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April 2017, vol 13 no 1

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Melissa Allen

What I Read, What I Didn’t


Chapter One

The doctor’s habit is to hold his hand in front of his face
 when he’s delivering bad news. He looks like he’s about to 
cough but he’s about to tell you that he saw a shadow in your 
lungs. That’s a great metaphor, you don’t say. You don’t say, Wow, and then what happened? He’s not that kind of doctor.

You probably need a new doctor, one with a literary sensibility, 
the hell with how he did in med school. You take notes in your 
private shorthand while privately wondering what part of town they keep those doctors in.

and out of nowhere
it dawns on you
that blossoms are fruit

Chapter Two

The Man Who’s Sometimes There asks you if you need anything.
This is a signal he’s about to not be there for a while. He needs 
something to bring back with him when he returns. Something to read,
 you tell him. The Man looks worried. He doesn’t understand what
 you like to read. You can’t blame him, you don’t really understand either.

Now that you think of it, you don’t even want anything to read. Reading makes you feel like throwing up. You tell him to bring pudding, because he loves pudding. Then you lie on the couch for six hours not
 reading. It’s the only thing you can think of to do.

all summer
all the voices
on the radio

Chapter Three

Each Thursday from two to five, while tethered to the most insidiously comfortable chair in the world, you spend way too long wondering things: whether the cactus in the waiting room is real, whether your brain will survive being poisoned, whether the nurse with the blue
fingernails would ever be your friend. Is there some kind of professional taboo against that? What does the nurse with the blue fingernails do with her friends? You suspect it’s something lighthearted
 and wonder whether you could ever hack that.

You go to sleep and
 wonder things in your dreams, things too vague and terrifying and
 beautiful to put into words, and when you wake up the nurse with the 
blue fingernails is laughing at you. Or no, wait, she’s just laughing at
something the other nurse said, but it’s too late, you kind of hate 
the blue-fingernailed nurse now. Well, it was nice while it lasted.

a sharp distinction
between apples
and alone

Chapter Four

The new doctor, who by now is the old doctor, asks you if you saw that new Haruki Murakami book that’s more pictures than words.
The new doctor’s got you wrapped around his little finger. That’s a
 great metaphor, you don’t tell yourself. You only ever read anymore 
to have something to talk about with the new doctor.

You say
 something about Haruki Murakami that only makes sense to somebody with a poisoned brain and the new doctor nods the way he nods 
when you’re being crazy. I’m not sure, he says, that it was a very
 successful experiment.

He looks at the computer where he stores
 everything he knows about you and sighs, and frowns, and opens his
 mouth to speak again. Opens his mouth and says some words, but
 words are just words to you now. What’s real out in the waiting room? What will someone bring you next?

listening very closely to frostbite


First published in Red Dragonfly, 3/21/15.


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