“There’s nothing you can do, Dad,” David said. “But . . . thanks for saying that.”
“I wish I could just speed up time, flip the calendar ahead to a day when you’ll feel better. I know you will, too—someday. Day by day, things will get better for you, David. I know it seems overwhelming right now. Like when I lost your mother. But you’ll get through all this.” Jack paused. David could tell he was searching for the right thing to say. “Coming off a battlefield, leaving army life, that’s a heck of a lot to handle. Especially after what you’ve been through. The important thing is that you came back. You’re alive. You have your whole life ahead of you. Don’t get lost in your pain. Don’t give up on yourself.”
David didn’t know what to say. He knew his father meant well and was trying to help. But he’d heard this all before. It was impossible to look ahead to some sunny someday, when his future stretched ahead long and dark and frightening.
Now it was clear that he didn’t even have Christine to hope for anymore. That was a blow. His physical injuries had wiped out all his plans, everything he had wanted. What would he do with his life now? He had no idea.
David looked across the table at his father.
He has good intentions,
but he really doesn’t have a clue about what I’m dealing with.
“Dad, I know you believe I’m going to make a full recovery and be just the way I was when I left. But not one single doctor so far has told me that’s what will happen. Every day that I wake up dragging around this dead foot makes it seem more and more unlikely,” David said bluntly. “I’m going to be this way the rest of my life. I have to face it.”
“David, David.” His father shook his head, as if he really didn’t want to hear the truth so plainly spoken. “You don’t know that for sure. You could get the feeling back anytime. That’s what I heard them say. The nerves aren’t damaged, they’re just in shock or something—from all the operations. Let’s try to think positively, okay?”
David felt a lump of emotion well up in his throat but swallowed it back. He nodded, saying nothing, trying hard not to have an angry outburst at his father for all this . . . this “happy talk.” As if he wasn’t walking right due to some weakness of will, or because his thinking was too negative. Because he was being too honest with himself about the hopelessness of the situation.
“Maybe the physical therapy will spark up something in your muscles, get things working again,” his father added. “The last doctor you saw thought it might.”
David was scheduled to start physical therapy tomorrow, with a new therapist at the VA Center in Beverly. He had already had some PT and unlike his father, didn’t expect any miracles.
“A small chance, he said,” David clarified. “But I need the therapy anyway. I just want to get rid of this damn walker.”
Jack nodded, looking encouraged. “That’s a goal, a good one. Start there. That’s all it takes.”
David rubbed his chin. He thought about Christine again, even though he didn’t want to. The expression on her face when she had first walked into the house. The way she had looked at him. It might have all gone differently if he hadn’t been standing behind the walker and had faced her on his own two feet.
“All right. Fair enough,” David said quietly.
“Maybe by Christmas?” his father asked.
Now he was setting a deadline? Putting the pressure on? “Yeah, maybe . . . What’s the difference?”
Jack shrugged. “It’s good to set a date. Even if you don’t make it. Which reminds me of something . . .” Jack suddenly jumped up from his chair. “Wait right here. I have something for you.”
Where would I go? David wanted to ask him. But he held his tongue.
Jack ran into the little room off the kitchen that served as his office and quickly returned with a brown shopping bag. “Here, this is for you. An early Christmas present.”
David took the bag and took out a box that was inside. He could see what it was from the label. “A laptop? Dad . . . you didn’t have to buy me this. It’s too expensive.”
Jack ignored him. David could tell his father was excited about the gift. “It’s wireless, see? You can use it anywhere. More convenient for you.”
Jack had a desktop computer in his office that David sometimes used to keep up with friends or search information on the Internet. But it was in an uncomfortable spot for him, and Jack often needed to use the computer at the same time for work.
“I know you want to stay in touch with your friends, and it’s better than watching TV,” Jack said.
Better than lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling,
David silently added, which is how he passed most hours lately.
David looked down at the box again and started to open it. “This is a really good one. It was a great idea, Dad, but I’m going to pay you back. I can afford it.”
“Yeah, I know you’re a rich man now with all that back pay. But this is a gift, from me and Julie, okay? Now, just use it and enjoy it. I don’t want to argue about it anymore.”
David had to grin at his father’s sudden change in tone. It had been a while since he had heard that line around here.
“Okay, sir. Will do. Thank you very much.”
Jack stood up and roughly patted David’s shoulder. He didn’t answer for a moment.
“Thank you for coming home, David,” he said finally. “That’s all you ever have to do for me.”
David thought his father was about to cry, but Jack turned away before he could tell for sure.
MILY, I NEED YOU. IT’S AN EMERGENCY.”
“What’s going on, Mother?” Emily asked quickly. “Should I call the fire department?”
Emily thought her mother’s voice sounded very calm and controlled for someone in the midst of a crisis. But her mother could sound that way even if the roof was caving in.
“I can’t find my medications. I’ve looked everywhere. I think my pill case has been stolen.”
“Is that all?” Emily sighed with relief and smiled over at her secretary, Helen, who was sitting nearby, ready to start their regular Monday lunch meeting.
“Well, it may be a small matter to you,” Lillian snapped, “but it’s an emergency to me. Someone’s stolen them, I’m sure. I can’t see how my pill case would have disappeared from this house otherwise.”
“Who in the world would steal your pills, Mother? You haven’t had any strangers in your house for weeks.”
That was one of her mother’s pet fears, suspecting that anyone who came into the house to repair an appliance or read a water meter was really there to rob her.
“I had my pills with me at the bridge party. Maybe some senile senior stole them out of my purse. Or one of the servers?”
Emily waited a moment before replying. If she didn’t watch it, she was either going to laugh out loud or totally lose her patience. She tried her best for a reassuring tone.
“The pill case must be in the house somewhere, Mother. I’ll stop by after work and help you look.”
“Tonight, you mean? Well, by then I’ll probably be dead from a stroke or a heart attack,” Lillian predicted airily. “Why don’t you come tomorrow? Or the day after? Just to be sure. I’m already feeling a bit unsteady.”
“No need to be sarcastic. I get your point.”
“No you don’t. You obviously don’t understand, Emily. I need to take those medications at the same time each day. Or else. That’s what the doctor told me.”
Before Emily could answer her mother gave out a long exasperated sigh. “Don’t trouble yourself. I’ll deal with it. Though it’s very difficult for me to look behind the furniture and in all the nooks and crannies. Bending over and moving the sofa and such makes me very dizzy. . . .”
“All right, Mother. Just stay put. But I can’t visit for very long, I have a meeting at two thirty.”
“That goes without saying. You are so important. But I do appreciate you taking a few minutes from your busy schedule.”
Emily rolled her eyes at her mother’s mocking tone. “Not a problem. I’ll be right there.”
Emily quickly left her office at the village hall and drove the short distance to her mother’s house. She let herself in with her own key and called out from the foyer, “Mother? I’m here. It’s me, Emily.”
“Finally,” Lillian called back.
Emily followed the sound of her voice to the kitchen where she found her mother at the table, calmly eating a bowl of soup and working on a crossword puzzle.
It took a moment for Lillian to look up at her, over the edge of her reading glasses. “What took you so long?”
“I came as fast as I could.” Emily slipped off her silk scarf and wool jacket and draped them over the chair. “Where have you looked for the pills? Did you check upstairs yet? Maybe the case was on the night table and it fell under the bed.”
Lillian squinted and held up her hand, a sharp yellow pencil poised to fill a word on the puzzle. “Just a moment. . . . Can you keep quiet please while I think?” Then her eyes opened and her expression looked very pleased. “Zeitgeist . . .” She quickly counted the letters in the word on her fingers then nodded with satisfaction. “What took me so long? So obvious,” she scolded herself as she filled in the spaces on the page.
Emily sighed out loud, wondering if other mothers were this exasperating. Somehow she suspected Lillian took the prize.
“Would you like some soup?” Lillian asked, frowning at the puzzle. “There’s more in the pot, chicken noodle. It isn’t very good. Your sister didn’t buy the brand I prefer.”
“Thank you. I just had lunch.” Sort of, she silently amended. She had dashed out before eating even half of her salad. “So . . . the pills? I thought finding your medications was a dire emergency.”
Emily wanted to add that she had fully expected to find her mother in the middle of a fainting spell, at the very least. But Emily knew better than to call Lillian on her wild exaggerations.
Lillian suddenly looked up. “Actually, I found the pills. A short time after we spoke. It was the oddest thing. I thought I would work on my embroidery while I waited for you, to calm my nerves. And there it was, the pill case, in the bottom of my sewing tote. I can’t imagine how it got in there,” she added with a shrug.
“Neither can I.”
Lillian shook her head and lifted a spoonful of soup to her lips. “Perhaps the case fell off the side table while I was sewing last night. That’s the only explanation I can think of.”
“That’s probably how it happened, Mother.” Feeling thoroughly frustrated, Emily sat down at the table and picked up a cracker.
Crackers in this house always tasted stale, and Emily was on a low-carb diet and knew she shouldn’t be eating any kind of cracker, stale or otherwise. But she didn’t care. It was either busy her mouth chewing something or chew out her mother for making her run over here as if the house were on fire.
Her mother glanced back at the puzzle again. “Can you think of a word that means both apparition and a cool dark place? Five letters, starts with
“I have no idea. I really don’t like crossword puzzles. I’m terrible at them.”
“I don’t know why that should be. You have a good vocabulary. I think it’s more that you just don’t apply yourself.”
Emily had to smile at the half-baked compliment. “Thanks, Mother. I think. But I didn’t run over here to do a crossword puzzle with you.”
“Of course not. It’s the middle of the day, and you’re a very busy woman. . . . Oh, I’ve got it,” Lillian said, staring down at her puzzle. “It’s shade. How simple. Why didn’t I see that?”
“You know what I mean.” Emily cleared her throat, getting ready to make another pitch for home help. It would have been much easier if her mother could just stop doing the puzzle and listen to her. But that would be asking too much.
“This is just what Jessica and I were trying to tell you on Saturday, Mother. You need someone in the house, to help you. Someone to keep things in order or find things that are misplaced, to help you with a crossword puzzle, if that’s the only problem.”
“Oh, I rarely misplace anything. There’s a place for everything, and everything in its place. And I certainly don’t need a partner for my puzzles. What would be the point of that? I’m trying to exercise the gray matter. Very necessary at my age.” She tapped her temple with the yellow pencil.
Emily dipped her head in order to catch her mother’s eye. “And the pills getting lost? How did that happen?”
“That was an accident, a total fluke. You know I never lose things. Why would you even ask such a thing?”
It was true. Her mother was not one to misplace her possessions. She was just the opposite, clinging fiercely to every belonging, constantly taking inventory, and quite unnerved if every object was not in its designated spot, as it had been for years and years. Emily sometimes wondered if the vases and figurines had little numbers on the bottom to match specific spots on the end tables and mantel.