It was one of the last farmer’s markets before winter, six
o’clock and already dark. The stand canopies fluttered like
lifting skyward, while bare bulbs cast shadows over kale and carrots
off the coruscating asphalt, wet from a passing shower.
Billie stepped beneath the Itty Bites awning and found Ray standing
in front of a pyramid of individually wrapped Harvest Pumpkin brownies.
“Don’t tell me you’re going to buy one,” she
“I’m celebrating. I just got back from Florida, the Center
for Integrated Holistic Healing. Another six months without the cancer
“That’s fantastic.” She held up her hand to give him
high-five, wincing at the insensitivity of her brownie comment. If
anyone had a
good reason to eat especially healthy, she reminded herself, it was
Itty Bites lady, meanwhile, chimed in with an appreciative murmur.
“Whatever you’re doing,” Billie said,
“it’s certainly working.”
Ray, as always, looked good – like George Clooney only ten
years younger and without the thin upper lip. His eyelashes were also
fact of which Ray was no doubt aware. Billie had stopped bringing her
R&R Auto Repair when Ray moved his shop one town over, to Averhill.
though he was a good mechanic, and it wasn’t his fault that he
she didn’t want to become one of his groupies. She knew herself
too well, how
easy it would be for her to mistake his friendliness for a different
intimacy. He was also married. So was she. She found it confusing,
way his illness shape-shifted around their words so she never knew what
really telling her when he shared the discrete, private details of his
Billie had only seen Ray at the market with his wife one
time. She had been wearing a pink blazer that set off her dark, wavy
creamy complexion above voluminous hips and tiny hands at the end of
dimpled arms. At one time she must have been very pretty. Maybe, Billie
thought, she still was. Who was to say that Ray, with his dulcet gaze,
desire his wife precisely because of her abundance?
Billie had stood at the periphery of the market watching the
two of them together, wondering if Ray, with his dallying eye—or
was he really
just that friendly?—drove his wife to eat vast quantities of
food, each, in
their own way, trying to master the cells multiplying in his blood. As
wife had rolled through the market gathering turnips and slabs of
pasture-raised beef, Billie wondered if she knew that the housewives of
Merrimak blew-dried their hair and put on mascara before bringing their
her husband’s shop to loiter in the oily air, in their yoga pants
and Pumas, while
he explored their vehicles with sun-kissed hands. Surely Billie was not
only one who had imagined his attention straying from the car’s
enamel to her
own lacquered lips?
This evening, though, Billie had nowhere she needed to be.
Frank never got home before nine-thirty, Jeannie and Gus were away at
and it wasn’t winter. Not yet. The pluck of a mandolin wafted
through the dusky
air as the farm stalls packed up their wares for the night. She waited
Ray paid for his brownie, and then they both stepped from the
into the soft bleed of night.
“That’s wonderful that the leukemia’s in
“It’s not really in remission. It’s always there, but
hasn’t spread. My whole family gets this kind of cancer. My
grandfather. They’ve all died from it. I’m convinced,
though, that the reason mine
hasn’t progressed is that I’m not doing chemo. The doctors
at Sloan Kettering
wanted to remove my lymph nodes, but when I flew down to CIHH I learned
without my lymph nodes, my body has no way to fight the cancer.”
Billie nodded, skating over these words and what they
implied, the choices Ray had to make. She recalled a conversation
she’d had with
him in the spring.
A gust of mild air had ushered Billie in the front door of
Lombardi’s Deli. Filthy crusts of pocked and scarred snow, like
lungs, had still clung to the sidewalks, and the first thing she saw
stepped inside was Ray standing by the juice bar talking to Lydia Hovan
Reynolds. Billie made a bee-line for the meat department.
she thought when she saw that they had ground turkey. She peered at the
wrap, reminding herself that the puffiness was not caused by
the meat’s decay, but by inert gases that had been injected into
the package to
preserve shelf life. Or so she’d been told. Snatching up the
headed to the register only to find herself stuck behind a woman with a
her hip and a counter piled high with what looked like a week’s
groceries. She could feel Ray watching from across the aisle.
“Oh hello,” she said, pivoting on her fuchsia sneaker to
smile at him.
He was uncharacteristically alone, his navy-blue mechanics
outfit immaculate, R’nR embroidered on his right breast pocket, a
cup of green, sludgy liquid in his hand.
“You’re still doing your juicing, I see. I’m
going to have to try that one of these days. So what do you do, call
the juice is ready when you come to pick it up?”
“Yup. Just ask for Ray’s juice. It’s right there on
menu.” Ray pointed above a display of baked goods to the
chalkboard, Ray’s Juice: kale, cucumber, celery,
ginger written in script at the top.
“I eat all those things,” Billie said. “I just
juice them. How much does a cup like that cost?”
“That’s kind of expensive.”
“Not more than what you’d spend on something else.”
his glance on the ground turkey in Billie’s hand. The smooth,
tightly-packed spaghetti rows of meat reminded her of something that
squeezed out of a Play-Doh factory playset.
“I think I’d get hungry if all I had for lunch was
“I never get hungry,” Ray said. “This is all I eat.
these every day.”
“Maybe a little something for dinner just to be with the
family. If I skip a day—” He held up the plastic cup,
“I feel crappy,
lethargic, no energy.”
Billie opened and closed her mouth, feeling like a fish blowing
bubbles, whatever words she might have thought to say descending like
the pit of her stomach.
This evening, though, Ray was alone, and no one was waiting
at Billie’s house for dinner. She had called Frank earlier in the
day to ask if
he might want to leave work early so they could eat dinner together.
can’t think about it now, Billie. I have a meeting I need to
well, all you need to tell me is whether you want to catch an earlier
can go to the farmer’s market, make something fresh and healthy.
have a meeting in fifteen minutes! What do you not understand?
She had lowered the phone, listening for the soft click
as it hit the receiver.
The streetlights, meanwhile, beamed over the market like
overzealous moons as Ray talked about his sports injuries from playing
and how he had gotten burned in the shop, but when he treated his
some kind of special solution that he seemed to have already told
the doctors couldn’t believe how miraculously he had healed. He
told her that since
he started drinking this liquid he felt stronger, more fit, and faster
“That’s amazing,” Billie replied. “I do believe
body has a remarkable capacity to heal. I have a back injury from all
of playing tennis as a kid, but now that I do yoga, which is so much
inner core work, my back is dramatically better. I also go to the
“You should try the saline solution I was just telling you
about, the one I order from the Center. It re-balances the body’s
and hormones, rehydrates and purifies the blood.”
“Cancer cells can’t survive in an alkaline environment.
water has a pH of 9.”
“Normally the body has a pH of 7.4.”
“I see. So this makes your whole body more alkaline?”
“Exactly. I get it delivered by the case. What’s your phone
“My phone number?”
“Oh, okay…” She fumbled for her phone, which had
beneath the kale and radishes in her re-usable bag and was now wedged
sweating bottle of kombucha and the brownies, but then she realized
was not what he had asked her.
“I’ll text you the name,” he said, smiling with mild
“Of the solution.”
“Right. Of course.” She told him her number, and she was
glad it was dark so he couldn’t see the sudden heat in her face.
“And it’s Billie…?”
“Needham. Billie Needham.”
He finished typing in her contact information, an awkward
silence settling over them as a high, keening wind whistled through the
branches of the sugar maples bordering the lot.
“Well, I should get going,” Billie said.
“Yeah, yeah, me too.”
“Enjoy your brownie!” She walked across the street, the
kombucha bottle banging against her side, waiting until she got to the
of Gotthardt Street before stopping to look at her phone. She was
not exactly surprised to see a new message icon perched at the top of
screen. So this was how it happened, she thought, how the membrane
became thin enough for one of them to step through. She tried to
clean, calloused fingers brushing over her collarbone, pressing her
his, but she couldn’t, so she clicked open the message instead.
There were no
words, only a web address. When she tapped the link the screen unfurled
a display of shimmering blue bottles of saline water. She stared at the
square of light in her hand, this pixilated beacon in the deepening
night, and she knew that unlike Ray, she had not yet found the thing
Tania Moore’s fiction has appeared
in Pithead Chapel, Cleaver, The Madison Review, The Flexible Persona,
and many others. She was nominated for a 2016 Pushcart Prize and her
work has been anthologized most recently in SIBLINGS: Our First
Macrocosm. Having earned her MFA from Columbia University School of the
Arts, she teaches creative writing in the Bronx and lives along the
mighty Hudson River. Find out more at www.taniamoore.me.