“I won’t lie to you, Jacques,” said Dr Brenner. “It doesn’t look good.”

Dax nodded. “I appreciate that.”

They were sitting in the doctor’s office, Brenner perched on the edge of his antique desk, while Dax had a chair that felt about two sizes too small, like something you’d sit on in school – or perhaps it was just his nerves trying to distract him. The lights were off, curtains drawn. On one wall was a lightbox with a glossy X-ray clipped to it, an X-ray of a human skull with the shadow of the brain behind it. Within that shadow was a smaller shadow towards the front, that had been circled with a pen.

Brenner took out a pen and pointed around the smaller shadow. “What you’re looking at is a dense mass in the forward region of your –“

“A mass.” Dax wondered at the evenness of his voice. “You mean…a tumour?”

Brenner hesitated, then nodded. “Yes. A tumour.”

Dax pressed his hands together, palm to palm, flat, and looked at the floor. There was a slow rushing in his ears that, for once, had nothing to do with the migraine. Not just headaches, then. Not just nightmares. Something sinister, growing in his head like an alien parasite.

“Can you take it out?” he asked, after a while.

He wasn’t surprised to see Brenner shake his head, slowly. “I’m sorry. The position of the tumour means it’s deep in your frontal lobe. If we – Surgery would involve cutting through too much healthy tissue. It would lobotomise you.”

“I see.” Dax was quiet for a little while, then.

“I realise this is a terrible shock.”

“Uh.” He couldn’t think of anything more emphatic to say. Mostly because it wasn’t as much of a shock as it could have been. Hadn’t he suspected, deep down, that it was more than too many nights spent working into the small hours at clubs and in the studio – more than overwork or stress or anything else? Hadn’t a part of him considered the possibility, however vaguely?

To fill the silence, he said: “So the migraines – these bad dreams I keep having…”

“All a result of this tumour. Its position is putting pressure on areas of your brain that deal with processing visual information.” Brenner seemed to find a refuge in speaking science, and Dax didn’t blame him – he couldn’t imagine having a job where you told people bad news every day. “Some of the signals your eyes are giving your brain are getting mixed up or – well, misfiled, really. You mentioned you’ve suffered hallucinations as well?”

“Only when I’m tired, or if there’s a lot of stuff happening around me. I’ve seen spots and lines, and sometimes sort of smeary outlines of people.”

“I’m afraid that problem is going to get worse, particularly as the tumour grows.”

Dax nodded, thinking of last night’s dream. It must have taken a whole pound of pressure to make him dream up the word ‘lapidtalos’. “So…is there anything I can do?”

Brenner looked uncomfortable. “I can give you drugs for the pain – but you’ve already got medication. There’s a counselling service at the hospital that you can use. But in the long run…I’m afraid this condition is terminal, Jacques, I really am very sorry.”

Dax looked into the doctor’s eyes candidly. “Thanks. Thanks for being honest with me.”

“Here.” Brenner went to a drawer in his desk and brought out a sheaf of leaflets, passing them over. Dax flicked through them – information services, coping services, helplines. “Ask the receptionist to book a follow up appointment for you, but take these in the meantime. There might be something you can use. And don’t give up. Take care of yourself. Miracles happen. I’ve seen it.”

Dax stood up. “But I’m not a saint, doc. I appreciate your help, though. I’ll – see you around.”

He left the good doctor’s office and wandered down the corridor, looking at the leaflets thoughtfully. As he passed the neurology department’s waiting room, full of empty chairs at the moment, he dropped the leaflets on top of the magazines piled on a table. Perhaps someone could get some good use out of them. For now, though, he needed time to think.



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