When looking back at some of my greatest mistakes in life, Zihna was always at the top of my list.
Every time I tried to sever the ties between our romance, Zihna seduced me with her charming demeanor—that ebony V-braid draping over her shoulder; those gentle, chestnut eyes caressing my soul. It was my weakness.
But this time, I swore to myself that I would not fall for her facade this time. As I waited for her return at midnight—one if the traffic from New Haven to Washington, D.C. was hectic—I recited my breakup speech.
After clearing my throat, I began, “Zihna Quincy Sunday—” I halted with a sigh. What the hell was wrong with me? People didn’t prepare breakup speeches; they just went with it. “You’re a mess, Aisling,” I muttered to myself. Zihna hated when I spoke to myself. “Maybe I should just break into the liquor.”
Zihna tended to think the liquor belonged to her. It would ignite her fury if she found out I did something like such. But, on the other hand, the doctors were against me drinking alcohol.
And the doubt sank in.
Zihna had been by my side since the beginning of my cancer journey. She was the only person to have ever seen me cry—it was the day I was diagnosed.
“Ugh!” I fumed, clenching my fists, and stormed into the bathroom of the apartment I lived in. In the bathroom mirror, my frail reflection stared back at me. A peroxide-blonde pageboy cut off at my chin, covering my icy-blue eyes. I grabbed a tuft of hair and huffed. “You can kiss these perfect locks goodbye. They won’t be around much longer.”
In the morning, I would start chemotherapy and support group. Again.
Support group. Even the word itself made me cringe. I preferred to spend my time concocting poetry or using spray paint for graffiti art. Plus, being surrounded by a bunch of depressed teenagers would honestly stain my aura.
I already knew the formula for introduction:
Name. Aisling Jones.
Type of cancer. Melanoma. Stage four.
Overall well-being. I was doing better than I was in my last cycle.
I examined my reflection once again. I wore a cashmere sweater to cover the moles dotting my once ivory skin. And to conceal my legs, I wore a long skirt which piled over my ankles. God, I was so ugly.
Before I could wallow in depression, my phone began vibrating against my chest. Followed by the sweet voice of a female robot. “Zihna Sunday. Zihna Sunday.”
I picked up the phone. “Zihna, babe, what’s up?”
“Aisling …” Zihna’s voice was breaking as she spoke.
Zihna quickly cut me off. “We need to break up,” she finished with a sniff. My heart skipped a beat. Break up? That was my line! “I made a mistake. I can’t take seeing you go through this again. I’m sorry.”
“Z—” my voice went up an octave in a shriek before she hung up on me. I squeezed my palm around my phone before shoving it into the breast pocket. “Fuck you, Zihna,” I whispered and marched into the kitchen, raiding the liquor cabinet. I wrapped my fingers around a bottle of vodka and read the label. “1870? Guess you won’t be needing it anymore.”
I smashed the glass bottle against the mahogany table. The clear liquid seeped onto the floor as with the quintillions of tiny shards. I did the same with a bottle of scotch, and every red wine until the cabinet was empty. The linoleum was stained by the end.
Now, something felt empty. My aunt always said, “God shall fill your soul.” My aunt also said to find my inner light with God—whatever that meant. So, after grabbing my gold necklace with a cross for a pendant, I took an Uber to the nearest church in the capital.
At eleven at night, the church was practically as empty as my soul after breaking up with Zihna. Besides me, the only other person in the prayer center was a woman. From the back of the room, I only caught a glimpse of her back concealed with a thick mop of mousy brown locks cascading past her shoulders. She was in the front pew … praying in Hebrew—a strange language to be caught speaking in at a place of Christian worship.
If my Hebrew was correct—I was half Israeli myself—the woman was praying to God for words to tell her former lover about their child.
Having been raised a Quaker, I came to understand that everyone deserved respect and aid no matter the color of their skin, their gender, their religion, or their sexual orientation. With the adrenaline coursing through my veins, it came to my mind that by helping this woman, I would also help myself by finding this inner light that my mother talked about.
Quickly, I grabbed a piece of paper and a pen from my long purse. I turned away, pressing the paper to the wall as I quickly scribbled an answer to the woman’s question:
You should be frank and tell the truth. You’re carrying his child. He deserves to know … even if he is a deadbeat jerk. Oh, by the way, you have very beautiful hair.
When the woman rose to her feet, I ducked under a pew so that she wouldn’t see me as she passed by. I peeked out into the aisle, taking in her pure features—slightly tanned skin; a drooping nose; bronze eyes which welled with tears.
When she was in the hallway leading to the bathroom, I scrambled to the front pew where her copy of the Bible was left open. I dropped the paper on top of the Bible and dashed the door hidden in the back of the church under the shadows.
Outside of the church, I called an Uber to drive me to my sister’s apartment on the other side of the capitol. Dymphna was waiting for me when I arrived. I guessed she must’ve received a twin-sation as she would put it. Sometimes, I honestly questioned whether or not she was psychic.
The second I climbed out of the Uber, my sister was all over me, hugging me like it was a miracle. “Aisling, dear,” Dymphna exclaimed, “how are you?!” Her skinny arms squeezed my waist.
“Zihna and I are no longer a couple.”
With a bright smile, Dymphna took my hands. “It’s about time you sever the tie with that cheater.” Her eyes seemed to go
“Dymph—” I snapped a finger in front of her eyes, drawing her fragile attention to me “—Dymph, I didn’t break up with Zihna; she broke up with me.”
Dymphna caressed my cheek with a tender shape on her rosy lips. “Oh, dear. I’m sorry. You deserve better than that two-timing bitch.” My sister forced every bit of her vehemence on the last word. “Come on. Come inside. I’m making coffee.”
I followed my sister inside and up three flights of stairs to her apartment. It was a studio apartment—a merge of a bedroom and a living room without a wall for separation. The coffee maker sat on the coffee table, plugged into the white side wall. If I was being honest, this place was sometimes a hazard. Next to the coffee maker were two white mugs.
The twin-sation must’ve come earlier than I thought.
“Make yourself at home,” Dympha insisted with a gleaming smile, gesturing towards the sofa on my right. When I sank into the cushions of the sofa, my sister disappeared into the back of the apartment and returned with a pillow. “Are you staying the night?”
I nodded my head and took the pillow from under her arm, propping my feet up on the fluffy material. My sister now sat on top of the coffee table. “Didn’t you promise me coffee?” I asked, laying back in the sofa.
“Oh, yes,” Dymphna said and reached for the carafe, sliding it off the warming plate before pouring the brown liquid into the two mugs. “I did.” She handed me one of the mugs, and asked, “So, why are you extremely calm after being dumped?”
“Well—” I took a sip of my coffee “—I was at the church after trashing my ex’s stash of liquor, and I met a woman. She was praying to God for the words to tell her ex-boyfriend that she’s carrying his child—”
“You’re in love with a pregnant woman?!” Dymphna nearly spat her coffee all over me as she coughed.
“You didn’t let me finish,” I pointed out and sighed. “I wrote her an answer and placed it on top of her Bible.”
Dymphna placed her hand on my knee. “Aisling, my sister, you’re trying to play with something beyond your capabilities.”
“I’m not in love with her!” I protested. “I won’t even see her again.”
“Oh.” From there, Dymphna shut up, and we finished our coffee.
Silence lingered between us until I asked, “Will you take me to chemo tomorrow?” I didn’t want to be alone on my journey. Plus, I had already spent eighty dollars on Uber this week. If I surpassed one hundred dollars, my aunt would begin interrogating me. She didn’t exactly trust the Uber system.
I could already imagine the conversation that would transpire between Aunt Maura and me:
Aunt Maura: “Aisling, you know Uber is shady. Why did you have to use it so much this week?”
Me: “Auntie, I don’t have a car … or a driver’s license.”
Aunt Maura: “Then get one!”
“Earth to Aisling.” Dymphna’s singsong voice filtered through my brain, dragging me out of my thoughts. “Earth to Aisling,” she repeated, waving a hand in front of my face. “Are you there?”
“Yes,” I quickly answered, blinking my eyes. “What was your answer to my question?”
With a groan, my sister said, “I said that I would take you to chemo tomorrow. Of course, I would never say no to you. You’re my sister after all.” She paused for a moment. “Now, get some sleep. You have a big day tomorrow.”
Dymphna reached up for the long chain of metallic beads dangling from the middle of the ceiling fan and pulled down on the chain, concealing the room into darkness. As I settled into the sofa for the long night, I listened to her footsteps as they faded into the back of the apartment. Then, I heard her climb into her bed—the mattress seemed to screech at the transfer of weight pushing down on them.
And finally, my eyes grew heavy, and I drifted off into sleep.