Garrett Biggs

A Story About a Tumor

You are still awake. Even if you were to smash the light bulbs, watch the sun wink out, and pull your eyelids taut between your teeth, sleep would remain distant and slippery—a rare animal to be hunted.

And this is for the best. Because when you do sleep, something inside starts to grow. You rest in truck beds overturned at the side of the highway. Motels where the wallpaper is yellow as a poison pill. You wake to find the curtains drawn, and your throat swollen. Glass and soil and cigarillos wilting on the floor.

Your lover used to insist that eventually, given enough time, your body would adjust to the change. There is sustenance in nights like these, he promised. And it’s true. When you think about the histories of this landscape and its people and the interred bones on which all of it is built, and when you think about the ghosts themselves, the way they were first spilled into the hands of translucent men, and when you close your eyes and try to rest in the scrub, and when you whisper the names of all this desert has seen: deer skulls, prickly pear, gray flowers, yucca, stone hatchets, nuclear bombs, amethyst-eyed rats, and when you picture the epochs that preceded this, the years of darkness and weather and starvation, and when you realize with a crumbling road withstanding, it is as desolate a place as it has been and will always be—how can you not find sustenance in this?

Easy, you think. There is no need for sustenance if you haven’t hungered in the first place. But you don’t think this; you thought it. And it wasn’t a thought—it was something you said. And now, when you sit here and picture the house he promised to build, you become certain you could not sleep even if you wanted to. There is a mass inside you, siphoning away rest. Drink water, love. Take a breath. Soon it will climb outward into the light.

Now, listen. Listen to the arc it makes sliding up the throat. A half-moon rising through your trachea before it falls raw and red onto the linoleum. It drums beneath the antiseptic lights, like something washed up from sea. You try your best to swallow, but cannot keep it down.

And so you continue to walk through the night, trying to stuff it back into your throat. You are weak and you are choking: a bird strangled by plastic wrap. Before long, your larynx contracts, and at the dump of a local industrial park, you vomit bloody tissue. Try to avert your eyes from this slippery thing: mingling with the machinery and rust. How long have you been inside? you ask, but it does not answer. It’s just a tumor, after all.

Or: you hear breathing. You lean forward and watch its purple body exhale.

Or: this is how you come to learn the difference between breathing and singing. You lie down into a fetal curl, and listen until you fall asleep.

It is not something you are used to, but the next morning, you wake with your head resting on a discarded milk carton. You stand and breathe in the desert air. It tastes sweet, yet somehow waxy. Beside, the tumor is still beating, but it is larger than you remember. It has grown bruise-colored legs, and a baby’s tooth. You decide that it’s a boy.

If only you could show him to your lover— If you could leave him at his door— If you could feed him peaches, hold him close, and watch his legs unfold— Your lover used to say he could build a home— A haven one could swallow— He was not one to sink inside, but now— When you think about your body— His body— The bones that will one day put to rest— And when you think about the way you fell— Legs first and sobbing— The womb, unroofed— Your mother’s pink breast— And when you lie down, sleepless, trying to picture the road ahead— All the prairie ghosts, treading— All the places his face is branded— And when you think about those who preceded— Amoeba to hominid— Mother to child— And when you remember all the men who have carved a place inside— It’s a smear of purple across the ground.

This is all to say: We know how it ends. Your tracks will slow behind you, and the moon will spill from your mouth. He will be bruise and he will be uranium. He will be a beam of cratered light. It will only be a matter of time before he tries to crawl back in.

Garrett Biggs's work appears in CutBank, Nashville Review, and The Offing, among others. He is managing editor of The Adroit Journal, and a MFA candidate in fiction at the University of Colorado Boulder. Read more at: garrettbiggs.net.

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