LIFE BEFORE DEATH
This is from the chapter where Isobel visits her doctor, Dr. Klink:
"I'm not going to tell you you're in the angry phase already," he said. "I hate that shit."
"What?" I asked, chastened.
"I hate that denial, anger, acceptance, grief crap they lay on patients these days. A patient has cancer, she deals with it however she can. And don't let them tell you stress is a culprit. Have you been under stress lately?"
"Never," I answered.
"See?" he said. "Which is not to say that laughter doesn't heal, in a way. Of course it does. It makes the rest of your life more fun, however long or little you've got."
"You say that as if you have a feeling I haven't got much."
"Not at all."
"I mean I have no idea. Absolutely. That's what we're here for. When I said you have perfect breasts, I mean they'll be easy to look at. They're not fibrocystic. They're not terribly dense. They're not terribly large. They'll be very cooperative, in other words. They'll make my life easy."
"Yeah, but they're making my life a little complicated," I said.
"We don't know that yet. Be optimistic."
I am. I've been wanting a little adventure, I wanted to say. But he was telling me that because the needle aspiration attempted earlier by the resident "was somewhat troubling," I need to have the surgical biopsy for sure.
"What do you mean, somewhat troubling?" I asked. "You mean there wasn't any fluid?"
"There wasn't much, and what there was was inconclusive."
"You mean it wasn't encouraging," I said.
"You mean it was discouraging," I pressed.
"I'm not the type to be discouraged. If I was, you wouldn't want me for a doctor," he said. "Now, I want you to think for a minute about where you want your scar."
"Over there," I said, pointing out the window.
He touched the felt tip of his pen to a spot on the outside curve of my breast, raising his eyebrows. I raised mine in return. I was utterly naked, the unbuttoned gown having fallen to the sheets around my waist, and as with the nurse,I felt how natural this encounter seemed to us both, the doctor's brow furrowing only a little as he traced the thin line of green ink on my flesh. It didn't look really awful, that green ink scar. It looked like where a zipper might be on an evening dress. "Were you born in this country?" I asked, although his English was perfect.
"Laos," he said. "I'm Hmong. There is one other thing we need to talk about, Isobel."
"Your family were refugees?" I asked.
"Much of my family was lost in the jungle. Some of them might still be there for all I've been able to find out about them. but yes, I am a refugee. I was brought here when I was eight."
"You were placed with an American family?"
"I was placed with a Hmong family," he said, closing the cap on the marker, then doing a little backhand with his clipboard before removing from it a pen and a few typed forms.
"But you seem to American."
"I'm a midwesterner. I'm probably more Midwestern than you are," he reflected. "Tell me, Isobel. With what kind of tradition do you associate yourself? With your family? Your religion?"
"With work," I said, "and books," feeling this was somehow not the sort of answer he was after. "My parents died five years ago, so I don't really have a family anymore."
"No, you don't, do you? Just to look at you, there's nothing you seem to be part of, somehow. How did your parents die?"
"The house they were living in in Ireland got hit by a small plane," I said, using the reply I'd perfected over the years. Only suddenly it didn't seem so simple anymore, and for a moment we both speculated quietly on the chance nature of disaster, a plane from without, a shard from withing. Dr. Klink flashed his Asian All American smile, slipping his cranapple spritzer back into his pocket and sitting himself down on the edge of my bed.
"You're not knife happy," I conjectured.
The doctor shook his head.
"You're a compassionate sort," I added.
"I like to think so."
"You're not research-happy. You're not the kind of guy who performs experiments on patients hoping to get into the New England Journal of Medicine."
"If this were really a time for joking, I would tell you that I don't even read the New England Journal of Medicine," he said.
"A time for joking," I said.
Anita Shreve says of LIFE BEFORE DEATH: "Abby Frucht has created in LIFE BEFORE DEATH one of the most memorable characters in recent fiction - a woman whose imagination and rich sensuality triumph over the worst that fate has to offer. As heartbreaking as it is funny, and beautifully written, LIFE BEFORE DEATH is that odd paradox: a truly horrifying tale that affirms the bouyancy of the human spirit."