The Size of a Small Walnut

Aug 19  |  Phillip Traum

Richard Anderson seized the precise moment to sprint away from the tour guide. A couple of startled park rangers noticed him and blocked his path, but caught off guard, Richard blasted through them like a running back. They shouted obscenities in a tongue he wouldn’t recognize, had he been listening.

Richard hurdled a flimsy fence and mounted the volcanic slope with the adrenaline of a man 20 years his junior. Minutes later, he peered down the glowing abyss, the rising heat searing his face. He knew the rangers would soon catch up. He inhaled a swirl of ashes, folded in on himself, and in one final moment of terror, dropped face down.

The size of a small walnut.

The words had scarcely penetrated Richard’s shock as as his vision doubled. Their intonation was clipped, professional, impersonal. They were chosen to describe the size of the tumor in little Jacob’s brain. Richard heard very little after that, barely registering his wife’s panicked grip on his shoulder.

The size of a small walnut.

In the interceding months, Richard dealt with the grief by throwing himself into science. Rational or not, he pored over as much medical literature he could get his hands on, absorbing and digesting any and all there was to know about cancer: treatments, surgery, therapy, miracle cures.

The size of a small walnut.

After abandoning his Herculean effort of finding a cure for cancer, Richard raised his head skyward. He spoke with every priest, rabbi, monk, caliph, and shaman he could find, pleading for a path to the Almighty. He would throw himself prostrate at the feet of any savior that could grant mercy towards his son. Months of praying and weeping and clutching beads, amulets, all manner of talismen to his chest… all of it met with indifferent silence. He never felt the presence of a higher power in his heart. Just the same stretch of dislocation and despair.

The size of a small walnut.

The answer came as he laid in bed, catatonic, passing the time with late-night junk TV. It was one of those Ripley’s Believe it or Not! specials; a guilty pleasure for a man who prided himself in his belief of empirical and verifiable truths.

Tonight’s segment was on Wahaʻula Heiau, an ancient Hawai’ian temple that practiced human sacrifice. One disposable commoner, thrown into the mouth of a raging volcano, was enough tribute to appease the gods. It rewarded them with fertile soil, riches, prosperity… and deliverance from pestilence.

The size of a small walnut.

His rational worldview all but abandoned, Richard quietly booked a plane ticket.

* * *

Cynthia Anderson clutched her son’s hand, bracing herself for the latest prognosis. She felt both puzzled and terrified as to why their clinician insisted on talking to her in person, with little Jacob by her side.

“I’m at a loss for words,” Dr. Kaufmann confessed. “But I assure you, it’s just… disappeared. We’ve run a litany of tests, swapped out equipment we thought might be faulty, but MRIs, CT scans, blood work… all of it confirms the same thing. His tumor has vanished. It’s as though he had a twin brother that you switched up on us.”

Cynthia pulled her son into an anaconda hug and fell to pieces. She was a practiced pessimist, not daring to allow hope into her heart until it was all but unavoidable. The moment arrived.

“I just wish your father could be here for this,” she wept.