"Mary, I've got to go. I'm on the train and have to call Mom. I can't talk now." I wasn't ready to listen to Mary's take-charge voice. I am her elder by sixteen months, but she's always been the bossy pants with all the answers.
Dad answered on the first ring.
"No! No! Like your mother, only you are so much younger!" He sobbed as he passed the phone to Mom.
She peppered me with questions. I repeated my version of the pathologist's findings: positive, small, probably nothing else involved, all good news considering the diagnosis.
"This could be no more than a small incision. The mass gets sucked out, a Band-Aid is put on, and that can be that." I was making this up—I should have used the line with Dad, who grabbed on to any best-case scenario in a crisis. Mom was not convinced.
My mother, a retired high school biology teacher, a breast cancer survivor, and the founder of Women Outreach Network knew all the statistics, procedures, and outcomes concerning breast cancer. I could not distract her with my rambling imagination.
"Listen, Antoinette, you just have to do what you are told. It is not a death sentence." Her voice crumbled as she took a breath. "No matter what, you have to buck up and just get through this."
She was referring to my aversion to invasive procedures—for anyone's body, but especially mine. The sight of deep wounds, stitches, and the threat of a vein puncturing for a blood test made me lightheaded. I had been fortunate to get through childhood without any bloody accidents. While studying anatomy in college, I could not look at the gory details of the photographs. The line illustrations were good enough for me to memorize origins and insertions. Thankfully, whenever my daughters or our fearless dog, Petie, had gotten a nasty gash over the years, there had always been someone else nearby who could assess the situation, administer first aid, and drive to the emergency room. The most I could ever do was to hold a towel over the laceration and look the other way.
I promised my mother that I would speak to her later and hung up the phone. The two calls had exhausted me. Winter dusk was already darkening the western sky. The train parking lot lights glowed. I turned off my phone. I could not repeat everything again. Since Mary had the news, everyone in the Western Hemisphere was now in the know. The home answering machine would be flashing.
I did not want to go home. Matt realized we had not eaten since the egg-white omelets and coffee we'd had for breakfast.
"Let's get a drink and dinner at the Cull House," he suggested. "I'm starving."
The Cull House had been our favorite watering hole when we lived in Sayville. The rugged cottage near the busy boatyards and Fire Island ferry terminals had remained in business as other, more upscale Main Street restaurants turned over every few years. The local gem's comfort seafood fare and familiar staff had kept the place humming
for over twenty years. Even when we moved to Remsenburg, Matt and I had continued to drop in at the Cull House on a regular basis to meet friends and enjoy a satisfying meal.
The restaurant was quiet, as expected on an early mid-week evening. During the summer, the place was hopping, with the indoor and outdoor tables full and all the bar stools occupied.
But on this winter night, only one other table was taken.
Mike, the bartender, waved for us to take any seat in the dining room. The waitress brought us our usual: Matt's Tanqueray martini, straight up with olives, and a gin and tonic for me.
I pretended to browse the specials. "I don't think I can eat," I mumbled.
"I'll have a cup of chowder, and we'll share a fried fisherman's platter," said Matt to the waitress. When she walked away, he held my hands across the table and smiled.
"Maybe this is all a mistake," I said. "This is not supposed to happen."
We walked into our house before 6:00 p.m.. Petie, our Jack Russel Terrier greeted us and implored someone to take him outside. While Matt walked him, I re-rehearsed what I was going to say to my daughters. This was going to be incredibly difficult. First, I had to call Sara back.
Now twenty-four, she was a graduate of the Pratt Institute and had been working as product photographer by day and freelance artist at night. She lived in a tight railroad flat on a narrow street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It was a trendy neighborhood with a pierogi deli and upscale markets on the corners.
No answer. I left her a message to call me. Next I punched in Hallie's number.
She picked up on the first ring. "What's up?"