All Over Again

by Tom Jackson Read author interview December 15, 2004

Strawberry shakes. If I could do it all over again, I’d have more of them. I love them. But here’s what stinks: Now that I can have all the shakes I want, the chemo leaves them tasting like I’m sucking on a penny. Funny thing is, I’d never had more than two or three shakes a year before all this. I thought they were too unhealthy.

I used to be an avowed chicken-shit. Spent my entire life doing all I could to put off death. Now that I’m dying, I wonder what I was afraid of. I don’t have to go to work. I’m getting more and better drugs. Everyone is very nice to me.

And the sex! My wife has been insatiable since the diagnosis. She said she wanted to get as much of me as she could before all the body hair fell out—”Too much like screwing a 12-year-old then.” Sweet girl. Even after my last whisker landed in the pillow and my last pube was swept off the sheets, she’s been talking dirty into my ear, telling me what we’ll be doing once this is all over.

I tell her she could have a lucrative career in phone sex. It could help defray funeral expenses.

One of the best things about the dirty talk is Lydia’s new nickname for me: Snake. She says it’s after the tumor, the way it coiled around the length of my colon before it was cut out. It’s a fair nickname, I suppose. Especially since I called her Lumpy after her last mammogram. (A mere tissue cluster , thank God.)

~

I got a call the other day from some hockey player. I’m pretty sure I pissed him off.

“Mario Le-who?”

Lemieux, he said. Of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“Pittsburgh? They still have a hockey team?”

He laughed politely, then said he heard about my sickness. He hoped to stop by when he was in Chicago the following week. He told me he knows what I’m going through and that I should hang in there.

“Pittsburgh…. Hey, Mar, you know Bill Mazeroski? Could you get me his autograph?”

He paused a second, said he’d see what he could do and that he’d see me later. Pretty short call.

I think my dad set up the whole thing.

“Jesus, son, you can be an asshole!” Dad thought I was dissing this Mario guy. “He’s just the greatest damn player in the history of hockey!”

“I thought that was Gretzky.”

He groaned. He hadn’t even mentioned the name since “number 99 followed that Jezebel wife of his out of Canada and down to Hollywood.” Apparently, many canucks, my dad among them, still had hard feelings about that sports page transaction from a decade and a half ago.

Dad shook his head. “You just don’t get it, Jim.” And you probably never will, he nearly added. He’d said it many times before. But he wouldn’t say it this time.

I was never much into hockey. I preferred baseball. When Dad bought me goalie’s gear for my eighth birthday, I put on the mask and mitt and pretended I was Johnny Bench.

But I gave Dad a glimmer of hope last Christmas. Lydia and I were stumped over what to get him. So I was flipping through the cable and came across a game on Sports Channel — the ‘Leafs and the ‘Hawks. And the ‘Leafs were wearing these retro jerseys, with the veiny leaf on the front.

“Lyds—I got an idea!”

Christmas came, and Dad opened our present. He put it on right away and wore it all day, walking past the mirror every so often, checking himself out. Later he sat me down and told me, “Y’know, when I was a kid, every Christmas I got a new Maple Leafs sweater. Then I’d wear it all year, wear it out in fact, and I’d need a new one at Christmas again. I didn’t think you remembered that story.”

“Yeah, well….” I hadn’t remembered it at all.

“You’re a good son.” He stood up, kissed my forehead and walked away.

OK, dammit. If I could do it all over again, I’d also give hockey another shot.

~

I’m the one with the good son. Brandon is five. He has his mother’s athletic build—long, strong limbs, ideal for basketball. He’s already able to dribble with both hands, and he doesn’t even look when dribbling with his right. His mother’s been working with him on shooting. Keep the right hand behind the ball, steady it with the left, bend those arms and then follow through with the wrist. Great rotation. He already shoots better than I ever could.

Then again, Lyds is a good teacher. She still has the moves, that fluid crossover, the sweet jumper. A body for basketball—even though she’s actually grown some hips and breasts since Brandon was born. I think it makes her look better than ever. Once I’m gone, she won’t have any trouble finding another husband, another dad for Brandon. She hasn’t needed me to teach him basketball. Someone else can teach him to hit a baseball.

~

Brandon’s been pleased that I’ve been home the last week. Now, he says, he can see me all the time, “not just when the nurses let me.”

Dad took him to McDonald’s and they just got home. He runs into my room and jumps onto my bed, jarring loose the lid of his cup and spilling its pink contents on my gown and his Maple Leafs t-shirt.

“Sorry, Dad… I got my shake all over you.”

“No problem, champ.” I touch the stain on his shirt and dab it on my tongue. I wish I could taste it.

About the Author:

Tom Jackson is Marketing Manager and an Associate Editor for Night Train. His latest fiction will appear in an upcoming issue of Monkeybicycle. His short film One-Track Mind recently won the People's Choice Prize at the Black Earth Film Festival in Illinois. He is an copywriter/creative director/photographer for an in-house ad agency and has served as a film/theater reviewer, illustrator and humor columnist for a Central Illinois daily newspaper. He will be making his second appearance on Jordan Rosenfeld's "Word by Word" show on California NPR affiliate KRCB in January. He wrote and shot pictures for the Seminary Street feature in Night Train Issue III, and his interview with Robert Hellenga appears in Night Train Issue IV. He will interview Garrison Keillor for Night Train Issue V.

About the Artist:

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison's work here.