Mountain Standard Time: Saturday, 8:15 pm
I am a wedding guest. Someone hands me a glass of champagne. I am smiling in a sea of cashmere and class rings. This morning I flew into a tiny airport where private jets gleamed in multi-million dollar rows on the tarmac. “So what’s your tail number?” we ask one another. Around me are tall mountains tinseled in silvery groves of slender trees with leaves whose undersides flash like coins in the mountain breeze. Someone hands me a glass of champagne. Our cheeks are pink from the sun we got fly fishing, hiking, riding the gondola. The bride and groom are glossy blond and blue-eyed and adored. A toast! Someone hands me a microphone, and I talk about happy childhoods and true love and bright futures and make a crack about wearing a bra before my next public speaking appearance. We are laughing, and it sounds like a hundred martinis being shaken at once. Someone hands me a glass of champagne, and dessert is served, a dozen waiters pour through the festooned tent carrying Baked Alaska and sparklers. At every table there is a promotion, a new baby, an engagement, and I say congratulations, congratulations. This is Aspen.
Monday, 2:43 pm
I am standing in a stranger’s house. My half-brother hands me a folding knife. He has been estranged from us, but now he has lung cancer and so he has decided he would like to be a family. He has no hair left and he is in pain all the time and he has been in pain his whole life from the difficulties inherent in being his unhappy self and he cannot contain his pain, he can only spread it around, malignancy personified, and we are here to share his pain because he is my mother’s son and my sister’s half-brother and my half-brother. He has gifts for us, to show his gratitude, and so he hands my father a knife and my brother-in-law a knife and me a knife. “I couldn’t leave you out of this,” he says, waving at me. “You’ll find a man somewhere.” My half-brother is trying to be nice. I open the blade and I see my eyes reflected in it and the knife wants me to ask things like and where were you when our mother had breast cancer? Why is your Ritalin-blunted son being raised by Grand Theft Auto? Why did you never call for birthdays or Christmases or anything for fifteen years, but now you think you can call our Mother four times in an afternoon to update her on your enema? Show me the places where we are related and I will cut them out of me before they spread. I close the knife but when I look at him I feel as if the blade is still reflected in my eyes. I say thank you. This is Fraser.
Pacific Standard Time: Thursday, 6:40 pm
I am sitting at a plank table in a garden. My Aunt hands me the salad, and I spoon glistening tomatoes onto my plate. I can smell rosemary and the hemp sunscreen wafting from my own skin. My tow-headed baby cousins frolic and compete for attention, watch this, watch this, and we sip a friends’ wine and applaud from the bench. My cousin Ian spreads pot-butter on a piece of bread and then adds a creamy slice of fresh cheese made by lesbians from cows with names. All agree when I say that this is living. And this is Sonoma.
Eastern Standard Time: Friday, 6:15 pm
I am sitting on my rug next to a paper cup of coffee that is half empty and cold. Weeks worth of clothes spill out of my suitcase and onto the floor like intestines. I am typing and describing and indenting and quoting and misspelling. The phone rings, and my sister’s “Hi” sounds like a normal “Hi” but I know that it is not. Something is off. It has the sound of a church bell tolling at 5:21. When I hear it I feel the urge to turn out the lights, stand in a doorway, brace for impact. “What’s wrong?” I ask. The rest of her words burble up through water. I hang up and I hold my hand in front of my mouth and I think very hard. Then I stuff the clothes back into my suitcase, and zip it shut. I book a flight. This is New York.
Central Standard Time: Saturday, 12:15 am
I land in Minneapolis-St. Paul. My sister’s face is red and blotched but it is calm. My brother-in-law looks the same, outwardly. I hand him my suitcase. An hour later I sit by the side of the tub my sister is in, while she twists a washcloth and we speak in a hush about cat scans and biopsies and insurance plans while her husband lies in the next room and tries to sleep, and not think about the malevolent cells blooming like black mold in his chest, gripping his throat, compressing his lungs, squeezing his heart. I have nothing to give my sister but I say it will be okay and she agrees. From the next room we hear her husband cough and we hush. She wrings the washcloth until no more water drips from it. And still she twists it tighter.
A.C. DeLashmutt is a Virginian living in New York. Her writing has appeared in McSweeney's, The Washington Post, theNewerYork, Flash magazine, and elsewhere. She also writes plays. Follow her on Twitter @acdelashmutt.