He misses the call at 5:31 p.m. but listens to the doctor’s message six minutes later. “The chest x-ray is showing some small mass on your left lung…so we need to do further tests…so we will discuss what we need to do about this…so just make an appointment with me next week, okay? All right, thanks a lot. Bye bye.”
He calls the doctor’s office but the clinic is closed for the weekend. He listens to the message again twice. He breathes in and exhales and thinks he can feel the small mass in his left lung. Absurd. He has known several people who have had initially alarming test results of some kind or other only to discover that it was nothing or next to nothing later. This is the nothing his mind attaches to. Not the other nothing.
He decides to tell no one until he knows more. He can’t deal with other people’s reactions or emotions or questions. His own head will be enough. He can’t take care of anyone else right now.
The morning his blood is drawn for the laboratory tests, he looks away as the needle goes in. “You okay, hon?” the nurse asks. “Fine.” He turns because if he watches it makes it worse. Even though it has been seven years, he misses the bite of the needle and watching it sink into his arm.
He enters the CT room for the chest scan and the young attendant asks, “Does it smell like baby poop?” It doesn’t. It smells like baby powder. He doesn’t ask about the baby that preceded him. Later someone uses the word blessed in conversation and he inadvertently snorts with derision.
An appointment with a lung specialist is scheduled a week away. Waiting is not his specialty. Patience may be a virtue but who really wants to be that virtuous? His breathing seems to worsen, to be more shallow and congested. He calls his doctor’s office and talks with the nurse. Labored? No, it doesn’t seem labored as in difficulty or work, but it is noticeable to him. Does that count?
He tries to be a good patient. He tries to remain calm. He thinks of bravery and Lauren Bacall. At night when he can’t sleep, he reads a collection of last poems by a recently deceased 84 year-old. One of these final poems used the word schlong over and over and he thinks, “Really motherfucker?” But then he thinks why shouldn’t an 84 year-old poet write about his withering schlong and dying sex drive?
“Cements his legacy with his finale” a subheader on an article announces of a retiring television personality. He doesn’t have a legacy or come from people who would ever think about such a thing or use such a word.
He takes a pulmonary function test with a blue plastic clip on his nose and various tubes in his mouth. “Blow, blow, blow! Keep blowing! Keep blowing!” the technician says in a child-like whisper-shout of encouragement. He almost laughs at this awkward pornish interaction. He has a hard time with some of the first tests and panics that he’s failing. It’s a ludicrous thought and he knows it, but he wants to pass. He wants somehow for all of this to be a mistake. The asthma tests are better and he becomes chatty and animated as if to make up for his earlier bad performance.
A magazine in the waiting room has an article about a Finnish photographer who snapped a female grey wolf and a male brown bear that he discovered spending several hours together and even sharing food for ten nights in a row. “It seems to me that they feel safe being together, and so every evening met up for their dinner,” says the photographer. The images are beautiful and for the first time since this all began he tears up. Days later at the public library he sees Beginner’s Finnish at the foreign language display and checks it out. He carries it with him to waiting rooms. Mistä voi ostaa postikortteja? Where can one buy postcards?
The worst, he thinks of it many nights between three and four. He remembers his mother dying, shriveling to a husk and suffering. He pictures the hotel he would check into. Would he allow himself one last drink? One last shot of heroin? He imagines the crisp white sheets with a quartet of overly arranged pillows. Would he bring a book? Mail letters? This world has been heaven and hell for him. He has already done his afterlife. He wants to live his life now.
He is told by a friend to wear green because it is a healing color. He is told to stand barefoot in the grass. He thinks these suggestions are dumb. He stands barefoot in the grass wearing green.
The temperature is 81 degrees and the sky looks almost white. Yesterday he said, “I’d love to go to the beach with you but I’m a Belgian garden gnome who incinerates in the sun.” Today, he doesn’t care. He grabs headphones and sunglasses. He puts on the beat-up sneakers he has been meaning to replace. He cues up a playlist and walks out into the sun.
Nate Lippens is the author of the chapbook MINCE (Bridge Productions, 2016). His writing has appeared in Hobart, Queen Mob’s Tea House, and SAND Journal.