Refusing Treatment (Flash Fiction)

Dr. Harken motioned Bob and Catherine to have a seat while he flipped through a stack of files. He held up an x-ray in the sunlight. The dark piece of plastic in his hand wobbled and sent reflections of light around the room. His office was immaculate, with an incredible view of the nearby park. “It’s serious,” he said. “It’s already spreading from the lungs. How long have you been feeling like this?”

Bob shrugged. “I dunno. It’s not unusual for me to feel tired. Work is hard.”

“Are you still smoking?” Dr. Harken asked.

“Yes!” shouted Catherine. “I told him to quit. I even threw away his cigarettes but he—”

“Oh, shut it,” Bob said. “Them cigs is all I got left.”

Catherine’s eyes swelled with pain and rage. Dr. Harken waved the x-ray at her. “You should listen to your wife, Bob. You’ve been smoking for too many years. You need to stop.” He tossed Bob the x-ray. “Today.”

Bob gave a brief glance to the dark sheet and handed it over to Catherine. The cloudy images made no sense to him.

“I’m going to schedule you for an MRI on Tuesday,” said the doctor. “We’ll need to take some blood as well and get you started on medication.” Catherine began taking notes. Bob hated it when she started scribbling with her pen. “It’s imperative that we get started immediately. We’re behind the curve on this one.”

“What are my chances?” Bob asked.

Dr. Harken looked at Bob, at Catherine, and back to Bob again. “I don’t like to call these things so early, it’s hard to—”

“What are my chances,” Bob said again.

Dr. Harken sighed. He flipped open a chart and the white sheets made a glare in the sunlight. He bobbed his head from side to side as he flipped back and forth through the pages. “Six months tops,” he said with a shrug. “That is, without treatment.”

Bob stood up and left the office without a word. Catherine called his name, then shouted, then broke out into a shrill scream. Bob closed the door behind him and headed down the hall and out into the parking lot. He was already smoking when Catherine caught up to him.

“What the hell are you doing!?” she shrieked.

“I’m not getting treated,” he said. Catherine, for the first time in their very long marriage, was speechless. Bob took a long drag and released a cloud in front of him. “I’m tired of livin’ anyway,” he said. “I ain’t spending my dying days in some hospital paying these vampires all of my money to pump me full of drugs and what not just so they can try to stop the inevitable. Nope,” he said with another puff, “these fuckers aren’t getting my pension.”

“What about me!?” said Catherine. Her voice sounded like scraping metal.

Bob gave her a sideways look. “You’ve already bled enough from me, Catherine. What more do you need? Fancy house, new car, damned kids all put through college. All from the bends in my back and the sweat from my brow.” He finished the cigarette with a long inhale. “I figure these next six months of dying will be the closest I get to actually living. Don’t worry,” he said, glaring at Catherine, “you’ll get the insurance money.”

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