Jul/Aug 2021  •   Fiction

States, Never Imagined

by Joshua James Amberson

Photo by Solen Feyissa on unsplash

Photo by Solen Feyissa on unsplash

In the past, I wouldn't have gone. I would have just refused. But when we got married, I promised him I'd change. Promised him I would be more flexible, less stubborn, a better—as he called it, to my annoyance—teammate. And I swore it. Vowed it, even. So when he asked me to see a doctor, I couldn't say no. Not that I readily agreed. We fought. For a time, I did refuse. But he reminded me about my word. Your word, he said. You gave your word. And I did. I knew I did, and I knew I would go. So eventually, I went.

It was a mole. At least that's what it looked like. A little mole on the fleshy, under part of my upper arm, where other men had muscles. To me, it was nothing. But his Great Aunt Verna had died from a mole. A bad mole, he told me. I laughed when he made a villain out of a mole, but I was quickly informed that it wasn't something to laugh about. So the next day I was in a gown on a paper-covered table after 15 years of not. No doctors, not one, in all those years. Years in which I had felt so little need for doctors that a working theory had been born out of my time away. Simply: the more you go to doctors, the more you have to go. And the less you go, well, the less you have to. The reasons behind this were of little importance to me—it could be a biological response or a corporate scam for all I knew. But to me, it was an observed truth. Obvious.

So being there, in my mind, was asking for problems. I felt like I was digging my grave just by showing up. I waited and waited, each doctor-will-be-right-in serving as a reminder of my foolishness, my lack of importance within this system. All of this, this well of emotions, just to have them tell me they were going to lance it. Or at least a part of it. I thought I was entering the offices of modern medicine, not the headquarters of Medieval cavalry, I told them. But this was evidently, again, no laughing matter. They lanced, I got dressed and went home, my bit of mole went to a lab to be quizzed on its relative goodness, and I went back to waiting.


I make custom household things out of wood. Whatever pseudo-fancy garbage people will pay too much for. I've brought more elaborate paper towel holders into this world than I care to count. I usually work only two or three days a week, but in this time of waiting I absorbed myself in my job like I was in my late 20s again, trying to eek out a living from my one and only skill. For short bits of time, it took my mind off the waiting, off the idea of what I was waiting for, what it could mean.

He started coming out to the shop when he got home from the office. Generally, I didn't like him being in the shop while I worked. I'm self-taught; he was raised by a contractor. He'd basically been using tools since he was a toddler. So I always had the suspicion he could do all of what I did better than I could. Usually his presence made my hands clammy, no matter how much he soothed my ego with compliments. But during this time, I was glad he was there. We nursed beers, him on a stool with a loose seat, absently rocking back and forth, me with my tools.

The doctor had given me an informational sheet about moles. I'd always thought of them as a cosmetic concern, generally innocuous, though often unfortunately located on the body. But it turned out they were vicious as often as they were harmless. I don't know how many times I read that sheet, but so many it got tiny crease lines—the ones that aren't quite folds but more like dents. And no matter how much I worked, the same thought inevitably reappeared: What if this was it? Not in a get-the-test-results-and-drop-dead sort of way. But what if it meant living at death's door from here on out? I wasn't sure if I could live that kind of life. But of course that's what people do, in all sorts of different ways: they have problems and they live with them. But still, I questioned it, didn't want to imagine it, but couldn't not.


I don't know if this is true, he said, but I'm going to say it out loud. I nodded, continuing to sand the edges of a small, pointless shelf that one day might hold a minimalist pottery item or maybe an odd little pinecone found on some picturesque hike. They were those kind of customers. It was Sunday night. We were in the shop. The results were coming in the morning. I imagined—hoped, I suppose—I'd wake up to the phone ringing, but inside knew I'd likely be kept waiting till the last moments of the workday. Maybe we need to change something, he said. Move or get a dog or I don't know. I nodded again, grateful.

Scrambling in my shop like my younger self made me wonder when exactly I had stopped scrambling, how that had happened. One day I somehow just had enough regular clients, enough word of mouth, and I slowed down. But there was also this. Him and me. A state of being I'd never imagined for myself. Giving my life over to something, to someone. I wasn't fooling myself, wasn't pretending it was perfect or anything. I'm difficult, I know. It was just a kind of dedication I previously hadn't believed myself capable of. And I wondered when this had happened, how I hadn't noticed.


The call came somewhere between my imagined extremes. The early afternoon. I puffed my chest, attempting some sort of stoicism. I wondered why I still did things like this, why this was still me. When I came out, I thought, finally, I can let my guard down, be a human with visible emotions. But a couple decades later, and here I am: still trapped, playing out some version of manhood I don't believe in, still worried about losing my composure, worried about crying on the phone with a nurse I never met. The mole is pre, he said. Another state I never imagined, never knew existed. A suggestion of chaos, but not chaos itself. I didn't know if I was supposed to celebrate or grieve. So am I going to die or what? I asked. The nurse laughed but didn't say no. He told me a series of facts, a laundry list of unpleasant things about this state, what it meant for me. The years of follow-ups to come, never knowing for sure if it was fully gone, if it would reappear. A mole. Something that meant nothing to me. But holding some potential, some kind of destroyer, some silent force I can't imagine, within. I carry this now. Just a possibility, below the surface, waiting.