“Jesus Ed, why didn’t you come in sooner? That sore behind your ear is almost certainly a malignant melanoma. You’ve got nodules in your neck and that trouble breathing, you’re having, is a bad sign. The darned thing has probably spread. I want to get a chest X-ray right now.”
“Come on doc. You sound like you’re hanging crepe. Can’t be that serious now can it. Sounds like you’ve got a Porsche payment coming up and need the dough.”
“Damn it Ed. Stop jacking around. I’m not kidding. Those lumps in your neck could very well be metastases and there’s little question the lesion behind your ear is a melanoma and a bad one.”
“Okay, Anders. It was just a little gallows humor. You’re not kidding about how serious it is and how it may have spread are you?”
“I wish I was kidding Ed. I’m not. Let’s get the film right now and let me look at it, okay?”
When they looked at the X-ray a few minutes later there was dead silence. Both lung fields were covered with small nodules. Even Ed, a layman, could see his doctor was not joking. Frowning, Dr. Anders said, “This is really serious Ed. We need a biopsy of the lesion and from one of the nodes in your neck. They can be done under local anesthesia tomorrow. I’ll do a frozen section on the tissue and have a diagnosis this afternoon.
The results were as the doctor predicted. A viciously malignant melanoma that was already widespread.
“Sit down here Ed. I’m not going to pull any punches with you. You’ve got a really bad cancer and it’s widespread. It’s beyond surgical removal, radiation therapy and even chemotherapy is out. You had better get your affairs in order. You don’t have long. I’m really sorry to be this blunt but as your doctor and your friend I feel you need to know just how serious this is.”
“How long have I got?
“No telling. That’s Hollywood stuff when they say you’ve got two months or two years. No one can predict what’s going to happen and how soon.”
“Gimme’ a ball park estimate.”
“Hell, it could be this afternoon if you have lesions in your brain or it could be three months from now. I’m not kidding when I say I can’t give you a time.”
“Anders, I walked in here this morning with a sore behind my ear and you’ve just given me a death sentence. Can this be real?”
“Fraid so, big guy. I wouldn’t be this frank and in such short order if you weren’t my best friend. We’ve been sailing together for nearly thirty years. I was Commodore last year at the yacht club and you’re Commodore this year. I count you as a colleague as well as a true friend. Your wife Marie and my Annie have been close since we met. You have to tell Marie about this and soon.”
“I understand what you’re saying doc. I gotta’ think this thing through and figure out how I’m going to tell her. Certainly not tonight. They are giving me a roast and a plaque at the yacht club dinner tonight. I’ll get to it in a day or two. No need to spoil the occasion tonight.”
“Okay but don’t put it off too long.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll “git ‘er done” and in due time. Thanks for nothing you big galoot.”
“Go on and get outa’ here and enjoy the dinner tonight. See ya’ this evening at the yacht club roast. I’m around if you need me or want me to help with breaking the news to Marie. Okay?”
Dazedly, Ed Macon stumbled out of his doctor’s office. He was in shock. The whole morning seemed surreal. He was going to die and very shortly. And he had to tell his wife of forty-four years of the results of the tests as well as its inevitability. Unbelievable. What the hell happened to my life?
Ed and Marie had been married more than four decades. No children. It was their decision. It was just the two of them through the years. And their love had not faded or dulled. Indeed, it had increased as the two melded into a single unit, each supporting and strengthening the other. They remained lovers as well as husband and wife.
The dinner, the jocularity and the good times that evening were unmatched. The club members roasted Ed with good naturedly tinged humor. The food, the wine and the conversations were unequaled that night. Ed and Marie cuddled and kissed on their way home like newly weds and made love that night as never before. At dawn, Ed arose without disturbing Marie and went to his desk. Taking a sheet of stationary and his pen, he made his way out to the deck overlooking the bay as the sun rose. Silently he contemplated the unruffled water and the blank sheet of paper as the sun rose over the bay. Finally he began to write.
Marie, I’ve been given some very bad news by Doctor Anders. This sore behind my ear is a malignant lesion that is now widespread and beyond any cure or even treatment. My days here on earth with you are essentially over. I refuse to become a vegetable in a hospital ICU and will not subject you to the agonizing decision making about when to “pull the plug”. I’m going sailing this morning on GOOD TIMES and will not return. I only hope it will be termed an accident. An accident judgment will preclude problems with my insurance. The investments and the life insurance settlement will sustain you after I’m gone. I know full well this is the coward’s way out but I feel it’s best for both of us. I love you with all my heart and I don’t want you to agonize over a dying man.
Your loving and adoring husband.
He signed the letter, sealed it and placed it on the kitchen table. Slipping out the kitchen door he drove slowly to the yacht club where their small sailboat was tied up. Casting off the mooring lines he ghosted out into the channel and thence into Mobile Bay. Raising the sails, he cut the motor and relaxing, leaned back on the cockpit coaming. Ed began to reminisce about the good times he and Marie had experienced aboard their small sailboat, GOOD TIMES. Leaving the bay, he headed out into the Gulf of Mexico. The sky was cobalt blue and cloudless as the sun rose. The gentle following sea was smooth and the north wind quietly drove the boat south into the Gulf.
Better tie down this tiller so she holds her course south into the Gulf; don’t need anyone questioning how I got so far south. We may get to Mexico before they find Good Times.
Guess it’s about time for my” two step” off the transom. I’m out of the sight of land and any curious onlookers. Kind of scary, I must admit. Hope they think it was just an accident. Maybe a shot of some Dutch courage would help. I think there’s a nearly full bottle of Wild Turkey in the galley locker. And indeed there was. Retrieving the whiskey, Ed poured himself a generous shot. Downing it in a single gulp, he poured another. And another. Wow, that’s strong stuff. Feel a little dizzy. Maybe too much too quickly. Better put my head down and rest for a minute. GOOD TIMES can handle herself for a bit. One more for good luck. He fell fast asleep almost immediately. The whiskey, taken in such large quantities and in such a short time put him into a near comatose state. He was virtually stuporous for the next five hours.
The north breeze began to back in an hour and when he awoke, four hours later, the wind had shifted one-hundred and eighty degrees from north to the south. The sailboat had gradually turned and was now heading right back into Mobile Bay.
Ed awoke slowly and groggily. Where in the devil am I? Well I’ll be damned. That’s the Sand Point lighthouse to port. I’m heading back into Mobile Bay. The wind must have backed and GOOD TIMES just swung around and is taking me home. Guess I owe the “Big Guy” upstairs for this. Think he just wasn’t going to let me do my two step off the transom. Besides, they couldn’t bury me in the church cemetery if they found out what I did. A couple of Hail Mary’s and Our Fathers are in order. Might as well head back to the club and tie up. Boy, have I got a headache.
Securing GOOD TIMES in her slip, Ed drove home. Oh shit. I forgot all about the note on the kitchen table. Marie is really going to be pissed when she reads it. Jesus, she can be a shrew when she’s aggravated. I’ll just have to try a couple of mea culpas and explain.
Turning into the drive he could see Marie’s car in the garage. Damn, she’s home already. Here goes, he thought, as he opened the front door. “Marie. You home already?” No answer. In the living room he saw her lying on the couch. Apparently asleep. His note was on her bosom, still moist with tears. It was then he saw the empty bottle of Seconal sleeping pills on the floor. Picking up the letter he could see she had written a comment at the bottom.
Ed, we’ve been married for forty-four years and we’ve been a darned good team together. I’m not going to go it alone. You’re not going without me. Wait up. I’m coming with you. I love you with all my heart.
She wasn’t breathing.
Posted under Short Stories