As if he doesnt know, Margaret thought. "Seventy-five."
"Seventy-five." Dr. Leising nodded thoughtfully. He glanced at Margaret before resuming his study of the film. "Depending on the characteristics of the tumorwhich we cant clearly define without getting in there and removing as much of it as possiblewith treatment you have a chance of living as long as several years or as little as two."
"How much of a chance?"
Dr. Leising didnt look up. "Twenty-five percent."
"Thats with treatment?"
"What happens if we dont do anything?"
"I mean, if I only have a twenty-five percent chance of surviving this anyway, why dont we just leave it alone?"
"Maybe I havent made myself clear, Margaret," Dr. Leising said, as if he were speaking to a nincompoop. That was when he resumed his discussion of Margarets slices in a way that clearly constituted the American Medical Associations form of filibustering.
So, this was her choice: She could either undergo a lot of treatment and die, sooner or later, or she could undergo no treatment at all and die, sooner or later.
"Is something wrong?" Nose Ring had returned. "You havent tried anything."
Margaret swallowed hard. Now that all of this lovely food was in front of her, she found that she wasnt hungry after all. She took a sip of tea, just to be polite.
"Is that your grandson?" Nose Ring asked, leaning closer. "Cute."
Shes quite a young girl beneath all that makeup, Margaret realized. And much too thin. "Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"
Nose Ring shrugged. "What is it?"
"Well, its a rather trite question, I suppose, but if you found out that you had only a short while to live, maybe a year or two, how would you spend your time?"
The girl frowned. She picked absentmindedly at her fingernails, and showers of silver glitter flaked off and fell toward the floor. Margaret tried to follow the trajectory of the glitter, but it seemed to vanish into thin air.
"I suppose Id think about whatever it is that scares me the mostrelationshipwise, I meanand then do it. Do the opposite of what Ive always done."
Margaret studied Nose Ring. Shed always assumed that people who embraced dramatic vogues in fashion were actually compensating for an innate dullness of character or chronic insecurity. Shed expected someone who looked like Nose Ring to offer a superficial answer to her rather trite question: "Take up hang-gliding! Sail around the world! Race hot-air balloons!" Something along those lines.
"It would be a last chance, wouldnt it?" the girl went on. "To break all your old bad habits?" She caught herself worrying her hands and promptly stopped. "Well anyway, heres your bill. Pay whenever youre ready." She made her way back to the counter, looking pensive.
Margaret contemplated her own habits. She stared at Daniels photo. He had been at that age when most children are self-conscious in front of a camera. But in this picture his expression was relaxed, serious, and sage. "You can see exactly what hes going to look like when hes twenty!" Margaret remembered saying to Stephen all those years ago, when the package theyd ordered came home from school: one 8x10, two 5x7s, four 3x5s, and many, many billfolds.
But Daniel would never be twenty. The 8x10 remained unframed. The billfolds were never passed out to school friends and teachers. Margaret wondered if Stephen still kept a photograph of their son in his wallet, along with pictures he surely carried of the children he had with his second wife. His living children.
"Jimbo?" Nose Ring was on the telephone, speaking gently. "Im sorry I yelled before. . . . Yeah, I know. . . . I love you, too. You want me to pick up some Häagen-Dazs on the way home? . . . No, Im not kidding."
From Broken For You by Stephanie Kallos, (Chapter One, pages 5-12). Copyright © 2004 by Stephanie Kallos. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.
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