Rose and Poppy
(originally posted 9/19/2021)
Two months ago Rose was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
A pretty grim first sentence I’ll grant you, but as it’s a pretty grim story I figured I’d just jump right in with the grimness. Although the ending is grim in a way you might not expect. If that’s not enough to keep you interested in reading further I completely understand.
I probably wouldn’t.
Rose is in her mid-thirties. Tall and gangly she never made much of an impression on men. Smart and quirky she always made a great friend to everyone else in her life.
Poppy is in her early-thirties and is considered physically attractive by almost any standard. Self-absorbed and oblivious she has very few friends. Rose being among them.
Poppy isn’t even her real name. When Rose asked her what her real name was she simply replied “I’d rather not say. It’s one of those old-fashioned, ugly ones. Like yours.”
Twice a week Poppy drives Rose from her modest home in New Jersey to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for her 10:30 chemotherapy appointments. They made a point of never, despite horrible traffic, being late.
Here is where I need you to pay particular attention to which of the two I’m talking about.
Rose has come to look forward to these drives as it gives her an opportunity to comfort Poppy about her circumstances.
That’s right, Rose, the one dying of a metastatic cancer that has spread to a number of other locations in her body, is the one who spends each drive listening to Poppy complain about her life.
In a completely non-ironic way.
Sometimes Poppy is worried about her finances, sometimes it’s her love life. No man seems to understand her needs. Try as they might, they all leave Poppy unsatisfied. Even her former bosses/lovers… which goes a long way to explaining her finances.
Typically on the drive in Rose will offer advice, which is never taken, or just a shoulder for her to cry on.
Typically she cannot provide this assistance on the drive home because she is busy throwing up into a bag.
On one of the trip to Sloan Kettering Rose, in an attempt to brighten one of Poppy’s particular foul moods, told her about the Andean Condor. “These enormous creatures possess the largest wingspan of any land bird and spend their lives gliding majestically over the canyons in Peru. It is said that when they get old and too weak to go on, they fly to the highest peak and then plummet 20,000 feet, their wings folded inward, to their death.”
When Poppy made a face Rose was quick to finish the story. “But legends say that they then rise up and are reborn. The Incas said that these condors were immortal.”
She was still smiling when the gemcitabine and capecitabine entered her bloodstream an hour later.
The next time they were headed to chemo together Poppy said “I looked up your suicidal birds. I found out that they aren’t the only birds who kill themselves. There are birds in Peru called the cuvivíes that kill themselves by the thousand. After a long migration I guess they get too exhausted to continue, so they just dive into the freezing water. Splat. Villagers all gather and scoop them up to eat them. It’s a tradition.” She paused before continuing. “Maybe South America is just a depressing place for birds.”
Rose was oddly quiet the rest of that particular drive.
Then one morning Poppy got a call saying that her services would no longer be necessary as Rose had passed away. At precisely 10:30 the previous morning.
Right on schedule.
Despite being surrounded by family, Rose’s last thought was about Poppy. Hoping is she would be alright. That she could find a way to be happy.
The new pillows that Poppy had ordered arrived a short time later. Out of respect for her friend’s death, and wanting to avoid getting tears all over them, she used the old pillows that night.
Poppy’s last thought before she drifted off was “Could my life get any worse?”
Pretty grim right?
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