Bob's Stage Four Cancer Sale

Somewhere between the brown waters of Lake Eufaula and the wide bed of the Red River sleeps the pass-through town of Savanna, Oklahoma. I don't suspect anyone aims for Savanna as a terminal juncture. It is sheathing, a housing, a conduit for highway 69, which boasts a small high school, a truck stop, and a few burnt out hovels. Shakey Graves was coaxing me to "roll the bones," while I was passing through Savanna, and just before exhausting its outer boundaries, I noticed the sign in front of the old Texaco station. "My Stage 4 Cancer Sale," it read, and was signed, "Love Bob." I flew past Bob's Stage 4 Cancer Sale--1 mile, 2 miles--before it struck me that perhaps this was an opportunity for further exploration. Who was Bob, and why was he trying to sell his stage 4 cancer? I'm an impulsive, inquisitive fella, so I jammed the brakes to near lockup, and switched lanes much to the chagrin and horn-blowing of the semi behind me. I hooked a u-turn through the grassy median and turned back toward the conduit town.

George Straight was blaring from inside the burned-out Texaco at Bob's Stage 4 Cancer Sale, and the tables were well-stocked and well-ordered with old tools, rusty coffee cans, burnt nails, and more than a few unidentifiable knickknacks. I was feigning interest, appearing to be a paying customer, when Bob stepped through the doorway and onto the floor of his outdoor store.  He was carrying a rolled up canvas bundle, and shuffling short steps across the yard. He walked past me with slow purpose, not stopping to say "how are ye'?" although his lack of salutation did not feel akin to a cold shoulder. At the table directly to my right, the old man placed the canvas bundle on an empty table, and unrolled it to reveal a set of near ancient wrenches inside individual canvas sleeves.

I turned his direction.

"Bob?"

"That's me," he said and extended lanky fingers in my direction. His smile was as genuine and burnt out as Savanna itself, the creases between his teeth stained by years of tobacco use. His handshake was thin but firm. He had an inviting way.

"Is this your sale? You got cancer, Bob?" I said, turning on the southwestern verbal swagger I'd learned from living on the Oklahoma boarder during my childhood.

"Yup," he said. "I got the cancer. Had it for about a month now. Docs say I only got about two months to live, but I aim to fool them." He wheezed a laugh, sputtered a coughed, and then sucked his teeth.

"What kind of cancer you got?" I asked.

"Pancreatic. Colon. Them's the biggies. I think it might be elst-where too, though. But I ain't done yet," Bob said. "My aunt lives over near Oklahoma City, and she told me that them raw fruits and vegetables might get me over the hump. I've been eating that--what's it called?--that..." Bob paused and looked down at his feet, searching for the right word. I noted his belt buckle loops, each drawn to the next by a strand of nylon cord that cinched his size 42 jeans down to a 34. He scooted gravel around with his foot.

"Asparagus!" he remembered and his eyebrows raised in a smile. "I've also been freezing lemon slices and sucking on them during the day. I'm telling you, I'm gonna lick cancer. You watch."

I figured I'd not be in Savanna long enough to watch Bob lick cancer.  After all, and like I said, Savanna was not my final destination. I reckoned it was Bob's terminal juncture, though, so I extended encouragement the best I knew how.

"I hope you do, Bob," I said, then added, "I don't have any cash, or I'd buy that set of wrenches from you. They're dandies."

"That's alright," he said. "For one, I know you don't need no wrenches, and for two, since you can't buy nothing, maybe instead you could just offer a prayer for me as you move on to wherever your headed?"

"I'll do it," I said, and he smiled his thanks.

I asked Bob whether he'd agree to allow me a photograph, and he was gracious. I snapped the photo, he against the backdrop of a hand painted sign that told the world he loved it.

"Thank you Bob," I said, "and good luck."

"Don't think nothing of it," he responded. "And eat your asparagus," he added.

As I pulled from Savanna and made my way to the Texas boarder, I offered the prayer I'd promised to Bob.  He is a dead man walking, there is no doubt. But his parting shot to the world is "Love, Bob." I suppose we could all aim to do worse.

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