Vicki Nyman: “Anyway in Fall”

dedicated to Kenneth Harlow Nyman

5/31/1953 – 1/2/2023



Danielle Chapman’s moving essay “Anyway in Spring” begins, “The cancer comes back again in March.”

So did my husband’s. Although it had actually begun the unheavenly pilgrimage to its organ-of-origin, his pancreas, months before, amino acids in his DNA doggedly morphing to form their diabolical alter ego, Malignant Carcinoma. Ken’s personal Mr. Hyde, this tireless aggressor intent upon occupying his entire body, seizing Lebensraum for its soon-to-be exponentially multiplying offspring.

This morning my husband lies twisted across the couch, like a helpless infant swaddled in dirty sheets. Like a corpse. Toes pointed perfectly as Christ’s on His cross and afterward, off His cross, in rigor mortis. Ken sleeps, his sole activity. Actually, he sleeps and swallows his newest pain medication, a yet more powerful morphine derivative.

His dying has become a strong force, a gravity that binds me to his disappearing self. And so I also have been rendered mostly inactive, no longer living in the declarative tense but in a universe of contingencies. I hover over him, a cloud of potential energy, anxiously waiting for the wave of possible responses to his illness to collapse into the one that will hopefully meet any need he may at last express. Which expressions are few, since a 2 mg. Dilaudid, food, water, change of bed clothes, change of location, even the three feet from couch to recliner, are seldom any longer requested. This, because nothing helps.

He slowly enters the kitchen, slowly opens the refrigerator.

“Can I help you find something?” I offer.

“You’re mumbling. I can’t hear you,” his angry retort.

He is always angry now.

Then, “Something soft.”

“Potato salad?” I suggest. “Corn?” His sister having lovingly separated it from the cob for him, his remaining teeth, few.

“A shake?” I add.

“Corn. A shake.” He slides across the ceramic tile to slouch at the table.

I open the door to a whining Reggie, our Irish Wolfhound mega-puppy, who gambols inside.

“I just let him out,” Kenny complains.

Reggie unfolds himself across the floor, resting his head on top of Ken’s foot. I shift corn from the quart freezer bag into a bowl and microwave it on high. I blend milk and vanilla powder into the shake that is my husband’s main source of protein these days. I then begin pouring milk into a second glass, abruptly stopping.

“Why did I do this? What’s wrong with me?” I blurt, funneling the additional milk back into the plastic gallon container I then return to the refrigerator. Afterward, I retrieve the corn from the microwave, burning my fingers on the non-microwaveable bowl and spilling its contents on the stove and floor. I transfer what corn remains to a second bowl and set it and the shake before Kenny along with a spoon.

“Anything else?” I ask.

He shakes his head, eats a little, then moves to the recliner in the living room, I assume to smoke his first cigarette of the day at 11:30 a.m.

I have always been physically awkward, my body little more to me than a means to relocate my mind. I can’t even reheat a bowl of corn—I think—can’t focus long enough to make a shake without for some unfathomable reason beginning another totally unintended, totally useless task—in this case, pouring a glass of exorbitantly-priced organic milk for no one.

I am old. Thin boned. My hair, colorless and flyaway. The muscles of my lower jaw sagging like our back porch as it sinks into the damp soil beneath it. And now I have reason to question the soundness of both my house and my equilibrium. Although, my intentions are always (well, usually) good. Although, lately, in the midst of acting upon them, I forget what they are.



Vicki Nyman attended the Split Rock Arts Poetry Conference, participated in essay and poetry classes at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, and studied independently with poet Jim Moore. She studied creative writing in the Hamline University MFA program. Her work has appeared in El Portal, Evening Street Review, and Remington Review. Originally from Chicago, Vicki now lives on four acres in rural Minnesota. She enjoys reading Russian novels and listening to classical music and Chapo Trap House podcasts.