Today, we brought over my girlfriend Cathy. She and Arnold have been friends since the day I introduced them two
years ago, out by the mailbox. Arnold looks dapper today. We all noticed.
“Hey, cool shirt,” Aaron says.
It is a cool shirt, an orange (the season’s hot color) plaid Ralph Lauren number neatly tucked into a pair of khakis. Stick an Abercrombie and Fitch baseball cap with a curved brim on his head and he would look like a native walking across the Diag in Ann Arbor, I thought.
Only problem there is that his feet haven’t been able to tolerate shoes for a few days, and from the looks of them, won’t ever again. His ankles are massive and discolored, the tumor choking off more and more blood trying to return to his heart. I gently wrap my hand around his foot. My thumbprint remains.
Aaron is anxious to share the week’s plans. It is the morning of Christmas Eve, not a day that means anything special to Jews, but a useful calendar marker. Aaron, my parents, and his aunt Merrilee, my sister from Chicago, are all heading to northern Michigan on 26 December for skiing and skating, snowboarding and such. Cathy and I will follow two days later. Uptoskey, Aaron calls it. A hangover from when he was two years old an unable to pronounce “Petoskey”.
“I’m gonna go snowboarding, and I’ll get some lessons and I’m gonna ski with my Aunt Merr. Do you know my Aunt Merr?” Aaron asks, not realizing that for the fifteen years of her life, Merr lived next door to Schaffer’s as well, being neighbors with them, just as he does now.
“Yes, I do,” he rasps in a dry voice, barely working.
“I’ve known … her … since she was … little girl.”
The effort exhausts him. He closes his eyes, chest rising and falling with the effort of speech. “That sounds like a nice week,” Arnold gets out, each word taking two or three breaths.
“Arnold,” I ask, “what makes it a nice day for you?”
“A cold drink of fresh water,” he says.
I think of the white flecks from the other day’s visit. We are mute, watching his courage in just trying to speak.
“Seeing a nice face like Aaron’s. That’s a …good day.”
Two sentences. They take sixty seconds, maybe ninety. We all fall silent, staring. I pull Aaron close, quieting him.
“Shh, Aaronaldo, hush for a minute.”
Arnold raises an eyebrow hearing me call my son Aaronaldo, a nickname we fashioned after the great Brazilian soccer player Ronaldo.
“Just a nickname, Arnold. Did you have a nickname growing up?”
“My … mother called … me Arnie.”
The word “Arnie” came out in a gasp, like a sprinter leaning at the tape.
“Can I call you Arnie?” I ask.
“Sure,” he says and a then a long pause, “Please … call me Arnie.”
The corners of his mouth went up in a grin, his eyes closed.
I put my hand on his arm. “Time for us to go, Arnie,” I said and we all stood to leave.
“Say good bye, Aaron.”
“Bye, Arnie,” he piped and the corners of his mouth went up again and his eyelids wrinkled with glee.
“Bye- bye, Arnie,” Cathy whispered. I saw tears in her eyes.
I squeezed his hand and kissed his forehead and as my chest heaved I managed to say, “Bye, Arnie, we love you.”
I patted his hand and we headed down the hall, through the kitchen and out the side door.
As we walked across the yard, the sunlight shone off the ice on the eaves, making the Christmas lights pale by comparison. “Hey, Dad, can you grab one of those big icicles for me?”
“Sure, Aaron, how come?” I asked.
“Oh, I’m gonna stick it in the freezer until spring, then I’m gonna take it to school for show and tell.”
“What’d you think of Dr. Schaffer today, Aaron?” I ask.
He considers, and looks at me with a half grin, half frown. “Well, he didn’t have much perk today. But, I guess that’s OK. You know, he is fatally sick.”
Here’s where to find: