I shifted on the couch, after all the years I spent in his office I never got used to the hard-cushioned couch. It was strange a doctor having a red flowered sofa in his office, and not a rigid-cold seat in front of him, like all the other doctors I had seen. It was like I was here for a tea and a chat with an old friend looking at the birds in his backyard. He had even dared to paint his walls dusty pink and the wall behind his desk light grey with pictures of his smiling children. They aren’t children now, they had their own families and their own children. I was best friends with his eldest daughter, but I don’t have family or children. I always thought his office décor was incongruous to the news he often had to deliver to his patients.
He leaned forward on his desk opening his mouth to speak again, I could spend all day listening to him, for a German his accent had an unusually soft, romantic lilt to it.
‘Martha did you hear me?’, Dr Gertz asked resting his clasped hands on the desk. He waited for me to answer. Waited for the news to sink in. He must have seen a kid in before me, he still had his Santa Micky Mouse stethoscope around his neck.
Behind him, through the window, I saw snow had finally started to fall. The snow laden clouds that had filled the skies on my way to the office were finally relieving themselves of their load. That frosty nights had grown warmer and that meant snow was on its way. My dad told me that fact when I was little. He would put me on his lap on the cushioned seat in our living room bay window overlooking our back garden, ‘You know its gonna snow when there’s been a hard frost and then the temperature rises. Snow clouds are like a thermal blanket.’
‘Martha. Are you taking this in? Two choices.’
My chest tightened. A bead of sweat dripped down my forehead and I wiped it away but my forehead was cold and tried to focus. I learnt a trick in CBT, when put in a situation like this and went somewhere safe, I couldn’t make a decision when the carbon dioxide was pumped around my body, my blood acidic. I went back to my safe place for a few minutes
I sighed, warm in my childhood memory. Snow had fallen and I had watched robins eating bread crumbs on the bird stand in our garden, I would snuggle into my father’s big strong arms, warm and safe, ‘Robins, Martha they are spirits of our loved ones.’ My dad would point at the red robin on the snowy bird feeder, ‘Martha, that is your mothers’ spirit.’ I would dissolve into his secure arms, and we would contently watch the robin feed on the crumbs I left for the birds, The questioning sceptical years of adolescence and adulthood soon replaced the happy securities of my childhood imagination.
The snow started to fall thick and slow, snowflakes glittered, twinkling as they floated past the bright light from the office, like Christmas tree fairy lights. I tilted my head to one side, a small bird landed on the window ledge. I strained to see, I had a good long-range vision. It was a robin. A small red robin, I smiled as I watched it hop along the window ledge. Snow fell on it, but I could not see if it had melted from the heat from its little body
Dr Gertz turned to see what I was looking at.
‘Ah, Robin Red, Martha. He always comes here at the same time every day. Do you ever wonder can birds tell the time?’ and he paused, ‘It’s not just crows that are clever with their Crow’s Court. My little feathered friend arrives every day at 4pm, even when the clocks change, he still appears at 4pm.’
The fluorescent lights brightened in the office. I looked at Dr Gertz. I never noticed that his once thick Aryan blond hair was thinner and greyer than my first visit to the office, ten years previously. I hadn’t noticed that. I had been a regular visitor. A bit like the robin, but my visits were every Monday morning at 9am. This was the first time I’d been to his office on a Friday.
‘Martha, are you taking this in?’
He had taken his glasses off, his round glasses, like the ones people wore in the 1920’s. He sighed as he rubbed the glass, ‘Martha.’
I shrugged, what could I say? A calmness had descended enveloping me, wrapping itself around me, hugging me like a warm blanket. I looked at my nails, bitten to the stub due to years of anxiety, worrying about nothing, my blood tests had always come back clear. Once Dr Gertz had suggested CBT. CBT wouldn’t help me now.
I looked at the robin, it stared back at me. A little crown of snow on his head. Again, another wave of calmness.
‘Martha, I need your answer. It’s either 6 months or you will get two years with chemotherapy. Which is it to be?’
I looked at Dr Gertz, looked at the robin, and back to Dr Gertz. When I looked back to the window sill the robin fluttered its wings, snow fell onto the window sill and then it was gone.
That was when I knew I had my answer.