September 15, 2015 by The Citron Review
by Carolyn White
“Here,” Doc Bala says, his pointer finger backlit by my father’s skull. The scan makes the old man’s head look like a slice of salami. Bala taps on some white bits. “And here.”
Dad whistles, bouncing the eyebrows he still won’t let the nurses clip. “Look at that brain, Robette. Big one, I got there.”
“Biggest,” I chirp. “Why we’re here. You’re a goddamn medical curiosity.”
Dad drums his fingers on the armrests as he stares at his cancer, nodding. Doc Bala looks at me like he’s waiting for me to ask a question, so I cut to the chase: “You’re saying it’s back.”
“The oral carcinoma is larger this time. A lymph node biopsy would be necessary to confirm metastasis, but I can tell you, given the size of what we’re seeing, if the cancer hasn’t already spread it soon will.”
“Cancer!” Dad barks. His fingers freeze; he’s listening now. Cancer is the magic word.
“You’re gonna be fine, Dad.” I pat his hand.
My father’s eyes squinch up under those Groucho brows. “I wish you’d look at that,” he says, nodding at the scan. His fingertips do their tap tap tap on the chair’s arm. “Big damn noodle, I tell you what.”
“Biggest they’ve ever seen, Dad. Why we’re here.”
He winks at me. It’s enough to make me hope I pull a Dad and go demented before I get my own cancer. For all Dad knows he had a smoke ten minutes ago. Means when I bring him a can of Ensure in the home every night and he says, “What I wouldn’t do for a ribeye,” I can tell him, “You just had one, Dad.”
“Well,” I say to Doc Bala, “what’s the prognosis?”
The doc folds his hands. “The cancer is operable.” Bala says “is” like there’s a “but” coming. “Removal would require a larger excision this time. Most of the tongue.”
Last time, when they took a lymph node, Dad spent three weeks telling me they’d cut his throat and clawing at his stitches until I thought I’d have to cone him, like a dog. All so the man could spend another six months sucking shakes and begging the night nurse for a drag. This time around I get it: beat cancer and he’ll still be eighty-seven without a clue where the fuck he is.
Bala’s babbling on like it makes a difference what he tells us. “The risk would be considerable, as would the recovery time if we were successful.”
“And without surgery?”
The doc doesn’t look at my father when he tells me, “A month. Maybe two.”
“Holy heck,” Dad murmurs. “Will you look at that thing, Robie? Tell me you’ve seen a bigger one.” He stares, face lit white, at that salami.
“The biggest, Dad.”
The doc flips the switch on the lightbox and my father’s brain goes dark.
Carolyn White is a Virginian by way of California. A 2013 graduate of American University’s MFA program, she writes fiction and nonfiction about families, the houses they haunt, and the stories they keep on telling. Her essay, “Narrative Supplemental,” won first runner-up in Prism International’s 2013 Creative Nonfiction Contest and was listed as notable in The Best American Essays 2014.