Mother, May I: Excerpt


CHAPTER ONE

When the phone rang, I knew it was Sam. And even though my head was splitting, I knew I’d better answer it or he would just call again.

“How’s the packing coming?” he asked. My head hurt so bad that I couldn’t think

“Would you believe I haven’t started?” I tried to smile at my own reticence to put my plans into motion.

“Need help?” he offered, knowing I would refuse.

“No, I’ll get it done,” I replied as confidently as I could.

“How about dinner?” His voice invaded my brain cells expanding the pain in my head to the top of my ears.

“Maybe tomorrow. Tonight’s kind of shaky,” I admitted cautiously, not wanting to reveal too much of what I was feeling.

Sam thought he knew what the problem was. “You don’t have to go, you know,” he reminded me.

“Yes, I do,” I said without conviction.

“Why, for God’s sake?” he pressed slightly.

“The plans are all made, that’s why,” I responded as firmly as I could. Yes, the plans were made. So much of my life had been driven by plans that were made. So many mistakes had resulted from being afraid to back down from plans already made.

My voice had faltered and he sensed something was wrong. “You want me to come over?” he asked.

“No, I’m fine. Call me tomorrow.” I was about to pass out but I did not tell Sam.

“Are you sure you’re alright?” His question lingered on my receiver.

“Perfectly fine. Tomorrow, okay?”

I struggled back to the living room, turned on a small lamp on the table beside the couch and managed to get to the picture window to close the drapes. Darkness had layered over the fog and there was no longer any view to be seen, not even the dim lights from the neighboring houses. The damp grayness had turned into a silent drizzle and the leaves on the trees and the petals on the flowers rustled under the falling moisture–not really a rain but more like a whisper. The fabric whistled with a gentle swish as I pulled the cord. For a moment, it sounded like it was raining inside. Then I made my way back to the kitchen thinking I might feel better if I fixed something to eat, but was not at all sure I could tolerate food. The refrigerator had little to offer and the cupboard contained nothing food-worthy except for a can of chunky chicken soup. It looked disgusting but I opened it anyway and dumped the contents into a pot.

The coffee pot still held cold, left-over liquid from the day before. This I poured into a cup, put into the microwave and then watched the unseen force make it hot.  When the buzzer went off, I took the cup out of the oven, held the warmth in my hands and watched the rising steam, half hoping to see something conjure on the surface, some message of truth that would ease the anxiety that was building a castle, complete with moat and alligators, on the plains of my inner self. The taste of coffee was bitter to my tongue but the warmth of the cup felt good as I touched it to my cheek.

When the doorbell rang, I knew even before I answered it that it was Sam. Not unhappy to see him, I was just too tired to deal with any extended conversation that might be required of me.

“I thought I told you to call me tomorrow,” I began.

“Want me to go?” He wasn’t hurt because he knew what my answer would be.

“Of course not. Go fix yourself a drink if you want one.” I scuttled across the floor in terry cloth slippers and turned the stereo on–music to lessen the intensity of any words that might be spoken. The basic theme of Bach’s “Art of the Fugue” floated through the room as I continued to scuttle to the kitchen where Sam was clinking ice cubes into a glass.

“What’s wrong, Gina?” he began, noting that my musical selection was a little heavier than usual.

What do I tell him, I thought. How much do I want him to know? A half-truth seemed if not logical, at least easier.

“Just nervous about moving, I guess. I could be making the biggest mistake of my life.” Doubtful, I smirked to myself–there were too many others to take that honor.

“Or,” Sam added, looking at me with knowing eyebrows, “it could be the best thing that ever happened to you.”

The old question–half empty or half full? The glass, the person, the life. Which?

“I know,” my voice was slow, “that’s why I’m going. I don’t have any serious doubts. There’s just so much to do, so much to think about and suddenly, today, I lost all my energy.”

“Just today? You’ve been okay
until today?” He looked concerned.

“Just today!” I repeated.

“What did you do? I called earlier and you weren’t home.”

“Took a ferry over to Winslow and then drove to Port Angeles, then I got too tired so I came back. Went to Bremerton and caught the ferry home.”

“Alone?”  His voice deepened as his eyes shadowed their feelings.

“Of course,” I responded as if his question had no relevancy. “I usually go alone.”

“If you were tired, you shouldn’t have come home the long way.” He was worried about me, not preaching at me, but I didn’t want to hear what he had to say.

“I know, just wanted to see everything one last time before I left.” And in my mind’s eye, I could still recall the images that I had carried with me from the ferry.

“You don’t look well, Gina,” he persisted. “Maybe you’re catching something.”

“Maybe, but I doubt it. I don’t ever get sick.” I laid my head on the table and tried to calm the throbbing between my ears, more like the increasingly rich tempo of the Fugue than even Bach could have intended.

“Even the indestructible Regina Alexander can get sick,” he reminded me.

“I’ll be fine,” I said weakly, but was quickly losing the faith in my words.

“What can I do for you?” Sam asked solicitously. Most of the men I had known had tried to control my life but Sam was different. I knew that he wasn’t trying to imply that I needed someone to take care of me but I bristled nevertheless. Sometimes, it  bothered me that he always seemed more concerned about my feelings than his own. It kept me on the edge of our friendship waiting for him to retract his benevolence.

“Turn the stereo off,” I moaned, not wanting to ask for more. “I thought I was in the mood for Bach, but I can’t stand it anymore.”

Sam went to the living room and replaced Bach with Oscar Peterson, then returned to the kitchen. I looked up in time to catch the worried look on his face, obviously a reaction to my apparent distress. “Tell me how you feel,” he said, sipping on his glass of scotch.

“Cold all over, splitting headache and tired. So tired.”

“Have you eaten today?” he pushed a little further, being more solicitous than usual, risking my displeasure.

“Had lunch in Winslow and there’s some soup on the stove, but I couldn’t eat it.”

“Gina, I don’t want to tell you what to do…,” he started. I gave him a sure-you-don’t-look, but he continued anyway. “I think you’ve come down with the some bug or other and it’s affecting your outlook. Why don’t you go to bed and try to get some sleep? If you’re not better in the morning, I’ll call the doctor.”

“I hate doctors,” I mumbled as I let him guide me down the hallway to the bedroom, strangely compliant, with no argument. Sam found a thermometer in the bathroom and took my temperature. “It’s 104 degrees,” he said gravely and, through a haze that clouded my eyes, I saw the furrows on his brow deepen. He convinced me to take some aspirin and got a cool towel for my forehead. Then he sat in the lounge chair in the corner and watched my curled shape shivering under the covers. Every once in awhile, I would moan in a small, weak voice, “I’m cold” and he would look for another blanket and throw it over those already in place.

I slept, I didn’t sleep. Chills had taken over and my teeth wouldn’t stop chattering. Sam tried to get me to sip on some hot tea and changed the cool towels on my forehead regularly. I was being attended to by perhaps the nicest person in the world and yet, when I finally fell into a feverish repose, my dream was about another man.

It was the same dream I often had, even at 98.6 degrees, about an intangible Benjamin, there with me, laughing, exuding love and passion and almost kissing me. Then I was in a room full of strangers, looking for him, feeling him, but not finding him. Such a dream normally startled me into awareness, awakening me with anxiety and tears.  I would try to bring the details into reality so that maybe, just maybe, I would understand my feelings. On that night, however, the dream of Benjamin drove me into a deeper sleep, while the best friend I had in the whole world watched over me like a guardian angel.

 

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