Stuck


Cohen choked a little on the rice.  The rice lodged in his esophagus.  He could breathe, but the rice hurt where it lodged, and the chicken noises he made in front of his wife and her brother embarrassed him, and what he coughed onto the table looked like white cottage cheese.  His wife said go see the doctor.  He watched TV, played racquetball, typed on the Internet, made orange peel faces at his twin baby daughters.  For six months he worked on a play, then some college kids botched it.  They dressed the protagonist in aluminum foil, and the antagonist wore a coconut bra.  Six months' work busted.  But worse because his father flew out from Chicago to see the show and said it was "Interesting."  Other "interesting" things included drag queens in pride parades, the neighbor who defaulted on his mortgage, and pictures of serial killers on the ten o'clock news.  Somebody gave Cohen some money for a treatment for a screenplay, and somebody gave him money for twenty hours a week cleaning toilets in a grocery store.  The twin babies started using words.  His wife, their mother, bought a gym membership and lost twenty pounds.  A couple more times Cohen choked a little on the rice, but both times he was alone somewhere with a paper box of Chinese takeout.  In passing his wife said go see the doctor.  That was the summer the Red Sox were good, and he got tickets to the first game of the World Series.  He got popcorn, a Coke, a corn dog, some nachos.  The Red Sox won the World Series.  The cold got to him.  He had a tendency toward allergies.  His sinuses swelled behind his eyes.  Some little monkey was beating a drum and the drum was his eyeball.  His wife said go see a doctor.  The doctor prescribed antibiotics and a nasal steroid.  The doctor said, "Anything else?"  Cohen said, "Nothing much.  Just sometimes I choke a little on the rice."  The doctor said, "I'm glad you told me about that.  The rice gets stuck?"  Cohen said that was a good way to say it.  Stuck.  The doctor said stuck was a leading indicator for esophageal cancer.  He wrote a referral to a specialist.  "They'll have to scope it," the doctor said.  "They'll put you under.  For a while it'll hurt."  Cohen went home and watched a television movie with his wife.  An old widower was taking trains and buses around the country to reconnect with his adult children.  Cohen told his wife, "If I die of esophageal cancer, you'll be free and clear of my student loan debt, and you can marry somebody who will do the dishes more often."  His wife laughed.  His father called on the phone, and Cohen told him if he died, his wife would be free and clear of his student loan debt.  "That's a terrible thing to say," his father said.  "Don't say a thing like that."  Cohen thought of twenty-three more jokes to tell his father, but he kept them to himself.  He didn't even tell them to his wife.  All his life he thought the worst things were the funniest things, and it didn't stop now with the possibility of the cancer of the esophagus.  He could see himself on his deathbed, breathing through a hole in his neck.  On the television movie, the father had a heart attack and almost died.  In the back room, Cohen's twin baby daughters were sleeping.  When the movie was over, Cohen told his wife: "Let's go in there.  Let's look at them."  They went into the back bedroom and looked at the twin babies.  They were sleeping.  Both of them wore a fierce scowl.  Cohen touched their heads.  He put his finger down in their palms, and their little fingers curled around his big finger in their sleep.  He asked his wife if she would like to make love.  She said she would.  He said, "This time I'm really gonna mean it."  She laughed, but this time he really meant it.  Everything else in the whole world was a question mark.  

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