Sunday, July 10, 2011

she had fallen in love with his courage.

They sat only a few feet away in the near-dark, the only light emanating from the softly white, low-wattage bulb stuck into the small desk lamp she had got him for Christmas. “It’s only five watts, so it saves energy,” she had told him. “It won’t be quite as bright, but it’ll last for years.”

She read a book in the battered recliner, each rock back and forth squeaking like a Victorian grandfather clock. He held his small glass of bourbon to the dim corner light, dismayed at its weakness and his resultant inability to see through the amber splashing against the rims of his cup. She had got him the bourbon, too; a joint Christmas present. “The light’s for you to read by when I’m away,” the note said, “and the bourbon is to keep you warm when I can’t.” It was a considerate gift, and he had been grateful.

“Hey,” he said, his voice breaking the silence like a poorly behaved student inside a library. She looked up from her book and took of her glasses. She smiled and he regretted having interrupted her concentration. He sniffed through a stuffy nose. “What was it like when your brother got cancer?”

“Which brother?”

“Chris.”

“Chris,” she repeated, looking above his shoulder, through the roof, and straight into the sky. “Yeah, it was hard. Harder for him, of course, but hard for the rest of us, too.”

“Yeah, but what happened? What’d you see?”

“Him fall apart.” She looked back to him. “The first thing to go was his appetite.” She pushed her palms against her knees before bringing them into her chest. “The hair doesn’t all fall out from the chemo, but enough did that he thought it looked patchy—we all thought it looked okay, but respected his wishes—and so he shaved it.”

He took a deep breath as quietly as he could. “Then what?”

“He survived, but it was the most horrible thing any of us had ever seen. Just squirming in pain, like he was trying to get out of his skin, like a snake molting or something. And every once in a while the doctor gave him morphine for the pain when it was too unbearable, but everything he said when he was on it seemed like he was screaming it from miles away and we were only getting the echoes.”

“Oh.” He popped his thumbs and slid his glass back and forth on the desk. “Anything else?”

“Well, yeah,” she said, her eyes dropping from his and falling to the ground, “but I’d rather not talk about it. I mean, he survived and everything, but it was so hard to watch that I’d prefer to leave it be.”

“Okay,” he nodded to himself. “Okay.” He lifted the glass back up to the light and still couldn’t see through it. She had bought him a nice enough bottle that its contents were empty of dregs or floaties. He knocked it to the back of his throat, took a deep breath, and rose to his feet. “I want to go on a little walk.”

“That sounds nice. Do you want to go to that park?”

“Yeah,” he said, “I think I’m just gonna go by myself, though.” Never leaving his, her eyes took reflexive offense before building themselves back up. “Is that okay?”

“Of course.” Her smile spread wider than it normally did. “Have a nice time.”

He walked toward the door. His right hand grabbed his coat while his left tilted her face toward his. A kiss dropped upon her residual smile. He said “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” she said, not knowing that what he had meant was “goodbye.”

She had already seen cancer once. Lord knows she didn’t need to see it twice.

2 comments:

Sarah said...

This had me almost to the point of tears. I mean, lump-in-throat inducing stuff here, Andy. Nicely done. I must go blow my nose now.

Claire Valene Bagley said...

Again, you're a genius.