William Quincy Belle is just a guy. Nobody famous; nobody rich; just some guy who likes to periodically add his two cents worth with the hope, accounting for inflation, that $0.02 is not over-evaluating his contribution. He claims that at the heart of the writing process is some sort of (psychotic) urge to put it down on paper and likes to recite the following which so far he hasn't been able to attribute to anyone: "A writer is an egomaniac with low self-esteem."
You will find Mr. Belle's unbridled stream of consciousness here (http://wqebelle.blogspot.ca) or @here (https://twitter.com/wqbelle).
“Did you hear me?”
Andy blinked and stared at his doctor. “Yes.”
“Medical science isn’t always precise in these matters. It could be more than six months, seven, eight, maybe even a year. Everybody reacts differently to treatment so there’s no way of knowing right at the moment how long you have. But it would be wise for you to start planning, to get your affairs in order.”
Andy looked off to one side. There was a ringing in his ears and he felt lightheaded. Was he going to faint? He didn’t know what else to say even though he thought he should have a million questions. His eyes focused on a chart hanging on the wall. It showed a human skeleton with arrows connecting body parts to boxes with small writing. He saw the word tibia and wondered what it meant.
He turned back to find Dr. Greyson staring at him with a raised eyebrow. “I’m sorry. I seem to be a little distracted.”
“That’s understandable.” The doctor leaned forward and picked up a piece of paper. “I’ve made an appointment for you to see Dr. Brant. He’s an oncologist at St. Michael’s Hospital, a specialist in cancer.” He placed the paper on the far side of his desk in front of Andy. “You’re slotted in for tomorrow at 1:30pm. I’ve already spoken with him and made him aware of the particulars of your case. He’ll be able to give you further information about the treatment options and work out a plan to get you started as soon as possible.”
Andy stared at the piece of paper. He could feel his heart beating in his chest.
“Do you have any questions?”
He studied the time 1:30pm written in blue ink. He could have lunch at work then go to the hospital.
Should he go to work? Should he call in sick? What should he do?
“Andy? If you don’t have any questions, I must get ready for my next patient.”
He looked up from the piece of paper. The doctor was giving him a questioning look. “Sorry.”
The doctor nodded. “You’re in good hands. Dr. Brant is one of the best and I’m pleased I could get you in right away. He’ll work out a plan with you. He’ll take care of everything, don’t you worry.” The doctor stood up.
“Thanks.” Andy picked up the paper.
The doctor put out his hand. “Everything’s going to work out just fine.”
He stared at the hand and stood up. He tentatively put his own out. The doctor shook it. “Good luck.” The doctor came around his desk, put his hand on Andy’s shoulder and led him to the door. “If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to call the office.”
Andy shuffled down the hall to the waiting room. He stood in the middle of the room looking at the appointment notice. Everything’s going to work out just fine. The ringing in his ears had diminished and his heart longer beat as hard. He glanced around. Several people sat in chairs reading, napping, or staring off into space. Each waited for their appointment. Each waited for their diagnosis. Would it be a temporary condition? Would it be permanent? Or would it be the announcement of the end? One could say the end is a permanent condition.
He walked out of the medical centre and blinked in the sunshine. He tucked the paper under his arm and fished around in his pocket for his clip-on sunglasses. Holding his prescription glasses in one hand, he fiddled with the clip until it was properly anchored on the frames. After putting his glasses back on, he looked around and found he no longer had to squint. He folded the paper and tucked it in the inside breast pocket of his jacket.
A woman crossed the parking lot holding the hand of a little boy. He stared at them. Why was such a young boy coming to a hospital? What terrible diagnosis awaited him? Would his life be snuffed out too early by some bizarre twist of fate? Logically, everyone went sooner or later with the expectation of later rather than sooner. But statistically, somebody had to be sooner. This boy or me, the law of averages dictates it.
Andy walked to the street, looked both ways and crossed to the other side. He entered a parkette and sat on an empty bench. The sun felt good on his face. He lounged back, spread both arms out on the back of the bench, and gazed over all that was around him. It was a nice day and all seemed right with the world. There was the background noise of cars, people, and life in the big city. A bird chirped. A squirrel scampered between two trees. He enjoyed the moment but also recognised how surreal the moment was in light of his news. Our time on the planet is finite. However, we never think that our time is going to be up. His time was up. His time had come to an end. He had to say good-bye and leave for the next part of his journey. Was there a next part to his journey?
His phone vibrated in his pocket. He looked at the display and saw the name of his wife. “Hello?”
“How was your appointment?”
“Do you think you could stop at the store and get lettuce? I suddenly realised I don’t have anything to make a salad. Unless you want to skip it.”
“What’s on the menu?” He stared at a bird hopping around the branch of a tree.
“I’m doing my chicken cacciatore. I’ve got garlic bread.”
He watched the bird fly off. Next year, he wouldn’t be around to see it fly away. He could see it now. What would it be like when he could no longer see it? Would he know?
“Sorry, I got distracted by something.”
“If you want a salad, pick up some lettuce. Otherwise, I’ve got enough with the bread. What time will you be home?”
“The usual. Before six, I imagine. If there are no hold-ups on the subway.”
“Okay. See you later.”
He pressed on the End Call button and stared at the device. After he was gone, the company phone would go back to the company. No, the phone would go back before he was gone. He would get sick. He would get weak. He would no longer be able to work and would stop going to the office. The company would have to find a replacement. Probably, they should start now. It usually took one to two months for a recruiting agency to find appropriate candidates then the company had to go through the process of interviewing each of them to find out who was the best match.
A teenage boy rolled through the parkette on a skateboard, pushing off several times to keep his momentum up. Andy had tried a skateboard once. While it wasn’t difficult, he found he didn’t completely have the knack of maintaining his balance. Several times, he had to stop and put his foot down to avoid falling over. Would he ever try it again? Probably not.
He reached to his inside pocket and took out the appointment slip. One thirty tomorrow, the start of his new adventure. Six months. He only had six months left. What could he do in six months? What should he do? Clean up his affairs? Go on a trip? Try a skateboard again for the last time? Then again, was he going to end up so busy with treatment, he wouldn’t have time for anything else? Would his life turn into an endless routine of chemotherapy, visits to doctors, and tests filled with poking and prodding? Don’t they say –whoever they are- that everyone gets cancer if they live long enough?
He looked at his watch. Eleven thirty. He should get back to the office. Should he tell anyone? Should he wait until after his appointment tomorrow? What should he say? I have six months to live. I’m going to die in six months. In six months, I will no longer be here. You should start looking for a replacement.
What should he say to his wife? I’m not coming home for dinner tonight. In fact, I won’t be home for dinner again. Did that seem dramatic? Did that seem heartless? I hope you’ll find somebody else. Was he getting ahead of himself? He wasn’t dead yet.
He tucked his appointment slip back in his pocket and stood up. Back to the salt mines. He headed toward the subway.
There was a hot dog vendor on the sidewalk in front of the station. Should he or shouldn’t he? Hadn’t somebody made the claim there were carcinogens in processed meat? He chuckled. Wasn’t there an absurdity in raising such an issue? Maybe this meant he could eat anything he wanted, even something carcinogenic, because it no longer mattered. You can’t get cancer twice.
Screw it. He stopped and ordered a dog. He fished around in his pocket and found a five-dollar bill. “Keep the change.” It’s not like these guys are making a killing selling out on the streets. As he watched the vendor take a sausage from the top rack of the grill and put in on the lower rack over the flame, he remembered the family barbecue years ago when his mother announced her own cancer. The doctor had given her six months and she was dead six months later almost to the day. Now, it was his turn. Would he have the same grace? Would he accept his fate without complaint and would he be thankful for what he had had in life?
He took the hot dog and bun wrapped in a napkin then added his usual condiments. He bit into the dog and jumped out of the way, as ketchup and relish spilled out onto the sidewalk. Holding the hot dog in one hand, he pulled several napkins from a dispenser and dabbed his mouth. He moved to the other side of the sidewalk and stood with his back to a building.
His mother had grace. Did she die with grace? He always thought the last three weeks of her life were unnecessary. If she had been a dog, the vet would have put her down. The pain constantly increased in those final weeks. Twenty-four by seven, there was the unrelenting agony of cancer destroying every part of her body. She was taking morphine, but did that really stop the pain?
Andy sighed and thought back to his sports injury. A few years ago, he had nearly torn his rotator cuff while damaging the disc of his C6 vertebrae. He took painkillers for five months straight and wondered, during this time, if his condition was going to be permanent. Fortunately, his body healed itself, however it was a valuable lesson about drugs and chronic pain. Drugs dull the pain, but they don’t make it go away. It’s always there in the background, tugging at your sleeve, reminding you that hell is just around the corner. He compared pain medication to an umbrella in a torrential downpour. You’re keeping your head dry but you’re still getting soaked.
He finished the hot dog. He used the napkins to wipe his mouth and clean off his fingers. After dumping everything into a public trash receptacle, he took another two napkins to wipe his fingers a second time and stuffed them in a jacket pocket.
He pictured the last three weeks of his mother’s life, curled up on a bed set up on the main floor of her house, too weak to use the stairs. She moved little and hardly talked. She lay there constantly shivering, from what he now understood to be unceasing pain. Your every waking moment is taken up with pain. You can’t think straight. You can’t do anything. Your entire consciousness is pounded by the unwavering agony of your body unable to deal with what’s happening to it. That wasn’t living. That was hell on Earth. There was no longer any quality of life. She was alive, but in name only.
Andy shook as he remembered the image of his mother wasted away to a mere eighty pounds. He wouldn’t wish that on his worst enemies. What was he going to do?
As he entered the subway station, he fumbled in his pocket to find a token. He put the coin in the turnstile and stepped through. People were coming and going everywhere and he had to wind his way through the crowd to get to his platform.
What was he going to do? He thought his mother had a terrible death. What could he do to avoid such a fate? Assisted suicide was illegal. He didn’t own a gun. Could he get one? But that supposedly was very messy and ugly for whoever would eventually find the body. Poison? Overdose on drugs? Slit his wrists with a knife? He shuddered and blurted, “Eew,” out loud. He looked around to see if anybody had heard him.
People stood by waiting. A monitor hanging from the ceiling showed two minutes to the next train. Some played with their cell phones, a few read books, and others looked at the advertising billboards. Did any of them know the time of their own death? We all knew it was inevitable, but who knew with any precision?
What was he going to do? He moved to the edge of the platform and looked down at the tracks. Occasionally trains were delayed and even though the anonymous voice announcing scheduling changes gave nonspecific innocuous reasons, one could assume that from time to time, somebody, in an act of desperation, made the ultimate choice. Was it painful? Was it instantaneous? What was the exact cause of death? Crushed? Decapitated? Blood loss? Blood loss made it sound as if the person was conscious for a period of time and died aware of their death. If you’re decapitated, do you go on thinking for a few a seconds or does all brain activity cease immediately?
Andy could hear a growing roar in the tunnel. He felt the wind pick up. Bits of paper swirled over the tracks. He looked left then looked right, taking in the length of the platform. Nobody else was standing as close as he was. He looked down. It would be so easy.
He looked left and saw the front of the train speeding to the mouth of the tunnel. One step. Just one step. A horn screamed and the train burst into the station. He stepped back. The train raced by in a blur of lighted windows full of people. The crowd surged forward positioning themselves by the doors. A bell sounded and the cars opened spilling their contents out onto the platform as the mass of new riders pushed forward to get on.
Andy boarded the train and grabbed an overhead strap. A bell sounded. A disembodied voice on the platform boomed out, “Mind the gap.” The doors slid shut. The train lurched as it sped to its next stop.
He looked down the length of the train. There were hundreds of people heading to their destinations, carrying on with their daily lives. What did he know that they didn’t know? Six months. Just six months. Tomorrow, he’d start figuring out what to do, what to do for the last time.