Matthew Levine and
Robert Haydon Jones

Matthew Levine
“Sirens”
Response

The Bliss of Luck
By Robert Haydon Jones
Inspiration piece

Just before he woke on the day of his 20-year, cancer-free anniversary, Jimmy O’Hara gobbled yet another fierce, slurpy kiss from Rose Marie Restaino and she arched under him the way only she could and he just couldn’t hold any longer, he tried to hold, but he couldn’t hold, he couldn’t hold and the raucous, guttural groaning and moaning suddenly ceased and his eyes swung open wide as if Rose Marie had flicked his eye-switch.

Somehow, during the night, Rose Marie had stalked him again and balled him again. It had been fifty years, but she hadn’t changed. She still called him James. She still demanded he leave his wife. Rose Marie and her arch were still so hot and heavy that Jimmy blushed all over. He was completely under her control – a timid participant in this overwhelming, no-prisoners, sex. It was very, very embarrassing. It was fantastic.

He peeked over at the other side of the bed and was relieved no one was there. Anne was already on the road headed for her usual early morning spin session.

Lately, as he crested north of his seventy-seventh year toward heaven, Jimmy’s dreams were so enriched with vivid detail they seemed far more real than actual experience.

But, of course, sleep itself was a blessing. Sleep had been the first surprise gift of his recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction. And what a gift it was!

He would never forget the morning after his first natural deep sleep in recovery. Every part of his being was totally refreshed. What a surprise!

During his 17 years of addiction, Jimmy had completely forgotten about deep good sleep. It had been a thrilling, unexpected blessing to wake renewed and restored again. Then, eight years into sobriety, the lung cancer came and the death sentence prognosis came and the experimental, brutal surgery and the morphine and then the stop and start of the horrific chemo and then the wild dreams of healing and hope and CT scans that were clear – – way against the odds. (Less than ½ of 1 per cent got five-year survival with small-cell lung cancer.)

He made it through the chemo. Six months out, he even got good sleep back again.

Seven years out, they declared him a civilian. Mr. CANCER FREE.

CT scans every six months. Then every year. Nine years out, his buddy, the young oncologist, had left for big bucks running a new pharmaceutical that made DNA specific cancer drugs. From then on, a new, substitute oncologist, saw him yearly, scanned his blood tests and CT scans without comment and told Jimmy to book himself back.

No respect. No, “Jesus, you’re a friggin miracle.” Just, “See you in a year.”

Now Jimmy had opened his eyes to a special dividend day. It had been twenty years since his surgery. He intended to swagger a bit through this CT scan.

Jimmy breakfasted like a champion and took the train on in to New York to play his 20-year checkup like a hero with the attending staff. In fact, he laid “The 20” on them all. (And any poor bastard patients within earshot in the humongous waiting room.)

“This is 20-years of recovery from small-cell lung cancer for me”, he loudly declaimed to the very pretty young blonde receptionist. “Oh, congratulations, sir,” she said

He knew the black, blood-draw lady from way back. Years ago, he had astonished her by guessing her home parish in Jamaica. So, now, he slapped palms with her and told her this blood-draw was real special. “This is 20-year-proof blood”, he said. “I kicked the shit out of small-cell lung cancer.”

The CT scan tech, a rail-thin Latina in her mid thirties, with braids and a sad, acme damaged face, misunderstood him. When Jimmy ran his 20-year brag at her, she said, “Sir, even if it is twenty years, you still have to get your CT scan.”

Jimmy had planned to run “The 20” when he met with the oncologist to go over his CT scan results, but he never had the chance.

The moment he was ushered into the office, his oncologist, a burly grey-haired man in his early fifties with a buzz cut and aviator glasses, rose up from behind his desk, grasped Jimmy’s right hand with both of his and said, “I’m so sorry Mr. O’Hara, your scan shows a large new tumor in your left lung right on the cut line from your surgery.”

Jimmy felt like he had been kicked in the stomach. The dread flooded in. The dead man walking dread suffused him. The oncologist escorted him to another office suite for an immediate conference with the surgeon and the biopsy specialist. None of the doctors made eye contact with Jimmy.

The surgeon said the scan looked bad. The tumor was quite sizable and since he was missing the upper lobe from his previous surgery, he wasn’t sure how much lung function Jimmy would retain. The biopsy guy said that he would do the needle biopsy the next morning and chances were Jimmy could return home that afternoon. Some times the lung collapsed – and some times there were other complications. He said there was a very slim chance the tumor was benign. It looked bad. The needle biopsy would tell them exactly what the deal was.

Jimmy called Anne and told her the cancer was back. She was shocked and horrified like he was. She would accompany him to the biopsy the next day. She loved him.

***************************************************************************************************

The train back to Westport was jammed. The July 4th weekend was just three days away. The only open place Jimmy could find was in the head car, a middle seat on a six-place double.

As he took his place, Jimmy realized he had inserted himself into a mother and daughter summer day trip that occupied both six-place seats at this end of the car. Jimmy sat between two attractive, very shapely women in their early forties. He was facing a voluptuous, early fortyish woman in a scanty summer outfit. Next to her, were two girls in their tweens or early teens. In the seats across the aisle were another mother and five more tweenish or early teen girls.

The women were in high spirits and so were their children. They were discussing going to the beach for a cookout. Each child would bring her musical instrument. They would have a jam session.

Jimmy was intrigued. Seven pretty young girls, all musicians. Eager to play in and on the sand. Jimmy sat there and looked as the conversation swirled around him. He wished he’d brought a newspaper. The women seemed pleasant. They were mothers. They were sexy. Jimmy recalled these were the kind of women he fantasied about as an adolescent. He looked over the one he was facing and she looked him right back and smiled knowingly. She was quite used to being desired.

The young girls also seemed comfortable in their own skin. The slender red-haired girl across from him was telling her friend she was abandoning piano for keyboards. She said she liked the idea of being portable.

She smiled at Jimmy when she said this. He gave a careful, lips only, no-teeth-showing, smile back.

Jimmy did not begrudge the women their relative youth and casual sexuality or the girls their absolute youth, beauty, and limitless future. But it was very hard to put up with. He wanted to tell them that their sex and their youth did not absolve them for not knowing or caring that he was dying of a cancer that had pounced back on him after twenty years and caught him right as he was showing off how lucky and good and cancer proof he was and made him make a squeak like a mouse right in front of eternity.

Actually he wanted to tell the very sexy woman sitting opposite him that the day would come when her luscious body and her matching mind wouldn’t stand a chance. For that matter, he yearned to tell little Miss Keyboards that, one-day soon, no one would care what she played. Or if she played. No one would care.

But Jimmy didn’t say anything. He didn’t tell them he had just learned he was going to die from a cancer he had beaten twenty years back. He didn’t tell and he didn’t weep so they could see. He looked at them and, every so often, gave them a safe, lips only, no-teeth-showing, smile.

Later, as he walked along the road to his car in the parking lot, Miss Keyboards and Company passed by him in a Range Rover. At least he thought they did. It was a car jammed with chattering women and girls. He wondered if they noticed him.

———————

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7 Comments

  1. Jack Orth
    Posted April 12, 2016 at 5:21 am | #

    Very strange, Robert & Jimmy–I’m headed to my Oncologist today! For five years my white and red blood count has been up & down more than the Yoyo I played with in the early 1940’s! It was lower than ever last week, so off I go for double shots I’m sure. But–I’m 84 years old, and haven’t had a double shot in 36 years! Oh what a life I’ve had–and as “Lucky Jack” I’m sure it will continue for some time to come. With Robert rooting for “Lucky Jimmy” at all times he too will live many more years–he has to–I’d miss him if he left–one of my favorite characters–Robert too!

  2. Posted April 12, 2016 at 6:06 am | #

    He makes us feel the passages we all go through–always a pleasure to read, even with the sadness.

  3. Posted April 14, 2016 at 9:07 am | #

    It made me glad I gave uo the cigs and sad there is no end to the damage Graphic contrasts of life with the young and the business of death in the doctors environs. It could ruin a mans day but a good warning to the bargaining smoker Again well sketched & relevant

  4. Stephanie
    Posted April 20, 2016 at 4:31 pm | #

    Very insightful. It seems that right when I think I know you, I see a new layer. I’m still too raw from just finishing treatment last week to really fully appreciate this other than to say that it scares the shit out of me.

  5. John Haydon Tucker
    Posted April 24, 2016 at 2:09 pm | #

    This piece kicked me in the stomach as hard as Jimmy’s diagnosis. Perhaps my favorite RHJ story yet. So painfully honest, honestly painful. I can’t tell if Jimmy’s life was sad, or enviable; maybe it’s the former that makes it the latter…as if both sentiments rely on one another. Thank you for this lovely read.

  6. Dave Monroe
    Posted April 25, 2016 at 6:32 am | #

    Great opening, wild high-to-low emotional ride. Ending is low key, but powerful as character struggles with the big-lonely reality of facing his own mortality. Excellent painting, too.

  7. Chris Egan
    Posted April 26, 2016 at 5:10 pm | #

    Excellent! Once again, you point out how fragile this all is – every day, a gift.

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