The Empty Places

We got cancer. We had to have chemotherapy, and that made us sick and skinny and we’d throw up into buckets on the opposite sides of our bed.

“For heaven’s sake,” he’d say. “There’s got to be a better answer.”

“You’d think,” I’d say. “After all these years.” 

We never had children and there was no one to help us. We’d crawl together to the bathroom so we could help each other when we had to go.

Our doctor gave us a decent prognosis, a reasonable chance to live. He said that if we did everything right: if we quit smoking, and ate green leafy vegetables, if we did the chemotherapy, and maybe a round or two of radiation, there was a reasonable chance we’d go into remission.

We did.

We were feeling better than we had in a long time. But there’s a difference between being cured, and being in remission, and the difference is you don’t forget.

One day he was outside replacing a shingle that needed replacing, and I was inside repotting a cactus that needed repotting, and we both felt a twinge in our right side, and through the window we caught each other’s eye and there was no denying it―our cancer was back.

We knew our chances were slim but we tried the surgery anyway. In bed at night we’d hold each other close and pray, hands touching the empty places where something used to be. 

MARY JONES's stories and essays have appeared in Alaska Quarterly ReviewIndiana ReviewThe Hopkins ReviewThe Chattahoochee ReviewSanta Monica ReviewBrevity, and elsewhere. She lives in Los Angeles where she teaches fiction writing at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.

Mary JonesEmily GilbertFICTION