By Rob Holliday
“Are you sure,” asked her husband. “I mean, those smudges could be anything.”
“Yes, Mr. Bell. I’m sure. I’ve had it reviewed by the top radiation oncologists in the country. I’m terribly sorry for this,” replied the salt and pepper haired doctor with kind eyes.
She sat there, the ongoing conversation muffled by the cotton ball shock that muffled her hearing. Again? This can’t be right. Yes, of course it’s right. Did you think it would simply go away? It’s not a scolded dog, it’s cancer.
The doctor continued, “We wanted to be sure because our treatment options are…limited, thus the reasoning behind the PET scans. And you can see here,” indicating the printed images of her body lit up with fluorescent glow, “this hotspot here is more than likely the genesis location for the metastasis, these smaller hotspots are simply where the growth has become more aggressive.”
Her husband leaned in, an urgency in his voice, “So what do we do now? You know that funds aren’t a problem, so where do we go from here?”
She watched her husband and the doctor have a polite conversation about her impending death. Granted, her husband spoke in hopeful terms and the doctor replied with gentle candor. She stood up to leave and both men stopped talking.
“I’m ready to go now. Doctor, can we come back again to discuss what options I do have? I’m feeling a bit…overwhelmed.”
Both men stood. “Of course Mrs. Bell. I’ll consult with my colleagues and we can have a follow up discussion tomorrow or whenever suits you best. Of course, we’d like to provide you some time for making decisions so the sooner you have the options, the sooner we can begin to plan our way forward.”
She replied, unable to focus on his face, “Thank you. We’ll return tomorrow.”
She turned to go as her husband spoke with the doctor in muted tones. “Milton, please, we can discuss this more tomorrow. I’d like to go get some ice cream.”
Her husband shook the doctor’s hand and turned to his wife near the door to leave. “Of course, sugar, I’m sorry. Thanks again, Doctor, we’ll see you tomorrow.”
They left the office, their hands intertwined. They arrived at the convertible coupe, the top still up. “Milton, let’s put the top down, it’s nice enough, don’t you think?”
“So long as you won’t get chilled, love, it’s fine with me. Let me get the blanket from the trunk.” He opened her door for her, shut the door and went to the trunk. He retrieved the ultra suede and fleece blanket and got in the car and tucked her under the blanket. He fired the engine, a throaty growl coming from the exhaust. She laughed out loud.
“My, I’ve never noticed how wonderful a sound that is. That rumble that just says, ‘Let me out, I’m ready to run’. Let’s go for a drive today. Can we do that?”
“Of course. What about ice cream?”
“Yes, that too. Let’s drive down the coast and stop at our pier for ice cream, hmm?”
“You got it.”
He popped the roof locks, stepped out for a moment as he retracted the roof and secured it under the tarp in back. He hopped back in and backed up the red 1952 Jaguar C-type with a goose to the gas and transitioned to drive, letting the wheels spin a bit, gravel rocketing away. He glanced at her, admiring the girlish grin on her face. She looks 17 again. Oh to go back and be that age again.
He maneuvered through town and made it to the seaboard highway and let the motor open up. The sky offered azure blue with a golden orb, clear and crisp. He leaned over to her, she turned her head to him and he pecked her on the lips. “I love you”.
“I love you too.”
They glanced back and forth at each other, savoring the day, preserving each look in their minds eye as a snapshot for all eternity. He looked back to the road to see the 50-ton Peterbilt rig storming down on them, the driver drifting with fatigue.
He caught his breath as she offered a near paralyzed gasp and turned the coupe sharply to the right, both of them closing their eyes as the grill of the truck beared down on them.
They opened there eyes and found themselves careening onto the shoulder, his reaction to shift to neutral and steer back toward the road before catching the guardrail and plummeting over into the Pacific. The car came to a jolting halt, both of them catching their breath. They turned to each other.
“Oh my gosh, dear, are you okay” from each to the other. “Yes, I’m fine.”
They paused and both laughed out loud. “Wow, talk about a day of extremes, worst luck, best luck, “ she offered.
He smiled at her resilience. “Still want that ice cream?”
“Yes. And now you have to buy me two scoops and jimmies on top, just like we did at the boardwalk back home.”
“You got it.”
He checked his mirrors with a small laugh and gunned the Jag back out on to the highway. They arrived at the pier as the sun slipped beneath the covers of the horizon for another evening, the pier lights magical.
“Well, I’ll be. It’s nearly deserted. Lights are on though, should be able to get that ice cream still.”
They walked arm in arm together, her head on his shoulder as they strolled down the pier toward the ice cream house. Drawing only a couple strange glances from passersby, they knew their romance was anachronistic. They didn’t care. Nor did he care about the strange look from the young man who served her the two scoops of ice cream with jimmies. They strolled to the end of the pier and sat down together, watching the sun’s final glimmers as the night sky rolled out a starry carpet, the shy moon waiting for its turn.
She offered him a bite of her ice cream, which he gladly took. He offered some of his butter pralines and cream, from which she took a healthy bite, leaving a milky swipe on her nose. He touched it with his napkin, leaving her clean. He didn’t notice the bloody mess it left behind on the napkin. Nor did he notice the other couple leaving the end of the pier in a hurried step, glancing back at them as they left.
“I guess this generation has forgotten romance, they simply don’t see enough of it,” he reflected.
“You’re right. But maybe some of them will learn. Who knows, after seeing us, maybe they’ll think more highly of it, you think?” she inquired in reply.
“I don’t know. We can hope. But in the meanwhile, I’d just like to enjoy our ice cream. I love this spot. Do you remember…”
“Of course, I do. It was right here that you first told me you loved me.” She leaned in for a kiss, which he obliged with chaste vigor, she still his cherished love. She didn’t notice the gore he left behind on her lips but took another bite of her ice cream instead.
“I think this would be somewhere I could stay forever, Milton. But only if you’d stay too, of course.”
“You couldn’t drag me away from you or this place. Forever it is.”
Back up the highway, a young officer collected up the papers caught in the brush along the guardrail.
“Hey Billy, whatcha got?”
“Found some papers, must have flown out of the car. Looks like medical papers of some sort.”
“Well, see if it has a name on them, check for two. Not sure how easy it’s going to be to identify them once we get the wreckage untangled from that semi rig. Too bad about the car, this was a classic. We got a partial plate and looks like a man and a woman in there, but that’s all for now.”
“Yeah, here it is. Josephine Bell. And… emergency contact, husband Milton Bell.”
“Alright, I’ll call it in. And check for any doctor’s or such, maybe there’s someone we can call.”
“Yep, right here. Doctor Ted Yates, oncology at All Saints. Man, look at this, the diagnosis. You think they felt anything when the rig hit? May have been a blessing in disguise I suppose.”
Diagnosis: Recurrent pancreatic carcinoma, stage IV. Prognosis terminal, expectancy 1-3 weeks.