I note with some little guilt that I have not sent out a dispatch in weeks now. Been writing them, odd to say, but not setting them afloat in their little bottles. Don’t know why not, to tell you the truth. Some sort of hot-weather orneriness, maybe.
Cancerland is on the same latitude as my old home back in the States, and, as it is this time of the year in New York too, it is sweltering hereabouts. The small of the back is always wet, the eyes are always about to close, the air is like someone else’s exhalation, disturbing to take in but, hell, what choice is there?
And then I have taken on a number of odd projects. I have been making a kind of screen curtain for the door that gives onto my outdoor space. I could of course just have bought a door, but somehow it seemed right to make one. This would be easy but for the fact that the screen needs not only to keep bugs out but also to keep the cat in. Were she to escape and jump a fence, she would be lost in the labyrinth of Cancerland forever. Houdini is deft at getting out but a dope about getting back. I have been through six iterations of the screen curtain already, and even when I myself have trouble opening it, Houdini does not. I can be sitting outside working on something or another, and there she is, at my feet, with the screen curtain taut, lovely, and apparently undisturbed in the distance behind her.
Also I am putting together a set of the smallest model trains ever made. The locomotive is half as long as my thumb. The work required to get an oval of track together and a few cars running on it would be daunting for a neurosurgeon. Could be I am trying to drive myself nuts, on the theory that sanity hasn’t done me much good.
My last PET scan shows my condition to be stable. Stable, as my Cancerland sensei says, is a good result. A better result, he did not say, would have been a shrinkage of my tumor, but that is a great rarity in cases like mine, and of the two remaining outcomes — stability, and rampaging cells — the first is definitely a good result.
So my regimen continues. Chemotherapy two Fridays in a row, the third Friday off, another such three week cycle, after which a PET scan, and — if the result be good — the whole shebang all over again.
I fidget with my tiny trains, match wits with the cat, write but do not send what I have written abroad, betimes grill hot dogs and peppers out back, and sit with a mug of beer, watching the screen curtain to see how Houdini materializes on my side of it. But of course I never see how the trick is done, and probably would be disappointed if she let me in on it.
It happens that there is a very beautiful river not far from where I am in Cancerland, and on exceptionally hot nights that is where I go for cooler air. The river is quite wide, and famously fast-running, and, though it is clean to look at and to smell, it is not really as clean as might be: There are signs posted here and there cautioning children and pregnant women not to eat fish taken from its waters. The river, it seems, is full of carcinogens. Well, hell — so am I. No trouble there.
At night, the opposite bank is glorious, so far away that its buildings look to be the size of postage stamps, with their windows like illuminated grains of rice. Here and there are necklaces of lights, and glowing hard-candy lights too, red, green, yellow, and scrawls of neon that spell words much too small to make out. And there are oblongs and rectangles and trapezoids of deep velvety black that only make the points of light around them more amazing. Some of the lights flicker and move below the postage-stamp-sized buildings, and others flicker and move in the purple sky above them. The place is altogether magical.
Now here I have to tell you something very strange. In my old life, I have visited that far bank. It is a strip of brick warehouses, rusting gas stations, used car lots, and arrogant new condo apartments boasting marina facilities and health clubs.
Distance is what makes it beautiful. Just as, were I ever able actually to enter the tiny train I am driving myself a little mad to put together, I would find it full of sleeping Japanese businessmen with attaché cases in their laps, and staring children, and a boisterous drunk or two. But that is the whole point: Its microscopic size makes it seem unapproachably far away, and that — and the yearning for a place you cannot reach — is what makes it so heartbreakingly lovely.