The Beach by Billy Petersen

Horse. Orange. Chevrolet. Daisy. Three weeks ago, at the sparkling, remodeled hotel, we decided (against better sense) to ascend the marble staircase. We had been here before, for our honeymoon. The first time, deciding between the staircase and the elevator had been so casual, so instantaneous. That had been five years ago, or five months ago. Counting now yields at best confusion. Outside, the sand was cold. The sand, rather, was cold again. Kites were flying. A dog leapt from the surf: spectacle of cool and rosy dusk. What time is it? Or was that yesterday? (Five months ago, or five years.) There was no reason to go through the glowing blue tunnel to the bar. I helped you get back upstairs, before everyone in the lobby could notice.

Today, the neurologist is saying, ‘I’ll say it one more time, remember these four words that I’m going to ask you to repeat again: horse, orange, Chevrolet, daisy.’

There are several of us watching her evaluate you in the exam room. ‘So,’ the neurologist says, ‘you can’t remember your last day of your beach vacation, and that was the last time you were so noticeably, as you say, out of it?

You answer the doctor: ‘I remember floating up the staircase and seeing shadow kites.’ I want to say something, an addendum, but I hold my tongue. You say, ‘I’m just so touched by the organization that sponsored the trip for us. Things have been rough financially, ever since I had to quit my job.’

‘Of course,’ the neurologist replies. ‘Tell me again, she says, when you went on this vacation.’ You say, ‘It was more of a long weekend than a proper vacation, but it was a week ago.’ She waves a light before your face and asks you to follow it with your eyes. ‘Three weeks,’ I say.

You tell the doctor how you don’t always know the difference between dreaming and reality, and I wish I could reach into your sleep, pull you out, and say here you are, here you are, but saying it would sound stupid. Where are you, I want to ask, but I can’t. Are you where kites leap from the surf inside a dusky lobby lined with marble dogs? Sometimes, I’m afraid that the words I’m speaking to you miss. The words crash into the void of your hearing somewhere else than where you are. So ideas diminish, clauses contract, phrases aspire to purest simplicity. I feel malignant punctuation (also ascending, against sense, the staircase) that segregates each shrinking word. We occupy our own receding places that voices sometimes traverse.

On the computer screen, there is the blasphemous image of your skull’s interior. The picture morphs through a bottom-to-top vision of your brain’s layers. Yellowish, greenish-tinged bright spots, like sick islands, alight the bluish-gray matter. The neurologist, a smiling woman with blonde hair, steers us through you.

The neurologist says, ‘Now, if I’m looking at this scan, I see your oncologist’s concern. But I’m not seeing definitive evidence that we are dealing with leptomeningeal carcinoma. I’m going to schedule you for a lumbar puncture on Thursday. That way we can get a better idea about whether the cells have infiltrated your spinal fluid. Those results will tell us whether or not we stick with our chemo pills, and maybe opt for the gamma knife. Otherwise, we install an Ommaya reservoir in your brain, so we can directly introduce treatment to the metastases. Don’t worry—it’ll feel like a cinch compared to your bone biopsy. Now, can you repeat those four words for me?’ You pause, and before surrendering, you say, ‘Orange, Chevrolet…’


Billy Petersen works as a copywriter for a website developer in Jacksonville, Florida. His stories and essays have appeared in, The New Engagement, symplokē, Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge, and Literary Imagination. @BillyPeterzen