A Little Pinch – By David Aquila

“You might feel a little pinch.” That’s how it starts and I turn my head to the right. I never can watch the needle go in, but I look back as soon as she snaps the band free of my bicep and tells me to unclench my hand. The blood fills the glass vial in steady waves of thick pumps. It’s so red, so final and I know. This test will determine it. Pass or Fail. Live or Die. Like the thumb of an emperor, it comes down to this.

“I didn’t even study,” I try to joke with the nurse but her eyebrows wrinkle. She’s working, changing vials, not looking at me. “For the blood test,” I try again. “I didn’t even study.” Now she gets it with an, Oh, and a short, Heh, and her breath smells like tuna and mints. I wonder how many times she’s done this before? If she knows how much is riding on the blood in those vials. I feel the sweat coming. I bring a finger to the top of my lip. Five years free and I’d really thought I was clear, life or death? And not a quick death but one that could last years, drawn out into more tests, and treatments, and doctors, and scans, and drugs, and new drugs, and maybe hope, and then the waiting, always the waiting. I don’t know if I can do this again.

An urge, and I want to pull the needle out and just take my blood and go. Five years. I look away, a deep breath, a drip down my back. I think of Samantha in the waiting room, trying to look assured. She’d squeezed my hand and winked as they called me to come in here. That’s how she is. How she was the last time we went through this. What will she do? And the kids? I can’t leave them, can’t become just a box of old photos. God, I don’t want this… Our Father… Please, don’t let this happen… Who art in heaven… I can’t leave them… Our Father…Please… Who art in heaven… It can’t be back… Thy kingdom come…not more cancer… Our Father…not now!… Thy will be done… I’ll be gone… On earth…dead…Thy will be… done… Our Father… dead… Our Father… gone… Our Father… Please!… ENOUGH!

Too far ahead. It could still be nothing. Nothing at all, this time just the flu or stress or something the body could fight off, eventually. Doctor Linder had seemed confident. Yes. He’d felt my glands, neck and under the arms. “They’re swollen, all right.” He’d even laughed. I didn’t like that but I was a little calmed by it too. “Let’s do some tests though, just to be sure.” Just to be sure, I’d repeated, no sweat on the outside but inside I remembered Uncle Vic when he’d come back from Vietnam. I’d asked him what it was like. But I was a kid and so I didn’t get it when he’d said that it was like hiring an assassin to hit you in the back of the head with a steel pipe at some point during the year of your tour. You know he’s coming but you keep going anyway. Living with cancer is like that.

“All finished,” the nurse is taping a cotton ball to my arm. “Keep that on for a bit.”

“Okay,” I stand up and smile at her. “Hope I passed,” I say and then I head towards the waiting room to go get my wife.

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