Philip looked around the doctor's office, noting the seams for the flowered wallpaper were centered on the sharps disposal container, and wondering if one had to take a class or get some kind of certification to decorate such a space. It was a strange mix of modern and country, a chrome and glass container holding sterile depressors next to a calendar showing a picture of a cross-stitched rooster pillow.
“It's like those dreadful trips to your mother's house, except with the possibility of a colonoscopy,” he said to June, sitting next to him.
She hadn't put the car keys away in the parking lot. She held them when they checked in, when they sat in the waiting room, all the way through the nurse's questions about diet and sleeping habits. She held them even now, running a thumb back and forth along the key's bumps.
“Pardon?” she said.
“This whole country-kitsch thing. I mean, is this supposed to put people at ease or something?”
“I don't know, Phil.” She stroked the key like a rosary. “What would you have done?”
“Hmm, now that is an interesting question. Something with a coffee machine, I should think. I mean everyone loves coffee. Hell, even McDonald's is a coffee place now. Are you going to argue with Ronald McDonald?”
“Coffee's not good for you, Phil, you know that.” She looked up at him, staring with dark circled eyes.
Phil looked away with a little laugh. “Well, perhaps you're right.”
A knock at the door, and the doctor walked in. She was flipping through a sheaf of papers. Her face seemed to be set into a permanent frown, but Phil heard her laughing in the hallway not five minutes before. He wondered if it was some kind of modification to the Hippocratic oath – heal the sick, do no harm, and no levity in front of the civilians.
“Mrs. Nanee, how are we doing?”
June shrugged. The doctor tossed her papers onto the counter and sat down on a small stool. She took in a breath to speak, but Philip interrupted.
“Do they do casual Fridays around here?” he said.
“I'm sorry?” the doctor said.
“Casual Fridays,” he said, “Because you're the first doctor I've seen with jeans on. I've never seen that before, except at the vet's office of course. Hey,” he said, patting June's leg, “maybe that's it. You probably just have heartworm.”
June dropped the keys and covered her face with both hands.
The doctor's mouth hung open for a moment before she regained her composure. “I think that it's important that in this situation, you show some more support for your wife.” The frown lines deepened and her nostrils flared.
The doctor was actually kind of pretty, he realized. A bit hard around the edges perhaps, but that just made her all the more attractive. Here was a woman who was a fighter. Here was a woman who wouldn't crumble. She would look him in the eye, not stare past his shoulder like there was something sad happening right behind him. She'd find something worth a smile. Philip felt the heat rise to his face under the doctor's stare.
“Sorry,” he said. “I guess we're beyond the chemotherapy, then?”