SmokeLong Quarterly

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Story by Gary Moshimer (Read author interview) September 17, 2018

Art by David Taffet

For an hour I ride shopping carts around the Acme parking lot. Soon my supervisor will complain there are no carts up front. Until then, I ride.

A fart in a handicap space beeps at me. He might say, A sixty-something man, like this? He would be right, but I flip him off. I tap on his window. He looks scared. I slap the glass. He doesn’t open. I shout, “Hey, I’m a cancer survivor! This is my second childhood!”

It’s true. He cracks the window to slip me a quarter. I sail away happily. Life is a fucking cloud.

But back to work. That is, until my sweetness calls. Her plump rosy face fills my flip-phone. She’s a bite of pink candy, she is. She purrs.

“Come home now. I need to make love.”

“I’m still working.”

“Have a coughing fit.”

I cough and cough. What can I say? My sweetness needs it. Jeb notices and sails on down in his red vest. He remembers my disease. “Man. Y’okay?”

“Need to leave early.”


Yes. I fire up the Pacer, little space ship, and blue-puff the four blocks home. Kids throw cans and I blast car-farts.

Sweetness waits for me in peach nightie. We circle the pill bottle on the table, worship with shaky hands. The headaches and heartaches of the pills are monsters. The doctors say no, living is enough. I say no. Sweetie Pie needs her loving. Living or loving. Or both.

From the tumor, I’m already half blind and deaf and stupid.

Sweetie Pie is powdered with sugar. I cough. I’m a dark and curled-up leaf of a man, so the contrast. I get to my bouncing. She’s so soft. She accommodates. I’m light as a bird’s hiccup, eaten by brain cancer. But I could never love like this before! How I fly!

Later we let it be dark. Out the window, the slice of moon, a warped crescent of chemo nail. I fly up there and perch. Below, Sweetie is a glowing marshmallow. The fine sugar rises the opposite of stardust and finds me. I cough. Sweetie is worried. Coughing is a sign it’s spread, they say. They say it to death.

Listen, I’m saying it’s from the sugar, which is a beautiful. Cough from the beautiful sugar. I feel the tiny sacs in my lungs blossom with beauty.


The next day I pass out in a cart, rattling like hell down the sloped lot into the creek. Brown water in my lungs. Sweetie in the ER with red face and worried hair.

I’m revived on a slab, Dr. Ray scribbling across my chest. “No more work for you. Anything else strenuous?”

“I bounce.”

“Like on a trampoline?”

“Well, on Sweetie Pie.”

We wink at him.

“Oh, god no.”

Then I start to cough, He writes crazily, whips out his stethoscope.

I say, “It’s just the powdered sugar.”

“God no. Try essential oils.”

They take an x-ray of my chest and show me the spots.

But Sweetie and I have our own treatment ready: Her sister sells those oils in her own house. The day before scheduled radiation we go over there.

Sweetie calls them “existential” oils. Darlene googles that and frowns. We get watermelon and strawberry, our two favorite things besides Sweetie’s buns.

That doctor is a fucking genius. To slip and slide and not bounce. To make such heat. To cover every part of Sweetie and cling and suckle for life. To not cough. To lick it clean. To not need the pills.

Radiation calls. I decline. “I’m getting something better.”

The doctor’s office calls. “Self-treatment,” I say, with my strawberry breath.

The doctor himself calls. “I’ll get scanned in a week,” I say. “You’ll see.”

When not making love, we sing the “Fuck Cancer” song we wrote. Sweetie’s voice makes mine a whisper, booming until the upstairs tenant bangs.

In a week the doctor can’t explain it. Dime-sized to pebbles.

My Sweetie stands tall and says, “We exist in a world of absurdity. We are not defined by the cancer. We define it.”

With that we refuse his treatment, the burning and puking and falling hair. Not again.

I want to do more than exist.

We switch to mango, and then coconut, which brings us to the beach. In the salt air I cough. And more. Blood. Which I hide.

Back home we’re slip-sliding to lavender, but the blooms I can’t hold back. I cough, cry, bleed and gasp. Sweetie finds me hanging on my moon, exhausted.

I beg with my precious breath. “Let me just stay here with you.”

She opens a space for me under her arm. It’s moist and safe. Like a fetus, I wait. I hear her muffled song, how we’ll be strong. I’ll wait for the happy ending.

About the Author

Gary Moshimer has stories at [Pank], Word Riot, Necessary Fiction, FRiGG, Eclectica Magazine, and many other places.

About the Artist

Find David Taffet‘s photography at Unsplash.

This story appeared in Issue Sixty-One of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Sixty-One

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