In Rare Cases…
by Coleman Bigelow
You’re joking, I say, interrupting the steady bumping of the doctor’s bushy white mustache. A mustache that matches his lab coat. And you, my invincible wife, you put your hand to your chest. To the place he’s showing us on the X-ray. You’re joking, you whisper when the doctor’s finished. You’re joking, your parents cry, as they arrive and fold you in between them.
Later that night, I curse when I burn my hand on the Pyrex while serving the lasagna. The stiff-noodled lasagna I make which no one eats. What’s the matter, Daddy, our little girls ask as we lay on their floor. And we tell them. Our girls. Our family. Our friends. We thought we were done. Except now there’s no way to begin. No words to describe. The cure worse than the disease and all that.
The calls flood in, even on our landline. The long-neglected kitchen cordless suddenly ringing back to life. The shrill chiming of a cruel joke. Because in this case, it is. It really is. Because in this case, you’re better and then you’re not.
Because we didn’t hear when Dr. Mustache discussed the treatment the first time around. When he relayed the probabilities and unlikely scenarios. When he kept talking, and we stopped listening. That’s when we miss the muttered warnings. His admonitions drifting off like a helium balloon escaping a patient’s room only to sit shriveling in an unreachable corner. That was when we missed the risks.
And we celebrated your last successful treatment. We sped away. We lived. And you live. And live and live some more. And at first, it’s all more. More kissing. More hugs. More hand holding. More more.
And nothing taken for granted…until. Until it all comes down to the margins.
And you, you’re so strong. So brave. So determined.
And you, you’re so weak. So scared. So hopeless.
And you, you’re so pale. So thin. So sick.
And you. You are. You were.
You’re so. So. Gone.
Your sister cleans out your closet and we laugh at your oversized white bunny slippers. White like the doctor’s mustache. We laugh. Well, she laughs. And the girls go back to sleeping in their own beds. And I go back to work. And I drive your powder blue CRV because someone tells me it’s not good to let it sit.
And I drive that car. I drive the hell out of it. And before I know it, there are flashing lights in the rearview mirror. The officer asks for license and registration. And when I open the glove compartment, all your beautiful mess spills out: coupons and receipts, and a whole bunch of cherry lollipops for your mouth sores. I find the registration and hand it over and, when the officer gives it back, he tells me it’s expired. And then he just stands there, looking at me funny, until he finally says, “You’re crying.”