"Life is merciless."
When she starts to cry he says, "I'm sorry. I can only tell you I see it. I look at the charts and say what I see. You have this. It's been there for a while. That's what's making you feel so bad. Now that we know, we have to try to cure you."
She's got her palm in front of her mouth trying to stifle the gasps that pull her gut inward.
He drops a gentle hand onto her shoulder and she reaches aside and slides her arms around him. The stethoscope around his neck and pens in his shirt pocket press hard into her face and chest, a barrier to intimacy or human warmth.
"Is there someone we can call?" he says, and she answers him by shaking her head slowly, her forehead against his tie.
"You said your parents were gone--maybe your ex-husband?"
She lets the doctor go and shakes her head. "No. I don't want that bastard anywhere near me." She rubs her eyes and nose on a tissue he hands her and clears her head enough to remember people.
"My sister. Jeanne-Anne. She's in Tampa, though. I'll call her myself."
She takes a breath now and composes herself. She'd rather be doing anything else .
"I'm recommending we start chemo right away. Dr. Saranelli will decide whether or not he wants to irradiate, but in these cases, it's usually best to start right on the medicine." He writes on a small notebook in his pocket and tears out the paper. "This is where the clinic is. Angela can give you more information on the way out, and they can answer any of your questions about dosages, side-effects, life changes--whatever. They're expecting you tomorrow at nine."
She takes the paper from him and crumbles it absent-mindedly in her clenched fist.
"Are you going to be all right driving yourself home? You know, we're going to have to arrange rides to treatment. You can't drive yourself."
"Is my hair going to fall out?"
The physician takes a step backward, finds a chair, and sits. He says, "The disease you have, the good news is also the scary news." He clears his throat and she knows it's as hard for him to say as it is for her to hear.
He says, "It's very virulent. Very fast growing. That's good because the medicine attacks fast growing cells. It's easy to differentiate between your normal cells and the attacker. But it's going to kill your hair follicles. Anything else that grows fast, too--the lining of your mouth, the lining of your intestines. The down side is we have to act fast, Jennifer. It's had some time..."
Jennifer gasps. She didn't think there was anything left to surprise her, but he keeps turning over stones. The longer she stays in the office, the worse it gets.
"How long do I have?" she asks quickly, before it become impossible to speak.
"We don't like to think of it that way..."
"I don't want the fucking bullshit you give the other assholes who walk in here. I want the fucking truth. You can't just tell me I'm dying and walk away. It's inhuman. Now tell me how long."
"We can cure you--" the doc says, but Jennifer is having none of it. She slides off the examining table. She hovers over the doc. She bends over so her breath makes his hair move. A lover's breath, or a killer's.
"Answer me. Don't give me the mealy-mouthed whining that gets you off the hook."
"I can't give you a time frame--because that would be even more inhuman. You can be cured, Jennifer. I've seen it."
"Well tell it to me this way, then. Have you ever seen someone with metastisized melanoma as bad as I have?"
Staring into her eyes, the doc says, "Yes."
"How long do they keep paying their bills after you get to this point with them?"
The doctor's jaw tenses. His lips thin to a line. A vein stands out on his neck.
She won't release him from her gaze. He won't get off easy.
"About nine months. Some longer, some shorter."
He gets up and steps around her. He looks out the window for a moment and when he turns back to her Jennifer says, "Thanks, I know that was hard for you. I appreciate it."
"There's ethics," he says. "There's litigation." He raises his palms, looking helpless.
Jennifer grabs her purse. She's done crying. She says, "Sure. We're done here, right?"
The doc nods.
Jennifer says, "Look, I'm not blaming you. Life is merciless, isn't it?"
She doesn't want to waste her minutes waiting for him to figure out what to say that fits the parameters of his ethical or legal obligation, so she leaves him with his jaw hanging open.
"there's an emptiness inside her, and she'd do anything to fill it in. and though it's red blood bleeding from her now, it feels like cold blue ice in her heart. she feels like kicking out all the windows, and setting fire to this life. she could change everything about her, using colors bold and bright. but all the colors mix together, to grey."*
"And it breaks her heart--"
She picks twilight to burn her life. While the sun dies at the end of another day, she watches herself burn on the cliff over the ocean.
The wind whips the flames and when she thinks the burning boxes are going to blow out, she pours on more barbeque lighter. The outer cardboard carbonizes and the black travels inward eating all her photographs. Her tear sheets. Her portfolios. The art she spent months perfecting. The images she carefully dodged and burned-in. Her philosophy books. College textbooks she'd saved. The cheezy beach reading she thought she'd donate to the library someday.
Someday becomes no day. Altruism that seemed important is consumed in the fire of her dread.
The boxes burn. There's almost nothing left in her trailer now. A couple of dishes. Some clothes. And her plan is to drive that over the cliff with her last ounce of strength.
She's not even startled when the man appears behind her like the apparition of a pagan god.
"Rangers don't like beach fires," he says, standing next to her, staring into the flames.
"This isn't a fire," she says. "It's a cremation."
"A pretty girl like you burning a body? Interesting. I wouldn't peg you for a serial killer. You'll have the bones left. Need to crush them. Though God prefers his children interred in the earth from whence they came."
"Yeah, well I could use a discussion with that bastard. He's been noticably absent for the past thirty-two years."
"God? Absent from your life? How sad."
Jennifer takes a long look at the guy, letting his image soak into her. He's tall, muscular, short blonde hair over deep blue eyes. Under normal circumstances she'd be wary, but normal circumstances have left her forever. And there's something about his face--something peaceful and honest.
She says, "Look, I don't need a sermon. If you're on your mission looking for someone to convert, you've picked the wrong woman at the wrong time. I don't need God complicating my life right now."
"Things look like they just got pretty simple," he says, as the wind blows the ashes out to sea.
Jennifer gets a chill, and she doesn't know if it's from the wind or the fevers. She folds her arms tightly across her chest. She doesn't step away when the man draws closer. What could he do? What could happen?
"You look like you need a cup of coffee," he says when she shivers. She looks at him and his smile absorbs her for a moment, takes her away from the day.
"This has been the worst day of my life," she says.
"It happens," he says, standing his ground but giving her space. "Sometimes it gets worse before it gets better."
"Sometimes it just gets worse," she says.
"I'm Blue," he says. He offers her a hand she looks at without regard. Where is her life going? What will she do with the rest of it? Who to call? Doesn't anyone care?
When he puts his hand back in his pocket she says, "Blue?"
He laughs a little, says, "I know what you're gonna say. It's a dog's name. But my father gave it to me. 'True Blue', he calls me, because I'm so reliable."
"Reliable? I don't know many reliable men."
"Well, that would take me a while to demonstrate to you, but what the heck--why not gimme a chance? There's a little restaurant about two miles south. Good coffee. Good pie. We'll take separate cars. What else are you gonna do tonight?"
Jennifer looks toward the ocean off the cliff.
Blue says, "In that case, I have to insist you come. You can't let me go on knowing I left you here when I could have saved your life tonight."
He holds out his hand and she stares at it.
She says, "Coffee's probably better than suicide. Besides, I'm losing the light."
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