"Oh, please, you tell him for us."
* * *
The boy's parents entered his hospital room followed by a stranger. His hair was strawberry blonde. His mustache was bushy.
"I'm Dr. Peebles, but you can call me Paul. I'm going to be your doctor. . ."
Paul spoke, and his lips moved. The stump of Paul's right ring finger waved as the hand gestured back and forth, up and down. The tone of his voice was serious, but he smiled reassuringly. He touched the boy's shoulder.
". . .operation. . .two steps forward, one step back. . . a long, hard road, but we can get through this. Now, do you have any questions?"
"Yes. What happened to your finger?"
* * *The ramp spiraled up through the hospital's underground parking lot. A faded red VW station wagon sputtered as it climbed.
"Mom, why do I need another operation?"
She focused ahead, shifting gears. "You have cancer. They need to make sure they got all of it. Paul told you. Don't you remember?"
"No, he didn't! He said I had a tumor," said the boy.
"No, Sweetie. He said you have cancer."
His eyes stung as they emerged into the harsh autumn light.
* * *
She came in and lay down on the boy's blanket with him. And they wept.
The father entered and sat next to them. He made an unfamiliar keening sound that was almost mocking. But then, his eyes clenched, and tears fell. The father sobbed.