Ellen Geist



“My hair looks exactly like these clear rice noodles,” I announce to my friend Janice. We are eating in a Japanese restaurant with my daughter Sophie. Janice smiles and ignores me. She has dragged me all the way across the bridge to her neighborhood in Brooklyn Heights to consume what she insists is the freshest sushi in New York, and she refuses to be deterred from her mission.

“Are we going to talk about your hair again?” Sophie says. Sophie has been my beauty consultant during my course of chemotherapy and although she’s done a remarkably good job for a nine-year old, she is becoming understandably weary.

In the middle of eating an inside-out tuna roll, I feel a searing pain in my back. I try to appear nonchalant and order more green tea. Janice, however, has noticed me wriggling around in my seat.

“It’s probably a little touch of pleurisy, is all,” I explain. “I got this once years ago. Sounds bad, but it’s just an inflammation around your lungs. Though I do think I should go home and take a bath.” I am doing my best to sound casual, but have risen to leave. I need to move quickly to avoid Sophie’s scrutiny. She already has that strange wide-open-eyed look I’ve seen too often this past year.

The waitresses in a pile-up by the cash register take the money I throw in their direction and offer kind murmurs, for which I am grateful. In moments I have stumbled out to the street with Sophie and Janice scurrying after me. Court Street is deserted and freezing cold.

“You go back inside and I’ll get you a cab.” Janice says. “No, no,” I insist, not from any courage but because I feel I can’t actually move. There are no cabs, or, that is, there are only cabs with people in them. Finally I spot one with a light on. It slows down so as not to hit me, but there is someone in the car. “Liar, liar,” I yell at the driver and attempt to kick the door as he goes by.

“Mom, don’t,” Sophie says, giving me her most disapproving look. It upsets her when I behave like this.

“We must get you a cab,” Janice gently insists as if that will make it happen. Just then one comes around the corner, not a real cab but a gypsy. It’s making a terrible racket that seems to emanate from underneath the car. But it stops. “Do you think it’s OK?” Janice asks, a worried look on her face.

“Sure,” I say. “It’s probably just the muffler.” Sophie dutifully jumps in first; I follow behind, waving goodbye to Janice, who stands in the wind and watches us lurch past. Inside the noise is louder. I wonder if the problem is in fact the muffler or might not be a far more important appendage. I lean into a bulging spring of the rear seat and try not to moan.

Apparently I’ve not been successful. “Mom, are you really OK?” Sophie asks.

“I’m fine,” I tell her. I don’t mind kvetching about minor inconveniences but I don’t want to truly alarm her.

We are now on the Brooklyn Bridge. It appears to me as a vast expanse of metal that cannot possibly be crossed in this ramshackle vehicle. “I wonder if we’re going to make it over the bridge,” I make the mistake of saying.

“Mommy, Mommy, is everything all right?” Sophie has that little girl tone that appears only on those occasions when nothing is all right.

“Fine, fine,” I say with much less conviction than before. I am holding her hand tightly, and now I have to lean into her so as not to fall out the door, something that appears to be a real possibility since the hinge doesn’t look particularly stationary.

“Dear God,” I pray. “Just let us make it over the bridge.” I’ve never gone in much for religion. Lately, though, given recent events, I’ve wandered into a couple of synagogues. This is one of my most successful spiritual experiences so far as we do indeed make it across the bridge and beyond that up the FDR.

When we get home I take my bath and two aspirin to no avail. Then I decide to take my temperature. It’s 104. I call the oncology floor at Mount Carmel and ask to speak to the resident on call. This is a technique one only learns from experience, and it applies to nearly all aspects of life. It’s all a matter of knowing the exact lingo. In this case “on call” is the key word.

“I’m Dr. Kaminetzky’s patient, breast CA.” I explain. I find it also helps to say CA instead of cancer.

“You have to come in tonight,” the resident tells me. “I can’t tell anything over the phone.” Before going to the hospital, I drop a too-sleepy-to-protest Sophie off at the neighbors.

The resident is young and dapper. He’s dressed in a crisp white shirt, a bow tie, and I hate him. How could he ever know me the way Kaminetzky does? I am inordinately attached to my doctor because he dresses in schlumpy pale green shirts that invariably have an oil spot above the pocket and ties with unsightly patterns, that he takes obvious delight in for their garishness. I love my doctor because he says things like “Where the hell have you been?” when I’m late, which I usually am. Most of all I adore my doctor because he is inappropriately fond of me, maybe more than of the rest of his patients, although he is unprofessionally caring and compassionate toward all of them and doesn’t know any proper boundaries.

“Everyone says he’s wonderful.” The head nurse is trying to reassure me about the resident. “His wife is a survivor, too.”

The resident looks about twenty-four. How could his wife have survived the concentration camps? Although I’m dyslexic with numbers, I can do the math on this one. Even if she were one of the babies born in Bergen-Belsen or Dachau, she would be way too old for him. Then suddenly it hits me: breast cancer survivor, of course. I’m embarrassed to be included in this term.

The resident looks in my eyes with intent interest while he talks. I learned that trick of pretending to pay attention long ago in high school, and I’m not falling for it.

“You have pneumonia,” he says, handing me a prescription for antibiotics. “You know your blood count is still down and you have to be careful.” He pauses. “Dr. Kaminetzky is out of town until Thursday. Why don’t you take these antibiotics and come in then for a follow-up?” Perhaps he senses my hostility.

“Where the hell were you?” I ask Kaminetzky on Thursday.

Puerto Rico,” he tells me.

“You doctors always go to places like Puerto Rico for conferences.” I picture cobalt ocean, white sand.

“Next time,” Kaminetzky says, “Why don’t you come with me?”

I sigh as I refuse him. My only shot at the beach lately has been Jacob Riis Park, which my friend Janice has dubbed “the people’s beach” and where the sand is dark grey, although Janice has tried to convince me this is due to minerals.

“The problem is that you lack courage,” Kaminetzky tells me.

“The problem,” I answer, “is that you lack a divorce.”

We’ve been waiting for my chest X-rays to appear. “Get out of here, kiddo,” he says. “All you have is a little pneumonia.” I’m surprised to see relief on his face. But then he clarifies. “You don’t have mets to the lung.” He means metastatic cancer, not the baseball team.

Oncologists, I tell myself. That’s all they think about.

I can’t stand staying in bed doing nothing, so in a few days I’m up and running around. I do seem to be coughing less,

On my way home from my job at Scepter Books where I share a cube with Janice, next to the usual plastic surgeon ads on the subway, I see a billboard for a progressive Jewish organization called Chesed. Its purpose: to instate “Radical Kindness” in our society. We are separated, alienated, lack community. That’s me, I think, alienated--although generally it’s a status I prefer. I despise group activities. I once went to Parents Without Partners and wanted to jump out the window. I attended one cancer support group: the facilitator asked me how I thought I’d gotten cancer. Did I know it could be caused by stress?

“Broccoli,” I told her. “I think I got it from eating too much Broccoli.”

But I scribble the Chesed number down on my bank receipt. And when I get home I do something uncharacteristic. I call.

At the Chesed meeting that Wednesday I look entirely out of place in my blue jean jacket with silver spangles and long flowered skirt. There are only five of us in one of those dismal upper west side apartments, the kind with lots of wall molding and not one single painting: an older man, a very young woman, Sophie, whom I dragged there under duress, Aaron, and myself. Aaron is the leader of the “Radical Kindness” movement and author of the previously cited billboard. At the end of the meeting I saunter up and introduce myself. “I have cancer,” I tell him. He seems to find this a sexy opening line.

“Call me later tonight. As late as you like,” he says.

Sophie is glaring at me that she wants to go. She is at the other end of the room picking at the few desserts provided: a grocery store bag of rugelach, some Enteman’s cookies. Then, though, Aaron reveals the coup d’grace of the evening. He brings out a plate of blueberry blintzes from the oven. “We can stay for a while if you want,” Sophie calls out to me.

Although I think it’s weird to call someone I hardly know at 11 p.m., which is when we get home after two half-hour subway delays, I don’t want to blow this opportunity. Aaron and I talk for hours on the phone. He asks me about my life--my hardships and travails—all of which I’m only too happy to reveal. I find his re-interpretation of the old Testament God very original, although how would I know? When he asks me to bring Sophie for a Shabbes lunch that Saturday, I eagerly agree. “Will there be blintzes?” I remember to ask.

The lunch, though, does not go as well as I’d hoped. To begin with, Aaron, upset that my kitchen isn’t kosher, has directed me to bring something vegetarian. I try “Rocket Soup,” a recipe I have from my sister-in-law’s gourmet restaurant in Seattle. It’s made with Arugula and tasted delicious there, only with my rendering it becomes a strange lumpy substance much like sea algae. It is leaking from the sides of the bowl as Sophie and I arrive.

This time Aaron’s apartment is packed with people and a kind of study session appears to be in progress. I try unobtrusively to find some edge of a sofa for us, but Aaron interrupts himself to walk over and put his arm around me. “Karen,” he announces, “and Sophie.” He holds his hand out to Sophie and she backs away. She hates being touched by strangers, or for that matter, close relatives.

I feel as if I’m in school and behind on my homework, an all-too-familiar sensation. I try to catch up quickly by reading the photocopied page that has been handed out.

It is the story of the four who entered Paradise: Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Aher and Akiva. “Rabbi Akiva said to them: When you reach near the stones of pure marble, do not say “Water, water.” Ben Azzai glanced at it and died. Ben Zoma glanced and became demented. Aher cut down seedlings. Rabbi Akiva came out in peace.” I am crazy about this story although I couldn’t explain why.

Apparently, though, one is expected to make comments. A number of people have their hands up. A woman with long black curls and intense grey eyes is speaking. “So I think the story all has to do with studying Torah. Wisdom is like the pure marble.”

Aaron nods approvingly. He glances in my direction, but I can think of nothing to say except “water, water,” and this I have to truly struggle to restrain myself from doing. I lower my head and continue reading. “There are those who walk around the house always searching for its gate, and about whom it is said: Ben Zoma is still outside.” That Ben Zoma, I think, that’s my kind of guy.

All of a sudden I spot my second cousin Benjy wedged into an embroidered high back wooden chair on the other side of the room. I haven’t seen him since my father last dragged me to a family seder about twenty years ago. He’s from the orthodox side of the family, but he doesn’t look it in his blue jeans and suspenders. He immediately runs over and starts jabbering about something to do with past lives and the Kabbalah. Talking so quickly, and with his black handlebar mustache and long greyish hair, he reminds me of Albert Einstein on Methamphetamines, but still he’s always been my cutest cousin.

The lunch or meeting or class, I’m not sure what to call it, is breaking up. “Stay” Aaron comes over to tell me. Benjy looks disappointed for a moment but scatters off as quickly as if he’d been a Kabalistic vision.

Sophie and I dutifully sit down at Aaron’s flip-up wooden table. “That woman with the grey eyes seems very smart,” I say, “Who is she?”

“My former girlfriend,” he announces. “She is brilliant, and very imaginative, especially in bed.”

I’m not happy with the picture this forces into my head. It’s his charisma I’m attracted to, not his looks. And I hope Sophie hasn’t understood, but if she has, she isn’t giving any indication. Instead she has her lips pressed together tightly while he tries to talk to her.

“Why is your daughter so hostile to me? We’ve only just met. I think we should discuss it.”

I shake my head to stave him off this path. I don’t believe in children expressing anger at the dinner table. I made Sophie repeat after me at an early age, “Parenthood is a dictatorship. A benevolent dictatorship, yes, but still a dictatorship.”

Suddenly Sophie decides to engage in the conversation. “Where are the blintzes?” she asks brightly.

Aaron rummages through the freezer. “It looks like we’re out.”

Within seconds of receiving this information, Sophie has risen from the table, landed on the staircase, and plunged her head down in her hands. She raises her head briefly to shout in my direction, “I came here for one reason and one reason only and that was blintzes. And now you tell me--NO BLINTZES!”

I walk over and try to console her. I’m still hoping to salvage this outing. After all, Aaron seemed so insightful on the phone and clearly many people respect him; we must be bringing out the worst in him. We are faced off in different corners of the room when someone bangs on the door.

“Who’s that?” Aaron asks with irritation.

“I was thinking you might want to walk down to my place for Havdalah.” My cousin Benjy enters with endearing obliviousness to anything wrong in his breaking up our little gathering. He smiles broadly at the three of us.

I’m not sure what Havdalah is, but it seems to be my cue to exit. “We should really go,” I tell Aaron. He touches my hand and looks in my eyes intently. Although I now see this is a routine of his, at the moment I appreciate the gesture. This time he knows better than to come near Sophie.

As we head down West End Avenue, Benjy fires off a rapid string of joke lines to Sophie, accompanied by some sort of song-and-dance routine she finds immensely entertaining.

“So are you orthodox?” I interrupt to ask.

“I’m shomer shabbes,” he says. I have no idea what this means but am reluctant to appear ignorant.

“Ignore the mess,” he urges as we enter his apartment, decorated with a collection of twentieth century newspapers and empty boxes from a variety of digital music equipment.

Havdalah. I find out, is a ceremony marking the end of the Sabbath. As we step into his darkened kitchen, Benjy lights a braided candle and hands it to me. “They say how high you hold it is the height of your future husband’s eyes.”

I hold the candle up until I see the flames flash across his irises. It’s too dark in the room for me to see his expression as he takes the candle from me and sizzles it out in a glass of wine. Then he sings a song, Eliahu Hanavi. He has a clear, absolutely pitched, sweet voice.

“Thanks for coming over. You made my Shabbes,” he says.

“You made my Shabbes, too,” I reply.

“You know it is an old world tradition—second cousins. Joke, “ he adds. Then he quickly turns on the light. “Th, th, that’s all folks,” he says in an Elmer Fudd impersonation. Before we go, though, he insists on showing Sophie his repertoire of magic tricks involving coins and a salt-shaker that disappears.

“Can we come back here a lot?” she says.

On the subway home we see the Chesed ad again, which Sophie decides to read aloud. She has been learning to read with “expression” in school and her performance is flawless. “Many people have grown weary of this competitive dog-eat-dog society that robs people of their dignity. That’s why our founder, Aaron Stanley, started the ‘Radical Kindness’ movement.” Sophie has put just the right sardonic spin on “our founder.”

“It’s not good to be so sarcastic about my potential boyfriends,” I tell her, suppressing my delight.

I think about becoming shomer shabbes myself. I do some research on what’s involved. There are many complicated rules for observing the Sabbath, none of which I learned in the reform synagogue of my childhood. I decide to start with something manageable: not tearing toilet paper. The next Friday afternoon in preparation I stack up piles of pre-torn paper.

Unfortunately my Sabbath plans are interrupted by a coughing fit. When I call Kaminetzky, he sadly concedes, “You’re going to have to see a pulmonologist.” He never likes me going to other doctors.

The pulmonologist orders a CT-scan. I decide to head up to the Cancer Clinic to wait for the results. When I see Kaminetzky, I wave wildly in his direction, but he ignores me. I watch as he walks back and forth several times bringing in patients. Suddenly he comes over. “What the hell are you staring at?” he barks.

“Nothing,” I answer meekly. “I was looking at you—maybe.”

He turns in a huff and storms off. Tears well up in my eyes. No matter how weird he’s been, he’s never yelled at me like this before.

A few minutes later he waves me into one of the examining rooms. He’s prominently holding a folder with film in his hand. “I had them send the CT up here—I just got the report. It’s good. Definitely not cancer.”

“I thought you told me it was definitely not cancer before.”

“Look, I’m sorry I snapped at you. It’s just that I was really scared.”

I’m surprised at the frankness of his apology, but even more taken aback that he’d worried. Until then I’d bought that definitely-not-lung-cancer line.

“The pulmonologist said this might be some side effect of the chemo,” I say for revenge.

“It’s not from the chemo,” he says.

Methetrexate, specifically. Look, I know it saved my life,” I add.

“Remember it was your choice.”

It’s true; he had handed me stacks of photocopied articles from the New England Journal of Medicine. I found my type of tumor in there, the bad kind. I saw the difference chemo would make, lowering my chance of recurrence from thirty-five per cent to thirty--a mere five per cent.

“Really, it was Sophie’s choice,” I counter, thinking myself remarkably funny. Ever since my diagnosis, Sophie has become very involved in statistics.

“What is the percentage of your dying from chemo?” she asked me at the time.

“None, I guess.” I hadn’t read of any measurable risk.

“And what about without?” she wanted to know.

Three weeks later, though, the coughing still hasn’t gone away. This time the pulmonologist says he has to schedule a bronchoscopy. “We are going to insert a tube and take tiny samples of your lung,” he explains as if that’s reassuring.

When I go to his secretary to schedule the procedure, I’m in a state of terror. Her name is Lu Ann and she has a large puff of teased orangish hair.

“You need someone to pick you up afterwards,” she says. “Any family?”

“I have Sophie, but she’s nine,” I reply

Lu Ann is very sympathetic. As I’m apt to do without warning, I tell her my life story, at least the illness part.

“I might know someone who can help you,” she interrupts. “He knows all about the future. He’s a remarkable man. He reads palms and everything. I met him when I worked for Orthodox Jews in Borough Park. They treated me like a member of the family,” she adds proudly. “I even sat Shiva with them.” She pronounced Shiva so it sounded like the name of an exotic Indian goddess.

I wonder if she thinks that I’m not Jewish. “You don’t look Jewish,” everyone told me when I was young. In Torrance, California, a town without Jews, I was supposed to take this as a compliment. “You killed Christ,” the kids would say on the playground.

“Jesus was a Jew, a rabbi,” I would reply as my father had instructed, but this historically accurate information did nothing to repel the bullies.

This is why I appreciate living in New York City. You can purchase Yahrzeit candles in the Spanish grocery on the corner. I’m thrilled to see the tacky menorahs with yellow electric lightbulbs in hotel lobbys. I am ecstatic about the suspension of alternate side parking on even the most obscure Jewish holidays.

“His name is Zev Essen,” Lu Ann says. “I’ll call first to smooth the way and give him your phone number. I can tell you are nervous about making phone calls. I’ve been told I have real insight into people.”

That night Zev Essen phones, my second in a series of late night phone calls. His Yiddish accent has an eerie familial quality. He gives me elaborate directions to his house in Borough Park.

The next day Sophie and I take the J train, one I’d always wondered where it goes. But I can’t follow his directions to a street called Tehama somewhere off 13th Avenue. Sophie tries to help but complains she can’t read my handwriting.

We walk in circles until finally the street appears along with the green two-story house he described so completely. Zev Essen awaits us at the top of a set of rickety side stairs. As we follow him up, I try to spot the peyes I thought all orthodox men had. He looks quite modern with his close-cropped beard, wearing an ordinary businessman’s hat. I notice a curl tucked in around one ear and feel more confident of his authenticity.

At the door, his wife greets us in a white sort of housedress/gown. She has a white turban wrapped around her head, giving her the appearance of someone from a Buddhist sect. Everything in the apartment matches her. The wool sofa is bright white, as is the long shag rug, the walls, and the shelving. The chairs are white leather. Even the silver candles and prayer goblets gleam a whitish glow. I’ve never seen more white concentrated in one location.

“Come in,” Zev Essen urges. “Don’t be nervous.” His wife merely nods in a way that doesn’t seem quite as hospitable.

“Your daughter looks tired. Would she like to lie down on the sofa while we talk?” The white couch is so inviting. Who wouldn’t want to try it? Sophie immediately stretches out and turns her head to the ceiling, signaling she will be asleep within moments.

Zev Essen and I retire to his study, lined with Hebrew books in leather bindings. “For the first time in my life I’m worried about dying,” I announce.

He instructs me to hold out my palm and moves a pencil across it. I recall hearing that Orthodox men are not supposed to touch women or look at them. Zev Essen, though, is definitely looking at me.

“You are not going to die right now, but you are going through many trials. Our fortunes have to with the explicable and the inexplicable.”

“What’s the explicable part?” I want to know.

“In the Talmud, the Sayings of the Fathers, Rabbi Yannai said, ‘It is not in our power to explain either the prosperity of the wicked or the afflictions of the righteous.” However in your case—“

I hear a bloodcurdling scream from the other room: Sophie. We rush in as Sophie hurtles toward me. Smack in the middle of her white T-shirt is the biggest, blackest beetle I’d ever seen in my life, with giant hard wings, massive legs, crawling up toward her throat. I’m terrified. Sophie is frantically trying to brush it off, but it clings tenaciously.

Zev Essen merely smiles and hurriedly swats it to the floor. Then he steps on it, and with some embarrassment, drops it into the garbage pail. “An uninvited visitor,” he comments.

Sophie clings to me, sobbing. “Do call me,” Zev Essen says. “And come again.” His wife, emerging from the kitchen in her turban, silently hands Sophie a few pieces of gaily Hebrew-wrapped chewing gum.

“I never want to go back there,” Sophie says when we are safely on the subway.

“I don’t think I want to either,” I concur.

“What did he say anyway?”

“He told me some quote from the Talmud, you know this book of Jewish wisdom. Something about no way to explain the good luck of evil people or the bad luck of the righteous.”

“It’s supposed to be the smartest book and that’s the best they can come up with?” Sophie says.

In the third of my late night calls, I phone my cousin Benjy. “What do you know about big bugs and Kabbalah?”

“In Shamanistic terms they’re a sign of mystical power. The Egyptians used them to travel safely through the underworld.”

“And what about Judaism?”

“No idea,” he says.

I mention my upcoming bronchoscopy.

“Call me on my 800 number when you get out and let me know how it goes,” he offers. I don’t know how an itinerant musician gets an 800 number, but I’m glad to have someone to call.

Before the procedure I meet with the anesthesiologist. I can’t take valium, Demoral, or anything with “zine” as the final suffix. It seems I have a paradoxical reaction to nearly everything. In fact my whole life could be summed up as a paradoxical effect. “You have to be awake and breathe,” he says. “What about morphine?”

“Give me lots of it,” I tell him.

As far as twilight sleep goes, I feel more awake than I ever have in my life. “More morphine,” I call out continually, trying to give it some cadence to it like that old cereal commercial, hoping that might evoke nostalgia from the anesthesiologist.

“We’ve given you 10 CC’s,” the anesthesiologist says. “It’s enough to kill a horse.”

Afterwards when I am wheeled into recovery, finally the morphine takes effect; I am pain free and delirious. “You see this,” I tell myself, grabbing a blue piece of terry beside my head. “This is a towel. Say it.” “Towel,” I dutifully obey. In this way I name all the objects around me. Then I ask and give correct answers to my name and address.

Despite my valiant and impressive efforts, I’m panicking “Kaminetzky,” I cry out as I somehow get myself out of bed and hurl myself toward the nearest nurse. “Page Dr. Kaminetzky.” I am quite proud of myself for having remembered his name and the paging part.

“Why do you want to see him?” the nurse asks me suspiciously. “He’s not the attending on this case.”

Because he’s the only one I can think of around here who loves me, I want to tell her, but I don’t. I decide to try the docile approach instead. “Do you think you could beep Dr. Kaminetzky for me?” I say in what I hope is my sweetest, most passive voice. “I promised I would come see him before I go.”

“Hmm,” she answers.

I inch past her desk toward the door. “Where are you going?” she shouts.

“To see Dr. Kaminetzky,“ I yell as I duck out. “Ben Zoma is still outside,” I call back to her, an inside joke that I no longer know why I find this funny.

I know the way to Kaminetzky’s office by heart: the circular passageway, the wall of doors, then tucked away, the almost hidden staircase. As I go up the stairs, I have a sudden realization: What about Rabbi Akiva? I wonder. How did he get inside?

I head down the long hall lined with stones I’ve been told are just markers for the big donors, but I think they could have thought of something less funereal. Then I go through the double doors and into Kaminetzky’s paneled office. Behind the comforting beige desk sits Kaminetzky in half-glasses for reading I’ve never seen him in before.

“Oh, there you are,” he says as if he’s been expecting me.

“Did they beep you? I asked them about a million times.”

“Nah. They’re all a bunch of losers around here. Have a seat and let’s get the results.”

“Like that?”

“Just like that.” He relishes this role of being someone who gives meaning to the phrase “instant results.”

While we wait for the call back from the pulmonologist, for once we have nothing to say to each other. He shuffles papers fitfully while I study the pattern of the carpet pile. I’m about to break the silence with my latest doctor joke when the phone rings. I try to decipher his murmurs but can’t make them out. He’s beaming as he hangs up.

“It’s something called bronchiectosis. Some messed up bronchia, a little fluid. It’s really not lung cancer.”

“I thought you told me all along you knew it wasn’t lung cancer.”

“I lied,” he says.

I’m surprised the relief brings tears to my eyes. Following the tradition of my Eastern European ancestors, I know well what rewards there are in suffering, but what kind of punishment can good fortune bring? Can I handle this? Or am I stuck like Aher pulling up the seedlings, or my former soul brother, Ben Zoma? How did Rabbi Akiva glimpse Paradise and manage to come out in peace?

“They called from Recovery.” His secretary is standing in the doorway. “Apparently she escaped and we are supposed to order a wheel chair and have someone to take her downstairs. They won’t let her go by herself.”

“I’ll wheel you down,” says Kaminetzky.

First I borrow the secretary’s phone and call Benjy. “I’m fine,” I tell him. “According to Kaminetzky I’m going to be like my grandmother and die at the age of 102 on the toilet. You remember we all thought she was a hundred and one? I just found out from the Ellis Island records she lied about her age.”

“That’s really great about the bronchoscopy results,” he says. “I’m really glad you called me.”

“Yeah,” I agree, and quickly get off the phone. I see Kaminetzky peering around at me, and besides, that’s about as much private or public display of affection as I can manage at the present moment.

My wheelchair arrives; and as promised, Kaminetzky wheels me down. I glide easily through the salmon-colored halls, not even disgusted, as I usually am, by their color. “You must be very special,” a nurse stops to comment, “being taken downstairs by the Chairman of Oncology.”

Kaminetzky wheels me up to the exit. “You’re free,” he says and holds his hand out to help me stand. Then I step through the glass doors into the chill winter sunlight, and I am on my own.






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