by Jenni Innes
Darren is hopelessly in love with the woman across the hall. It had all started innocently enough: nods and smiles at the mailbox, holding the elevator door, neighborly small talk about the weather, “I hope you didn’t forget your umbrella,” and, on three separate occasions, relieving her of shopping bags as she struggled with the ancient locks on her apartment door. Their exchanges remained brief and casual but were frequent enough that his mind began to invent intimate details about her. She does not eat red meat. She snores a little. She is ticklish behind the knees. She never tries to talk her way out of a speeding ticket. She has a harmless heart murmur. Every detail delights Darren. He has come to regard her as his only reason for waking up in the morning, his only reason for breathing, his only reason for living. His wife, Pam, on the other hand, sees things differently.
Pam is completely aware of Darren’s growing obsession with Victoria, their impossibly blonde new neighbor. It has not escaped her notice that Darren spends most of his time in the living room, jumping up at every subtle noise to put his eye to the peephole. Pam does notice, and it does bother her, but it hardly keeps her up at night. That is not to say Pam sleeps well. Her restlessness, however, has little to do with Darren’s yearning for Victoria and everything to do with the cancer that started in her left breast and spread, like Darren’s comparatively benign infatuation, across the hall and into neighboring organs.
Darren is home with her every day on extended leave. He fixes her the scant bits of food she can stomach, he helps her use the toilet, he bathes her, and he drives her to the hospital on the worst days. Yesterday, he spoon-fed Pam like a child. He made a show of blowing on each spoonful to cool the broth, even though they both knew it was tepid. Nausea gripped Pam with each sip, and Darren would wait several minutes between spoonfuls for her stomach to settle. They sat quietly while Pam’s stomach protested the broth, and Darren’s imagination gave Victoria a dislike for cilantro. Darren stared at a scuff mark on the parquet floor, and tried to decide if Victoria ought to have played high school field hockey or volleyball. As he weighed the relative merits of hockey kilts and volleyball shorts, he tenderly stroked Pam’s arm with the tips of his fingers. Darren is always touching Pam. He touches her to soothe her. He touches her because he cannot help it. His skin seeks out her skin, warm and familiar. Victoria belongs to a food co-op, says his brain. I belong to Pam, says his body.
To read all of “In Sickness” by Jenni Innes, buy The Canopy Review Issue 2 in the store.