A Short Story on the Website of
the Red Dirt Writers Society

The Bargain
by Beth Stephenson (Feb 2012)


Bryce sat in the doctor’s private office, stiff in his chair, turning his head from one wall to the next, studying the framed certificates and paintings that adorned it. Directly opposite his chair in a gilt-edged frame were the words, “Beware, angels are taking notes.” There was an image of a winged nurse with a notepad underneath. He smiled faintly and let his eyes drift to the window.

The doctor had asked his receptionist to make a private appointment with him to discuss the results of Bryce’s recent blood tests. It couldn’t be good news, he knew. The doctor had said he should be the last appointment of the day. Was he protecting his other patients from the weeping and wailing that he expected to result from the interview? 

‘Beware, angels are taking notes,’ drew his eyes back. “Please, dear God, don’t let it be cancer,” he murmured. But he had other symptoms. Private, inconvenient and embarrassing symptoms had finally driven him to seek medical help. The doctor had ordered extensive tests after the exam. “Can you come tomorrow at 4:00 o clock?” the girl had asked when the tests came back.

The clock behind him ticked loudly, measuring out the time he sat waiting for the doctor. “Lord, don’t let it be cancer.” This time he spoke more earnestly. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock. “Lord, please give me more time. I’ll take care of those things I need to tell my wife. I need more time.”

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock. He heard the doctor speaking near the door, but a different door opened and he heard the doctor greet a different patient.

“Dear God, Don’t let it be cancer! I promise I’ll clean up my act and be more honest and faithful with everyone. And I need to spend more time with my kids. I’ve let too much time go by since I spent any quality time with them.” Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.

Bryce wished he had not lied to his wife about the doctor’s appointment. But he’d been afraid of other, more embarrassing information. She might have wanted to come with him if she had known about the appointment. So he lied. But with the clock ticking and tocking, he wished he hadn’t lied. He hadn’t thought of cancer right away.

“Oh, dear God, please don’t let it be cancer.” It was becoming a chant, a mantra that linked him to power beyond his own. He did believe in God. God could take it away, he knew. God could heal him. “I’ll give up all my vices if You’ll just not let it be cancer. I’ll be a new man, reborn! I’ll give to the poor and I’ll stop. . .” he paused. He didn’t want to speak too loud. His eyes shifted to the sign, “Beware . . .angels are taking notes.”

“I’ll stop all the bad stuff. Everything. Cold turkey.” Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock. “Oh God, please don’t let it be cancer! I’ll give up everything.” He didn’t need to be specific. God read his thoughts.

The doctor bid his nurses goodnight. Bryce heard him lift the records from the slot beside the door, humming softly as he scanned them.

“Oh, Lord, don’t let it be cancer,” he murmured one more time.

Dr. Eddison was young and tan, with good teeth and a square jaw. “How’reya doin’ Bryce?”

 He swiveled into the chair behind his desk and gave the folder another quick perusal before looking up for an answer.

“I don’t know, Doc. You tell me.”

The doctor opened the folder again and read silently. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.

“Well, you’ve got an enlarged prostrate that is to the point that it needs to be treated, you’re fifty pounds overweight and your LDL cholesterol is too high. What does that mean to you?”

“I don’t have cancer?” It seemed almost too good to be true.

“No cancer that I know of. But you need to go on a diet and get more exercise. You’re getting old and fat and you’ll feel much better with those extra pounds off.”

Bryce hardly heard the rest of the treatment plan. No cancer! Nothing worse than the obvious!

The doctor shook his hand and then settled back at his desk to finish the day’s data entries.

 Bryce’s step was light as he unlocked the door remotely on his Lexus. It was earlier than his wife would expect him. He had time to make a stop. Just a quick little detour and she’d never be the wiser. He dialed his home phone and when his wife picked up, he hung up. Good.

Bryce pulled into traffic on the boulevard and accelerated. He did need to hurry. The light turned yellow two hundred feet in front of him. He buzzed the intersection. A teen age boy in a pickup was coming fast from the other direction, playing chicken with the light.  It changed for the boy a second before he entered the intersection. He didn’t even touch his brake.

One instant, Bryce was driving, and the next he was looking down at his mangled Lexus. “Oh, this isn’t good,” he thought. “How will I explain why my car was going south?” He watched as the emergency vehicles screamed up. The teenager was crying and pointing and explaining and other witnesses were nodding agreement to his story.

Bryce watched as they used the jaws of life to open his door. They drew a white sheet over his head.

“Oh, this really isn’t good,” Bryce said. He felt a gentle touch on his elbow. He turned toward the figure dressed in white, holding a note pad. She read her pad with a deep frown. At last she raised her eyes. “The doctor did tell you that it wasn’t cancer?”

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