Melvin was 85 and his daughter had tried to move him to an “assisted living facility” many times. She only relented when Melvin swore he would off himself if she did.
Melvin trundled to his Buick Regal, gripped the handle, and lurched into the driver’s seat. Melvin swapped his reading glasses for his driving ones, looked in the mirror, backed out of his driveway much too quickly, and drove down the street far too slowly.
Making room in his schedule for a doctor’s appointment wasn’t hard. He never had anything scheduled. But the appointments still always seemed like an intrusion and Melvin certainly treated them as such.
A dusty picture of a young woman with wavy brown hair and dark eyebrows was nestled into the space next to the speedometer. Two of the corners were crumpled.
The Doctor’s office was welcoming in the shallowest sense. Fake plants furnished the counter, fake paintings decorated the hall, an aquarium that needed cleaning collected fingerprints in the foyer. A small table made of false wood held a pile of magazines. All of this to make the patients feel more at home, more at ease. Melvin felt sick to his stomach.
Melvin seated himself, facing the wall and picked up a magazine–relics that are found only in waiting rooms, and checkout aisles. Melvin chuckled. The magazines used fonts of all sizes and colors to convey their message.
“You know there’s nothing worth reading inside if they have to bait you,” Melvin said to the waiting room. He would kill for something with some substance. A young woman waiting with a baby wrinkled her nose.
He picked one of the magazines up; they were like picture books for stupid people.
After some time, the woman who typed behind the counter stood up and went to the printer. She gave him a lipsticked smile that didn’t show any teeth. Eventually a young man in scrubs called him back and placed him alone in a room, with a chair and a bed. The bed was covered in paper, so he took the chair.
“Why they call you back to wait some more I will never understand,” Melvin said to the thin wall furnished with a copy of an unimaginative painting.
The door opened and the young man in the scrubs asked if he could sit on the bed. Melvin got up and hobbled to the bed, but didn’t sit. The young man turned the chair and worked on the computer for a moment before saying, “The doctor will just be a minute.” Then he stepped out.
When the doctor came in, she gave him a thin-lipped smile and said, “Melvin it’s good to see you again. Please sit.”
Melvin wasn’t sure if he had met this one before or if she was just reading his name from the clipboard.
“I’ll stand thank you very much,” Melvin said.
The doctor bit her lip and looked around the room.
“There’s no one else coming,” Melvin said.
The doctor leaned against the bed with him and faced the manufactured art. She put a hand on his.
“The lump on your back is melanoma and it seems to have spread to your lungs.” She looked at his face and then glanced down at his hand, “I’m so sorry.”
Melvin looked away and smiled. The smiled started deep within him and spread to his wrinkled eyes, lips, and throat. He laughed, a deep joyful roll that filled the room.
The doctor was both worried and perplexed. Melvin turned to the doctor.
“Ah thank you doctor.”
“Uh-hmm,” she cleared her throat, “You’re welcome. Now I know this can be hard.”
“Yes, thank you. Best news I’ve had in years.”
The doctor said, “Melvin, I don’t think you are understanding the gravity of the situation. The process can be very painful and devastating to loved ones. Now we can do some targeted chemo to lengthen your–”
Melvin opened the door and stepped lightly into the hall. He whistled the Nutcracker’s ‘Petit Ouverture’ all the way to the large front doors. Melvin stopped and looked at the rumpled and wrinkled old man in the glass–too flaccid and fragile to do much of anything anymore. He smiled again.
“I’m finally getting out,” Melvin said, and he pushed through the doors.
The doctor could still hear him whistling from where she sat on the thinly papered bed.