The Neglected Breast

In
the quiet of the house, he wandered from room to room, recalling a memory
here and there, then taking the bottle of wine out of its hiding place
and popping the cork. The clerk seemed to know what he was talking
about when he said to ‘let it breathe for a couple of hours.’ Pancreatic
Cancer,
he whispered. All those people over the years who
had fought against it. How Michael Landon had said his brave Goodbye
on Johnny Carson. How Helen’s favorite aunt had held
her head up and buoyed everyone’s spirits with her simple, elegant
dignity. How one of his childhood friends suffered through the
surgeries and the chemo, even thinking he may have beaten it for a while
before finally succumbing. The boomerang of hope and despair was
second only to those agonizing treatments, the humiliation, the dry
heaves, the dizzy spells, the morphinic fog, not to mention the pillage
of one’s life savings. Vibrant, optimistic towers of strength
were reduced in a matter of months to hollow-eyed, destitutes.
He’d have nothing to do with it. He’d rather die a few months
early than subject his friends and loved ones to that.

He
picked up the phone, called the florist and ordered a dozen long-stem
roses, yellow, red, white and pink — three of each. She had
always liked things colorful and that went double for flowers.
Tomorrow was Valentine’s Day, the anniversary of their engagement,
which they celebrated nearly as avidly as they did the wedding date
itself. He smiled at the thought of the clumsy boy-of-a-man who
got down on one knee forty-seven years ago and stuttered out a proposal.
By starting the celebration a day early, he was certain to catch her
unawares, which made presenting her with flowers and a great wine all
the more fun.

He
made a second call to their favorite steak house. Was it possible,
he wondered, for them to prepare the house special for him to go?
"Oh, you don’t? Well, this is Art Raffort and it’s our anniversary
… Good. Thank you."

He
thought he might put it all down in a letter, affirm how much he had
loved her all these years and explain as best as he could what sinister
thing was happening in that dark corner of his body, but he decided
against it. He would tell her face-to-face when the time was right,
then together they would tell Mark and Mimi. He was sure he could
persuade them to come down if only for a few days. The grandkids
would be a different matter. Who would tell them and how, he couldn’t
fathom. He thought of their little faces and bit down. Then
he straightened up and told himself, all of this is a long ways off.
Enjoy the day.
That would be his focus from here on out, he
promised himself.

"I
found the cutest towels," Helen announced, coming in the door.

"Good."

"I
think they’ll go perfect in the guest bath. See?"

"Very
nice."

"Whoa!
Where did these flowers come from? Roses!"

"They’re
not for me," he said smiling, "so they must be for you."

She
read the card, "‘Happy Anniversary’ — but that’s not until
tomorrow."

"Yes,
but who knows what tomorrow will bring? Isn’t that what our
little Doctor LaMetti says?"

"Oh,
you really are a sweet old fart, you know it?" and she kissed him.

"Guess
what else? Steaks from Flemings."

"No!"

"Yeah,
I’m picking them up at six. And to compliment the meat, look
at this. I’ve got it breathing
here on the counter."

"Chateau
Moat-tin Rothschild," she said, turning the bottle.

"Moo-tone.
It’s French."

"Ohhoo.
How much?"

"Thirty
bucks."

"Thirty
dollars for a single bottle of wine?

This is not coming out of my grocery budget. What is the matter
with you?"

"It’s
our anniversary and I love you. So sue me."

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