He’s lost another eight kilo. His skin is the color of cured tobacco. Walking from the car to the couch is a huge deal. He stretches out on it. I sit in a chair and listen. The symptoms. The irreversible losses. The grim prognosis delivered with precious little empathy the previous day. For the time being, what bothers him most is the loss of his sense of humor. Of which I perceive several instances, nonetheless.
Sounds disturb him. Because of his acute tinnitus, a cross-conversation at a crowded table is unbearable. Caught between longer-term projections (work sessions with children will be unthinkable, their combined voices, a torture), then, abrupt stops (but how much longer will he live, should he start accepting the fact his game is over). The jaundice sets up intense itching under the skin. He loses his concentration easily. Needs long stretches during which to make his way back to the why of the what he started telling you. A fourth chemo in store, should the doctors manage to control the jaundice. The third previous ones haven’t killed off the lymphoma but his kidneys won’t recover from the onslaught.
Voilà. A few hours spent last night with a – how to describe him? – co-worker? buddy? almost-friend? He doesn’t allow friendship easily.
On the drive home in his former sister-in-law’s car, thunder rumbles, rain crashes down, the sky lights up. We talk of the streets and sidewalks, the potholes, the roads where grass now pushes through all the cracks. I think of the young man at the mid-town mini market where I bought some water in the afternoon. After fifty – count them, fifty – job interviews, he landed this three-week summer replacement. We talk for a few minutes.
At my friend’s house, I pick up a pocket book by Dany Laferrière, titled Journal d’un écrivain en pyjama. “À l’époque,” he writes, “j’habitais dans un meublé surchauffé à Montréal, et je tentais d’écrire un roman afin de sortir du cycle internal des petits boulots dans des manufactures en lointaine banlieue. Mes voisins étaient de jeunes clochards, imbibés de bière, qui n’avaient pas assez d’argent pour la cocaïne. Le crack n’avait pas encore envahi les quartiers pauvres de la ville.” (Back then, I was living in an overheated furnished apartment in Montreal, and attempting to write a novel so as to escape the infernal cycle of miserable factory jobs in distant suburbs. My neighbors were young beer-soaked drifters who couldn’t afford cocaine. Crack hadn’t taken over the town’s poor neighborhoods yet.)
Ah yes. May I borrow this, I ask. So now, with most of the books packed away, I find myself with this one, Homer’s Iliad, Louise Erdrich’s The Master Butchers Singing Club (received on Friday) and Georges Séféris’ Poèmes 1933-1955 (received yesterday).
Plus a slow-growing kernel of what may turn out to be another story.