Installment 1: The Thirteenth Moon

On September 1, 2009

Installment 1: The Thirteenth Moon

It is dawn. Three days into the New Year of 2006, I am standing at the window of my tenth-floor apartment staring out at the morning moon which is full. On the other side of the building the sun is just beginning to rise. I can see its bright orange reflection on the windows of the buildings across from me. There is a strange, otherworldly quality about this pale morning moon. I can still make out the rabbit (I have never understood why people persist in seeing a man in the moon when it should be clear to anyone that it’s a rabbit up there – ears pointing to the right, cottontail bottom at the lower right). I ponder this rather than think about the phone call that came late yesterday afternoon, twelve hours before, from my doctor.

New Year’s Day was only three days ago. I had my traditional New Year’s Day party. Champagne, Bloody Marys, and my house special, johnnycakes (small corn cakes topped with a dollop of crème fraiche and red caviar). It felt especially festive. While winter raged across the rest of the country, we in Southern California were enjoying our 70-degree golden days. I had just settled into my new apartment, which I loved so much that I wanted the lease to read, Forever Plus Six Months. Floor-to-ceiling windows face north and west and overlook the hills of Griffith Park and pastel stucco houses with red tile rooftops set into the terraced hillside among tall Cyprus and towering palms. Bright red bougainvillea spilling over walls–my own private Tuscany.

It seemed all of us had much to celebrate. Copies of the Greek edition of my book, The Brazilian Healer with the Kitchen Knife, had just arrived in the mail, bringing the number of translations to seven; Masha was soon to be off to the Sea of Japan to begin shooting her underwater film documentary; Sebastian, a magnificent cellist, would be starting work on a new opera; Terry and Jan were planning their trip to Paris; Alex was just back from Brazil with a wonderful little painting of a Candomblé ceremony (which I was writing about); and I would soon be going back to Brazil to continue research on my novel. The first half of the decade had been good to all of us; the second half promised to be even better.

Life changes on a dime. Mid-breath. Mid-song. One minute I am unloading the dishwasher, hand-drying wine glasses and dust-busting crumbs from underneath the coffee table. The next I am doubled over by a sharp pain in my right side. After a few minutes it goes away. A stitch, a pulled muscle, I think. But that night as I get into bed I notice it again. I decide it must be a bladder infection. I’ve had them in the past; the pain is familiar. I’ll call my doctor in the morning.

That night I dream of Mimosa Pudica, the strange Brazilian plant also known as the Sensitive Plant. I had seen one in Rio in the Jardin Botannical and found it scary. A small pretty tropical shrub with fernlike leaves that quickly fold together when the plant is touched, recoiling. Then when the hand is withdrawn, the leaves unfold and the plant assumes its original form.

I wake up with my heart pounding.

The next morning I notice blood in my urine. My doctor is out of town. I’m due for lunch in Malibu at Carol Moss’s house in the Colony; when I call to confirm our date, she reminds me about the small Urgent Care Clinic nearby. I decide to stop there on the way to Malibu to get a prescription for antibiotics. A pleasant young doctor examines a urine specimen and informs me I do have a bladder infection. I get the prescription filled at the corner drugstore.

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