“I’ve got spine cancer!” I shout from the sofa. Lonnie’s in the kitchen dicing onions.
“It’s probably spinal meningitis!” She yells back.
“I’ll be dead in a few weeks!” I say. I’ve got my thumb and fingers dug in like pincers, clawing around my lower back.
“Three tops!” She hollers. I hear the steel knife going nuts, whacking against the cutting-board like gunshots.
The truth is I probably just wrenched it moving some boxes at work, but exaggerating helps put my mind at ease. I’m a hypochondriac. It’s awful. Seriously. The first sign of a cold sore I think I’ve got HIV. Lonnie, my wife, decided a few years ago that if I was going to always assume the worst anyway, we may as well make a joke out of it. For example, since I’m already convinced that every jet we board is going to crash, on the way to the airport Lonnie and I always talk about how our plane is going to be the one that bursts into a ball of flame over the Rocky Mountains and then we laugh like hell. She’s the inventor of the game, but I’ve taken over as full owner. I like to see it as a way of positioning, taking control. Horrible things have a tendency to catch absentminded people off guard. I tell Lonnie about my theory and she just nods. “Uh-huh,’ she says blankly. She’s too sweet to say anything else, but she’s not dumb. She knows. She’s seen me lock myself in the bathroom for three straight hours with a bellyache.
Lonnie comes and sits beside me on the couch. She lifts my shirt and starts kneading my lower lumbar region with her fists. I go limp, let my body fold forward like a suitcase against the cushions.
“That feels soooooo gooooood,” I coo. “You’re unbelievable.”
“Oh, come on. I’m just doing my job,” she says.
“No, you’re beyond that. You’re a superhero. You’re Wonder Wife,” I tell her. I’m slobbering into the cushion.
“You’ll feel differently in a few days,” she says. Now she’s chopping my back with the edge of her hand, like my back is the onion and her hand is the knife.
“No,” I say. “I. Love. You. So. Much,” I stutter through the roiling attack on my vertebrate, “that my. Heart. Is. Go-ing. To. Explooooode.”
“Oh really?” She says. She stops chopping and mashes her palm into it.
“Yeah,” I say. “When it happens I’m going to get tiny bits and chunks of heart all over this new furniture. It’s going to be disgusting.”
“I’m sure. It sounds like you’ve got it bad.”
“I do,” I tell her, “I’ve got it real bad.”