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What d'ya Bet?

by Kathleen Kersch Simandl

(c) 2006




"BINGO!  Do people still play that?"  She visualized long Formica tables, littered with hard kernels, spread with jovially intense players smelling of peanut shells and Budweiser. 


"Yeah, it's a benefit thing.  I bet each card costs $10.00."  He saw special markers (that you were required to buy if you wanted to play) and tasteful advertising on the napkins - a high society retro-chic scam.


"No way.  Never.  More like $1.00 a card, I'll bet."  


"Okay, you're on.  What're the stakes?"


Deciding the stakes was always hard with the couple of twenty-eight years.  Their money had fused into a lump by about year two of the marriage, and their usual bet of "dinner and dishes" had grown cold after so many years of minor disagreement.  Plus, they were in a restaurant.


"Okay.  If I win, you take me to a bar for a vodka and tonic after the bingo.  If you win, I take YOU to a bar for the same… my treat."  They smiled at each other over their private joke - a win-win situation - but the disagreement was still there. 


"I'll go to $2.50 a card," Michael offered.  He twisted his almost-empty glass. 


"No way!  If the cards are under $5.00 each, I win.  Anything over $5 is your win.  That's fair."  Miriam was adamant, and her glass was almost full.


He argued for a full five minutes, while she judiciously sipped her Merlot, protesting that his offer was more than generous - actually getting red-faced and almost shouting by the end of his protestations.  "LIFE is not fair!" he proclaimed, winning several turned heads in the courtroom of their quarrel.


But the bingo tickets DID cost $1.00 apiece.  She won the bet.


The next week Michael went to the doctor's because of a new, strange growth on his leg.  It was skin cancer.  


"NOT FAIR!"  Miriam shouted. 


He shook his head, like an atheist who has just discovered that hell is a real place.  "And, I'll just bet it's malignant."




Michael, unfortunately, won that bet.


At first, it seemed both man and wife were in denial.  The doctors were quick to schedule consultation and treatments; Miriam's husband anxious to attempt any cure.  But the radiation numbed his calf, and took away all of the hair on it, forever.  The normal treatments did not cure his cancer.  It continued to grow.


One morning, many frenzied months later, Michael sat on the edge of the bed, examining his skin.  The cancer had spread.  He looked at the new irregular red and black patch - located on the inside of his forearm - dispassionately.  The doctors had already told him that the cancer had metastasized to a spot behind his left eye, and that there was little benefit to removing this particular lesion.


"Okay.  That's it.  I'm done with doctors."  He was yellow and weak.  His limbs were wire armatures for his skin, and his teeth bad.  Michael was in almost constant pain, and he reached slowly for a full bottle of pills and a glass of water on his nightstand.  The glass was half-empty.


"What do you mean?"  Miriam stared at him like he'd lost his mind instead of gaining multitudinous new and lethal cells.


"I'm not going to accept any more treatments.  Honey," He set down his now-empty glass and took her hand, enfolding it in both of his.  "…those doctors are not curing me."


"Don't be ridiculous!"  She snatched her hand away.  "Why, I was just reading last night about a really good new treatment!  It's gone through medical trial, and they're gonna be releasing it as soon as they get FDA approval… and then there's that drug that the nursing assistant told us about that you can only get in Mexico…we could go down to Mexico… maybe it would be a little --"


"STOP!  I'm gonna end it now… myself."  


"END WHAT?"  His wife screamed.  "You cannot give up.  I won't let you!"  She now grabbed both of his hands with intensity - mentally dragging him out of the burgeoning quicksand of cancer that was sucking him under.  She smelled the decay of his disease.  "If you give up, Michael, you might as well kill me, too."  Her voice got very small.  "You ARE my life… I…"  Grabbing up both the pills and the water glass, Miriam stumbled from the bedroom in tears.


"Please bring those back, Miriam, I need them.  I… really need them.  Hell, what am I saying?  Miriam!  I really, really need…YOU."  Michael hated himself for his dissolution, for becoming a weakened and distorted version of his former self.  He knew that ending his life would also end his possibilities to do the only thing that was important to him: Taking care of his wife.


Miriam slowly came back into the bedroom, carrying a glass of water... half-full.



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