Taking Leave

by Dan Morey

I got her email in August:

Hey. How long’s it been? Five years? Ten? It’s weird. A year is like nothing now. Remember how endless a year was in high school? Freshman, sophomore…being a senior was so far in the future you could hardly imagine it. And every year meant something new. This is the year you learn to drive and this is the year you go to Junior Prom and this is the year you take the SATs. Now life is just one big blur of sameness. Time slipping away as we repeat our boring routines over and over.

When I’m brushing my teeth in the morning, I think about how many more times I’ll brush, how many more times I’ll floss, before I’m dead. Sad, isn’t it? Measuring out life by the amount of Aquafresh I’ll need to buy.

Actually, it turns out not much. I’m going to get right to the point here. I have a melanoma. It’s on my leg, and it’s going to kill me.

It’s my own stupid fault. Back before you knew me, when I was in middle school, I was really into the beach. My friends and I would put on bikinis and lay on blankets and listen to Color Me Badd. We all had to be super tan. When the weather was lousy, we went to tanning salons and climbed into those horrible UV capsules. I won’t say no one warned me. Skin cancer was on the news. I had health class. But you don’t care about that when you’re a teenager and pretty sure death is something that only happens to wrinkled old farts.

Anyway, melanoma kills fast, and I want to use my remaining time to get some stuff off my chest. I’m writing emails to practically everyone I know—including you, obviously.

First of all, I want to tell you about the CDs. After we broke up, I stopped by the apartment to get my things. While I was in there I took a bunch of your CDs. Not so many that you’d notice right away, but a good handful. Two Judy and Marys, a Petty Booka, a Shonen Knife, and a PUFFY, the deluxe Taiwan double-disc edition of Jet CD.

I’m sure it wasn’t long before you realized they were gone and that you suspected me. Don’t know why you didn’t ask about it. You were never big on confrontation, but those were some of the most cherished artifacts of your youth. Maybe you thought you’d been a bad boyfriend and that I deserved some sort of reparation. That’s bullshit. I was the asshole. Still am.

I didn’t take those discs for sentimental reasons, or even because I like them, which I don’t. I stole them to make some quick cash. You were always telling me that crap from Japan was worth a lot of money. Rare, out of print, highly collectible, blah, blah, etc. So I put them on eBay and started the auctions at 99 cents and sat back and waited for them to go through the roof. Well, guess what those super-hot works of musical genius went for? That’s right, 99 cents. All bought by the same guy…probably some J-Pop dork like you.

You know, you lived through a musically important decade, the 1990s, and have nothing to show for it. Why weren’t you buying Nirvana bootlegs? Soundgarden demos? I just saw a Mudhoney single go for 300 bucks. 300 bucks! People still listen to that shit. They remember it fondly. Those songs bring back their younger days: flannel shirts, long johns under cutoffs, greasy hair.

What were you doing back then? Sitting in your room reading Giant Robot, listening to Yuki squeal like a petulant brat. What was she even singing about? Who knows? IT WAS IN JAPANESE! And don’t get me started on PUFFY. “Cake is Love”? “Electric Beach Fever”? Rock-n-roll isn’t supposed to be cute. The ‘90s were grungy times, man! You should’ve had at least one Alice in Chains album. And been way more disaffected.

Well, I was going to admit to doing some other objectionable things, but I’m actually kind of mad at you right now, so I think I’ll sign off. Sorry about swiping your CDs. Trust me though, you’re better off without them.

-Sasha

I was shocked, of course. Not necessarily because Sasha was dying—I was in my early forties and had already seen five friends buried (drugs, suicide, aneurism)—but because she chose to announce her imminent demise in such a blunt and insensitive manner.

We hadn’t spoken in half a decade, but we’d lived together for two years. Didn’t that kind of history at least warrant a phone call? Or a meeting in a bar? Isn’t that the right way to break tragic news? After a couple beers? Maybe she thought asking me to a bar would be weird. Like I’d think she was trying to get back together or something. And that I’d be into it. Like I’m really that pathetic.

And why use her final communication to malign my taste in music?

I replied: Sasha, I’m truly sorry to hear about your cancer, but I have to tell you that you’re mistaken about PUFFY, and Japanese rock in general. There’s nothing wrong with fun, cheerful or catchy music. It makes people happy. Even Kurt Cobain loved Shonen Knife.

She wrote back: Kurt Cobain blew his fucking face off. Probably after listening to too much Shonen Knife.

I wrote back: I think we both need some time to process this.

Over the following week, I called up all the mutual friends I could think of and asked if they’d received any correspondence from Sasha. They had, and we started forwarding each other her emails.

This is what she wrote to Bob Jarry:

Yo, Bob. I’m dying of metastatic skin cancer. This is my last chance to own up to some shitty shit I did in the past. Remember that time you went to Spain with your girlfriend and asked me to dog-sit? And when you came back I told you the dog ran away? That was a lie. In fact, I drove him out to the woods and dumped him off.

Want to know why? I’ll tell you. I liked to wear black back then. And every surface in your house was covered in fucking dog hair. Whenever I hung out there I left looking like a goddamn Sasquatch. It was disgusting. And you know dogs smell, right? I mean, your olfactory system is functional, isn’t it? Outside was even worse. You couldn’t walk across the yard without getting some stupid animal’s shit all over your shoes. Oh, and the barking. That was delightful. God, I hate dog people.

Best,

Sasha

Sam Fitch received this:

Sammy, I’m dying, but you shouldn’t feel bad. I certainly don’t. I mean, I’m fortysomething, husbandless, childless, and my job is going nowhere. Not that I ever wanted a husband. Or kids. Or a big career. Those things actually make me puke. But still. When you think about it, what’s the point of slogging on? You’re still single, so you know what I mean. Frankly, I’m surprised you didn’t throw yourself in a wood chipper years ago. What keeps you going? Why do you bother?

Anyhoo, I have to tell you about a terrible thing I did. Remember when we got in that fight over the Replacements song? You said Paul wrote it and I said he co-wrote it with Tommy and Chris. I was right, of course, but this was before smartphones, so there was no way to prove it. Well, I was so mad I went home, got on the computer, and entered your email address on 20 different porn sites. I also added you to the mailing list of two Hulk Hogan fan pages. And something called “Siegfried and Roy Furever.”

See you on the other side,

Sasha

Other missives were more poignant. Becca Shapiro’s for instance:

Becs, I doubt you remember this, but we were walking in the woods one time and you saw a spider in a web and asked me what it was. I was known for spending most of my free time in the woods back then. Usually I was just smoking weed, but everybody thought I was some kind of nature girl or something. So I felt a certain pressure to answer your question correctly. The thing is, I had no idea what kind of spider that was. I should’ve admitted that to you, but instead I said, “wolf spider.” You said, “Oh, cool, a wolf spider!”

Later, I googled wolf spider and found out I was completely wrong. Wolf spiders don’t even spin webs. And they’re hairy. What we saw that day was just a common orb-weaver. But I didn’t have the heart to tell you. I mean, you were so excited about seeing a wolf spider. Plus I have a really hard time admitting I’m wrong.

Sorry,

Sasha

PS. I have some bad cancer and this is probably the last time you’ll hear from me.

Becca’s letter reminded me of incident that occurred shortly after Sasha moved in with me. I had a fish tank with some pricey Sabao goldfish in it. I came home one day and found them floating. Sasha told me she’d added algaecide to the water, but in the exact quantity specified. She insisted, and seemed totally convinced, that she hadn’t made a mistake. “If that’s what killed them, it’s the chemical company’s fault,” she said. “I just followed the directions on the bottle. You should sue them.”

No apologies. No remorse. But later, as I was going to bed, I thought I heard Sasha crying in the bathroom. I tapped on the door, and she kicked it shut tight.

Gary Pinkster’s email went like this:

Gary, remember that time your parents were out of town and you threw that big Toga Party and passed out on the couch? The next morning you got up early and cleaned every inch of the house—scrubbing vomit and ash out of the carpet, picking beer cans out of laundry hampers, collecting random undergarments off furniture. You were certain your parents would never detect any evidence of the Roman bacchanal that had transpired the day before.

But that night, when ol’ Bud and Cindy, freshly returned from the Quail Hollow Resort, climbed into bed, they heard something crinkling under their sheets. A minute later they were standing outside your bedroom door, holding a bunch of printouts. You recognized the pictures instantly, because they were culled from the internet search history on your laptop. Naked plus-size women, Gary. Lots of them. I’m not sure if you ever found out who was responsible for that, but it was me. I’m not apologizing, and to be honest I’d do it again. Just thought you’d like to know.

I also have a favor to ask you. You’ve probably heard by now that I’m dying. Well, I was sitting in my car the other day during a thunderstorm, waiting for it to pass, and the windows started to fog up. I never really thought about this phenomenon before, but I was suddenly very curious about what was causing the fog. Then I realized it was me—it was my breath that was doing it. And if I died right then and there, the fog would eventually fade and the glass would clear.

So I’m picturing myself dead, slumped over the gearshift. After a while, some paramedic guy shows up and drags my body out and wheels it over to the meat wagon. I’m gone and my car is just sitting there, with fog around the edges of the windows, the last remnants of my breath. Pretty soon, my sister, or some other twat, comes and claims the car, hops in, and fills it up with her own stinking breath.

It’s enough to make me cry.

So, after I die, Gary, you have to come and get my car. Take it to your uncle’s junkyard and crush it up good. I don’t want anyone else breathing in my car, okay?

Thanks in advance,

Sasha

By late September, the emails stopped coming. I checked all the places Sasha frequented, but nobody had seen her since July. We all watched the obits; she was never in them. Sometime around the New Year, I ran into her sister at a Beatnik Termites show. I asked her how Sasha was doing and she laughed.

“Up to her usual crazy shit,” she said.

“What do you mean? Is she in remission?”

“Remission? She’s in Cleveland. Working at a record store in Ohio City. Don’t tell me you fell for that cancer bullshit.”

I was stunned.

“C’mon, dude. Melanoma? Sasha at the beach?”

“I have no idea what she was like in middle school.”

“Think Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice. But paler. Those emails were just another one of her idiotic pranks.”

I felt nauseated. “Your sister is seriously sick. A lot of people believed her.”

“She’ll be thrilled to hear it.”

“It’s sociopathic.”

“Duh. You were lucky to get away from her, dude.”

I was furious with Sasha for about a week, until I started rereading her emails. Sure, it was a cruel joke, but there was something else there: the tooth brushing, the dull pointlessness, the breath on the windshield.

I drove down to Cleveland the next weekend and searched the record shops in Ohio City. When I opened the door to Vinyl Fetish a bell tinkled and Sasha looked up from a stack of 45s. She jumped a little; a red glow lit up her face, then quickly dissipated. She smirked her old uneven smirk.

“Sasha. How are you?”

“Come in,” she said. “I’ve been waiting for someone to find me.”

 

Dan Morey is a freelance writer in Pennsylvania. He’s worked as a book critic, nightlife columnist, travel correspondent, and outdoor journalist. His writing has appeared in Hobart, Thin Air, failbetter, McSweeny’s Quarterly, and elsewhere, and he’s been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Find him at http://danmorey.weebly.com

1 Comment

Filed under Fiction

One response to “Taking Leave

  1. Sandy

    Great read ! Sasha may have been a Wednesday’s child – you covered a lot of emotions.

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