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Cliché Alert, by Cris Mazza

Cliché alert—not sure this can be expressed without them. A nightmare of colossal magnitude. OK, just the facts, ma’am. Those had to be listed over and over: to front desk, vet tech, ER vet, neurologist, next ER vet, next vet-neuro. Memorized but harder and tougher to say each time. Can’t see keyboard through pooling swollen eyes, typos in every word. Fix later. Digressing so the words won’t get typed. If it’s not written, maybe it’s not real, didn’t happen—that’s shit, it did, he’s gone, best friend, partner, soul mate…there’s your clichés. Just say it: he collapsed, 48 hours ago, middle of the night heard him plod toward the water dish, maybe dragging feet—a telltale sound probably started days ago—then the ka-thunk. Thought just down to sleep again, fucking selfish bitch, didn’t check til my need to pee, then he’s in the way, wouldn’t move…couldn’t move, swam on the tile floor. Lifted him but legs like noodles, crashed back down, chin hit hard. Somehow, that mysterious super-strength, could pick him up to race to the car. But couldn’t do without his serrated wail—will never un-hear it. But he never stopped recognizing me, knowing me, needing me, my slimy face hot and bloated, smelling of panic. 8 a.m., the 24-hour clinic’s neuro doc already in emerg surg on day-off then will leave, have to go 50 mi farther into the city, gurney to the car, load his floppy body, anoth screech, fainter, anoth check-in, anoth ER doc, anoth vet-neuro, now hours later …Xray, pros and cons of MRI, there’s something there, in his neck, yes, have known about that disc for years, massive steroids for pain…but they disable the immune system…But on xray, there—could be tumor, could be infection. Limbs fully paralyzed, but pain, savage pain…surgery has 50% success prediction…try antibiotics, intravenous, leave him, cold metal cage, fluids, opioids, closes his eyes as his face is stroked, me kneeling on the floor for an hour, bent forward, a fetal pod people step over and around, the noise of the hospital blurs, glaring lights dim with my face against his shoulder, but an occasional whimper means he’s being hurt, I’m hurting him.  24 hours of antibiotic proves the infection, legs can swim again, but that’s all, would take days more, a week, in the hospital, and probably wouldn’t work, surgery still the only hope, and still little hope of success…When I return in the morning, he recognizes, jerks and heaves his head up, yowls, just a squeak, his chin lands in my lap and doesn’t move from there again, heavy warm weight, trusting me, needing me…decision had to be made but the wait several hours until the doc can kneel here beside us and help me let him go…fucking let him go…fucking damn as though that’s what he wants…he wanted to be helped, taken care of, and I couldn’t, didn’t, my fault, I didn’t listen, wrapped in my own selfish woes, just let his physical decay and malaise be the evidence of mine. I suck and he found out and you should know too…

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Cris Mazza

About Cris Mazza

Cris Mazza’s latest book is Charlatan: New and Selected Stories. Mazza has seventeen other titles of fiction and literary nonfiction including her last book, Something Wrong With Her, a real-time memoir; her first novel How to Leave a Country, which won the PEN/Nelson Algren Award for book-length fiction; and the critically acclaimed Is It Sexual Harassment Yet? She is a native of Southern California and is a professor in and director of the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Cliché Alert” is an excerpt from her forthcoming novel, Yet to Come.
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