This story is by Terry-Ann Coley-Graham and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Some words fill space, becoming still. Their saturation deafens. Slows existence.
The man before me flailed in silence. Moving pictures his backdrop. His audience too unresponsive, he gave up. He walked away, leaving me with them. Six Months. Malignant Melanoma.
He returned after seven minutes’ intermission to retake his spot. My hearing cleared. Unfortunately, I had to watch the performance anew with sound as he explained the video snapshotting three minutes of the attack of the disease in my head.
“You can beat this with immediate interventions and treatments. First is surgery, of course,” Dr. Harris concluded, closing my file.
“Thank you, Doc,” I said, shaking his hand.
Then I booked my travel ticket.
In the seven solitary minutes Doc gifted me, I contacted Paul – a man who first messaged me four months ago. After cursorily reading that message titled Your daughter, I deleted it. I assumed it was a scam. In any case, when I was ready, there was always my ex-wife to broker the reunion. On a Friday afternoon, two weeks ago, Paul called me at the office. With all the hurdles in place to screen external callers, his achievement was impressive. He told me that my artist daughter was opening a school, centered around art. She also had an exhibition coming up. He held an invite for me. His care for my daughter was clear. Still, I put a few of my people on checking him out. He was legit. I went on the art school’s website. A virtual walk-through of the building, for which construction would soon start, was there, as well as the offerings of the institution. I learned she was searching for investors to support her school’s goal to mold young artists.
When I spoke to Paul in Dr. Harris’s office, he was terrified. “The Cargills, a powerful local family, changed their minds about their investment and are demanding return of it all… which was already spent on the school!” Paul said in a soft shriek. “She has three days. These people are not ones to play with Mr. McCormick.” According to Paul, they weren’t violent, but had the connections to make her life wretched. “I guess we were too eager in getting her dream off the ground. We should have been more discriminating who we got in bed with,”
In the taxi to the airport, I made two account transfers. I, Daniel Mcormick, became an investor in a promising art school. I also paid this month’s fee to my aunt’s nursing home. Aunt Myra kept her own money in lucrative investments. I looked down at the scratchpad in my lap. I drafted a timeline below Doc’s office logo. I would help my daughter and return in time for surgery, which was three days away. “You can’t delay removing this tumor growing in your sinus,” warned Dr. Passley, the main surgeon I met with that morning.
On the plane, I thought about those sentencing words – Six months. They had no chance against me for sure. But there was something more in them – a question mark over my life.
I landed in New York at night, getting the details of the meeting time and place as I entered my hotel room. Paul and I had no clue how my daughter would react seeing me out of the blue, but we pressed ahead. I checked a few emails before bedtime. I was the owner and genius behind the Free of Tox company that researched and invented alternative means to protect lives from harmful toxins in everyday life. Ironic I got cancer.
On the following night, at 7:00 PM, I sat in the Italian restaurant facing her. At forty-eight years of age, I hardly got jumpy. I had seen so much, done so much. But the woman across from me made me nervous. It wasn’t just the reunion after 15 years; she didn’t smile or show any emotion towards me. She kept her expression sterilely cool. “I would love to come to one of your exhibits. I hear there’s one opening next week?” I asked venturingly.
She gave her husband another glare. Him, she showed emotion. “Just so you know, I will be super busy with clients and running the event’s program…”
“All I want Arianne, is to be there,” I interjected.
She blew out a breath. “I can’t believe this. Fine, you can come.”
I fought back a smile. “Thank you.” I stared at her long. “I thought of you a lot over the years. I am sorry it took me so long to get in touch.”
Her face was blank.
The night was filled with awkward silences; with me waiting in vain for elaboration of her terse responses to my questions.
Finally, Paul petted the elephant in the room. “There is another reason I called your dad: to help with the Cargill situation.”
Eternal silence. Even the restaurant went dead.
Paul and I both flinched when she said, “I can’t say I won’t murder dearest by the end of the week, but, given I just received this text, I am willing to hear what you two came up with.” She placed her phone in the middle of the table.
‘Dear Arianne, if you want your exhibition to happen and to go on being an artist in this town, you will deliver on November 19. Ten percent interest added for every hour past the deadline.’
I cursed. “Can’t we go to the police?”
They looked at me like I was dumb.
“No one, except their bullied victims, believes anything bad about the Cargills. They own the Police anyway,” Paul elucidated.
We worked on a plan. By the end of the discussion, giving over the money was a backup. We had a better way of getting around the Cargills.
I took the train the next day to New Jersey to see my aunt. Even though my company was successful, to come up with four million in cash at one time would be a challenge, and raise flags.
“Hmmm. Interesting plan,” my aunt responded as we sat in the butterfly garden on the estate. “And if it goes wrong, you hand over all this money?”
She nodded and looked down at her hands. “I am glad you and your daughter have reunited.” She looked up and smiled. “Okay. Let’s do it.”
I loved aunt Myra. Before her, I was in a state home getting little guidance. When I turned fifteen, she found me. My father sneakily gave me up for adoption following my mother’s passing. I was one. My brother and sister being six and eight were more manageable and useful. My aunt never knew until she visited the home country, Jamaica, years later. She wasted no time taking me back to England with her. I never spoke to nor saw my father but connected with my siblings. Ironic I too bailed on my child.
I planned to make a quick stop by Marjorie, my daughter’s mother, on the way back. She too lived in New Jersey. But, sitting in the café on the corner of her street, I decided against it. She didn’t know about Arianne’s problem nor mine, and I didn’t want to worry her. Besides, the last time we spoke, months ago, I asked if she was seeing someone and she said yes. That hurt.
Back in New York, we arranged a midday meeting with the Cargills on the19th, the next day.
We sat in the Belgium Hotel bar, minutes before the meeting, and saw when the two Porsche’s pulled up through the glass window.
“Okay. Let’s go over this quickly,” Paul whispered, leaning forward.
Thirty minutes later, two Cargill brothers and their sister stared blankly at us. They and my daughter could play poker together. Our terms were clear. With my successful expanding brand partnering with my daughter’s school, and already marketing it as a one-of-a-kind safe environment, void of toxins, art supplies and all, it was a shoo-in for profit, especially when it went on the market. The Cargills would be stupid not to keep their investment.
Miranda, the female Cargill, spoke first. “Alright we will consider the deal. But we won’t agree until you send us the marketing and investment plans.”
“Done. My people will send that to you asap,” I confidently said.
We started to rise.
“Oh, we are not done,” said the bigger male Cargill.
“What now,” my daughter bit out.
“Please sit.” Big Cargill continued, “Your mother has been dating the CEO of one of our rival companies. We see an opportunity here. We want information on a deal they’re in… by tomorrow…”
As I listened to the leeches we were mixed up with, I realized three things: 1. My life was resuscitated with purpose – the question mark fading. 2. It was time to stop playing nice with these Cargills and 3. No matter what, I would make that surgery tomorrow.