Stanley Chevrolewski was dying.
Riddled with cancer and crippled by arthritis, he had only a few months left. The best that he could hope for was to go without too much more pain.
How many times had he heard that? From how many doctors? He didn't know anymore. In the two and a half years since his daughter had deposited him at the Lodge Hill Hospice Home and walked away, Stanley had seen so many doctors and nurses that they had all come to look alike to him. In his nightmares, they all fused together to form a great monster in a white lab coat, a faceless bat hissing,"We're sorry, Mr. Chevrolewski. There's nothing more we can do."
On the wings of the bat were snakes. A nest of snakes coiled around a syringe, and they cooed, "Winter's coming, Mr. Chevrolewski. Winter Kills."
"Go away," he said aloud. He passed a heavy, tired hand in front of his eyes, attempting to erase the image.
"Please, God, make it go away."
Dr. Edwin Bauher paused outside the examining room. This Mr. Chevrolewski was hurting pretty bad, he thought. How was he going to help a man that was so far gone? For some odd reason, though, this particular patient intrigued him. That the man was able to get here from the hospice in the condition he was in showed strict determination. If the files he had in his hand were true, Mr. Chevrolewski shouldn't even be able to get to the bathroom, much less across town.
He noted that Stanley was a retired mechanic. Dr Bauher fancied himself a mechanic, of sorts. Only he fixed people rather than cars. He loved tinkering around under the hoods of cars, especially the older ones without all the electronic and computer gadgerty. He enjoyed their simplicity.
He played a little game with himself, where he'd try and guess what kind of car a person drove by their appearance and personality when they met. Sometimes he'd ask, and delighted in being right once in a while.
"Mr. C's a Chevy man," he guessed to himself. He looked forward to meeting his new patient. And he prayed that Mr. Stanley Chevrolewsky was in better shape than his medical records indicated.
Stanley knew that the doctor was right outside the door.
"Reading my records," he murmured. "Should have taken those things and burned them."
He waited for the monster in the lab coat, for the empty voice to tell him that he was as good as dead.
Then Edwin Bauher entered the room wearing a plaid flannel shirt and worn jeans, sporting a scuffy beard upon a hardened face. With Stanley's records in hand, he flashed a smile and said, "Mr.Chevrolewski! I'm Ed Bauher. What can I do for you today? Tune up? Oil change?"
Stanley was stunned. Had he gotten lost and wound up at the garage? This guy looked more like the wrench turners that he used to work with than a doctor. When they shook hands, Stanley was surprised to see that Dr. Bauher's hands were huge, and callused. They didn't look like the hands of an orthopedic sureon at all.
Stanley looked around the room, confused, half expecting to see a tire changing machine stuck somewhere.
"Ball Joints," was all he could come up with. "I need ball joints."
The rapport between them was instantaneous. The doctor's strong features opened into a wide grin.
"From the looks of these records, you could use some serious frame work and an overhaul."
He became solemn then. "Really, Mr Chevrolewski," he began. "I don't know what you're hoping to achieve here. Accoring to your records, and my recent tests, you're in pretty rough shape. I understand you've been told this before."
Here it comes, Stanley thought. Just like always.
"Skip the cancer and go after the arthritis," Stanley said suddenly. He ignored the doctor's raised brows.
"You're an orthopedics man," he went on stubbornly. "You help get me moving and I'll attack the cancer myself."
Edwin looked at the old man before him. It was his turn to be shocked.
"You want me to ignore terminal cancer? Just forge it's there...Just like that?" He snapped his fingers to further his point. "How?"
"Dr. Bauher," Stanley sighed. He was tired of this. "Look at your paper again. The cancer's not speading as fast as the frame rot."
Stanley cast a hard gaze at Edwin.
"They stuck me in a hospice," he said. "Not a hospital, a hospice, because I was having a hard time fending for myself. Because of this damnable arthritis, I can't walk."
They threw me in that hospice... that junk yard...and walked away. Got it, Doc? I've been scrapped like an Edsel."
"Half the time," he went on, "between the chemo and the morphine, I'm too wasted to lift my own head to puke. And yet they keep going after the tumors and ignoring my spine."
Stanley straightened as much as he could,ignoring the blast of pain that shot up his back. "It's stupid," he said. "It's like fixing the roof and skipping the major crack in the foundation. Like slapping some bondo into a dent without checking the frame!"
"Stanley," Edwin ventured slowly, "This is all starting to sound a little unrealistic."
"Maybe an appointment with Jack Kavorkian would have been more realistic," Stanley snapped. He slumped in his chair, weakened.
"I used to have a life," he said. Pain and fatigue etched deep lines into the corners of his eyes and pulled his wide mouth down. "I used to have a family. I was strong and fast and capable and I was proud. Now I lie in a room day after day and wait to die. That place is a hell hole. I don't want to die in it. I want out."
He turned to gaze out the window at the bright snshine. Yellows and flame-reds were starting to decorate the trees.
"Winter's coming, Doc. And winter kills the weak. This one's gonna get me if I can't get some help. All I want is a little help moving. Just a little kick start."
He looked back at Edwin, and his features brightened a little. "Besides," he said. "It's not time to count this old heap out just just yet! You'll be srprised at what I can do on my own, after an alignment!"
Dr. Bauher studied Stanley. He reminded him of his father. How he had loved his father. He remembered the guilt he felt when his father succumbed to cancer ten years earlier. If they had done a little more...maybe...if they had just given him a little 'kick start'...maybe he wouldn't have gone from the strong, pround man he was to frail, emaciated skeleton he died as.
"Stan, what kind of car did you drive before you got sick?"
Stanley chuckled. "All kinds, Doc. I drove and fixed'em all. But my favorite? Well, that was a big old green Chevy Impala. Nineteen seventy three. Two door. The kind that used points instead of electronic ignition. That was a good old car. Had over two hundred and twenty thousand miles on it when I finally had to scrap it. Too much rot. Had a big stress crack down one side of the car, from the corner of the window to the wheel well. So I had to put it to rest. But, damn, didn't that old car run well..."
He smiled, and a twinkle lit his pale eyes. "But it isn't gone yet! Took the motor and tranny out and gave them to a friend of mine. We did a new cam and lifters and threw the whole thing into his car, and I hear it's still going strong. So don't be so quick to call something scrap...no matter how rotted out it is."
Edwin nodded, feeling a mix of smug pomposity for guessing correctly and humility...for what he wasn't sure. What he was sure of was the Mr. Stanley Chevrolewski had humbled him profoundly.
"Okay, Stan. We'll try it your way. The foundation before the roof. And I'll order up a set of ball joints."
"Make them good ones, Doc!" Stanley joked, smiling broadly. "I'm a classic