An Online Magazine of the Arts by Women Over Sixty
Eva Has Cancer
by Judith Arcana
So, before I left the hospital, I went to talk to this fellow, a radiologist or whatever you want to call it, because even though they think the lymph nodes are clear, it lays heavy on the heart – you know. I have to go, five treatments, five weeks, Monday through Friday. The first one is right on the first day of the holidays, but what can I do? I have to go, don’t I? But you know, the whole cancer was so small, what should I worry? In fact, they say I won’t need anything but the radiation, no chemo. It’s done by this couple – two doctors, everyone speaks highly of them. Junie, next door, she went to them, remember, last year? And Ruchel, upstairs, you know, from the surgery in the summer? They went to Yale together, this couple; they taught there. I’ve heard very good things about them. Where? Where do you think? Sure, I feel comfortable with them, why wouldn’t I? It’s true, they’re not Jewish, but yes, yes, absolutely, I like them, yes yes yes. In fact, I have to call your cousin Lenny. Like I say, he was the one who told me they were down here in Florida, studying radiation just to work on seniors – what they call old people now, you know. But listen to this: while I was in the hospital, Harriet – yes, Harriet! – called all the time, and the day I came home, she came over. I was asleep, you know, I was tired, so tired. Just coming home in the car made me exhausted. I didn’t do anything, honey, I couldn’t even sit in the chair and watch Jeopardy. Then I wake up late in the day and what do I hear? Her voice. So Sid came in the bedroom and said, You won’t believe what my sister did! She made a sweet kugel, that’s with raisins you know, and another one with schmaltz and I think a little onion, and also a big chocolate cake. She went to a place in Delray, over by her, that sells good kosher meat; she got chicken soup, lots of kreplach, chopped liver she doctored up at home, and two big briskets with gravy. She even brought a head of lettuce and two nice tomatoes, we should have salad. The only thing was, she forgot dressing, so we borrowed from Zinny next door – you know, the other side from Junie. In fact, I have to return it this week. She put everything in pots, right into the oven – then, when I get out of bed, I don’t have to do anything. Sid don’t like the brisket, but he’ll eat sandwiches sliced off it cold. I made her take half of the cake home for Morry. She says anything she wants to give me, he wouldn’t have any objection. After all these years, what do you think of that? Would you ever think such a thing? That she would do this for me? What? Sure, of course it makes me feel good! What do you think? I’m just surprised because, because – you know, because of how it was before. In fact, I have to call her tonight.
These inflections, this syntax, the accent in this monologue were part of my childhood in the 1940s and 50s. This voice was in my ears every day; the music of Yiddish-inflected American English, spoken by immigrants, was the soundtrack of my earliest years. I didn’t think about that when I was writing it, creating a character I made up and named Eva. Just now though, reading the proof for PT, I can feel how much I wanted to hear that voice again.
Judith Arcana writes poems, stories, essays and books, including Grace Paley’s Life Stories, A Literary Biography and the poetry collection What if your mother. Her story, Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture (fiction), won the first Minerva Rising Prose Prize, and was published as a chapbook in 2015. Other recent publications are a set of three lyric broadsides, The Water Portfolio (2014); fiction about the Roe decision being overturned, Keesha and Joanie and JANE (2013); and a poetry chapbook, The Parachute Jump Effect (2012). Listen to Judith on SoundCloud (https://soundcloud.com/judith-arcana) and KBOO (http://kboo.fm/content/bearwitnessjuditharcana); visit http://www.juditharcana.com