A palpable condition
The doctor asked for Neil’s medical history, took a blood sample, and palpated his back, running cold fingers over what they called his “condition,” a sort of tumour that rested above his right hip. The Condition extended two sinuous tentacles and swatted the doctor’s hands until he learned to respect its personal space.
“I stopped smoking eight years ago, you know” said Neil, gritting his teeth. “I eat vegetables, too. Walk every day.”
“That’s good of you,” said the doctor. “The test results will be in within two weeks. We might know what to do by then.”
Neil was given leave from work, advised to avoid bright lights, loud noises, crowds, stressful situations, anything that might aggravate the Condition. He sat in his apartment, alone, with the blinds shut, and waited. The Condition grew until it was big as half a grapefruit. The darkness of his empty apartment soaked into his brain and dragged him down like a damp sweater. He thumbed through books he’d read a dozen times, lay on his stomach, eyed the pale paper roll that perched atop his bookshelf. Smelled it. Stale. It had been sitting there for eight years, a mute dare. He stared it down. Blinked first. Time to go for a walk.
At the grocer’s, Neil tries to remember which sort of fruit is meant to elevate his endorphin receptors. He’s uncertain what that means, but the language of the doctor’s office has taken root in his brain. He’s drawn to the familiar tart green apples, but knows it’ll take something more exotic to trick him into feeling better. He palpates a large pink fruit, fat and shiny. It twitches and emits a cloud of spicy spores. He decides to let it go.
He takes his groceries (coffee, apples, spinach, milk) to the counter. As the girl packs them into his bag, the Condition acts up, reaches out from under his raincoat, reaches towards the rows of cigarette boxes. Her eyes go big. He grabs the tentacle with both hands, bends it around his elbow, twists until he hears it hiss. He lets it go. Like the slapped hand of a child it retreats under his coat. In the ensuing silence, Neil clears his throat and points towards a pack of his brand.
“Those too, please.”