I was old enough to remember the last tumor in our town. It inhabited a girl my age who shared a last name close to mine, sitting in classes near me. She would have graduated with me and maybe if I had been less picky we would have shared something foolish together.
Her father first tried the magnetic sleep chamber. Around her body rotated a half-cylinder three times a day, causing the lights on their street to flicker and pop. Then he paid for a healer from Britain to spend a week tying and untying her, laying cradles across her chest and blindfolding her. When that didn’t work, her father asked the missionaries living across the street to come and pray a circle in the house, but they were on their way to the Far East for the Lord’s work. The circus came and he paid extra to have her wheeled in to the front row, and her tumor in a white bag lay across her lap like an armful of bread, tempting the elephant trunks.
Being the only boy with glasses, it was assumed I was the one who would draw her when it came out that she wanted a drawing. My parents drove me to her house where ramps and rails had been installed. Her father walked me into her dusty pink bedroom cluttered with candy and dressing mirrors and it smelled like a newborn.
I sat on her bed and told her I had never drawn before. I looked around her room and catalogued the grotesque. The closet door was cracked open and I could see her father’s overflow of camouflage and duck feathers stuffing the lobe above her clothes. Owl eyes peeked out behind dressing and dickies.
She did a thing with her toes in the wheelchair and demanded I draw her. If she had not been chair-ridden and bearing a tumor across her thighs, I would have wrapped her up in a ball and passed on her. The first draft of the picture came out primitive. Basic lines were forgotten or perverted, and I gave her a graceless eye. Her hair came down against its will, showering her neck with brittle blonde.
Try again, she said, and then she asked about my nature. She undid the top layer of her shirt and pressed her hand to her neck where it left a pale print of cold. What about my nature, I asked. Behind her door I heard her father railing about a bill, and then about a phone call. A door in the hall slammed and I heard her mother mention passes. In the light I saw her bone and form. I drew it on paper and it was good. The wheelchair made ricking sounds over the thick carpet and by the time I was done with the picture she had wheeled right up to me and in her fullness I saw her personal history and her gorgeous compulsions.
When she died, we made pies for her parents, and in their house we crowded to watch television and make double-talk. People inched close to me, packing into corners and pillows, making the couch a bed. A long-haired boy in his man’s clothes got close to me; I shoved him because he had almost touched my nature, and I was afraid he was going to rupture it. A voice over the intercom begged the assembly to leave. It said we were disrupting the peace and dirtying their new couches and and that if we were not careful, we would soon raise the ghost of their dead daughter.
Rumors and stories about her swelled and burst. Most of them were too nasty to repeat and print, but several were quite nice, and stand to be retold and preserved. She played the violin. She wiped the area around her stomach clean every day. At age three, her mother had taught her to sing opera, and at age four, she had one day fallen in with the garbage and been hoisted into the truck. The parents fled to the town dump and retrieved her there without a scratch or a surly thing to say.
The final version of the picture survived her excavation. The lead smudged and faded at parts but it still shows her in a telling pose: how childish it seemed. Behind the wheelchair I added the German shepherd she had always wanted, the one who lived next door and once jumped the fence to bite her little brother. In addition to the dog I drew the door opening and her father in a white shirt, billowing and looking the cartoonist in the eye. Little girl hands clasped the white bag that held the tumor and she bit her lip.
I had lived with my nature long enough that it was beginning to make me red in the face, so I decided to make something public of it. The public portion I shared with her family, and they in turn asked me to draw portraits of them as well. The private portion, however, I still carry around in a bag not unlike hers: it is white and wrinkled and stinks in the heat. When people ask what it is or want to see it, I take my time and tend to shy away, because it is my nature to do so.