs—the kind of heat Sarah used to feel with Chris. This woman still had it, she still had Chris’s heat. Her body vibrated with it.
     “He wasn’t lying to you, not at first anyway. He kept resisting. I wanted you to know.” The woman got up and went to the door. Sarah followed her past the reference desk. Beth sat at her stool, eyes peeking over the computer monitor.
     The biologist stopped in the lobby. She stood still, as if inviting Sarah to stare. Inside, Sarah’s stomach burned. She wanted to reach into the burning, grab it, and throw it at the woman’s freckled cheeks.
     After the woman left, Beth leaned over the circulation desk. “You should have punched her cute little face,” Beth said. She scratched at her back—the rash probably, but you couldn’t see it because she was wearing a long-sleeved turtleneck. “I’d have punched that face if it were me.”
     “It wouldn’t have been you.”
     “It’ll never be me,” Beth said. “Not now. Not ever.” She had the same look she had when Sarah told her they were trying for a baby. There was something in it trying to tell Sarah something—like a faint memory trying to come back alive. The look gave her the idea that at some point Beth had loved Chris, and that Chris had loved her back.
     Sarah left work early and went to bed. She made a cocoon of the blankets like she used to do when she wanted to escape her husband, except now there was no one to escape but herself. She dreamed of the biologist’s thighs. She dreamed of the handsome doctor who told her Chris was dead. She dreamed of Beth and Chris, together. They were holding hands. They were both covered in the cancerous rash, but neither seemed to mind. Sarah woke up freezing except for her feet, where Elvira slept. She stuck her face into Chris’s pillow. It still smelled of him—she hadn’t washed it—like soap and cinnamon rolls. At the corner of the bed, a puddle of sunlight came in through the window. It was just after five.
     She called Beth.
     “A dream!” Beth said. “I spent all afternoon at the oncologist’s office and you’re telling me about a dream?”
     “The doctor kept saying I was dead,” Sarah said. “And there was you and Chris. You were in love. You were in love, weren’t you, Beth?”
     “Listen, my numbers came in. They’re good. Less cancer. My mom’s got chili in the crockpot. We’re celebrating. Get your ass over here.”
     “You can do things now. Really live a life again,” Sarah said. She tried to remember who Beth had been before she got sick, but couldn’t. She didn’t know who either of them had been. She only knew that she’d just become a wife when Beth got the news. Sarah had been a wife back then.

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