by Lisa Gruenberg
You told me once that you saw two elks on their long glide to Gambier Island, their giant racks aloft. Today the Queen of Surrey cuts through the smooth water of Horseshoe Bay. Disturbances on the surface hint at wildlife underneath: seals and sea lions, whales and dolphin. The Coastal Mountains plunge into the sea and their peaks echo and echo back to Squamish. Once past Bowen’s Island the bay opens up and the range that runs up the spine of Vancouver Island comes into view. Mountain tip-tops disappear into haze.
When I spoke with you on the phone I knew right away. Hoarseness is a sign that tumor has infiltrated the spaces between the two lungs and has impinged on the laryngeal branch of the Vagus nerve where it courses under and around the arch of the aorta. The small lump you felt just under the surface of the skin on your right side, and the larger lump in your neck, were accompanied by tumor in the chest. And elsewhere.
You shared with me your thoughts about God and his healing powers. There is a group of Guatemalans praying for you. I was happy this comforted you, but I am afraid talk of God just makes the sadness grip my throat.
And then we touched on the missed opportunities, the treatments, your fears, the pain. We talked about our kids. We made plans for another visit.
There’s a little bit of chop where the current folds around the Sunshine Coast. Langsdale is in front of me now. The whistle blows. I jump and cover my ears. I gather my luggage and go down below to disembark. There you are. Too thin. Your once black curls are now a sharp shade of carrot.
“The white hair made people want to help me across the street,” you say.
I reach out to hug you close; you step back. “Can’t hug,” you whisper. “The cancer ate through a couple of my ribs.”
So we don’t hug.
We just grin and grin.
Lisa Gruenberg is an ob/gyn and medical educator. She completed her MFA in creative writing at Lesley University in 2007. Her work has been published in Vital Signs, The Intima: a Journal of Narrative Medicine, and Ploughshares. She received the Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowship in 2012 for her short story, Keiskamma. Her second-generation Holocaust memoir, My City of Dreams, will be released by TidePool Press in April 2019.