María kept her eyes trained on the silver cigarette case that Dr. Templeton clutched in his right hand. She studied the byzantine design on the case’s surface. At first, María believed that she saw the outline of a horrific, satanic face but, after a few moments of concentration, she discerned the contours of a rose, an overblown and sensuous example of the flower. In one fluid movement, Dr. Templeton popped the case open, withdrew a cigarette, snapped it shut, tapped the cigarette on the smooth back of the case, and slid it back into his jacket for a tweedy hibernation. The doctor then snatched a wooden match from a weighted leather cup on his desk and struck it on a rough patch on the side of the cup. The flame billowed red and blue and then subsided to a flicker before he drew it near the cigarette.
Taking a deep drag, the doctor lowered his head and looked over his glasses at María. He allowed the smoke to leak from the corners of his mouth and then, as if in irritation with the mechanics of smoking, he blew the remaining smoke from his nostrils with all the strength of his lungs so that he looked like an angry dragon. The plumes of smoke rose and then lingered about the doctor’s unruly bush of red hair that seemed to spring from his head as if trying to escape.
“What else?” asked María in English.
Dr. Templeton looked sad, fatigued. “There’s nothing else, really. The cancer has gone on too long for us to do anything.”
“And the time. How much did you say?”
The doctor sighed. “Six months to a year.” He put his hand on María’s shoulder and he was surprised that she did not shake, but stood rock still. The nurse tried not to make much noise as she went about picking up and putting away medical files in the back of the office.
María averted her eyes from Dr. Templeton’s. She stared at a beautiful calendar that hung over the doctor’s massive oak desk. At the top of the calendar was the year “1943" emblazoned in bright blue ink, with little Easter bunnies peeking from behind the numbers while colored eggs rolled about the foreground. She imagined that her son would love that calendar.
“Here,” the doctor said handing a small brown bottle of pills to María. “There’s nothing wrong with using these when you have to. If the pain eventually gets too great, we can talk further.”
“Thank you,” she whispered. “Pray for me.”
Dr. Templeton blushed so that his face matched his hair. He coughed. “Yes, Mrs. Isla. Of course I’ll pray for you.”
María imagined the Doctor’s prayer rising up to heaven like cigarette smoke and she smiled. All she needed now was a dime for the streetcar.
[“Silver Case” first appeared in Vestal Review.]