Up until quite recently, you were a very sick man. The Big C, of course. Leukemia, a nasty version. Picture the scene, sitting across the desk from your oncologist. You hear the word cancer, then the hunky doctor lays out the projected timeline of your now limited existence on this earth. The oncologist speaks with precision, each phrase an expression of practiced compassion. He’s done this before. You haven’t. All you hear is blah-blah-blah. That’s how it was for you.
Remission is a strange word. The cancellation of a debt, charge, or penalty. The state you now occupy. No one gave you a choice in this sorry deal, but you would have opted for omission if they had. Please, just omit the whole fucking thing, will you? But no. Remission. Purgatory. Limbo.
Fun facts for the curious. After long bouts of chemo, everything smells and tastes of ash. Coffee, french fries, nachos. Smother your pancakes with butter and syrup. No matter, it’s like eating chalk. But choke down what you can because you need the calories. You look like a skeleton.
And more. Skeletons are not attractive. Not sexy. Bone marrow transplants hurt like hell and for a long time. You will suffer. Your partner will suffer. Until they’ve had enough suffering and leave. I’m so sorry. I never signed on for this. And you thought chemo sucked.
That’s you now, looking like the poster child for an AIDS campaign minus the aura of martyrdom. Cancer is boring unless you are unlucky enough to contract it. Contract, as if you made some sort of agreement for this shit. Whatever. Having cancer is as common as a closeted gay politician. Not unique. Get over yourself.
You don’t have to be alone. That’s what the counselors say. There are other survivors, just like you. Support groups for death’s near misses. A dozen wraiths huddled in a circle of orange plastic chairs. Sometimes more, sometimes fewer, depending on who died during the week. You last three meetings, then flee back to being alone.
Let those healthy bastards sit in on a few meetings before they call you a coward. Picture a room full of bone-thin weariness, tufts of brittle hair clinging to skulls, hollowed eyes. If mutual misery equals support, then one of those rooms holds enough support to float a cruise ship.
Too much misery, just like your cancer was too much suffering for Stephen. His exact words. It’s too much, Grant. And then he was gone, like the white rabbit in a magic act.
You hear that Stephen and Greg are happy. Blissfully happy, according to the grapevine. Very sorry and sad, of course, the two of them hooking up under such tragic circumstances. Poor Grant. But they found each other, those two lucky bitches, and that’s what matters.
That’s you. Poor Grant. Boyfriend long gone, brain and body ruined by the same treatments that elevated your status from terminal to remission. Chemo to poison your poisoned blood. Bone marrow from a perfect stranger. Your frail body temporarily free of malignant intent.
The bone marrow donor, bless his or her heart, left you a small bonus gift. What do we have for our cancer contestant, Johnny? Well, Bob, besides a reprieve from death, our lucky contestant will receive some new DNA!
Yes, your DNA changed. Two polynucleotide chains coil around each other in a double helix to create the genetic map of you, Grant James. The donated bone marrow knocked your DNA down and kicked its skinny ass. You’ve got the genetic code of a stranger coursing through your blood, growing on the cells inside your cheeks, and swimming in your semen. How’s that for turning over a new leaf?
The oncologist tells you the donor lives thousands of miles away. No chance you’ll ever meet them. But thanks to their life-saving gift, you have become a chimera, one of those very rare human beings with two sets of DNA.
Lucky you, without the tiniest hint of sarcasm. You are lucky. You’re still alive. Not ready to die yet. And luck was with your beautiful Stephen. Your good friend Greg standing by, so close, ready to support your now ex-lover and partner. Okay, there might be a touch of sarcasm attached to that last bit. Mea culpa.
You have an adviser now. Her name is Samantha. She does her best to maintain a somber presence, but at heart, she’s a perky girl. She can’t help it. Samantha is your cute girl guide to the new world of Remission Land.
Samantha suggests you take up a hobby. According to her pamphlets, new activities are vital for a healthy transference of grief. You think maybe your perky girl guide is on to something.
When you combine this whole blood cancer and treacherous boyfriend thing, there is enough acquired grief to fill a dump truck. It’s time to find a dumpsite. You want to transfer that grief in the worst way. So, you follow Samantha’s suggestion and take up a new hobby. You plan to murder Stephen and his new boy toy, Greg.
Please, spare everyone your self-righteous shock. As if you’ve never contemplated the act. You know better than to lie to yourself. Listen, you have been ravaged, savaged, and betrayed. Don’t be too inclined to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. You’re angry, sick to death of swimming in a sea of troubles, bitches. Someone doesn’t like it? Let them sue you.
As much as you hate perkiness, you’re forced to admit that girl-guide Samantha is right. Tiny confession. You thought hobbies were the boring things people did when they got too old to go clubbing. You turned up your nose at crafty queens in quilting circles, or old trolls scrapbooking magazine clippings of the royal family. Please.
So, give credit where credit is due. You pounce on Samantha’s idea. A new hobby is invigorating. Okay, stitch and bitch is still a yawn, but planning a double murder is exciting. It gets your tired blood pumping through that new bone marrow. Finally, a reason to get up in the morning.
You throw yourself into your new hobby. You’ve got things to learn and decisions to make. The first big question is deciding on a murder weapon. How will you dispatch those two bitches?
You must be honest with yourself when you weigh out the pros and cons of each method. Let’s say you’re one of those macho leather guys. A gun might be the perfect choice for you. Bang-bang, the bitch is dead. But you’ve never held a gun, much less shot one. You can set off a trigger, but not that kind. Which means no guns.
You give bludgeoning a good think because it sounds so lovely. Police found the two men bludgeoned to death in the bedroom of their posh, overly decorated condo. So Agatha Christie. But you’re weighing in under one-forty and weak as a kitten. You couldn’t lift a bludgeon on a bet.
That’s why you settled on a combination of drugs and asphyxiation. Dope the two of them, then tie plastic bags over their heads. Greg first, so your ex can watch his new bitch turn blue. Planning those little details keeps your new hobby interesting.
It’s nice to include other people in your hobby plans. For example, the police will inevitably respond to the murders. You want to make life interesting for them, give them something out of the ordinary to ponder. Cops love DNA evidence. And since your new jumbled-up DNA has been overwritten by the bone marrow donor, it should have the detectives scratching their heads.
There is a problem with your plan. If there is one certain thing about remission, it’s that you won’t be overflowing with bodily fluids. Ripe and juicy you’re not. A dried-up skeleton, not sexy. Spilling your seed hither and thither at a crime scene is not as easy as it sounds.
But there is one advantage to being a cancer survivor. The gates to the pharmacy are flung wide. You tell that hunky oncologist you’re having trouble satisfying your non-existent partner. Two minutes later, you’re holding a prescription for Viagra, the 100-milligram bombs. The DNA distribution problem solved with one magic pill.
Another obstacle overcome in pursuit of your new hobby. You move forward, learn new things, acquire new skills. That’s what being a hobbyist is all about. There’s not a huge difference between model railroading and murder. You gather ideas, make plans, and then start laying track.
Work hard at your chosen hobby and the path to success becomes clear. First, you pose as a food delivery guy, a cute one. The drugs are already stirred into Stephan and Greg’s Panang curry. You hand over the food, pocket their lousy tip, then disappear. Ditch the foodie uniform in the dumpster out back.
Thirty minutes later you open the condo door with the passkey from the superintendent’s belt. Not stolen, only borrowed. He misplaced the key while his pants were loose and he was distracted.
You’re in the condo, the door is locked behind you, and the drugs have done their work. Those two bitches are passed out in their takeout dinner. Fine and dandy. Time to spread some DNA and ease the heartache. Then it’s one plastic bag apiece, one zip tie each, and the party is over. Time to find a new hobby.
Unless you get caught. The odds are stacked against you. Look at all the murder mysteries, thousands of them. In books and movies, the clever killer gets caught by an even more clever detective.
In the real world, people often get away with murder. The police are overworked and understaffed. And when the victims are not members of the straight community, your odds get better. The cops don’t put in as much effort. You might pull it off.
Win or lose, nabbed or not, what matters is keeping your eyes on the prize. You hear the same message, over and over, from the counselors, the pamphlets, perky Samantha. The journey is just as important as the final destination. Don’t fixate on the goal. Learn to appreciate the process. So that’s what you do.
Maybe you get caught, maybe not. Do you care? Be honest with yourself. You’re a walking ghost, death’s calling card. One good look at you and people skitter away like nervous sheep. How would getting caught be any worse? You must go where your hobby leads. Follow the road to the end. Climb every mountain, in drag if that makes it easier.
Whichever way it goes, dead bitches or not, prisoner or free man, remember that remission isn’t the same as cured. Remission is a reprieve. How many years do you think you have left? More time than a prison sentence for murder? Not likely. A good thing to keep in mind when you embrace your evil twin. And if worse comes to worst, there’s free health care in prison, and that might come in handy.
Image by Darwin Laganzon from Pixabay
9 thoughts on “Embracing Your Evil Twin by Marco Etheridge”
Amazing tenacity in the piece. The energy refuses to flag. Tough going, but life, that found between the unknowing germs and omnipotent gods, isn’t for wussies. I’ve seen what chemo does to a a person–you have to admire the determination to stay alive. Then again, there’s something to be said for the morphine drip and sweet sweet oblivion.
Well another day begins. I guess I should blow off that Up With People audition. Lovely work, you are building a tall pile of publishing credits that people should check out.
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Starts dark and gets darker. Relentless pacing. Strong narrative voice. A story that stays with the reader.
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Wow, I’m with Leila.This is so well sustained: locquacious and pithyat the same time! Great work
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I need to go back and like all of my LS stories,
Enjoyed the the total switch in the story going from poor me to I’ll get the bastards. I think the proposed behavior is more common among the heterosexual, but why not? The plot is inspirational. Who do you want to kill when you are terminal?
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This is dark.
However it does leave you with one of those questions that whispers in your ear after a few too many sherbets!
Those are always interesting to think on if you dare!!
All the very best my fine friend.
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As others have said this is great, dark, sharp, incisive writing. Really enjoyed the pace and grit.
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This is a brilliant piece of writing. Broke the speed limit of reading to finish it. So good! 🙂
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A guy who cheats death now wants to kill, and he has motivation! Interesting details, like the way food tastes on chemo, and double DNA from a bone marrow transplant. There is a good guy in this piece, and that’s the bone marrow donor, though I doubt he ever imagined his fluids would be assisting the MC’s plans for murder. The MC takes up arms, he doesn’t let the slings and arrows get him down. His plot’s at the contemplative stage, so I guess you could say this is a possibly positive story he he.
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Thanks to everyone for the kind words! I’m just back in Yurp and dancing with Mister Jetlag, so please excuse the delay in responding.
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