Saturday

OUTLIVING EMILY

Hanratty hears laughter from up the hall. It subsides quickly, and a moment later first Emily then Alex Posnick appear in the doorway of his room. Emily is holding a lovely bouquet of flowers, too lovely, and she pushes a gentle smile onto her face, gazing down at him with sympathetic eyes. Posnick laughs and cuffs him on the arm. “How you doing? You look great.”
Hanratty is surprised at the anger suddenly rising through his post-anesthesia fog. He looks at Emily darkly, barely able to speak.
“I bumped into Alex in the Starbuck’s across the street,” she explains.
“We were both getting fucking six dollar lattes,” says Posnick, laughing. “Can you believe it.”
For the first time he notices they are holding to-go cups with hooded lids. “How come you didn’t get me one?”
“I – I thought you weren’t supposed to have coffee,” says Emily weakly.
“I didn’t say that. Who told you that?”
“I’ll run down and get you one,” says Posnick. “What do you want?”
“Ah, forget it. I don’t even feel like one now.”
“What do you want, you big pussy?” demands Posnick.
“A large decaf with skim milk, one sugar on the side.”
“You got it.” He lays his Post on the edge of the bed. The giant black one word headline assaults Hanratty’s light-sensitive eyes – MURDERER!!
As soon as Posnick is out the door, Hanratty says, “What the fuck is he doing here?”
“He’s your best friend.”
“Christ, I knew this was going to happen.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The second I’m down the fucking guy is all over you.”
“Tim, Alex is your best friend. He wants to see how you are. He loves you.”
“Right. He loves me.”
A tall, youthful looking man with rimless glasses and a sweep of light brown hair enters the room. “And how are we feeling, Tim?”
“Hi, Jonathan.”
“Hello, Emily.” He bends down and kisses Emily on the cheek. What’s with all the kissing these days, thinks Hanratty. People know each other for an hour and all of a sudden they’re brushing lips.
He runs his eyes across his wife’s outfit, pale torso-embracing pink cashmere sweater, black slacks that hug her trim backside, choker made from a quintuple band of miniature pearls to highlight her long slender neck, and, of course, backless high heels to mask her lack of height. Who wouldn’t want to kiss Emily?
Posnick saunters back into the room with Hanratty’s decaf. “Hi ya, Doc.”
“Jonathan, this is Tim’s best friend Alex Posnick. Richard, this is Dr. Hanson.”
“How’s my pal here doing?” asks Posnick.
“Fine, fine. He’s coming along just fine.”
“Did you get it all out, Doc? ‘Cause I need this guy for golf.”
Doctor Hanson glances at Hanratty as if for clearance. Hanratty nods.
“Yes, we did. As I told Tim, we’re almost certain that there was no spreading beyond the wall of the prostate.”
“Almost certain,” says Hanratty.
“As certain as we can be. The pathologist still has to section the lymph nodes, those guys are the real experts. But from what I could see it was an absolutely perfect prostatectomy.”
“You know the three biggest lies in the English language, don’t you, Doc? The check is in the mail. I’m a Yid and proud of it. And, we got it all out.” Posnick breaks into his easy laughter.
The doctor turns to Emily and Posnick. “Would you excuse us for a minute?”
“Sure, thing, Doc.” Posnick takes Emily by the arm and ushers her from the room.
Doctor Hanson closes the privacy curtain around the bed and pulls the covers back. “How are you feeling?”
“Played out. Like I can barely move.”
“That’s natural. Any pain?” He is examining Hanratty’s penis, out of which a clear tube protrudes down the full length of his leg.
“Not much.”
“That’s good.” Now he is holding Hanratty’s testicles, eggplant purple and grossly enlarged. “Nothing out of the normal.”
A burst of Emily’s laughter sounds in the hallway.
“Your friend is quite a card,” says the doctor as he pulls back the curtain. “Well, as far as I’m concerned, if there are no complications, you can go home tomorrow. You’re coming along just fine.”
He shakes Hanratty’s hand and heads for the door. “I’ll look in on you in the morning.”
He exits and a moment later Emily and Posnick come back in. Hanratty can barely keep himself from saying, Wipe those fucking grins off your face. It has become sort of a trend over the last few years. Hanratty frowning, Emily composing herself. How did he get to be such a curmudgeon?
“Isn’t that great, sweetie,” says Emily, “Jonathan says you can come home tomorrow.” She busies herself filling a vase with water and arranging the flowers in it. She drops a tulip on the floor, and he watches Posnick look up from his Post to gaze at her ass.
“How can you read that fucking rag,” says Hanratty fiercely.
Posnick laughs. “I like it. It’s funny. The Times puts me to sleep.”
Hanratty feels his eyes closing. He tries to resist, but as has happened almost every hour since morning, sleep begins ineluctably to descend on him.
“Ah, sweetie, you look exhausted.” Emily bends down and kisses his forehead. “Do you want us to go?”
He summons all his energy. “Alex, let me speak to Emily alone for a minute.”
Posnick leaps to his feet. “Sure, pal, you get better now.” He tousles Hanratty’s hair, then leans over and kisses him on the forehead. To Emily he says, “I’ll wait for you down in the lobby.”
“Why is he waiting for you?”
“We’re going to grab a quick dinner.”
“Un-fucking-believable. You’re having dinner with him?”
“He asked me. What was I going to do?”
“Where the fuck’s Stella?”
“She’s in London.”
“Don’t have dinner with him, do you hear me. I do not want you having dinner with him.”
“Tim, the man lost his first-born son. That’s all he ever thinks about, not seducing his best friend’s wife.”
“That’s precisely why he wants to have sex with you – to hide from the pain.”
“This whole thing is stressing you, more than you know.”
“I’m going to call you at home in 45 minutes. You better be there – alone.”
“I will not have dinner with him.”
“Good.”
“All this stuff – it’s just in your imagination, you know.”
“Fine. Just make sure it stays there.”
“I can understand…this is all quite a blow.” She bends to place her cheek against his. “I love you, Tim, more than you can ever know.”
“Love you, too, Em. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to call.”
He watches her ass twitching from side to side as she walks from the room. It’s in the DNA, he thinks, they can’t help themselves.

In bathrobe and pajamas, Hanratty is sitting in the family room sleepily watching CNN, a half-edited manuscript open on his lap, when the phone rings. “Hello, is this Mr. Hanratty? Please hold for Dr. Hanson.”
The sleepiness drains instantly from his being. “Hi, Tim, sorry it’s taken so long getting back to you. I’ve been in surgery all morning.” Hanratty pictures dozens of prostates, in his mind’s eye looking curiously like oysters, being dumped out of a black plastic bag into a garbage can in back of The Millstein Pavillion. What a waste! Surely, science can find some use for them.
“What can I do for you?”
“I was wondering if the final report on my biopsy came in yet.”
“Hold on. Let me check.” He clicks off, leaving Hanratty taking deep nervous breaths and rubbing his face in his hand. “No. The lab called and said they’ve sent it down to Trenton for finer sectioning. It’ll be just another two or three days.”
“Did they see something?”
“Relax, this is perfectly routine.”
“Do they always send it down to Trenton?”
“Sometimes they just want to get a finer read around the edges. It’s just a formality.”
Hanratty hobbles up to his attic office and sits at his desk. He has discovered over the years that while many glasses of wine are able to take the edge off his anxiety when he wakes in the middle of the night, he has no appetite for any kind of alcohol while the sun is up. During the day, it is only work that is somehow able to keep his mind off his terrors.
He pulls one of his old-fashioned black and white marbled notebooks off the shelf, this one titled “Thoughts I Never Had At 17.” Over the past couple of months he has been jotting down ideas in the hope of winding up with some kind of humor book.
Underneath, My heart breaking for my unmarried 26 year old daughter, Hoping my mother will hurry up and die so I can get my inheritance, Starting to dislike Mick Jagger he writes, slowly and painstakingly, Fearing my wife will outlive me and have sex with other men.
As they get ready for bed, Hanratty contemplates telling Emily about his conversation with Dr. Hanson. But he can predict her answer. They’re just being thorough. The cure rate when they catch it this early is 95%. I’m sure you’re absolutely fine. It will only panic him. So he lies back and lets the entire bottle of Groth chardonnay he has just consumed carry him off to sleep.
He dreams that he and Emily are staying over at some kind of beach house teeming with weekend guests. Emily is in high spirits, and the minute she and Hanratty wake she leaps from the bed and, still in her nightgown, goes running into the hall. “Wake up, sleepyhead,” she says, throwing open the door to one of the many bedrooms along the corridor, and rushing in.
Alex Posnick and his son Andrew, Posnick’s clone, are fast asleep on a king-sized mattress. Emily jumps onto the bed between them and, like snakes, they slither into spoon position, Posnick behind Emily, she behind Andrew.
They are all giggling naughtily, and Emily asks loudly, “Can I get a penis?”
Hanratty senses her reaching for Andrew under the sheet and says, “Is she holding your penis?”
The young man shakes his head sympathetically. “You don’t want to know.”
In a sudden fury, Hanratty reaches over and scoops his tiny wife out of the bed, hurling her violently to the floor. She hits her head on the end of the angle iron, opening a ragged gash in her temple. She stares at him from the floor, her face ashen, her eyes drooped and miserable. “You hurt me, Tim, you hurt me terribly.”
The blood is pulsing from the side of her head. Her eyes are accusatory, unforgiving, her voice loveless and dead. He cannot bear her reproaches, and it strikes him that he has no choice but to kill her. As he advances upon her, he wakes, an overpowering cloud of rage, regret, and dread pinning him to the bed.
Emily twists in her sleep, flopping her arm behind her head, exposing her armpit. How many times has Hanratty buried his face there, inhaling deeply, peppering the stubble with little kisses. She rolls to the right, pulling the covers tightly over her shoulder, as if turning her back to him. He feels a murderous urge to pop the back of her head with the heel of his hand. Who knows, hard enough and he could fracture her skull.
How much time would he get? You could hardly call it premeditated. A sudden fit of rage is all. Second degree manslaughter. With a good lawyer ten to fifteen years. Time off for good behavior and he’d be out in six or seven years. Time to start a new life, albeit one without a prostate.
Of course, if, as he fears, he is being eaten up alive with prostate cancer, it wouldn’t make any difference. He’d die in prison. Who cares? At least Emily wouldn’t be dining, laughing, golfing, dancing, fucking, exploring Angkor Wat with another man.
He could smother her, too. It’d be awful, embarrassing actually, as she thrashed about beneath him, her panicked eyes pleading for mercy, so shocked, so surprised. Better just to choke her from behind. Or maybe poison her. He’d edited an English mystery novel once in which the villain slowly poisoned his mother with three daily drops of cadmium in her Earl Grey. Perfect. Emily has two cups of Earl Grey before leaving for the hospital every morning. Shouldn’t be too hard to track down a bottle of cadmium, whatever the fuck that is.
For the second time that day, Hanratty climbs out of bed and hobbles up the three flights of stairs to his attic office. It is freezing, and he pulls on the old gray cashmere sweater and longshoreman’s hat he keeps up here for just such a reason.
He takes a black and white marbled notebook off the shelf and writes on the cover, “99 Ways To Kill Your Wife.” He opens it to the first page and puts down, Disable her seat belt. He will invite her to go antiquing in the country, then slam into a tree on the way home. Or better yet, why not on the way there and skip the loathsome antiquing altogether. Hanratty adds, Disable air bag as well. Of course, the question for one as mechanically inept as Hanratty is how?
Next he writes, Push her off a cliff. This feels promising. Emily regularly takes walks along the Palisades. Perhaps he will just suddenly shove her over the edge. Or lure her out into the ocean and drown her. At 6 feet 2 inches and a solid 185 pounds, he is certain he will have no trouble holding her under the waves. He puts down, Lost at sea.
Or what about borrowing a shotgun from Dan Fox, the neighbor who is always trying to get him to come along on a hunting trip. Hanratty writes, Accidental shooting.
And then there’s always golf. In the summer, he and Emily often run up to the course after an early dinner to play nine holes. He enters 3 iron to the temple.
Just when he thinks there are no more ways to kill his wife, Hanratty sees his lighter sitting on the corner of his desk and thinks how easy it would be to get a rip-roaring fire going by lighting the living room drapes. He writes, Burn down the house. Push her in front of the A train. Drown her in the bath tub.
And it is in this pursuit that he eventually feels tired enough to lie down on the couch in his office and fall back to sleep on these nights while he is still waiting for Trenton to forward the results of his biopsy.

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