FOR THE NEXT FEW weeks, Sherry came by on her way to lunch to give me the latest on how Wendy was doing — “She’s sleeping better,” or “She threw up six times today, can you believe that?” You could depend on Sherry to have her finger on it.
At the end of each day, I’d go home to Johnny, and we’d sit and watch our shows together, and every so often I’d notice he was a bit lighter than before. I remembered when he used to be big and round and I’d tried to put him on a diet a few times. “To make you svelte,” I used to tell him, but it never worked because he enjoyed his food too much. I petted him and felt his ribs poking me and said, “You’re a svelte kitty now, Johnny. What a handsome, svelte kitty you are.”
ABOUT A MONTH LATER, Sherry came by my desk looking very emotional, and I could tell right away something big had happened because Sherry gets emotional when it comes to her friends.
“Eunice, you can’t imagine what I’ve been through. Yesterday I realized Wendy’s been off for a month — an entire month, Eunice. I called her up and said, ‘This is ridiculous. A person does not miss a whole month of work without something being seriously wrong.’ I said, ‘Wendy, you are unwell, and we need to get you to a doctor. And if it means me driving you to the emergency room and waiting with you until you are seen, then so be it. So that’s what I did.” Sherry gasped suddenly at my computer screen. “Oh God, look at those palm trees. What I wouldn’t give to be there right now, sipping rum punch with the sand between my toes. Right, Eunice? You know what I’m talking about.”
I didn’t, but I stared at my tropical getaway screen saver and tried to imagine the real thing.
Sherry told me she drove to Wendy’s apartment, and Wendy looked about as bad as she’d ever seen her. She was all curled up on her couch in a filthy stained nightgown, and her apartment “looked like a garbage bomb had hit it.”
“Not that Wendy was any sort of neat freak before all this,” said Sherry. “Her desk was always a mess of papers and coffee cups and what have you.”
Then she helped Wendy up and got her outside and into her car, and they went to the hospital and sat in the emergency room for hours and hours until they were seen, and then the doctor asked Wendy to describe her symptoms, and then she was sent to get a scan done, and afterwards the doctor sat them down and told Wendy she had a mass on her brain.
“Was it a CAT scan?” I said. I knew the terminology because Johnny had gotten the same thing done a few months back, and the nurse had tried to cheer me up by saying, “A cat scan — for a cat! It’s kind of funny, isn’t it?” And I looked at her and said, “No, it’s not funny at all.” I know she meant well, but really. People forget to think sometimes.
“Yes, a CAT scan, that’s it.” Sherry leaned forward. “The doctor said it might be cancer. They can’t confirm the diagnosis until they do a biopsy, but it doesn’t look good.”
I was getting hungry so I unzipped my cooler bag and pulled out my sandwich, but then Sherry held up a hand and said, “Stop right there, Eunice. Now, I know you prefer to eat at your desk — you’re such a good worker — but we’re having a Wendy meeting, and we all need to be there, no exceptions. You’re coming with me to the cafeteria.”
THE CAFETERIA SMELLED LIKE fish because it was Fish Fingers Day, Sherry told me when we walked in. How people can eat that greasy cafeteria food all the time I’ll never be able to figure out, but I guess I got caught up in the excitement because the next thing I knew, I was lining up next to Sherry and pushing my orange tray along with hers, and there was tinsel and plastic holly everywhere because it was December, and the cafeteria ladies were jollying us along, and Sherry even offered to buy my lunch, but then she ended up not having enough money in her purse and actually needed me to lend her a couple of dollars, which I was more than happy to do, and I told her not to even think of paying me back.
And then Sherry led me over to her table (“This is where we always sit,” she told me), and there was Val and Ruth P. and Ruth C. and Kevin and even Twyla, the temp, who’d only been in the office for two months, but there she was with all the rest of them.
“Everybody, look who the cat dragged in,” said Sherry, as if she were making a joke.
“Ha ha,” laughed Twyla, “I get it!”
“I thought you always ate lunch at your desk,” Val said to me.
And Sherry said, “Eunice is my guest today.”
That was too much for me, and I smiled, and Ruth C. said, “Look, Eunice is blushing!” And everybody at the table laughed, including me, and then Sherry got serious and said, “Okay gang, I brought Eunice up to speed so now we can all put our heads together. What I want us to do here is brainstorm as many ways as we can think of to cheer Wendy up.” She put a hand over her mouth. “Oh, dear. Maybe brainstorm isn’t the best word to use.”
“Did you tell her about Wendy’s apartment?” asked Ruth P. “The garbage bomb?”
Ruth P. is in charge of our Staff Fun bulletin board. She’s a very social person.
“And the robe she was wearing, with the stains?” said Ruth C.
Ruth C. helps Ruth P. with the bulletin board. She supplies the tacks.
Sherry nodded in a solemn way. “I told her.”
“Isn’t it awful?” Twyla said to me in her high-pitched voice.
When Twyla first came to the office from her agency, Sherry said she had a face like a porpoise. She also has that high voice, and Sherry said she sounded like, “Scree, scree, scree!”
“Horrible,” said Val.
Val’s desk is next to mine, and she’s the one who trained me on my reports. She and her husband do community theatre together, and she has two framed eight-by-tens of him next to her computer. He’s a good-looking man, but those photos take up so much space, I can’t figure out how she has any room to get her work done.
“It has to be cancer,” said Kevin.
Kevin is very handsome. His hair is always neatly combed, and he only wears pants that have a bit of a sheen to them.
“Well, we’ll see how she does,” said Sherry. “We won’t know for sure until they do the biopsy. In the meantime, she’s staying in the hospital, and I think we should go and see her. We’re all she has, remember — aside from our own little community, she doesn’t have anybody. So I know she’s hoping that her office family will come to visit.”
“Oh my God.” Val put her hands over her heart in a dramatic fashion. “She said that to you?”
“She didn’t say that exactly. But I could see it in her eyes, as plain as day.”
Twyla put down her fork and let out a high-pitched sob.
Sherry nodded. “We are all about Wendy now.”
“I’ll get a card from my desk,” said Ruth P., who always does the cards for special occasions, “and we can all sign it.”
“I’ll get the pen,” said Ruth C.
“We should bring flowers too,” said Twyla, “and Get-Well-Soon balloons.”
“And magazines,” said Val.
“And a kitten!” said Kevin.
Everybody else looked at him like he was crazy, but I was nodding.
“What?” he said to them. “All sick people like kittens.”
“He’s got a point,” I said.
“Are you crazy, Kevin?” said Ruth P., ignoring me. “How’s she going to look after a kitten if she’s in the hospital?”
“Ruth P. is right,” said Sherry. “Wendy can’t take care of herself, much less a baby animal.”
“Fine.” Kevin crossed his arms. “Then we can take turns looking after the kitten.”
“I have an idea,” said Sherry, and everyone looked at her. “I think we should all pitch in and take care of Wendy’s apartment while she’s in the hospital. We can bring in her mail and water her plants, and Lord knows the place could do with some tidying.”
There was a brief silence, and then Twyla said, “Yesss,” like air escaping from a tire.
Around the table, the others wagged their greasy plastic forks and congratulated Sherry on her idea.
I looked at the fish fingers on my plate and thought about how a year ago I would’ve taken them home to Johnny, when he used to have an appetite. “I’ll help you with the kitten,” I whispered to Kevin, and he smiled at me.
To be continued…