The Big C

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Consider the Lobster
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The man at the bank is confused when Cathy Jamison asks to cash in her 401(k). She's been adding to it for twenty safe years and she'll be giving up half of the account by doing this before retirement age. Retirement age, at this time, is sixty-five years. Cathy laughs when he says this out loud.

"Yeah, I'm going to need that money. I was watching Suze Orman this morning, she was preaching that same old tired mantra, Save For a Rainy Day, and I realized it could rain any day. So I decided to come down here, get my money. And just spend it."

Spend it? On what? Cathy doesn't know. And the man has no right to know. He confirms once more that this really what she wants. It's not really what she wants. It's not what she really wants, what she wants is to be sixty-five and fully vested and surrounded by grandchildren. What she wants is something without a name. Cathy has no idea what she wants. His breakfast pastry. She gives him the teacher voice, and he leaves to get the paperwork. She gleams and takes a bite.

The man returns; she'll have the money in an hour. He looks at the icing on her mouth, the bite -- not a tiny bite, a large bite -- missing from his breakfast. He stares; there must be something wrong with her. Something terrible, inside.

"Yes, I know. That's why I'm doing this."

Cathy meets her son Adam at the soccer field, playing a handheld video game. He was meant to have a job interview today, but he didn't feel like going. She wanted him to have a summer job, to pick up his own clothes, to learn the Banana Split & Dive; she wanted him to age ten years in an instant, so that she could say goodbye. "Adam, it's called a summer job because it's summer."

A summer job doesn't last long; summer in Minneapolis doesn't last long. "I don't want to hand out yogurt samples in the mall for minimum wage," he says, without looking up. She rolls her eyes. "Right, you really should be focusing on middle management."

The game was a gift from Paul, Cathy's husband. Paul is on the field, playing rugby, like he did when they were young. When Paul's wife Cathy left him it was like the walls fell away and he didn't know what to do and where to go and he was unhappy, so he went back to the beginning.

"And no," says Adam. "He does not know he looks ridiculous."

Cathy sends her son to the car, promising him he's not spending the summer playing video games just because she cancelled soccer camp. Paul, sweating and wild-eyed, approaches as their son is leaving. His knee brace is missing. Why is he playing rugby, his wife wants to know. Why, as a forty-five year old man twenty years from retirement, a man who bruises like a peach and wears a knee brace under his Dockers, why would this man possibly be playing rugby under the Minnesota sun this summer.

"You can't kick me out of the house and tell me what to do," says Paul. "So figure it out, Cath." He returns to his game. She kicked him out of the house because she was tired of telling him what to do; of being the unpopular one, the organizer, the closer-of-cabinets and cooker-of-meals for two men who are still boys because she needed them to be.

"If Adam wants a video game," Cathy says, waving it around, "He can get a job and buy it himself." Or he could wait until he's sixty-five. "You are not allowed to be the popular parent." Paul counters that this information was left out of the Banned Parent Handbook, and that he likes buying gifts for his son, whom he misses. Pulling these two men who are boys apart, that's an unwanted side effect; she has no defense. She changes the subject.

Sitting on the sidelines is a woman named Tina, harsh and brash and just a little bit dumb. They used to call her Rugby Slut. "She dated -- and I use that term loosely -- the entire rugby team, like twenty years ago. And here she is," says Cathy quietly, grimly. "Still at it. Camel toe and all."

But Paul likes the way she loves the rugby. She's not anybody's wife but if she were she would go to her husband's rugby game and tell him he is young and strong and beautiful and that the world didn't keep turning. She's not anybody's wife, but she's there: "She's a fan, Cath. It's not a crime to like something. You should try it sometime."

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The Big C

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