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Authors: Patti Hill

Seeing Things (26 page)

BOOK: Seeing Things
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“This isn't Andy's choice. The Bowers reserved the room last fall. You heard him—they forgot we were coming.” I said the words, but I didn't believe them.
Chuck said, “The last time I checked, this is still the U.S. of A., where folks are allowed to change their minds, do the right thing, include the ones they love. Our son chose differently.”
The reality of his words crushed my heart to smithereens. Walking away meant closing a door—a thick, heavy door. From the guest bedroom, Chuck called, “Are you coming or not?”
Leaving the house that day ripped a gaping wound—a gash, really, with ragged edges, impossible to knit together. Josie's the one who understood I was grieving the loss of my oldest. I never told anyone else about that day, how my son left us like a feral dog on the side of the road, or how Chuck and I had left without leaving so much as a note. The whole thing shamed me.
I pulled the blanket up to my chin. “Enough thinking. Go to sleep, old woman.”
“I got me a chance to hog a watermelon.” Huck sat on the back of the recliner with a watermelon the size of a basketball in his lap.
I sat up bolt straight, only to regret it. My lip throbbed and my chest ached. “Go away!”
“There's no need t' get skreeky and colicky.”
I shook my finger at him. “You're nothing but a hallucination of my own mind's making. If I want you to be quiet, you'll be quiet. Not another word.”
Huck thrummed the watermelon. From its hollow tone, the melon sounded good and ripe.
I covered my ears and turned away. “I can't hear you. I won't hear you.”
After a few seconds, I peaked through my fingers.
“I see that left-handed look out of the corner of your eye,” he said, smiling like he'd sold me an old bridge. Charming. Devilish. Not real.
I sat up. “Look, Huck, I've enjoyed our visits, but this has to stop. This . . . you . . . are some kind of a syndrome. Something French.”
“Frenchmen are known for their pearly stretchers, that's for darn sure, but I warn't born French, so you can't pin that on me.”
“No, this is the honest truth. You aren't supposed to be talking. You can sit there, looking pleased with yourself for your fine watermelon or chewing on your pipe, and I wouldn't refuse a wink. But, honey, you can't talk. If you talk, chances are I'm a few pennies short of a dollar, if you know what I mean. And stop thumping on that watermelon.”
Someone rapped on the door and it opened. I clamped a hand over my mouth. Suzanne's perfume preceded her into the room.
“I couldn't sleep,” she said. A flash of minty satin sauntered toward the end of the bed. She held something clublike in her hand. “A concerned employee dropped by a 1993 Marcassin Chardonnay, quite fruity but very smooth. May I pour you a glass?”
Huck set the watermelon between his feet and leaned forward.
“That's a kind offer,” I said, “but I can barely keep my eyes open.”
Huck let out a long appreciative whistle for my stretcher, no doubt.
A flutter of green. Suzanne moved toward the bathroom. “How are you feeling? Expect those injuries to be troublesome for about a week. Are you taking the supplements I brought home? An optimal immune system will improve healing.”
The supplements remained in a bag under the bed, all except the Godiva chocolate, of course. Besides, you can't kid a kidder. She wasn't flouncing around the room looking for supplements. She was like a kid poking an anthill with a stick, and I was the anthill.
“I'll do as you say, doctor,” I said, trying to dismiss her with pleasant yet succinct words.
Huck tiptoed behind Suzanne as she walked into the bathroom and turned on the light. I waved him off. He stopped in his tracks. When Suzanne returned, Huck hippity-hopped to his perch on the recliner.
“Birdie,” she said, “I thought I heard you talking to someone named Huck. You sounded upset. Is everything all right?”
Huck slapped his hand over his mouth and threw back his head.
Now, don't go lecturing me about the ninth commandment. I was practically there when Moses carried the stone tablets down the mountain. I don't give false witness about my neighbor. But Huckleberry Finn was not my neighbor. He wasn't even real. My mind invented him, so I felt perfectly justified saying what I pleased about him. And seeing as Suzanne had me sweating on the witness stand, I thought it best not to talk about Huck at all. I made up someone else. “Well, actually, I was praying for my friend Huck.”
This set Huck into a fit of laughter.
Suzanne said, “You don't hear that name much. In fact, the only Huck I can think of is Huckleberry Finn.”
“Huck is short for . . . Huckster . . . Huckster McCallum. He has cancer.”
Huck doubled over, holding his stomach and stomping his foot. Tears streamed down his cheeks, and he snorted like a hungry sow.
Suzanne crossed her arms, and although I couldn't see her face, I pictured her drawing me in her sights down her long nose. “Shame on his parents. That's not a very flattering name.”
She moved closer. The fog covered the mannerisms I'd learned to read—the tilt of her head when she questioned my intelligence, the twist of her hair that meant I'd confounded her, and the familiar slump of her shoulder that meant I was about to be dismissed. Suzanne was no dummy. She'd heard enough to know her mother-in-law had been talking to a fictional character, and then invented stories to cover her actions. Something about being found out by Suzanne made me dig in my heels. That meant more stretchers.
With a carelessness I'd learned from Huck, I wound a doozy. “Huck made his fortune in flea markets. He's done pretty well for himself, built a big log house up on Black Lake. Drives a fancy-schmancy car—a Cadillac, I think. He's retired. Volunteers at the homeless shelter three days a week when he's up to it. I sure hope he beats the cancer.” I yawned. “I'm exhausted.”
“I see,” she said as if she'd figured out Professor Plum had been killed in the kitchen with a candlestick.
Huck wiped his tears away, making muddy streaks across his cheeks. How I longed to see Suzanne's face with the same clarity.
She said, “You seem distracted.”
If she insisted on grilling me in the middle of the night, we might as well talk about something pertinent. “You're right, I am. I'm worried about Fletcher. Honestly, I thought I was doing him a great favor taking him out to drive. Andy's so busy, and all I have is time. It made sense to help Fletcher and meet a family need all at the same time.”
Suzanne's voice went clinical. “Have you had these lapses in judgment before? Perhaps you've noticed a pattern.”
“I knowed she was up to no good,” Huck said, and I jumped.
Suzanne touched my arm with her cool fingers. “Birdie, are you agitated?”
Yes! “I didn't see you move closer.”
“How's your memory these days?”
The more questions she asked, the dumber I looked. I abandoned politeness. “I'm going to sleep now.” I lay down. “I'm done answering questions.”
Suzanne clicked off the bedside lamp. “True, it's late. Changing sleep schedules can be unsettling, but I think we should chat about this with Andrew as soon as possible.”
The door clicked shut, and I turned to give Huck the heave-ho, but the chair was empty. The clean sweetness of the watermelon hung in the air. I lay there a long time, reciting phone numbers of friends and naming every shop owner along Main Street, down the east side and up the west. I stumbled a couple times, forgot that Jim Currier's Gem Stones, Minerals & Fossil Shop came before High Valley Realty, owned by Celeste Detweiler. At home, I wrote lists like some women munched on M&Ms. No one knew but me, but I listed everything I needed to accomplish in a day, even take a shower and walk the dog. Otherwise, without the structure of family or a bona fide job, my day dissolved into a slurry. I constantly came across names and phone numbers written on a sticky note, only to wonder who they were and why I should care. And although I'd lived in my house for eight years, lately I opened two or three cabinets before I found the trash can. What kind of nonsense is that?
Perhaps my hallucinations had nothing to do with Charles What's-his-name after all. Maybe I'd begun a relentless descent into cognitive collapse. Next, I would be wearing my Sunday dresses inside out just like Mrs. Springer.
Lord, help me.
Chapter 27
There's no end to the trouble love and good intentions bring to a person's life. Fletcher spent a full week at home, recuperating from a nose job he didn't want. We made the most of the time, playing some high-spirited cribbage and finishing
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
I'd surrendered the walker around the house, but I used the thing when Fletcher and I walked to the park for lunch a few of those days. Fletcher insisted on making us drippy peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches with a thermos of milk and a couple—what else?—organic apples. He always forgot the napkins. And because he slept until eleven, we ate lunch about three, just as Mi Sun arrived home on the bus. Funny how that worked.
A bond of affliction developed between us that week. I taped Fletcher's glasses to his forehead because the swelling and bandage made the bridge too narrow. I called him Rocky the Raccoon for the bruising around his eyes. When he couldn't come up with a name for me, I offered Hopalong Cassidy. He'd never heard of the singing cowboy—a more convincing argument that our culture was dissolving before my eyes could never be made. To do my part in bucking the trend, I taught Fletcher how to waltz. The lessons were short, as much for my ankle as for my patience. The boy moved with the grace of a wounded badger. Could he even count to three? I had my doubts.
We stood at the ready, Fletcher's right hand on my shoulder blade, the other holding my hand. “Flush all that women's lib stuff right out of your brain,” I told him. “When you have a lovely lady in your arms, you are king of the dance floor. She's depending on you to navigate her through the obstacle course of other dancers and the punch table. Don't take this responsibility lightly.”
“Yes, Grandma.”
“Remember, you're the frame. Firm up. Keep your position. When your partner comes against the resistance of your hand on her back, she'll know to step forward. Likewise, when she meets the resistance of your left hand, she'll step back.”
“Shouldn't she already know to step back?”
“She does, but you are giving her a sense of safety and freedom, so she can enjoy the swirl of her skirt and the touch of your hands, if you know what I mean.”
Fletcher stepped out of the stance to wipe his hands on his pants. “This is supposed to be fun? There's so much to remember.”
“Come on, now.”
He stepped back into the starting position.
I prompted, “What foot do you always step forward with?”
“The right.”
“How many counts in a waltz?”
“Start the music.”
Fletcher fished a remote out of his pocket and “Moon River” played on the stereo. The guitars strummed and the tenor sax whistled the melody.
“Don't move. Count with me. One, two, three. One, two, three. Step, side, together. Small steps. Keep counting. Ready? Go. Ouch!” Fletcher backed away. I opened my arms to him. “Always start with—”
“The right foot.”
“Correct. Again.” We counted. This time Fletcher stepped forward with his right foot and I followed his lead.
Sidestep, together. One, two, three.
“Now we're dancing.”
“Keep counting, Grandma.”
“One, two, three. One, two, three . . .”
“Hey, they said something about Huckleberry!”
“Keep dancing.”
BOOK: Seeing Things
10.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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