Some Culture For You – Extended

This is an extension of my previous Friday Fictioneers post, which can be found here.

I stand in the dark, with only the smell of urine to keep me company. I’m a trespasser, not just to this abandoned building, but to this country which you seem to have claimed for yourself. Every odd little custom and saying reminds me of the weeks in which we first met, where my looks of amusement would prompt explanations from you. “That’s just something we say where I’m from.”

I’m now in the place where you are from, in the very building you said you lived in.

“You fucking bastard.” I breathe.

That’s something we say where I’m from.

I try to breathe shallowly because the odour is becoming overwhelming. Ungraciously, I accept defeat and walk back to the only ground floor room where the boards on the window are broken. I have to stop midway to lean against the graffiti covered walls in the hallway. I hit the walls harder and harder, trying to force away the anger that’s constricting my throat and chest.

“I fucking hate you! I fucking hate you!” I moan through gritted teeth. The pain in my torso radiates throughout my body, and it’s really, really easy to blame you for it despite the fact it’s obviously not your fault.

Liver cancer.

Fucking ironic, right? I mean, I definitely did more than my fair share of research and testing to find a cure. Obviously didn’t contribute as much as you did, as everyone is keen to point out. Well, that’s a lie, nobody is actually comparing your work to mine. It just feels that way when someone mentions any articles you write, any conferences you speak at, and any documentaries you appear in. It happens suspiciously often, and I wonder how you can possibly have time to do so much.

Then again, I was always amazed at how fast you worked. I quickly learned not to compete with you in the same way that many post-graduate students in the same area compete. I revered you like a God at first, and you bashfully accepted my jealous praise. I’m not sure exactly how we became friends, but we were friends. Do you remember those lunchtimes where we’d sit together and make jokes about the awful cafeteria food? The times you’d come over and I’d make you “Proper English Food,” which seemed to consist of just about anything as long as it was smothered in gravy? The hours you’d spend talking about home?

This home. The one that I’m standing in.

And I’m such a desperate, pathetic idiot. I knew you wouldn’t be living here anymore. This is the address you gave the university when you first came to England. Just because you’re now working in the same city where you grew up doesn’t mean you’d be staying in the same apartment you were before. Even if you wanted to, this place became derelict a few years after you left.

Still, I pictured you being here so clearly, seeing this place as it is now makes me feel like everything you said was a lie. It’s so much simpler to see you as a villain, so much more satisfying for me to pretend you’re a bad person. If I think about this logically, I start feeling bad about tricking the secretary into giving me your old details. I start to wonder if I’m a bit crazy. I know I’m sick, but perhaps I’m sicker than I realize.

After vomiting, which actually makes little difference to the ambience of this corridor, I start walking again. As I get closer to the open window, the breeze highlights the clamminess of my cheeks. The light burns my retinas, and I place a shaking hand against my forehead to shield my eyes. Nausea bubbles up again, but I bite my lip until the feeling passes.

There’s going to be another few months of this, and then nothing. You probably wouldn’t even hear about my death. It pains me to consider that you might not care. A year ago, you were putting together a research team and I applied. Not just because of you, I hasten to add, but because it would have been a glorious opportunity to revive my floundering career. I checked my inbox every waking hour for a response.

I never despised you more than the moment I read the standard rejection letter that you sent. It was your name on the bottom of the email, the same bullshit about not having the correct skillset on top.

How fucking dare you.

We worked together. It was one thing for me to know that you were perhaps more academically gifted, but for you to not even consider me suitable to work on your projects? I suppose this research was too precious to you. You were finally starting the human trials of the wonder drug that had kick started your career. You were looking for the best, and I didn’t make the cut.

However, I have a sneaking suspicion that sending that letter made you feel good. You wanted revenge, didn’t you? You wanted to reject me like I rejected you.

I cried when you told me you were leaving England, but I was so happy for you. Your project had been a complete success, you’d gained massive attention, and I thought you deserved it. I smiled through my tears and told you that I’d always said you were a genius. You replied with something modest, and we stood silently for a few moments. I thought you were going to disappoint me, but after some tense heartbeats, you leaned forwards and pressed your lips against mine.

I backed away, confused and guilty. I had a boyfriend, and you knew that.

I would have kissed you back. I wasn’t in love with you, but even then I wanted to imprint myself in your life, which seemed destined for so much more than mine. I wanted you to revere me romantically in the same way as I revered you intellectually. Maybe you did at some point.

I tried to correspond with you shortly after you left, and you never replied. I broke up with my boyfriend. I worked hard with my research, but never came close to the success you currently enjoy. I was diagnosed with terminal cancer. My life will end, and the only remarkable part of it is the bit which was illuminated by you.

I need time.

I need a miracle.

Isn’t that what they’re calling the drug you created?

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The Library Book Project – 9 April 2008

For more information on this project, click here.

They say that you can better tell someone’s age by their hands than by their face. As I chop these salad vegetables, I feel a renewed love for my fingers and palms, despite their bulging veins and arthritic swell. I’ve settled into a new rhythm with my body over the past few days. I can live with the imperfections and the aches, all the sags and wrinkles which would have horrified my younger self. It’s my body, and it’s pure.

What I couldn’t live with was all the poisons. Not just those cancerous cells in my breast, but the chemotherapy, the radiotherapy and the surgical drugs as well. I felt so invaded. I knew the doctors were only trying to treat me, but it felt like they were part of the assault. The night after the mastectomy was the worst. I couldn’t bear to look at myself, I couldn’t bear to be myself. I broke down to Richard. “What did I do to deserve this?” I cried. Richard put his arms around me and told me that I was still the most beautiful woman he knew.

Being given the all-clear was the sweetest victory I’ve ever tasted. I fought for this body, how could I not love it? Richard’s been very protective, a little too protective perhaps, so the trip to the library yesterday was the first solitary, unnecessary excursion I’ve had in a while. I watched Richard and Judy almost every morning during my recovery, so I picked out some of the books they endorsed, as I’d meant to for such a long time.

I haven’t started reading yet, I’ve been too busy. Some family and friends are coming over tonight, to celebrate my recovery. I smile. It’s going to be a good party.