there was an easy remedy, was the ultimate trick the cancer had played on Mrs. A. Her sixteen-month ordeal still wasnât enough for me to decide whether the biggest favor we could do her was to make her face the truth or, conversely, to foster a false hope, but I was certainly leaning more toward blunt realism.
âWhich would you prefer?â I asked our guests. âGiven such a diagnosis, I mean. Wouldnât you at least like to have the honor of not being taken for a fool?â
They both hedged. They sensed that I was more involved than I let on, and perhaps the cancer of a person close to someone didnât seem like a topic to engage in over dessert.
âMy lucidity is more important to me than anything else,â I said. âI wouldnât like to betray it at the very end.â
âHow sad,â Nora remarked, implying that not only was I embarrassing our friends but that I had just offended her.
âWhy do you say that?â
She picked up the empty bowls abruptly. âDrop it. You wouldnât understand.â
When we were alone, I tried to coax her to forgive me by making her laugh. I reminded her of how she had insisted that we consult a vegan pediatrician, years ago, for Emanuele. âRemember? He wanted us to wean the baby on caraway and millet seeds, like a chicken.â And about the time sheâd sent me to a renowned hypnotist in the city to treat my insomnia. (Both her motherâs suggestions.) At the hypnotistâs I had not lapsed into a state of tranceâin fact, I was more alert than ever the whole time. âWhat do you see?â the doctor kept asking me in a baritone voice.
I sensed his irritability growing, and I in turn got worked up because I felt like I was disrespecting him. At one point during the relaxation exercise, my head had started spinning sharply. He quickly latched ontothat symptom, interpreting the dizziness as the residual effect of a cochlear disorder. âI bet you had the mumps.â
âYouâre right. When I was five, though.â
âAha, there you are. You were scared, werenât you?â
âI donât know.â
âOf course you were scared! Think about that helpless child experiencing a dizzy spell for the first time. He has no idea what is happening to him, and he is afraid, so afraid. Do you see him?â
âIÂ .Â .Â .â
âPick him up.â
âPick him up? Who?â
âTake that child in your arms. Cradle him gently, caress him. Take care of the child you were, whisper to him not to be afraid.Â .Â .Â .â
One, two, three!âand, satisfied, he woke me up.
âAll those things I always mistook for atrocious traumas could be the result of mumps,â I said to my wife, who was finally smiling. âSee what you led me to discover, you and that visionary mother of yours? Come over here, a little closer, help me cradle the suffering child in me.â
The fact is that Nora, her mother and Mrs. A. had indeed gone to the acupuncturist; all three together went to the blind doctor who had enabled my mother-in-law to quit smoking and then to quit gorging herself on ice cream in the middle of the night, who had relieved her low-back pain, the migraines that had become excruciating after the divorce, an episode of hemorrhoids and some general problems of self-esteem.
âHow can an acupuncturist be blind?â I took the liberty of asking her one day.
âHe became blind as a result of diabetes. Sometimes he forgets to remove a needle, but you realize it when you take a shower.â
At the very least, on that occasion Mrs. A. had undressed in front of someone who couldnât attest to her sad decline. The doctor sought the points in which to insert the needles by probing her skin with warm, sensitive fingertips. Mrs. A. was shaking (partly because of the cold); he noticed it and placed his palms over her ears for a