February is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month
by Jeremy Wexler

"February is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month," said Jean. "We really need to get on top of it. Last year Baltimore had a giant, life-size colon that people could walk through. With all the different tumours so you could see what they look like. I want us to have that thing here this February."

She looked at Tom. Tom felt like a sleepy, ill-prepared deer, not exactly caught in the headlights, but foreseeing their looming arrival.

"It's the middle of January," someone said. After looking around the table, Tom established that it was him.

Jean and Aubrey were watching him, waiting for him to fuck up more. He checked his watch which displayed the date. "1 10" it said. Could it be October already?

"It's the tenth," said Aubrey, chipper.

"Oh," said Tom.

"Hardly the middle," said Jean.

"Plenty of time. You can pull it together, Tom," said Aubrey.

Tom imagined walking through a spacious tunnel with inviting macramé villi and gentle, plush-toy malignancies set in the wall, quiet, cathedral-like, very peaceful.

"Call Baltimore and find out how to get it," said Jean.

It was fun to imagine, but organizing a giant, life-size colon from Baltimore was going to be a headache.

"What's the budget?" asked Tom. He thought he sounded business-like and responsible. Capable. Couldn't they just make a flier? he thought. "Eat more fresh fruit. Your colon will thank you."

"Find out how much it'll be," said Jean. "I'll worry about the money."

"It sounds fantastic," said Aubrey.

"It won't be a problem," said Jean. Tom wondered about that.

Last night he'd had a headache but all he could find in the medicine cabinet were bottles of liquid children's medicine. But the headache persisted, so he took all the dribs and drabs from the bottoms, banana, grape, strawberry, bubblegum, all of them. Then he felt nauseous and thought he might be sick. He turned for the toilet and stepped on a toy car. Then the EMTs were loading him into the ambulance on a back-board.

The ER doctor kept asking him about his mood before the accident and now, which Tom figured somehow had to do with checking if he had a concussion. Finally, they let Vanessa take him home. She was obviously pissed. He wasn't surprised but didn't know why exactly, until she said, through clenched teeth, "I consider it a pretty cowardly way to get out of being a father." His denials only reinforced her certainty that when she'd found him lying on the bathroom floor, unconscious, surrounded by a dozen dropper bottles that she'd caught him the midst of a very pathetic suicide attempt.

On the plus side, he had no headache now. The world was coated in a sweet haze of children's painkillers.

"Hi, this is Tom from Windsor. Are you the guys who had the giant, life-sized colon last year?—Oh right. I guess it wouldn't be life-sized if you could walk through it. Ha ha. No, mine neither. Well, I was wondering if we could... rent it or whatever arrangements … Oh yeah? Soon actually, sometime in February, but we're flexible in terms of … oh really … All of February? Yeah, I know, it's colorectal cancer awareness month. That's why we … Hmm. OK. Can I get back to you on that?"


"March 7th" said Jean, "is not in February."

"It's close," said Tom.

"Who is going to want to walk through a giant, life-sized colon a week after colorectal cancer awareness month is over?" said Jean sounding genuinely disgusted.

Tom touched his forehead lightly, trying to tickle his brain. "People looking for a fun indoor activity with the kids?" he said.

Jean looked hard.

"Well," said Tom. "There's a place in Denver that can ship us kidneys."

"Are they life-sized, walk-throughs?" asked Aubrey with a raised eyebrow.

"They're big," said Tom, not wanting to wade into the scale issue. "They're inflatable, jumpy things."

"No," said Jean. "That won't do. It's not kidney cancer awareness month, its colorectal cancer awareness month and it's not in March, it's in February. Tom, if you had been on top of this we wouldn't be playing catch up."

Maybe he had tried to kill himself, thought Tom, retreating deep inside himself. At the time it seemed like an accident but he wasn't sure any more. He could still taste the grape, strawberry, bubblegum, banana cocktail.

"I emailed you that list of disease months," said Aubrey wincing empathetically.

"Maybe a …"

"Don't say 'flier'," said Jean.

February. Lightless month. Graveyard of months.

"Maybe we could make our own colon?" Tom sighed.

"Wow," said Aubrey. "Do you think you could do that, Tom?"

Jean's smile poked Tom's forehead like it was looking for that headache.


At 2:30 AM on February 23rd, the night before the widely advertised, Amazing Life-Sized Walk-Through Colon was to open, Tom was weeping. Weeping uncontrollably inside a tube made from six bed sheets and eleven hula hoops. He had been working on it for the last seven hours. The whole thing shook with his sobbing until the Ramshackle, Somewhat-bigger-than-life, Crawl-Through Colon fell apart along one of the electrical-tape seams. His yarn villi would not stay attached to the cotton walls no matter how he secured them. He was covered in glue and paint. Staples were adhering to him painfully. He couldn't tell the difference between the different craft-paper and Styrofoam malignancies, and he had made them.

"Jesus Christ, Tom," said Vanessa from the stairs. "Would you stop screwing around with that thing and come to bed?"

"It's a colon," sobbed the thing.

"Tom," Vanessa's shoulders sagged. "Honey. Just come to bed."

"It was in all the papers."

"It'll be fine. What kind of sick fucker wants to crawl through a colon? Nobody is going to come."

"But we're supposed to be educating people." A pause. "My tumours suck." The crying began again.

"What are people going to do after they crawl through?" said Vanessa. "I mean really!? What?" she had come down from the stairs and was toeing the deflated wreck on her carpet warily. "Self-exams? Home colonscopies, for God's sake? Why should anybody but a doctor give a shit what a colon tumour looks like?" She breathed deeply. "It'll be better in the morning, honey. Just get some sleep."

"But February is colorectal cancer awareness month." Sobbed by a grown man, covered in glue and staples, inside a tumbled-down tunnel that a seven year-old would be ashamed to call his fort, these shambling incantatory syllables seemed to Vanessa to make the most hopeless phrase in all of human speech, the nadir not only of her husband's striving but of all striving and ambition.

"I'm aware. Okay. I'm aware," she said.

"What'll I tell Jean?" said Tom.

"Tell her …" said Vanessa and she sighed because she didn't know what he should tell Jean.

"Yes?" said the voice in the tunnel, hopeful and broken, waiting.

"Tell her … Tell her she should eat more fresh fruit."

Tom stuck out his head from the colon's broken, tape seam. "Thank you," he said.

Jeremy Wexler, in addition to writing fiction about people consumed by internal organs, writes for radio. His work has aired on various national CBC radio programs, such as Tapestry, DNTO, and Search Engine, as well as on the Quebec community network.