“More coffee?” the waitress asked on her
way past.

“No, thanks.” I watched Annie butter her toast.
She took so long, I got edgy. “What’s up?” I
finally said.  

At 4 a.m., we were at our worst. Especially
after karaoke and shots. “This lump . . .” she
said.  

“Huh?” The coffee had me wired.

“Richie found it. This . . .
lump . . . on my
breast.”

The guy behind Annie was eating lemon
meringue pie. Bits of meringue were visible in
his mouth.
“What?” I said.

“Might be our last night . . .” she said. “Last
breakfast . . . no more . . . karaoke . . .”

Hours ago, she’d sung “Love Hangover”. . .
horribly. “Keep yer day job!” some wiseass had
yelled when she finished.

“I’m gonna die,” she told me.

                      *

The wig was hideous: too shiny, with little
barrettes. Retro 1960s.

“Whaddya think?” Annie asked me.

Somebody had a sick sense of humor. The
salesgirl, maybe the owner, desperate to make
a buck. How could they even sell something this
ugly?

“Well . . .” I forced a smile. “It’s the right color.”
It wasn’t. “Real close, anyway.”

In the mirror, Annie adjusted the wig, studied
herself from all angles. Like she was Lady Gaga
instead of some deluded girl with cancer.

Years back, she’d rammed into a guardrail,
heading for an after-hours joint on the Island.
Cops got her on videotape. “Motherfuckers!”
she yelled, struggling as they cuffed her. In her
mug shot, she’d looked like a little girl who’d
smeared on Mommy’s makeup.

But she looked all grown up, now.

                      *

“See that guy?” Annie whispered.  

“Not
now,” she said, when I turned around.
“He’s looking.”

Somebody she’d fucked. Or me. It always was,
wherever we went. Even here, in the cancer
ward.  

All the curtains were open. “Hey, Rose!” a guy’s
gravelly voice said. “Turn on TNT.” It was like
one big, not-so-happy family. With cable TV.

“Wow,” Annie said softly. “Bear.”

As the magic dripped into her veins, she was
tripping down Memory Lane.

Yeah, Bear. That guy she’d met, before
marrying Richie. Bear was huge, and gentle,
but only with Annie. How many nights had they
snuck off to Bear’s place? With me as their
cover?

Richie was even meaner, back then. Beady
eyes like a lobster’s in that mean, red face.
They fought, savagely, on the wedding night.
“Walked into the bathroom door!” Annie told
everybody but me, about her busted nose. “I
was trashed, man!” Blood all over her gown,
and veil. The wedding purse, too.  

Somehow that had got empty.

Broke, and without speaking, they drove up to
Niagara Falls. “And that,” Annie confessed
later, “was as good as it got.”

                      *

“Aw . . . man!”

Would she never stop puking?

She slunk to the floor, grabbing the bowl.
“Worshipping the porcelain god,” we used to call
it. All drunks did.

But Annie wasn’t drunk. That chemo was poison.

Pale blue, her bathroom was, with fishies on the
shower curtain. Like she was underwater, and
drowning, she lay, still heaving.

In silence, I sat beside her that night.

                     *

“How do I look?” she whispered.

Pale, like there’d been no sun in years. And with
that dopey wig on. But that “Annie” spark was
still there.

“Real good,” I said. Or she wouldn’t talk to Bear.

“Hey, lady!” he yelled across the cancer ward.
Annie beamed.

“Be right back,” I told her.

As I passed Bear, I cringed. He looked ancient,
bald. His Yankees cap sunk low on his face.
Harley shirt and jeans on his scarecrow’s body.  
But it was him, all right. Same tats, and all.

He looked happy to see Annie. Even in here.

“Keep fightin’!” he was saying, as I turned the
corner. “S’all you can do, babe.”

                      *

HEALING MASS, the banner read. FRIDAY,
SEPTEMBER 6th. Once a month they had it at
St. Jude’s. People came from all over, some in
walkers and wheelchairs. Some looking
optimistic, some like they’d already died way
back. Slowly, they filed into the church.

Annie clutched my arm. “It’s mobbed,” came out
hoarse. The cancer had spread to her throat,
and lung.

The old Annie had lived for crowds: Bruce
concerts, Happy Hours down Belmar. A
carefree Jersey girl, she’d been.

Did toxic waste cause this? I wondered.  

What a strange service. Nothing like the Masses
we’d gone to, as kids. The music as lively as at
an island festival. Who’d believe half the
congregation was dying? The sermon was so
long, I started to sweat. I wanted to leave.

And yet . . .

“You come here for healing,” the tough, bald
priest said. “But are you healed of your
sins?”

I squirmed in my seat. I had to pee really bad.

“Does sin make you sick? Before your body can
heal, your
soul must get well . . .”

He went on, and on. Yeah, we were sinners.  
Me worse than Annie. Why her and not me?

Both breasts hacked off . . . and for
what? She
was still dying, faster each day. No hair, no
voice. Soon it would creep up into her brain. . . .

Sin.

I glanced over at her. Eyes shut, she was
listening intently.
Shouldn’t’ve cheated, she
might’ve been thinking. But she’d loved Bear,
not Richie. Didn’t love count for anything in this
world?

I looked closer at her.  

She’d dozed off. Peacefully, like she was
dreaming of old times: us as grimy kids, eating
Freeze Pops in the neighbor’s pool. Or the night
she’d met Bear.

So peaceful, she looked.

Alarmed, I squeezed her arm.

The healing was beginning. Around us, people
poured out of the pews and headed for the altar.

But not us.

Annie’s smile said she’d beat them to it.


Cindy Rosmus is a Jersey girl whose work can be found in
places like Hardboiled, A Twist of Noir, Out of the Gutter,
Flash Fiction Offensive, MediaVirus, Mysterical-E, The New
Flesh, Powder Burn Flash, and Black Petals. She is the
editor and art director of the ezine Yellow Mama.
SECOND
PLACE
GeminiMAGAZINE
2012
Flash Fiction
Contest
$100 PRIZE
HEAL ME
by Cindy Rosmus