… was the forest green dress from Tesco’s, £12.00 for a flammable wool synthetic with a scoop neck and three-quarter length sleeves, and a pair of vintage ankle boots from a shop so great I won’t reveal the name.  They’re black and tight – second-skin tight — with square toes, the kind of footwear a hot witch might wear on a second date.  Donna, stretched out on the long sofa, was wearing Levi’s — once fitted, now loose – her Prada specs and the Paul Smith shawl Tom gave her.  From the neck up, she looked like one of those marble busts of a Renaissance scholar: pale, elegant and completely hairless.

In the movie, she’d be played by Sigourney Weaver — Sigourney Weaver in Alien 3, all skull and cheekbones.

We were talking about her surgeon Dr B and what he was wearing the morning of her operation.  He had shown up at her hospital room while they were prepping her and for a little while he stood in the doorway, watching.  He was wearing a suit.  That may not sound like much, but it was a revelation for Donna.  All the other times she’d seen him, he’d been shrouded in his white coat, that blank, protective garment worn by doctors and butchers – people who work with blood and innards.  The suit was beautiful, dark blue and double breasted, with a lavender shirt and a lavender tie.  He’s a big man, Dr B, 6’4”,  broad, with long arms and wide hands.  His suits are made for him by a tailor on the Upper East Side, the same tailor who dresses all the New York basketball players, the Knicks and the Harlem Globetrotters — big men of style.

Lying there on the hospital bed, the nurse fiddling with needles and tubes, Donna looked at Dr B, at the jacket fitted just so, and the toned-in shades of lavender, and she thought: Well, well.  The man is a dandy. Who knew.

That’s the thing about Dr B; he keeps surprising her. He had been the last in the series of surgeons and oncologists that she’d met and most of the others had said things like, I’m not going to pull any punches, and, You’re stage 4, there’s no stage 5, as if they were all coaches and she was the player who was letting down the team.  Dr B, though, had sat and listened to what she had to say and when she’d finished he took those big hands of his and placed them over her heart.  Then he said: This must be so humiliating for you.

Donna’s no sentimentalist.  She’s not the kind of person who looks for comfort and answers in crystals and sound bites.  Even so, she said to herself, He knows.

So it’s Dr B we’ve ended up discussing, off and on throughout my stay.

We’ve made up a chart, Donna and I, almost a Venn diagram of what we’re calling Cancer Dicks and Cancer Darlings. The Dicks are those people, medical and civilian, who say stupid things, who call up to lecture her on her medication or to suggest that her lifestyle choices might be responsible for her condition. Just saying lifestyle choices is enough, we think, to place such people firmly in the Cancer Dick category.

Dr B, of course, is a Cancer Darling.

These are some of the Dr B-related topics we’ve covered:  His beautiful suits.  His ties – does he choose them himself, or is there a Mrs B?  Those hands of his.  You’d assume a surgeon’s hands would have to be thin and nimble, athletic without being brutish – a sailor’s hands, accomplished at tying knots, or a golfer’s, used to diddling around with tees and small, pocked balls.

On one level, this is not an unusual conversation for us to be having, to be talking about what a guy we know wears, his attitude toward style, his physical attributes.  We’ve been having this conversation for years.  There’s always a subtext, but it’s never been as hidden, as coded as this one.  We both know the code.  It can be broken down as follows: if Dr B knows the key to the perfect tie, does he also have the key to the perfect – and this is the point where the conversation goes as deep underground as a Chilean miner.  The word we’re both thinking, and not saying, is cure.