Serial Reading: Just like Suicide pt. 7

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Mery Lynn McCorkle, detail of Bacteria 9, 2015.
Mery Lynn McCorkle, detail of Bacteria 9, 2015.

For your summer reading pleasure, BURNAWAY brings you Just Like Suicide, a novel by artist Mery Lynn McCorkle, set in the Los Angeles art world. She writes from experience, having lived for years in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, when it still was the art frontier, and then LA; she now resides in Rome, Georgia. She describes the book as “a compendium of interlocking tales cataloguing self demolition and success in the Los Angeles art scene, from the point of view of artists, dealers and family members.”
We’ll post sequential chapters from McCorkle’s book every Wednesday and Friday over the summer. Or click here to buy the book now.


Thirteen
The ribbons and bows and scraps of red and green paper still littered the wood floor in the den a whole week after the holiday. The lights from the tree reflected on their metallic surfaces, bouncing tiny little patches of color onto the white walls like a miniature magic show. Theirs was a small tree, a Norfolk pine in a bright green pot. She first got it when it was a foot high. Now, several Christmases later, it was getting too big for its pot. Her neighbor had offered to plant it in his backyard after the first of the year. He had a cistern to capture rainwater and filtered grey water so his garden wasn’t as deadly dry as hers had become with the water restrictions. She hated to plant things and then watch them die. Odessa turned off the lights to spare the little tree any more heat damage, stuck a finger in the pot to check on the moisture level. That done, she sat cross-legged on the floor beside it to collect the lovely trash, putting the prettiest bows and ribbons in a pile to be saved for the next holiday as was the custom in her family. One of the bows had decorated a present given to her when she was a child, a doll she had adored. Her mother had preserved the bow and passed it on to her. It looked a bit sad now but nonetheless she treasured it and all the stories it carried with it.
Surrounded by the silence of a now empty house, she felt relieved. Having family around for the holidays was a treat. And she had to admit she hadn’t put away the wrappings because part of her didn’t want it to end. But she also liked having her house back. Her son, Jack, and his pregnant “New Age” fiancée left that morning for the airport and Belgium; and Maggie, their adopted daughter, had driven away to return to Sarah Lawrence. Odessa suspected that the long drive across country was less a way of having a car in Bronxville than an excuse to leave early. Bless her heart, dear Maggie could only hold her tongue so long. When Tiffani, Jack’s fiancée, repeated her prediction that the baby they were expecting would be an indigo child, Maggie had innocently inquired what that meant. Didn’t blue babies, she asked, usually refer to babies born with umbilical cords wrapped around their necks and brain damaged? She didn’t expect anyone to be pleased with this. No, Dennis had told her, blue babies are cyanotic either from a defective heart or poisoning by nitrates or pesticides. Horrified, Tiffani wrapped her arms around her belly, sheltering it. How could Maggie and Dennis talk or even think such negative thoughts? Everyone knew that negative thoughts are contagious!! They should keep those kind of thoughts away from her and the baby!! And indigo babies were named after the beautiful color of the sixth chakra!! These children were the first to demonstrate the next step in human evolution, being more enlightened than the rest of the species, more in tune with their third eye. In order to ensure the child’s place in this leap of consciousness, Tiffani slept surrounded with an array of appropriate crystals and had small ones sewn into her maternity clothes. She chanted a minimum of four times a day and maintained a 110% joyful outlook! Half way through this explanation, Maggie choked on her eggnog and had to leave the room. She left at dawn the next morning. Odessa and Dennis didn’t know whether to laugh or cry during the explanation, but it did explain why the guest bathroom had sprouted strawberry quartz crystals on every flat surface.
Not having to bite her tongue every time Tiffani spoke undoubtedly was a factor in her sense of relief, but she wanted real badly to get along with Tiffani. Jack lived so far away so any time with him was precious to her, to Dennis too. It was going to take some time for them to find a way to love her. And effort. And maybe a stiff shot of bourbon. One thing she knew: she didn’t want Tiffani to feel toward them the way she had felt toward Dennis’ parents. They would work it out. Dennis would just smile a lot, using that charming smile of his to win her over, and she’d cook vegan just the way Tiffani liked it. They would work it out.
Odessa remembered putting away the decorations and all of the thoughts it engendered so clearly because Dennis, who had been having stomach problems more on than off for several months, had a very bad night, the third in a row, and went in for a battery of MRIs, CT scans and ultrasound at her insistence. She had threatened to make him sleep on the couch if he didn’t go check it out. She expected it to be an ulcer or bad acid reflux.
She knew before he said a single word that the tests had found something catastrophically wrong. He was so pale, so deflated. When he shared the news that he had pancreatic cancer, she made him talk about his condition, putting him back into his role as doctor, his role of power. He always puffed up a bit when he assumed his “physician diction” as he called it. What was the pancreas anyway? She didn’t even know where the pancreas was located. He explained to her that the pancreas is located in the curve of the intestine. He poked her at the right location, holding her tight as he did so. It has multiple functions, he whispered in her ear. As an endocrine gland, it produced several important hormones, including insulin, glucagon, and somatostatin. But it was also an exocrine gland, secreting pancreatic juice containing the digestive enzymes which, when passed to the small intestine, aided in the further breakdown of the carbohydrates, protein, and fat in the chyme. The more he talked, the more she kept nodding, not wishing to break his explanation, but she had no clue what the endocrine system did and had never even heard of glucagon, somatostatin, the exocrine system or chyme.
“If it’s so important,” she asked when he finished, “”why is it never mentioned?
“Because, sweet pea,” he caressed her hair, “its job is chemical and most people are like you. Their eyes glaze over when a doctor starts talking about it.”
It was his calmness which scared her the most.