BY JOHN MISCIONE
Copyright is held by the author.
PETER LISCOMBE sat in one of the non-descript examination rooms of the hospital and waited for the oncologist to arrive. He tried to relax. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst, he kept telling himself. He was repeating this mantra for the umpteenth time when the door opened. A diminutive young man wearing a lab coat and stethoscope entered the room. His boyish face had the faint pock-marked remnants of teenage acne, and his thick neatly combed hair was the perfect colour match for his black horn-rimmed glasses. In his hands he carried Peter’s medical file. He sat down without a word and began to examine the paperwork in the file. A moment later, in what seemed like an eternity to Peter, the young doctor looked up at him and feigned a feeble smile.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Liscombe.” His voice was high-pitched, almost squeaky. “I’m Dr. Thakkar. I’ve discussed your CT scan with the radiologist and thoroughly reviewed the findings.” Dr. Thakkar paused for a few seconds and then looked directly into Peter’s eyes. “I’m afraid I’ve got bad news.”
As co-workers at Unity Life Insurance Company, Peter’s sisters, Martha and Abby, prided themselves on knowing absolutely everything about the company’s underwriting department. Especially the information – some would call it rumour – that had nothing to do with the insurance business. Being the first to reveal new tittle-tattle of gossip had become a competition between the two of them; a rivalry created early on as sisters in the Liscombe household.
Their supervisor was pleased with their work – month after month the sisters were number one and two top performers – and so he’d let the chitchat slide as long as it didn’t interfere with their work, or break with company policy.
Martha and Abby were seated at their usual table in the lunchroom. This was the spot where conversation often led to, among other things, the trashing of co-workers and supervisors, the resolution of family crises, and the telling of secrets.
Abby decided not to rehash the subject of her waning sex life. Nor did she choose to argue the risk of maxing out a credit card for the perfect pair of shoes. Instead, Abby opted for something more titillating.
“That new guy they just hired in Accounting, real cute but I hear he comes with quite a reputation. You wouldn’t believe what I heard.”
Martha leaned in a little closer. This might be good. “Tell me everything.”
When Peter arrived home from the hospital he quietly set his keys down and hung his coat in the hallway closet. He tried to remain calm, determined not to show his fear or anxiety to his wife. He wasn’t quite sure how to tell her, how much to tell her, or if he should say anything at all. He found her sitting at the kitchen table thumbing through a recipe book.
“Hi, Sheila. How are ya? Can we make some tea?”
She turned away from her book and looked up at Peter. “Never mind how I am.” There was a slight tremor in her voice. “How are you? What did the doctor say?”
Peter looked into Sheila’s eyes. Not a word was spoken, it wasn’t necessary. Despite his best efforts to appear unconcerned, the tears that rolled down his cheek said it all.
“Oh, Peter.” She sprung from her chair and hugged him tightly. “How bad?” she asked, oblivious to her own tears.
“The doctor said I’ve got malignant tumours growing in the axillary lymph nodes area.” He leaned back from Sheila and placed his fingers beside his left armpit. “Right in here.” He wiped the tears from his cheek.
“Oh my God. Is it treatable? You’ll be okay won’t you, Peter? Tell me you’ll be okay.” Her eyes searched his for some reassurance.
“Of course it’s treatable,” he replied as confidently as possible. “I’ll have to have some radiation to shrink them first. After that, they’ll go in and remove them.” He gave Sheila a comforting smile.
“Dear God, I hope so. How big are the tumours? Are they still growing?”
“I can show you the CT scan if you want. The doctor showed it to me today and I asked if I could have a copy. He said he’d e-mail it to me. The radiation will stop the growth, hon.”
“Oh Peter, I’m so scared.”
“I’ll – we’ll get through this.” He said this as if trying to convince himself as much as his wife.
Sheila stared off into space. “What will you tell your sisters?”
“I’ll tell them the truth. I’ll tell Abby, for sure. Don’t know about Martha. We haven’t spoken since our fight.”
“I wish you and Martha would patch things up. Life’s too —-.” Sheila stopped from finishing her thought.
“I guess I could ask Abby to tell Martha. I don’t know. But I’ll keep it positive. I’ll tell Abby it’s just a matter of removing a shrunken tumour. But I don’t feel like calling her today. Maybe tomorrow. Now, how about that tea?”
Later that night Martha laid restlessly in her bed. As usual, she was having trouble falling asleep. It was a Friday night so she had allowed herself to have a glass or two of wine, but it wasn’t helping. She found her job as an insurance underwriter to be stressful, and the events of the day would often replay in her head. Too much work and too many deadlines. Her only pleasure at work was her repartee with Abby, despite her sister’s casual relationship with the truth.
She tossed and turned as snippets of a strange dream occurred intermittently in her sleep. In this particular dream she found herself at a desolate airport. She was standing on the tarmac of a deserted airstrip, save for one airplane off in the distance. As she approached the airplane she spotted her estranged twin brother, Peter. It was difficult for Martha to recognize him at first, not having seen him for a few years. He was ascending the ramp to board the plane. But there were no other passengers, just Peter. He stopped at the top of the ramp and looked back at Martha.
“Wish me luck,” he said and waved to her with a clenched hand. In Peter’s hand, as dreams would have it, Martha could clearly see a map.
At coffee on Monday, Abby chose not to discuss the irony of how the new guy in Accounting, who reportedly possessed a tiny penis, could be such a big prick. Her topic of discussion had a more solemn tone.
“I need to tell you about Peter,” said Abby.
“Peter? And what, pray tell, has my twin brother the jerk been up to?”
“It’s serious, Martha.”
“Serious? What’s wrong?” Martha’s facial expression changed dramatically.
“Cancer. In the lymph nodes.”
“Oh my God. How bad is it?” But before Abby could reply she added, “I need to call him. What should I say? It’s been so long.”
“He said he’s going to be okay, just a matter of some radiation treatment and the removal of a few small tumours. He explained it to me in more detail but that’s basically it. Peter has a copy of his CT scan and said he’d e-mail it to me if I wanted to see it.”
“Oh my God,” repeated Martha. Tears trickled from her eyes. “I just feel awful. We’ve been such idiots, and now he has cancer.”
“I remember you two growing up. The way Mom would dress the both of you. You guys were inseparable.” Abby gave Martha a gentle smile. “Just call him, Martha.”
“I will.” She stared down at her coffee, unable to stop her tears. After a moment she looked up at Abby and asked, “Did Peter mention anything about going on a trip?”
“He said he had plans to go to Vegas, but now he’s not so sure,” replied Abby. She gave Martha a look of surprise. “But how did you know? I thought you two weren’t speaking.”
“We’re not,” said Martha. “This is going to sound weird, but I’ve been having crazy dreams about him the last two nights. In my dream he was getting on a plane to take a trip somewhere. And he was holding a map in his hand. I was able to see the map up close, you know how dreams can be, and it showed a group of islands. I think it’s called an archipelago – I googled it.”
It was month’s end, the busiest time in the underwriting department. Martha and Abby, having persevered through the morning’s heavy workload, were chatting at coffee.
“You never did tell me how your phone call with Peter went. You did call him, didn’t you?” asked Abby.
“Yes, we talked for over an hour. Funny but we couldn’t remember exactly what we’d fought about. We had a good laugh about that one.” Martha took a sip of her coffee. “Anyway, we decided to just call it a misunderstanding and leave it at that. I asked if there was anything I could do for him.”
“He said yes, there was. He asked me not to worry. Everything was under control and he’d just love to have me come over for a visit and get reacquainted.” Martha ran her hands along her lap and smoothed out her skirt. “So, I went the next day.”
“How’d that go?”
“Well, Peter kept things pretty upbeat and friendly and we soon became our old selves again, as if nothing had ever happened. But I sensed that his cancer is more serious than he’s letting on.”
“Really? Why do you say that?” asked Abby.
“He didn’t look so well. But it was more than that. I don’t know, just a strange feeling. Maybe it’s the crazy dream I’ve been having about him.”
“What, the dream about an airplane or something? You said Peter was holding a map, right?”
“Yes, that’s the one. I’ve been having that dream every night and it just won’t go away. And that damn map he’s holding, it keeps reappearing in my head, like it’s stuck there. I can even see it when I close my eyes.”
“That’s weird,” said Abby. “I wonder if it means anything.”
“I don’t know but it’s driving me nuts!” With a sudden impulse Martha grabbed her paper napkin and laid it flat on the table. She reached in her purse for a pen and began to draw on the napkin. She stopped, closed her eyes for a moment, and then drew some more.
“What the heck are you doing?” Abby watched as a drawing appeared on the napkin. “What is that, your map?”
“Yup, you guessed it. That’s the map I see in my dream. What do you make of it?” Martha put the pen down and turned the napkin towards Abby.
Abby’s eyes grew wide as she looked at Martha’s drawing. She continued to stare at the napkin as the colour ran from her face. “Oh my God. I know what this is!”
A moment later they were back in the office area at Abby’s desk. Abby had logged onto her computer and was searching through her e-mails.
“What’s going on? What are you looking for?” asked Martha.
“Here it is.” She clicked on the e-mail she was searching for and opened its attachment. “Look at this.”
Martha viewed the computer screen. “Hey, it looks just like my map. Where’d you get this?”
“Peter sent it to me. It’s the CT scan of his cancer. You’re not seeing a group of islands, you’re seeing malignant lymph nodes.”
Martha brought the napkin home and placed it on her night table as she changed out of her work clothes. Later on, as she was getting ready for bed, she thought once again about the strange likeness between her napkin drawing and Peter’s CT scan. What could it mean? She’d heard about the psychic connection shared between twins, not that she and Peter had ever shared any special connection, but this however, this felt entirely supernatural.
Sitting on the edge of her bed, she picked up the napkin and studied it closely. Was there a hidden clue here? Some psychic purpose to it all? She was thinking of Peter and what he was going through. From her eye, a single teardrop fell onto the napkin. The teardrop soaked into it, making the ink run on a small part of the drawing.
It dried almost instantly and Martha thought nothing of it. Until she noticed that where her teardrop landed on the napkin, the image drawn on that spot had disappeared. She sat perplexed, trying to make sense of what just happened. Another tear fell and landed on a different spot on the napkin. Like the first teardrop, it caused the ink to run, and as it dried the image touched by the teardrop disappeared as well. Her mind suddenly grabbed onto anincredible vision of hope as more tears began to fall. Overcome with emotion and still holding the napkin, she laid back in her bed and cried herself to sleep.
In her deep sleep, Martha’s dream came back to haunt her. But this time the map fell from Peter’s hand. It wafted gently down from the ramp and landed at Martha’s feet. She picked it up and looked at it closely. The map was completely blank, no islands, no tumours, not a mark on it.
Peter sat in the oncologist’s office waiting for Dr. Thakkar to come in. It was the same room where he’d learned of his lymphoma over three weeks ago. The purpose of today’s appointment was to receive an update on his condition as well as the effectiveness of the radiation treatments. Like his initial visit, Peter had asked Sheila not to accompany him. His preference to face these sorts of things alone was how he explained it to her. Sheila yielded, asking only that Peter text her as soon as he had anything to report.
The door swung open and Dr. Thakkar entered the room with Peter’s file in his hand and a puzzled look on his face. He didn’t say a word but went straight to his chair and sat behind his desk. He opened the file and looked at Peter. He looked down at the file and then back up to Peter. He did this once more and then removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
“Mr. Liscombe, I have here your most recent CT scan from two days ago. I’ve discussed the findings with the radiologist as well as with my colleagues. I have to say none of us have ever seen anything like this before and quite frankly, we’re at a loss to explain our conclusions.”
“What’s wrong, doctor? Tell it to me straight.”
“Wrong? Why there’s nothing wrong. Not with you there isn’t. But you could say the scan is wrong. Well, not wrong… just not what we expected.”
“I’m afraid I don’t follow you.”
“What we have here is nothing short of a miracle, Mr. Liscombe. Your scan is showing no signs of lymphoma or any malignancy whatsoever. Nor any signs that it ever existed.”
Peter couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Are you sure, doctor? Have you got the right file?” He felt a sudden urge to text Sheila.
“Of course we have the correct file. We checked and triple checked. We’ve also had the CT scanner checked for malfunction.” Thakkar looked down at the file. “It’s you alright, and your scan is inexplicably clear.”
Peter’s cell phone buzzed. He removed it from his pocket, sure that it would be a text from Sheila impatiently asking for an update. He looked at the text message: Been thinking of you. Sending you my love. An emoji symbol of a red heart accompanied the words.
Across the city, Martha held the cell phone with which she had just texted her brother. In her other hand she held the old napkin from the lunchroom at work. The one she’d cried into a few nights ago. There wasn’t a mark on it.
John Miscione lives in Burlington Ontario. From his passion for telling stories, he became a creative writer when he began to record his stories in printed form. He finds writing to be therapeutic and fun, and his favourite outlet for creative expression.