The phone call came on a Tuesday at four. Four fifty-six, to be exact. Sheryl still remembers that detail because she’d been waiting for the call for what had seemed like forever, and when it finally rang and broke the unnatural stillness that had settled in the house, she couldn’t bring herself to answer it.
“Honey?” Mac had asked, uncertain. “Should I get it?”
They both knew what ‘it’ was. Sheryl had stared at the numbers on the clock, transfixed by the neatness of the congruent time, and she understood in that moment that the call was a harbinger of ill omen. She couldn’t explain her sudden prescience then, and she still can’t now, but she knew with absolute certainty what the answer would be. “No. I’ve got it.”
Was that the moment she accepted the truth of her impending mortality, or was it when they first found the cancer? Sheryl has wondered this many times over the interminable months while she can’t sleep. She thinks perhaps it was long before either of these events. She imagines that she has been turning over that weighty matter in her mind for as long as her tongue has worried that gap between her back molars.
“… marrow transplant was unsuccessful. If you can wait just a moment, we’ll transfer you to the front desk. We’d like to schedule you to come in next week so we can go over the next course of treatment. Mrs. Friedman?”
“My hair has just grown back.” That’s all Sheryl could think to say, and it was true. The fragile new crop had just begun to grace her scalp. Her fingers stroked the soft stubble over and over as she listened to her name on the line.
“Mrs. Friedman? Are you there?”
Sheryl remembers that she had been nodding, Yes, I’m here, but Mac had taken the phone from her hand to finish the arrangements with people who couldn’t see her nodded acquiescences or her new hair with its false promise of life she would never live to see. She hadn’t cried then or even later, when she’d had to telephone her mother in Fort Worth with the news. Her mom had just sobbed until Sheryl had said goodbye and hung up on the sound of tears and choked-back snot.
“How are you?” Mac asks.
Sheryl blinks and realizes she has been dreaming again. She doesn’t know anymore if it is the meds or if she’s just losing her mind. She looks down at the paper in her hand and remembers that she was planning her funeral. She only has two items so far:
– ask Marian to read the 23rd Psalm
– have those meatballs I like at the wake (Swedish?)
“Good,” she says, answering Mac. “Do you think it’s too late for me to change my name?” She’s never liked her name, but she has always felt a certain obligation to it. Now Sheryl regrets any and all feelings that have wasted her time. She should have been a Bambi; she’s always thought it had a certain allure. Screw what people think.
“Yes,” Mac says, but he smiles. He reads the list over her shoulder. “The Twenty-third Psalm?”
Sheryl knows what he’s thinking, but she just shrugs. Screw what Mac thinks.
“Is there anything else—”
“No.” Suddenly tired, Sheryl holds out the paper as if it is made of lead. Mac takes the page and she faces the window until he leaves her alone. She pretends that she can’t see his reflection growing smaller and smaller in the panes, but she does. The click of the door behind him might be the loudest sound she’s ever heard.
For the first time since the cancer has taken possession of her body, Sheryl lets herself cry. She wants to feel great rolling waves of catharsis wrack her body, but there is nothing. She can only stare into the inconsiderate sunshine and wish for the relief of tears that won’t come. When she finally falls asleep, she dreams of flying. Her hair is a long scarf whipping behind her in the summer wind all the way to Texas and back again.
John Vicary began publishing poetry in the fifth grade and has been writing ever since. A contributor to many compendiums, his most recent credentials include short fiction in the collections “The Longest Hours”, “Midnight Circus”, “Something’s Brewing” and “Temporary Skeletons”. He has stories in upcoming issues of Disturbed Digest and “Dead Men’s Tales”. John enjoys playing piano and lives in rural Michigan with his family. You can read more of his work at keppiehed.com.
© 2014, John Vicary