It all started one Saturday morning. Mrs. Hernandez settled on the beige suede couch overlooking the her minimal front yard. The amber liquid in her lightly chipped, yet favorite mug steamed on the window sill. She took a deep breath after a sip of the soothing chamomile tea. Freshly cut grass somehow smelled better on Saturday mornings. On her lap lay a dog-eared, yellowing copy of ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’, which she had bought for a dollar at the library book sale.
She first felt a low ringing in her ears when Esmeralda made an entrance with her goat, Djali. Was it the magic of Hugo’s writing or the light summer breeze playing with the wind chimes? So strange! She shrugged and bent her head down back into the book.
Meanwhile, in her head one brain cell had gone rogue. It made a loud noise to get attention. A crowd gathered. It spoke about how unsafe the body that housed them had become. The brain’s security system clearly wasn’t doing its job too well. If they had their way, cells from lowly organs would start entering the brain! It drummed fear into their nuclei. But it also made a promise. That if they stuck by it, it had a secret plan to protect them.
The ringing in Mrs. Hernandez’s ears got louder and more frequent over just a few weeks. It went from the low tinkling of Djali’s bell to the loud clanging of church bells. Quasimodo seemed to live in her ears.
The rogue brain cell was now shouting from the rooftops. “We need a wall to guard ourselves from immigrant cells. Join me, my fellow brain cells, Put your trust in me for I am your trump card!”
“Mrs. Hernandez, there is no delicate way to put this.” the doctor took off his glasses and massaged the bridge of his nose. “Do you see this?” He drew a red circle on a back-lit x-ray of her brain. “We found a tumor in your brain.” The words came out like a bullet. It was the size of a small apple, wrinkled and grumpy.
“So what now, Doc?” she gulped, taking in the bitter pill.
“The best course of action is to remove it surgically. The sooner the better. The longer it stays in there, your symptoms will worsen. You’ll experience blurry vision, fuzzy thinking, irrational fear and an inability to speak intelligibly.”
A few weeks later, a weak Mrs. Hernandez sat down to fill out the hospital forms for surgery. She wasn’t squeamish about the surgery itself. She knew she was in good hands. But her mind swung between hope and terror. Would it would be benign and harmless or had it already spread its malignant venom through her body?
She cursed her failing vision under her breath and narrowed her eyes. With great difficulty she wrote ‘Hernandez’ against her last name.
Below it on the blank line for her first name, she wrote ‘America’.