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“How do you feel about that?” I asked. You could say something generic, like you were sorry, which always led to uncomfortable words, uncomfortable silence, a quick change of topic—or you could get them talking.

“It is what it is,” she said. “Everyone has cancer. Cancer is like the McDonald’s of disease. You’re gonna see it on every block.”

“You’re numb,” I said. It was usually a statement people adamantly denied or ran with.

“Yeah, I guess. Aren’t you?”

I smiled, shook my head. “Numbness isn’t like McDonald’s. I prefer to feel things.”

“Well, congratulations, Dr. Seuss. Feel all the things. Be my guest.”

“Is Fig your real name or is it short for something?” I asked, looking down into the drink she’d just made me. It was good. My wife hadn’t made me a drink but a stranger had. Good Samaritans everywhere.

“That’s it, just Fig.”

“Interesting,” I said.

“Yeah, it’ll look good on a headstone one day.” Before I could respond she threw back her head and released a throaty laugh.

“Is Darius your real name or is it a prop to sound smarter?” she asked once recovered.

“My real name is Dr. Seuss.”

She made a face at me and that’s when I realized she was drunk, or high. The whites of her eyes were rose colored. Crazy. Unable to focus.

“We are all going to die, Doctor. Every last one of us.”

I was amused that she’d already given me a nickname, when my name was outlandish on its own. I settled my back against the railing and looked on as she seated herself on a lawn chair and began to undo the straps of her sandals. She was wearing the most bizarre outfit, a Christmas sweater over a low-cut top with yoga pants. When she bent over, her shirt gaped open, revealing the tops of tiny breasts in a creamy bra.

“Motherfuckers hurt like hell,” she said. She stood up, tilting her head back to look at me. She was tiny. She needed heels to be regular-sized.

“Don’t judge my height,” she smarted.

I was impressed—perceptive even while blazed to rosy-eyed oblivion.

“You’re little. That’s not a judgment, it’s an observation,” I told her.

You could tell a lot about a person’s psychology from their favorite movies. So, that’s what I asked her next. By the time she’d listed them off, the girls were calling to us from inside and I didn’t have time to respond. Later that night I listed them off to Jolene as we lay in bed.

“Fear, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, and Single White Female.”

“So, she likes a good thriller,” Jolene said. “Do we have to talk about this—I’m drunk?”

She wasn’t drunk. Jolene never got drunk, buzzed yes, but she liked to keep her wits about her, stay in control.

“Or she’s a psycho and she relates to them,” I shot back.

She rolled her eyes. “Or maybe you’re a psycho and you’re transferring onto her.”

I leaned back against the pillows, propping my hands behind my head. “At least now I know you listen to me.” I smirked.

Jolene didn’t buy into all that psychology mumbo jumbo, as she called it. And every time she said that it felt a little bit like she didn’t buy into me. Forget the eight years I’d spent slaving over my doctorate, writing an eighty-thousand-word dissertation—it was all mumbo jumbo. It didn’t really matter what I said anyway, because when Jolene decided to love someone, all good sense went out the window. I was the prime example. There wasn’t a human alive who could dissuade her from her cause. Loving fuck-ups always ended up as a fuck-up, but that didn’t seem to matter when she got something in her head about someone. She accepted people without question. In mumbo jumbo we called that enabling. But, anyway—movies.

My wife’s favorite movie was The House of Sand and Fog: starts depressing, ends depressing, and there are all kinds of depressing sandwiched in the middle. Everything with her boiled down to actions and consequences. She saw people as broken derailed trains, full of compartments and mostly out of steam. I didn’t know when she decided to become everyone’s conductor, but that’s what she does—she gets the trains moving again. I respected her for it, but this time, with this particular person, I felt the need to warn her.

“She told me she has cancer,” I said, running my finger along her collarbone.

“What? Are you serious?”

She suddenly sat up in bed looking panicked. “Why didn’t she tell me that? Is she okay?”

I rolled onto my back and stared up at the ceiling. “I don’t know. Why did she tell me?”

“You’re a shrink. You give off that vibe.”

I laughed. She liked it when I laughed. She lay back down and snuggled into me, pressing her lips to my neck.

“She’s lonely and probably scared. I’ll reach out to her again. We have to help her.”

Well, fuck. Another day, another project. I did it for a living; Jolene did it in her everyday life. It’s what drew us together. I wanted to study people; she wanted to help them. Except when she took on a project, it infiltrated every area of our life. I could just leave mine at work every day.

“Don’t get too involved. There’s something off with her,” I said. “Do you follow her on Instagram?”

“Yes, but what does that have to do with her being off?”

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