I managed to collect Margie at the correct time and at the correct place. A stale odor clung to her as she slumped in the passenger seat of my car, panting to catch her breath. It was persistent, but not overpowering. She smelled old, like dust and mothballs --a side effect of the medicine, probably.
In gasping breaths, she thanked me for picking her up and taking her to see the doctor.
"I could have got one of my boys to do this maybe," she said. "But they've missed so much work anyway and we need them to work."
I nodded. It wasn't a problem. I was glad to get the chance to make good.
We talked. She was lonesome and wanted to talk. Other than her two sons, both likely in their late 20s or early 30s, and an old friend she spoke to on the phone, all she had left for company was an ailing dog she believed was worse off than she was.
"The vet says it's cancer," Margie told me. "They can't do much for her, but she's not in any pain. She's eating, but the swelling." She shook her head. "She could go anytime."
Losing the dog would be hard, one more event in an already troubled life.
Margie barely remembered anything good about being Margie. She was defensive about her life, bruised about her catalog of injustices and slights. Her hard-drinking, hard-living father, whom she'd adored, had been tossed out of her mother's house when she was in five or six. On a rare, unannounced visit by the man, her mother had discovered the two of them talking together inside the house and the sheriff had been called to haul him off.
Her mother apparently had run through several men, but Margie lost the roof over her head when she got pregnant in high school.
She'd been married. It had fallen apart. The husband was scarcely mentioned. If she'd ever loved him, the joining had been reduced to an obligatory footnote. He was probably not the father of her sons, who she cooked and cleaned for, even in her condition.
Margie said she'd owned one really nice car, a Cherry red Mustang, but mostly she'd driven junk and lived in trailers.
Margie struggled. She'd been sick. Once, she'd been locked up in a mental hospital for depression. Her doctor turned out to be an old college friend.
Despite the falling out with her mother, Margie said she'd taken care of her during her final days when others wouldn't.
"She got cancer."
I don't know how much of what Margie told me was true. There was a certain hollowness in her words. Her story rang of edited for time and content kind of truth, like television movie based on the book truth, but not the straight stuff. Still, I believed that seeing her mother slowly succumb to breast cancer had taken its toll on Margie.
She told me the year before, she'd discovered a mysterious lump in her breast. The discovery terrified her.
So she did nothing.
Not for months, not until early autumn when she finally went to a doctor, who told her the breast would have to be removed immediately if she wanted to live to see the new year.
"It was agony," she told me. "It was like being cut over and over with a hot knife."
After it was all over, she'd considered reconstructive surgery.
"I thought about replacing my boob," she said. "But I couldn't go through that again --besides, I'm not interested in dating any more. I'm past that. I don't know that I'd even want to try to meet someone."
She didn't think she'd be much company anyway. The pain had never really gone away and it had spread, which was why she was seeing another doctor. Now, her back hurt her and she told me doctors had narrowed the problem down to either bone cancer or disintegrating vertebrae --neither had much appeal.
The drugs, she assured me, as strong as they were and they were pretty strong, weren't cutting it.
"I don't know what I'm going to do," she sighed. "I don't want to die, but the pain is killing me."
Then she asked me why I was here.