She used the force of her back to push the glass door to her neighborhood convenience store open.
She had always been one of “those people”. The ones who don’t touch door handles because at any time, no matter what the season, some god-forsaken virus lingers on surfaces consistently utilized by dirty hands.
Not that it ended up mattering much.
The balding man behind the counter nodded his head in familiarity at her. She tried to form a smile through pursed lips in return. Her body moved straight toward the candy bar aisle, eyes still glazed, still staring at the doctor from this morning.
The doctor had folded her hands, adjusted the empathy and straightforwardness settings in her demeanor, and said just a mouthful of words.
But that’s all it to took to make a mess of her life.
Her phone had been ringing periodically all day. Had it not been shiny and expensive, she may have chucked it into a public trash bin earlier. She knew it was him calling for an update.
She knew he would bombard her with questions in the way that children do when they’re first learning about something. She didn’t blame him. He was worried. She also knew she couldn’t handle it. Not now.
As she stood in front of the various candies from her childhood, her present life unraveling swiftly and mercilessly, her mostly numb mind assaulted her with another mouthful of words.
What the hell am I going to do?
She swiveled her wedding ring.
There was a vocabulary game she used to play in elementary school. She couldn’t remember the name of her teacher, but she hadn’t forgotten the rules of the game.
The thirty or so students in the class would take turns spelling a word the teacher yelled out. If the student spelled the word correctly, they stayed in the running. If the student made a mistake, they were out.
In her case, all but she and her most worthy competitor would be ousted from the game rather quickly. Then they’d both compete against each other, a smile on each of their faces. They both enjoyed this mental battle.
Even all the way back then, she wanted to win at life. She didn’t mind a worthy competitor.
But this. Who wants to fight cancer?
She felt dizzy. She steadied herself, choosing a candy she knew he’d enjoy.
He greeted her at the door. “What did the doctor say?”
Without answering, she clasped her arms around his waist and buried her face in his chest, breathing in the familiar mixture of detergent and cologne.
She positioned her chin upward to stare at him. “I love you.”
“I love you too.” Concern poured from his champagne-colored eyes.
She looked at him, now, wearing a new vision. The transience of moments was underscored.
She didn’t know much. Not how she would tell him. Not how she would fight it. Not what the outcome would be.
The only certainty she had was the desire for one final dinner without the heaviness of her diagnosis. She wanted to relish each bite of the normalcy she had taken for granted.
“Everything’s okay,” she smiled. I got you something. She reached into her pocket and pulled out the candy bar.
He grinned and took it. “Thanks, I love these.”
“I’m so hungry,” she said, “Let’s go out.”
He nodded, the candy bar hanging half-bitten from his mouth while he put on his jacket. As they walked down the stairs, he reached behind him, as he always did, to grab her hand.
For a few more hours, everything would be normal. She planned to live in each detail of those moments.
Then, she would tell him the news.
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