Preston | By William Gilson
Author’s Note: In this short work of fiction, Burt, age 75, an American living permanently in England, is writing to an old friend in the States.
I enjoyed the drives to Preston. I managed to arrange a schedule of early appointments so I was always one of the first patients to be seen, before the waiting rooms filled or any of the machines broke down, before the technicians grew tired. The coffee was free and of good quality and as I waited I wrote in my notebook. Sort of as I am writing to you now.
Those weeks are in my memory a time of quiet pleasure, when I wasn’t particularly worried about the cancer. I had something specific and easy to do every week-day and I felt that with each trip the cancer, which for years had been trying to kill me, was finally being attacked and possibly defeated. Previous to this I had not trusted doctors, one of whom had operated on me, an “experimental” operation I had stupidly chosen, it was an awful experience, afterward pronounced a failure, causing me to spend eight weeks at home wearing pyjamas, with a blue tube coming out of my abdomen, urine going into a bag hitched to my leg. After I finally resumed peeing normally and the tube was removed, I was assigned a new doctor, a gorgeous smart bossy woman who ordered the radiation with confidence, calculating how to silently blast my groin with precision rays. And in a strange state of trust and painlessness I drove back and forth to Preston, one hour each way. In the car I listened to a reading of Willa Cather’s novel The Song of the Lark, about a girl born with musical talent, how she grows up in a prairie town and becomes a famous singer. Then I listened to a long book on the history of the Byzantine Empire which I never finished because the radiation came to an end.
On the way to Preston, soon after sunup as I drove south on the “dual carriageway,” I watched with anticipation for my favorite passage, a stretch of several miles where a high tension electrical line, three thick cables hanging in long catenaried loops between widely spaced “pylons” like long graceful musical rhythms, paralleled the highway and then began merging toward it, finally crossing overhead near an old stone barn set in a field. So beautiful, that approaching moment when the thick lines crossed.
NER Digital is a creative writing series for the web. William Gilson lives in England. Carved in Stone: The Artistry of New England Graveyards, a collaboration with the photographer Thomas E. Gilson, is published by Wesleyan University Press; the text and some of the photographs first appeared in NER 30.4.