“Probable metastatic lesions secondary to breast cancer.” Complex words set at the bottom of a page, impenetrable jargon.
Two spots where pelvis and spine are joined, where motion fulcrums down legs, a torso and its twin concavities lever up, fold down, torque in slow rotation living.
The words stare out from the page; defiant, aberrant cells nestling bone foretell a pillow blanketed in hair, rosy skin sheltering burning flesh beneath. I offer platitudes, empty aphorisms neither she nor I believe. For me self-serving hope, weak bracing for a hastily built bridge spanning a gulf of absence and neglect: a young girl abandoned, a woman rediscovered.
For her, baby sister, a smile born of the pain of the surgeons’ hollow handiwork across skull and chest, an unguent smile to soothe my festering guilt.
We watch words shatter against the impenetrable reality.
You never know how the news will arrive you are just certain of its arrival. You know it on some level, even as the event is happening, but that doesn’t blunt the piercing tip of the blade that finds the soft spot in you and cuts deeply. You hoped for a miracle for her, for her son, her husband, for those who knew her gentle smile, warm compassion, cutting wit, when the situation demanded. She was a friend who would appear when needed most and slip away when the need began to dissipate. The news came today, the hole is fresh and you can only attempt to fill it with memories, knowing even as it seems again full as do so many others as you age, when you step into it you will plunge back into the well of loss and again struggled to find the sun hiding in a too often darkening sky.
My grandson has a smile that is as old as time itself, as young as the mind of a four-year-old and in this moment, beaming, I am left to guess which it is, for he won’t say, and so I smile with him and time has no meaning, no beginning, no end.
He is only four years old, has decided he will be “an X-ray doctor” in a few years because he wants to see broken fingers and legs, but if he sees bad things he can take them out and throw them in the trash. He is more perceptive that even he can imagine for without any medical training it is clear he can see right through any adult he comes across, and he does it was a gentle smile that says: your secrets are safe with me, probably, maybe.
A crane stands placidly staring through the window as we earnestly attempt to imitate him, hoping he will honor the effort if not the result. The master is graceful and we are far less so, and out of the corner of my eye I see on the crane what could be a smile, or as easily derision, and take comfort in the thought that the root of the word is shared with laughter, and we can accept that not as a mark of failure but effort. The crane returns to the pond the master to his neigong and we imagine we are all noble birds awaiting flight.
He is bent over, walks with a shuffling stumble. He follows the path, inscribing it center or as close to it as he can get. He wants to say hello to those who would acknowledge him. He doesn’t understand why his mouth refuses to smile, refuses to form even the simplest of words. All he sees is her face, he sees it clearly when he walks each morning as they used to, and he will follow it until he sees it again the loamy soil they will share soon enough.
The introductions were relaxed but complete as befits three people in a small room, she the linchpin knowing each of the others, utter strangers to each other, save in her stories. The men stared at each other gently ensuring the other saw only a smile for the better part of two minutes, basking in the silence that introductions demand. “I am really surprised,” the older man said, “it is truly odd, but you look at absolutely, exactly like what I imagined the adopted son of Isadore Myers would look like not more than 30 seconds ago.” “It is truly odd,” the younger man replied, “you look nothing at all like the man I met in this room not a second more than a minute ago, and why, pray tell, is that woman over there smiling?