“Scalpel,” the surgeon snapped. The masked nurse slapped it smartly into his
gloved open palm.
“Get ready with suction,” he ordered, then drew a thin line from below the
patient’s navel to his groin.
The blood flowed away from the incision and formed shallow pools on the flat,
newly-shaved stomach. The surgeon spread tissue and membrane to expose
the cancerous prize. The easy part was over.
“His vein is collapsing,” the surgical nurse said. “I’ll try another.” She withdrew
the eighteen-gauge needle and wheeled the IV cart around the operating table
to its other side. Palpating the patient’s right wrist, she raised one of several
ropy veins that stood out against his pallid arm and inserted a new needle. The
left wrist continued to drip.
“We could have a bleeder,” the surgeon said. “Order three more units.”
A masked figure with a blood-spattered tunic moved to the wall phone and
punched out the numbers.
“They’ve got only two more A-B positives,” he called over his shoulder.
“Slow and steady, Stan, slow and steady,” the surgeon murmured to himself.
Alex crouched on a mountaintop and watched white-rimmed clouds drift by.
Below him, the valley floor was a patchwork of greens: forest, cobalt, phthalo,
sap, olive, pea, sage, chartreuse, and every shade in between. The California
city where they lived hid behind a neighboring peak.
“Do you want to make love?” Bonnie asked.
“Where? We’re barely hanging onto this ledge … and it’s too cold.”
“It doesn’t matter, I just want to be close to you.”
The afternoon wind had freshened and the couple huddled together and stared
down slope. Shadows lengthened across the mountain’s flanks, hiding the
trail. A cluster of white-coated figures waved to them from a parking lot far
below. Alex didn’t wave back.
“Get another bag.” The assisting surgeon pointed to the urine-filled sack
hooked to the operating table. A nurse scurried to comply before the line
backed up. “This guy must have chugged a keg all by himself,” the doctor
A slim plastic tube extended from the sack into the patient’s manhood and
upward to the bladder. Everything was still laid open and the surgeon labored
to reconnect the urethra.
“We saved most of the nerves – but I don’t like how this connection is going.”
“Just take your time,” the assistant said. “He’ll appreciate it.”
A nurse mopped the surgeon’s brow. He tied off the remaining bleeders.
Closing was as easy as opening. In two hours they were done.
Alex unfolded his stocky legs, letting them dangle over the edge. The sun had
disappeared behind the distant hills and the sky turned a brilliant ginger.
“I’ve never seen it that color before.”
“It’s because of Mount Pinatubo – you know, the volcano,” Bonnie said. “When
it erupted it threw dust into the atmosphere. The sun glints off the particles at
sunset and turns the sky orange.
“It looks festive – we should have a party.”
“We need to get down off this mountain first.”
Bonnie pushed her slender body up, balancing carefully on the ledge, the wind
whipping her mop of curly black hair. Alex rose slowly as if moving through
thick soupy air. A searing pain shot through his groin and he bit down hard,
grinding his molars.
“Easy babe, I’ve got ya.” Bonnie took his hand and led him down the shaded
“So who should we invite to our party?” Alex gasped between painful steps.
“Those guys in white, for sure.” She pointed to the surgeons leaning against
their Mercedes and Porsches in the parking lot.
“Are you kidding? Those guys have no sense of humor.”
“Sure they do. They fixed you, didn’t they?”
Alex became conscious of brilliant purple circles behind his eyes. If he squeezed
them tightly shut, the color intensified. He remembered doing that as a kid,
creating kaleidoscope shades by grinding fists into his eye sockets.
“So how are you feeling, Alex?” Dr. Norton’s voice sounded like it came from a
long tunnel – echoing and vibrating in the air.
“You can open your eyes, Alex. It’s okay.”
Slowly Alex let the light seep in under the lids. His eyes felt like they were full of
sand and had been sealed shut with some kind of glue.
He blinked to clear them but the room remained blurry. Two people stood over
him, one in white, and the other’s shape familiar.
“I’m here, Alex,” Bonnie said and bending, kissed him on the forehead. Her lips
felt cool and dry.
“Do you have much pain?” Dr. Norton asked.
Alex licked his lips, trying to wipe away the sticky film. “Yeah, my crotch hurts
like a son of a bitch.”
“That’s normal – we’ll give you something for it.” Dr. Norton motioned to an
attending nurse who inserted a syringe into the IV shunt.
Alex pushed himself up on his elbows and stared down at his exposed body,
tubes running here and there, transporting things in, carrying things away.
Deep bruises covered both wrists and his fingers ached.
“Jeez, what did you guys use for an IV – knitting needles?” The surgeon
exploded with laughter but quickly regained composure.
“Actually, everything went well. It came out cleanly. In six months we’ll know
“So am I gonna be okay – I mean, will everything work?”
“You won’t know for awhile, until the tissues recover and you heal.”
“It’s okay, honey. We can deal with it,” Bonnie said.
The painkiller kicked in and the two figures dissolved. Alex was again back on
his mountaintop, gazing at festive orange skies and at twinkling lights along a
He extended both hands deep into chocolate soil, feeling the warmth of the
grains and the dampness that held them together. The garden plot stretched
before him. Flats of seedling vegetables awaited his trowel.
“We should plant the tomatoes and squash in the sun,” Bonnie directed. “The
herbs can stand more shade.”
“It just feels good to be out and working,” Alex said. “I’m sorry I was such a
“You had cancer, honey. You’re allowed to feel bad.”
“We need more colors in this garden – nothing but greens just doesn’t cut it.”
“Since when did you get so sensitive about color?”
“Since leaving the hospital. I’ve seen enough whites and pastels to last a
The couple worked through the August afternoon heat, forming mounds,
watering holes, inserting plants, tamping soil, installing stakes and chasing away
their dog that had developed an affinity for tomato plants. A Mount Pinatubo
sunset ended their day.
Alex sits at his computer and watches letters form words on the screen. He’s
been doing it for so long that the sentences just seem to magically appear as
his brain conjures them. He likes the flow of the letters, the weight of
paragraphs, and the emotions and ideas that this electronic calligraphy lets him
“What are you working on?” Bonnie asks, not wanting to disturb her husband
but still curious.
“Just a little something about colors.”
Terry Sanville‘s short stories have been published in GRIT Magazine and BEGINNINGS. He is an accomplished jazz guitarist. He lives in San Luis Obispo, California with his artist and poet wife, Marguerite Costigan.