“I’ve got bad news,” I say. “It’s not good.”
“Cut!” Stanley shouts.
The lights change. People exhale. Murmurs fill the silence.
Stanley walks forward. He pushes his glasses up from the bridge of his nose.
“Sean, you need five?” Stanley asks. “Because if you aren’t feeling it, there’s no rush.”
I smile. “I’m in the pocket. I feel like I’m ready.”
“Run it again,” Stanley shouts.
The lights dim. The small exam room the crew built only has three walls but feels capsular. I tug on my white coat to straighten it out and adjust my stethoscope. Mitch who looks forlorn on the exam table, like a child left in the middle of a busy supermarket. He is in the zone. He already has tears welling up.
“I’ve got bad news,” I say.
“I understand,” Mitch says.
I rub my temple and tap the clip board. “It’s not good.”
“I can take it.”
Mitch is nodding at me. His anticipation is overwhelming. He’s fidgeting on the exam table. His eyes are glossy. He thinks he wants to know what I have to say, but he doesn’t.. No one does.. Ignorant bliss is a gift at the end. We all think we want to know how it ends—a sick curiosity. Makes us feel godlike for a moment to know the future. But we already do and. every second we spend not thinking about that is ignorant bliss.
“It’s cancer, Bill.” I say and reach out to touch his shoulder.
Lights up. Exhale. Murmurs.
Stanley walks over. “You’re just not selling it enough. You hold this immense power in your hands. This clipboard is like Zeus grabbing a thunderbolt. It holds the patient’s entire life in it. Until you say it’s cancer, it’s nothing. It’s like Schrodinger’s cat, right? Even though it may already say it’s cancer, until you read it, it exists as both cancer and not cancer.”
I nod but Stanley can tell I’m not following.
“Look,” Stanley says. He grabs Mitch and points to Mitch’s stomach. “You speak this cancer into existence. Until you tell him what the clipboard says, there is no cancer. Not to Mitch, or sorry, Bill your character’s name. He might have thought about it. He might have even half believed it. But your words are like an incantation, Sean. You read that out loud and you have created a reality.”
“Like I’m speaking something into existence,” I say.
“Right,” Stanley says. “But your words are a giver of death rather than a giver of life.”
I nod. “OK. Yeah I think I get it.”
“Great,” Stanley says
“Bill,” I say as I hold his hand. “It’s a goddamn cancer. A rotten, dirty, murderous cancer.”
We do fifty more takes. Stanley plays with the script. He wonders if it’s the lines that need adjusting. Mitch is looking exhausted. He’s been holding a feeling of dread for almost four hours and I’m not sure how much longer he can maintain it.
Stanley walks over to me. He’s holds the script between us.
“Everything OK?” I ask.
“Yeah, sure.” He says. “Listen, Sean. Let’s try something out. Just think of it as an experiment, yeah? It might knock the dust of this scene. Get to the heart of it.”
“Sure. Right. You’re the genius, Stanley. Whatever you think it right.”
Stanley looks up from the script. “Is that supposed to be sarcastic?”
“No,” I say shaking my head and hands. “No of course not.”
Stanley nods. “Give Mitch your white coat and stethoscope. I’m going to have you switch roles.”
“Really?” I ask.
“Just try it out,” Stanley says. “It might give you some perspective.”
I feel marooned on the exam table. My hands start to tremble, and I’m leaning forward so far that I might fall on my face. Mitch walks in with the clipboard.
“Hi Bill,” Mitch says to me.
“Just shoot me straight Doctor Hartman,” I say. “How bad is it?”
Mitch sits down on a stool and moves it closer to me. I’m looking down into his eyes. They’re glossy just like before, but with some sort of steeliness to them now. Like someone whose had their heart broken so many times by the world that it doesn’t break and it doesn’t heal.
“I’ll shoot you straight,” Mitch says. He looks down at the clipboard. “I feel like I need to prepare you though. It’s not good.”
I exhale the breath I didn’t know I was holding and almost start sobbing. “How bad?”
Mitch puts a hand on my knee. “It’s cancer, Bill.”
“Cancer?” I ask. My lips curl back at the word, and I suck in air.
“Pancreatic cancer,” Mitch says.
I look down at my abdomen and put my hands on it. I can feel it, I realize, deep inside. It’s a gnawing, visceral pain like something is stuck and it can’t be undone.
“It’s spread,” Mitch says, staring down at the clipboard now. “Unfortunately, it’s spread everywhere.”
I reach up to my neck and feel huge, hard lymph nodes below my jaw. My hands are thin. I feel breathless. Weak. Like I’m already gone.
“At this point, there’s not much we can do,” Mitch says. “It’s terminal, Bill.”
I stare past Mitch into the blackness between the stage lights.
Stanley rushes over to me. “Sean, that was it. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for but when I saw it I knew. That was it.”
I step up from the exam table. Nothing has changed and yet everything has. Before I could only see the way forward and now all I can see is the end. I shuffle over to my trailer. My skin is looking jaundiced and taut. I lay down on my cot feeling both hopeless and at peace. I close my eyes and listen to the hum of crew working outside my trailer. The white noise calms my mind and I slip into the blackness and sleep.