- Time to Go
Doctor Ikiru said: “You have but twelve months to live.”
This statement he prefaced with a long, excruciatingly detailed diagnosis of Charlie’s disease, which was “rare,” and “surprising.” The doctor showed Charlie charts and slapped X-rays on a light board. He explained in layman’s terms the findings of recent studies, which detailed life expectancy (none), the percentage of survivors (zero), and the ratio of those who, once diagnosed, were not alive past month twelve to those who were (undefined).
Doctor Ikiru spoke with a soft, somber voice, its tones soothing even as he proclaimed death inevitable. On his desk was a plaque that read: “I am not the cause, but simply the bearer, of the news you are receiving.” His office walls were lined with certificates and degrees that bequeathed upon him an air of infallibility, and upon his words finality.
Charlie noted this. “Will it hurt?”
“It may,” said the doctor. “I mean it very well could. I wouldn’t worry about it.”
Charlie sat up, desperately. “Why not?”
Doctor Ikiru closed the folder of notes before him and leaned forward. “Mister Pefko, a year can pass quickly. Worrying will not slow it down.”
Charlie slumped back in his chair and played nervously with his fingers. His confusion consumed him. He hesitated to ask a question, was just about to inquire into—when the doctor answered: “You are a bit pale already, yes.”
Charlie peeped: “I look sick?”
“No,” said the doctor, “you look ill.”
Charlie touched his face, mushing his cheeks with his fingers. “I looked fine this morning . . .”
But they both knew it was well past noon.
Charlie Pefko worked days at Fiorello Patel’s art supply store and sculpture cemetery. He helped Fiorello unload discarded and unwanted [End Page 159] sculptures and catalogue them; these pieces would be refurbished by Charlie and sold for profit, or prepared for resale as scrap metal and outré landscaping turf.
In the days and years before Charlie learned he was to die young, a typical conversation between him and Fiorello would find Charlie describing his wife Cassy’s workload at medical school, his son Chas’s antics, and how both were keeping him from his art:
“I need the proper conditions, Fiorello. I need space and time to let my ideas simmer, stew, and develop. I could be brilliant!”
“You resent your family.”
“No, I love them.”
And it was true. Charlie held no grudge against Cassy and Chas. In the years since Cassy began her schooling, this young family survived on loans and Charlie’s meager salary. He worked the cemetery and got pick-up art assignments where he could. It was what had to be done, and they scraped by but—
“I feel constricted. I can’t create under such circumstances.”
“Charlie,” said Fiorello, “you’ve been claiming constriction for years. If you were really this constricted by now you’d have at least a hemorrhoid.”
Charlie was a dictionary of excuses, a palette of needless delays. He said: “Fiorello you’re not an artist, I don’t expect you to understand.”
It was an outdoor warehouse, the cemetery, its paths improvised round the footprints of abandoned works. There were Medusatopped columns, Rodin knock-offs, and Egyptians in profile in bas relief. There was a life-size Elvis, two Ghandis, and a Lenin whose arm once pointed hopefully to the horizon but now pointed, no less hopefully, to Elvis’s curling pelvis. There were Buddhas, fat and skinny, of all sizes and materials. Abstract pieces made a showing, the most prominent being an outsize and bent-out-of-shape paper clip. Busts of Athena, Homer, and Shakespeare were plentiful but outnumbered by Lincolns and Washingtons. There were hippos of copper and reposing lions of stone.
Mostly the pieces were cracked, chipped, stained—worn either by use or by weather. How many years, after all, could the lions take the stomping of children’s feet and the pounding of pigeon’s drops before calling it quits? Sometimes pieces in relatively good condition came in, and Charlie imagined these were deemed passé by their owners, or simply no longer fit the...