My sister-in-law is a reasonable woman, not one to jump to conclusions or dash into dramatics without warning. The only things she fears are tumors and bats. Not long ago, she was reluctantly suspicious that she had both. What other explanation could there be for her headaches?
Her doctor mumbled, "Tumor? It's possible, I suppose. We'll send you for an MRI to rule it out."
But what my generally unflappable sister-in-law heard him say is, "You're dying, lady. And you don't have a lot of time left. The bucket is bracing itself for impact. An MRI will help pinpoint the number of your remaining days."
She sighed. Why couldn't she get salmonella like her brother-in-law or a scratched cornea like his wife? Why did she face a stand-off with death and winged rodents while other people got to enjoy the simple pleasure of mere suffering?
As she drove home from the doctor's office, her mind astir with hymns for her funeral and a list of dresses to take to the Salvation Army to avert the disaster of her husband having her buried in one of them, a silver lining formed around her tumor. Designs for casket sprays, and debates about coffins versus cremation, gave way to world maps and Mastercards.
That night she lay awake listening to the scratching in her attic, vacillating between dread and sheer delirium over her rather high credit limit. By morning, she hatched a plan: Southern Europe, sewing the wind, meandering the Amalfi coast, running the bulls in Pamplona, parading in the Parthenon in Athens.
At dinner that evening she broke the news to her husband and son. "Since I'm dying," she began.
Other than the muffled squeak and wing-beat of vermin filling the night, no other sound arose. Both males noted her flushed cheeks, sparkly eyes and robust hand gestures. This business of brain tumors clearly suited her. She declared, "No chemo, no radiation. As soon as I get my MRI results, we're out of here. And we're not coming home until my Visa, Mastercard and American Express are maxed out. Then I'll call to raise my limits."
Everyone quietly cleared the dinner dishes. Her mind preoccupied itself with Portugal. Her son considered using this opening to ask for a TV and gaming system in his room. Her husband pondered the unexpected costs of health care. The tumor had successfully distracted the household from the very real dilemma of the attic bats, which they preferred, anyway, to discount as nesting birds.
Two days later she waited in the doctor's office with her hands clasped in her lap. The doctor sat behind a mahogany desk, perusing her patient file like it was an engrossing novel. My sister-in-law did her best to look grave, but inside she twitched with excitement over collecting passport stamps. The doctor cleared his throat. "Your MRI reveals . . ."
Her thumb hovered over the Delta App she'd downloaded to her iPhone.
". . . your headaches are . . ." She restlessly shifted in her seat.
". . . caused by . . ."
As soon as he says tumor, she thought, I'm final destination bound.
". . . allergies. Your sinuses are filled with mucous and the pressure . . ."
Her face dropped into her palms. Disappointment collapsed her shoulders. The doctor did his best to explain that this was good news, a problem solvable by a regular evening dose of over-the-counter Claritin.
But she was dying to go to Italy. Now all she had to look forward to were dirty dishes and bats coming home to roost.
Lucy Adams is the author of Tuck Your Skirt in Your Panties and Run. She lives in Thomson. E-mail Lucy at email@example.com and visit her Web site, www.ifmama.com.