Over the past few days I’ve been sharing short interviews with some of the contributors of Metastasis here. Today’s interviewee is Cat Jenkins. When it came time to order the stories in this anthology I very deliberately did it so that Cat’s story came last. I really wanted the ending of her story to be the last words of fiction you, as the reader, saw before moving on to read Jay Lake’s afterword. The ending of Like Sunlit Honey is one that stays with me and I think it will stay with me for a very, very, very long time. As will her pure honesty in answering these interview questions.
Who or what was the inspiration for your story in Metastasis?
It’s so tempting, when asked about inspiration, to masquerade behind some deep thought, some high ideal; to take the opportunity to make others think you have access to truth on a more profound level; to make it all about you and your incredible perception.
But it’s not like that at all.
These words won’t mean a thing unless they come from a place so honest and real, that it hurts to write them.
The inspiration for ‘Like Sunlit Honey’ was sunlight. The light that shone through the window of my mother’s hospital room on the last day I saw her…the day I told her the biggest lie of my life. The day I stood in the corridor afterwards, trying to remember how to breathe, while a nurse, a total stranger, told me what I’d done was a beautiful thing. She hugged me, kissed my hair, and pushed me toward the elevators.
“Go home. She can die in peace now.”
I come from one more shattered than broken. One of the sharpest shards was my big sister, my mother’s firstborn. Sis abandoned the family when I was a child. Mom’s last wish was for reconciliation of a breach of trust and ties, the breaking of which she never understood. But Sis was not about to forsake the anger and teenage bitterness she’d held so close for so long, defining her life in a way that allowed deflection of blame; avoidance of explanation.
I entered my mother’s room to admit defeat. Sis would not come. There would be no final farewell.
But when Mom looked up, she didn’t see me; she saw the one person she wanted most. She asked me questions that had nothing to do with my past, my circumstances; that confused me at first, until I realized for whom such questions were meant. The confirmation of my suspicion came when she at last called me by my sister’s name.
Stunned, I looked out the window, mind racing.
Should I correct her? Should I stick to the truth and let her find her own way to deal with it? Should I refuse to have any part of this travesty of familial ties?
Today, in retrospect, I don’t know if what I did was right. But at that instant, with the sun pouring its clear light into a room where a soul was ready to take its leave of mortality…in that bright, white moment…truth was unimportant. What mattered was strength and commitment…and love.
I kept my back to the window, hoping the sun’s fierce illumination, backlighting me, would prevent Mom from recognizing her error. I played along until she closed her eyes and the sun had set.
When all was said and done, there was only peace, and quiet, and a beloved face, strangely transfigured, luminous…like sunlit honey.
It hurt to lie. It still hurts. But that light…that light was…beautiful. It wasn’t until much later, as I relived that day, that I realized the light was still there, still bathing her, long after the sun was gone. It was almost as though she was the source; the light was leaving her, to join with something greater.
How has cancer touched your life?
Shortly after my contribution to “Metastasis” was accepted, I received a phone call. A family friend, a tough guy, a retired cop. His alpha male voice had turned frail, fragile.
“Diane has cancer.”
His beloved wife; the center of a family filled with laughter and love I’d always admired and secretly envied.
“Diane has cancer…”
So inadequate, the standard, sympathetic noises we make to each other at such times.
“It’s the most aggressive type of breast cancer there is…”
We fall into the silences between sentences together. It’s dark and black and we don’t know how to get out.
“It’s spread to her liver…”
And while we each interpret this in very private, very quiet horror, I wonder how Diane feels. We are only ripples. She is the epicenter.
“She begins chemo next week…”
My stomach twists, imagining the pharmaceutical struggle to which she has committed herself. Secretly, for I will never admit my cowardice, I wonder ‘why?’ Why does she choose to fight what sounds like a losing battle? Why not savor what’s left without the illness, the indignity, of chemo?
He tells me she has called her firstborn, a grown son with a family of his own, to fly in from the South tomorrow.
“She wants to see him before she loses her hair…”
We both know she’s taking her leave; giving her eldest child one more memory of the mother he loves and recalls as vital, glowing, alive with a pulse and a beat so strong it’s infectious.
Cancer hasn’t touched my life. It touched Diane’s.
But Diane’s life has touched so many, so beautifully. ‘Courage’ is the first word that has always come to mind when she is the subject. Always. Not in cancer’s aftermath. Cancer is only a footnote.
Diane is the story that will overwhelm and outlast cancer’s touch.
When it comes to cancer, what gives you hope?
People. And love. And light.
And the absolute certainty that through it all, there runs a current. If you can still the storms that cancer provokes in your soul…the rage, and terror, and the primal scream of refusal…you’ll feel it. It brings a rightness, and a peace, and a purpose.
I can’t explain. But some things I know. And this is one of them: In the end, we win.
This mindless disease has no soul.
Cat Jenkins lives in the Pacific Northwest, where the weather is often conducive to long hours before a keyboard. She has been thrilled to have short stories in horror, fantasy, speculative fiction and humor published. She anticipates finishing her first novel whenever the next round of foggy, wet weather rolls in. In the meantime, Cat posts stories on the internet about strange people and places and hospitals that specialize in treating patients with psychic abilities…. Writer’s block dissipates when confronted with the question “What if…?”
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