Betty smiled blithely at me as I opened the door for her and held her hand, cautiously lowering her into the passenger seat of our green sedan. I tried my best not to make eye contact with her as I started the car and exited our driveway.
“What did Kyle want to talk about yesterday?” She asked, still wearing the same smile. “You never came in and talked to me last night.”
“Just checking on the boat.” I answered.
“Oh. Well, is that all you talked about…the boat?”
“Oh. Ok. Well, after we see Dr. Harris, we should go to Kelley’s for lunch. Don’t you think?”
I said nothing. I merely let out a small sigh.
Betty continued, “Well, they have lovely soups…and sandwiches. You like their sandwiches, don’t you? You’ll order a sandwich. Don’t you feel like eating a sandwich, honey?”
“Sure. I’ll eat a sandwich.”
“Oh, ok then. Kelley’s it is. I think I’ll have the bisque and a tuna sandwich.”
She licked her lips as she stared out the windshield and dusted non-existent dirt from her lap. I snatched a corner-of-the-eye glance at her knee-length dress. It had a white background, but was nearly covered in images of strawberries and green leaves. She’d put on her white gloves with the lace around the wrist, and had begun to rummage through her turquoise pleather purse.
The A/C was kicking in, so I rolled up the windows and turned up the fan. The thick fruity odor of the air freshener now had competition from the sterile smell of the cold air coming from the dashboard vents.
It seemed like forever before we reached Dr. Harris’ office, but I found the parking spot in the shade and switched the car off. It chugged to a stop. I saw Betty looking at me from the corner of my eye.
“Good girl.” I reached out and softly patted the dashboard.
The heat emanating from the pavement made the air nearly unbearable, and it wasn’t even the hottest part of the day yet. I took Betty’s arm and we walked inside the office. Diane was there to greet us. She had her jetty hair pulled back in a tight bun, and she wore smart-looking glasses, with a small chain depended from them.
“I will be sure to tell the doctor, ma’am. Ok. You too. Bye.” She said into the ear piece she wore.
“Mrs. Bender, how are you? It’s good to see you this morning. Mr. Bender, it’s good to see you too.” She smiled.
”Oh, hello, Diane. I saw you were on the phone. Well…we will just wait out here for the doctor?”
“Yes, Mrs. Bender, please have a seat. I just beeped him, so he knows you’re here.”
Betty wiped some invisible debris from my plaid shirt and bade me to sit next to her in the waiting room. There was some Whitney Houston song playing, and the room smelled like fresh paint. Betty picked up some cooking magazine from the coffee table and proceeded to ignore me. I breathed a sigh and some of my tension melted. Through the freshly-cleaned windows, I saw busy traffic on the boulevard as it passed by the office. A young woman pushing a stroller, passed by quickly, as she held a cell phone to her ear. The hair near her neck was plastered to her skin with sweat.
“Mrs. Bender…the doctor will see you now. Mrs. Bender?”
I turned and looked at Betty. Her eyes were scanning the brightly-colored pages of the magazine, with the corners of her mouth slightly upturned.
I reached over and softly touched her arm. It seemed to startle her. After she gave me an annoyed look, she turned to Diane.
“Mrs. Bender, the doctor will see you now.”
“Oh, well. Thank you, Diane. Yes. Let’s go, Marvin.” She said with her eyebrows raised and her lips tightly pursed, tightly clutching her purse at her side.
As we walked into Dr. Harris’ office, he held out an arm to gesture Betty towards a seat. Shaking my hand, he pulled me in close and looked intently into my eyes.
“Are you ready?” He whispered.
I nodded, my lips closed tightly. I sat in a brown leather chair, matching the one Betty occupied. The doctor’s office was a small tribute to books. One entire wall was nothing but a bookshelf, cluttered from top to bottom. The wall behind him was one large window, looking out over a small green area amongst the other businesses in the office park. He adjusted his white lab coat and seated himself behind his large wooden desk.
“Mrs. Bender, how are you feeling?”
“Oh, well…ok…I guess. Yes, I feel ok.”
He smiled slightly, then looked down at the planner on his desktop. He picked up a pen and fidgeted with it. I leaned back into the chair and tried to casually cross my legs.
“Doc. We’re ready. How bad is it.”
He nearly glared at me for a moment.
“Mrs. Bender, I don’t know how to say this, so, I’ve written it here on this memo pad.”
He tore off a pink sticky note, leaned forward, and held it out to us. I arose and took it, quickly reading it before I handed it to Betty. I swallowed, sat, and began glancing between them both. At first, Betty took the note in her gloved hand as if it were coated with salmonella. I saw her throat tighten as she held it up at nearly arm’s length. She must have read it ten times before she finally turned and handed the note back to me.
“Well, ok then. What are we going to do, doctor?” She asked, almost too calmly.
“Mrs. Ben…Betty, you see…that’s the thing. We can’t do anything.” Dr. Harris said.
Betty turned and looked at me, but it soon transformed into a mild glare.
“You’re awful quiet, Marvin.”
I could only hold her gaze for a moment, before I looked down at the note in my hand.
“I’m sorry, honey.”
“I’m sorry? Why would you say that? Did…did you already know?” Betty asked.
I straightened up and looked at the doctor.
“Marvin and I have had some discussions about this, yes. There was hope that a new procedure overseas might render some good news, but it won’t be in time. It’s prohibitively expensive anyway.”
“How expensive?” She asked.
“Nearly three million dollars.” I answered.
The doctor stood and walked around his desk, then he leaned against the front of it, his hands at his side.
“Betty, Marvin and I have waited to tell you, in the hopes that we would have some good news to go along with this…news. I am very sorry. We’ll do all we—“
“How long does she have, doc?”
He looked at me with softened eyes.
“A month, probably less.”
“Oh…well…oh, God. A month?” She took in a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. “One month. Ok. Well, Marvin, we have lots to do.” She turned to me and stood.
“Mrs. Bender, I’d like to prescribe you a–?
Betty held out her palm to the doctor.
“No. It’s like you said: I have one month. I don’t want to spend this final month strung out on pain killers. But, thank you.” She held her lips tight and took a sharp breath.
As Betty walked out of the room, the doctor and I exchanged faces of wide-eyes and pursed-lips. I shook my head to myself as I turned and left to join my wife.