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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

(1) "IT'S LIKE QUICKSAND," HE GASPS.

      I am fortunate that my eighty-four-year-old ex‑husband’s wife not only doesn’t mind his making long‑distance calls to me but also calls me regularly herself to regale me with Ed’s latest mishap.
      For instance, Aliceann called recently with a familiar introduction: "You'll never guess what Edward has done now."
      She told me he had an earache, so he went to the doctor. The doctor dug around for a while and wrote out a prescription.
      “He just came out of the bathroom with a bottle in his hand," Aliceann continued.  "He said, `What's this?' I looked at the bottle. `Edward, that's the cat's medicine.'  He said, `I think I've been putting it in my ears.'"
      Aliceann looked in the basket on the bathroom counter, where Ed always tosses his keys so he won't forget where they are. She found the still-sealed bottle from Cunningham's Pharmacy.
     "Edward, this is your medicine. The other bottle is Jasmine's stool-hardener."
     My ex, who was on the other line, joined in.  “I called the doctor’s office and told the nurse what I’d done. She didn't seem concerned. In fact, she was laughing so hard, I thought she'd have a heart attack."
     Who but Ed would absent‑mindedly put the cat's stool hardener in his ear? A man who was capable fifty years ago of mistaking our little neighbor Mimi Dean for his daughter Vonnie, carrying her across the beach, and putting her in our rowboat, is capable of almost anything. All those times Ed was dining and dancing and who‑knows‑what‑ing with attractive ladies, he probably thought they were me. Why didn't he think of that excuse at the time? Maybe I'd have accepted it, and maybe we'd have lived happily ever after. But then there’d be no second wife in our lives entertaining me with the latest Eddiosyncracies.
     Now in her mid-sixties, Aliceann is a striking-looking woman, addicted to the chunky necklaces and bracelets and the large, exotic earrings that have been her trademark for as long as I’ve known her. She is tall and gangly, her dark eyes expertly fringed with mascara and eyeliner, her braided masses of salt-and-pepper hair wrapped up in a crown on her head. She wears long flowing blouses and slacks in browns, beiges, and gray, highlighted by her dramatic adornments. Sprays of smile wrinkles surround her eyes, and laugh wrinkles reflect her determination to grin and bear it, no matter how sorely she is tried by outrageous fortune.
PHOTO OF SECOND WIFE TAKEN BY FIRST WIFE
                                                                         AT TIM’S COOKOUT IN 1988
     Not your shy, retiring type, Aliceann has never been accused of making an unceremonious entrance. Rather, she swoops into a room, gesticulating energetically, clanking gaily, like a slightly out-of-control gypsy on roller blades. Armed with an uncanny memory for names, faces, and entire family histories, she is a formidable rival for a life-of-the-party award.
    There was, for example, that night in July of 1988, when Ed was recuperating from quadruple-bypass heart surgery. After we visited him at Mass General Hospital, each of us holding one of his hands, I invited her to be my guest for dinner at the Cohasset Golf Club. As a long-time faithful member, I discovered that accompanying Aliceann to the club was like escorting a rock star.
     No sooner had we made our appearance than I was ignored, jostled, and all but trampled underfoot by a Triple-A onslaught, the Admirers of Aliceann Association, rushing to welcome her with hugs and kisses. Although she hadn’t seen them for several years, she warmly greeted each and every one by name. I stood there in awe, as she asked how this one’s real estate business was doing, that one’s Aunt Minerva, and the other one’s Labrador Retriever. Was Hoby still chewing up her upholstery or was she good dog now?
     At seventy-eight, I've often thought my whole life would have been different if I had been born with Aliceann’s gift for total recall. I wouldn’t be constantly embarrassing myself by mixing up names and faces, and resorting to an inadequate “Hi there” and sheepish smile to acquaintances I’d known for decades. My memory bank would be an empty vault if it weren't for my habit of recording events in journals and letters as fast as they happened. Ed claims my recall was altogether too meticulous during bumpy spells in our marriage, many of which occurred at the onset of my BTOM (bad time of the month)..
[Flashback]
February 18, 1956
     This morning I could feel a bad mood coming on. As my dear ones will testify, when I get in a bad mood I should be put in a padded cell for the duration. Recently, a more practical solution turned up in the form of some little pills recommended by Ed’s company doctor. He claimed they were helpful in relieving tension.
     Ed brought home a handful last month, and when my nerves began to jangle, I started taking two a day. It may have been the power of suggestion, but they seemed to work. I became so gentle and patient with my children, they asked me what was the matter. My attitude toward Ed was one of such loving understanding, an outsider would have sworn we weren’t married. I faced the usual daily emergencies with good humor. To show his appreciation, Ed gave me a corsage of camellias on Valentine’s Day. Instead of wanting to know what he’d been up to now, I thanked him. There was no getting around it, I was much nicer than I really am.
     But now I lay in bed thinking black thoughts and refusing to resort to the Disposition Pills. Maybe they were habit-forming. It would be a terrible thing if I couldn’t be agreeable without taking a pill first.
     All I needed was a little sleep.
     I envied Ed the way he could sleep. The way that man could sleep while I was wide awake was intolerable. I remember Mother telling me that Dad sensed it when she had insomnia, no matter how careful she was not to disturb him. “What’s the matter, honey bun? I can hear you thinking,” he would say sympathetically.
     When I have insomnia I could use a little husbandly sympathy myself. To make it easy for him, I didn’t even try to be quiet last night.
     “Ho-hum,” I said when the town clock struck 2:00. I up-heaved my blankets and rolled over with a thump, hitting my head on the bookcase headboard. The door rattled along its track like the Toonerville trolley. Not a sound from Ed.
     “Ouch!” I said lonesomely.
     There was a soft snore from the bed next to mine, followed by a breezy sigh. He must be dreaming it’s his birthday and he’s blowing out the candles. Snore, puff, snore , puff, snore, puff.
     I turned on the light and shined it on Ed’s face to see if he was just pretending. Snore, puff. I read a few more chapters of Marjorie Morningstar. I reached the point where Marjorie was on the brink of an exciting career and losing her virginity. She was twenty-one. At twenty-one, where had I been? Out in the laundry, washing diapers for his children.  What had my life been since then? More children and more diapers, and anyone who calls that an exciting career is a man.
     I dropped Marjorie Morningstar on the floor and switched out the light. My exciting career was dreaming about girls. Sigh, wolf whistle, sigh, wolf whistle. I stabbed him in the back with my forefinger.
     “Humph, flumph, hunh? Wassa matter, cancha sleep?”
     “Aren’t you the perceptive one. I haven’t closed an eye for hours, if you’re really interested.”
     “Z Z Z Z.”

     I look forward to sleeping late Sunday morning while the children get ready for Sunday School. This morning I wearily focused one eye on the clock and tried to make out the time without waking up. I heard Kathryn call from the foot of the stairs that it was after 8:30 and breakfast was nearly ready. If Vonnie would remember to rouse Teddy from his ivory tower on the third floor, I could go back to sleep.
     The harrowing thing is, sometimes she remembers and sometimes she doesn’t. Remembering is only half the battle. Ted is like his father; he can sleep through anything, especially the hour before Sunday school. On Saturdays he’s up and dressed with no prodding: basketball practice starts at nine.
     I drag myself from bed and call up the stairs, “Teddy, are you up?”
     “Yah,” comes the sleepy answer.
     “Well, come on down and get dressed right away or you’ll be late for Sunday school. Don’t forget to make your bed.”
     I close the windows and crawl back into bed. I wait for the sound of bare feet pounding down the stairs. Ten minutes later I get up and call Teddy again.
     “Yah, yah, I’m coming. You want me to make my bed, don’t you?”
     “Well, not from scratch, Teddy.”
     Back to bed. Bare feet pound down the stairs and into Timmy’s room, where the boys share a closet.
     As time passes, I know I’d better check on their progress. I rap on the door and look in. Timmy, in his underpants, is in the midst of a flying tackle.
     I blow my top. “Okay, you two, if you’re not ready to go downstairs in five minutes—teeth brushed, beds made, hair combed, faces washed—you’re both going to bed early tonight.”
     “Don’t we have to get dressed?” Timmy asks.
     “I mean it, now! I’m sick and tired of going through this same nonsense week after week, two big boys like you, what are you, babies? Well, if you’re babies, you can go to bed early like babies. From now on, either you kids are ready for breakfast at nine o’clock every Sunday or you go to bed early. Is that clear?”
     As I stomp out of the room Teddy mumbles something and Timmy says loyally, “She is not!”
     “I’m ready, Mummy,” Vonnie calls virtuously from the bathroom, where she is polishing her shoes.
     “Oh, goody for you!” says her older brother.
     “Vonnie!” I scold. “That’s not the right polish, look at the mess you’re making, what are you doing with Daddy’s polish?”
     “I like to open the can.”
     “Honestly, Vonnie, what a mess. You’ve got little bits of polish all over the floor. You’re stepping on it! No, don’t use the good towel! Put the can away and use the shoe polish in the bottle and don’t spill it. Besides, why are you wearing your school shoes instead of your patent leathers?”
     “Because my patent leathers don’t need polishing,” Vonnie says with patient eleven-year-old logic.
     “Vonnie, some rainy day you can polish all the shoes in the house. Now go put on your patent leathers, Kathryn is calling you for breakfast.”
     “Hey, Mummy, I can’t find any socks,” Timmy says.
     “There must be some in the laundry room. Take your shoes and go downstairs before your breakfast gets cold.”
     “I’m having cold cereal,” says Timmy, always ready for an argument.
     “Get going!”
     Ed is awake when I return to our room. “Honestly, those kids of yours are going to drive me out of my mind!” I say, glaring at him.
     “Why don’t you take a tranquilizer?”
     “Take a pill? It’s not me! It’s those kids! They’re irresponsible, inconsiderate, lazy, careless—“
     “Children.”
     I snatch open a bureau drawer and the handle falls off. “You see?”
     “Take a pill,” says Ed.
      Vonnie comes in, carrying a pad of paper.
     “What now, Vonnie,” I sigh.
     “I want to show you the picture I drew of you. I think it’s the best picture I ever drew.”
     “Not now, go down and have your breakfast.”
     “It’ll only take a minute,” she says, leafing through the pages. “Here it is—oh no, that’s not it, I’ll find it in a minute.”
     “For heaven’s sake, Vonnie!”
     “Oh, here it is. It’s a picture of you. Isn’t it good?”
     “Very good. Now run along.”
     She gives me a hug and runs downstairs. I look at the picture again. Under it is printed:  “My mother is a beautiful picture to me.”
     I put down the picture and go to the bathroom medicine cabinet. I take two tranquilizers.
     Breakfast might have been pleasant if I’d taken the pills sooner. I prepare our breakfast while Ed drives the children to Sunday school and picks up the Sunday papers. When he walks in, he throws his coat down on one of the dining room chairs.
     He does this every night of the week. When I’m not in a bad mood, my thought process is as follows: “The poor, tired boy! He works so hard at making a living for his family, he’s too exhausted to hang up his coat. What a privilege it is for me to hang it in the closet for him.” I put the coat away with a tender smile of understanding. (I know I’m sincere about this because I don’t wait for him to come downstairs and see how understanding I’m being.)
     When I’m in a bad mood, there’s nothing that irritates me more than this habit of throwing his coat on a chair. “For Pete’s sake,” I say to myself, “how am I supposed to train the children to be neat if their own father doesn’t set them a good example! Suppose we all tossed our coats on a chair, wouldn’t the house look lovely.  I’ll bet it takes him longer to walk into the dining room and drop his coat than it would to open the closet door and hang it up.”
     This morning, while ostentatiously transferring Ed’s coat to the closet, I express these thoughts aloud. Ed looks surprised and promises to set a good example hereafter.
     Then there’s the way he eats his grapefruit. Usually I don’t notice this because I’m busy tackling mine. But today I watch and listen with distaste.  Can’t he take a spoonful without that silly gasp? He goes after it as if someone were going to steal it from him. After slurping up the last section, he squeezes the grapefruit over the bowl, which he then raises to his lips, gulping the juice with the gusto of a parched water buffalo.
     “If you could see yourself!” I exploded. “Would you eat grapefruit that way if you were having breakfast with Marilyn Munroe?”
     Ed looked thoughtful. “No,” he said. “I’d have her feed it to me.”

     For thirteen years there was never a dearth of stories from Aliceann about my ex‑spouse. But then the tenor of the calls from Florida shifted to a minor key. There wasn’t much to laugh about, although we all took a vow to maintain a sense of humor no matter what happened.  Ed was eighty-two when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1997, but it was a year before he developed alarming symptoms, such as falling on the floor when his legs collapsed unexpectedly. He told me he had installed handholds all over their house in Palm Beach Gardens and could often grab one when he started to fall, but failed to catch himself at least two or three times a week.  I asked him if he is still able to enjoy his pool.
     “Not really,” he says. “I can fall into it with the greatest of ease, but I enjoy that the way I used to enjoy getting snow in my boots. When I go in voluntarily, I’m able to hang onto the sides, but I can’t kick my legs the way I used to.” My heart aches for him.  Ed had been a champion swimmer at Wesleyan and right up until the time of his illness was a golfer with an inimitable style.
[Flashback]
Although he’s creeping up on seventy, Ed is as dauntless, bold, and calamity prone as ever.  Take away his boat and his airplane with all their potential for misfortune, and you’d think the man might welcome a spell of tranquility.  But no.  Even amid such serene surroundings as a golf course, my ex seeks out adventure where lesser men might hang back.
     Consider the new water hazards that some diabolical engineer claimed would solve the drainage problem at the golf club. They wind picturesquely across fairways that could now be called un-fairways.  The pro shop is doing a lively business in twenty‑five dollar retrievers because there’s no way the average golfer isn’t going to lose a lot of balls in those damn ditches.
     But who ever accused Ed of being average?  He was not about to sacrifice any of his 25‑cent second‑ hand balls (he kindly keeps me supplied, too) if he has anything to say about it.
     Not long ago we were on the fifth hole when I hit my second shot into the ditch.  We’d had a lot of rain, so there was more than the usual amount of muddy water for the ball to conceal itself in.  Poking around with a golf club, Ed gives an exclamation of triumph when he spots it.
     “Careful, dear, the bank looks slippery,” I said, as he started over the edge.  In his hurry to join me, he was wearing sneakers instead of cleated golf shoes.  One foot skids, then the other, and down the bank he slides, looking rather like an otter, only less playful.
     Not neglecting to rescue my ball, Ed clambered up the bank and stood there, his shirt and pants covered with mud.
     “You go on without me,” he says.  “I’ll walk back to the club and go home.”
     It was such a beautiful, balmy October day, easily in the seventies, that I hated to see him leave.       
     “Gee, honey, it’s so warm out, I bet that mud’ll dry right out.  Do you really have to go home?  Couldn’t you keep on playing?”
     “Okay, why not?” he said agreeably.  We continued on to the next hole where there was a foursome of men on an adjoining tee.   It wasn’t hard for them to guess what happened to Ed.
     “And he was going after my ball,” I reported.
     “You must be pretty grateful,” one of the golfers said.
     “Oh, I am.  But I thought it was a shame he didn’t stay in there and find a few more while he was at it.  Couldn’t convince him, though.”
     The golfer studied me thoughtfully.  “And your relationship to him is . . .?”
     “Well—um—“(I could not tell a lie), “I’m his ex‑wife.”
     The foursome looked at Ed as if to say, “No wonder!” and went on their way.
     Then there was the adventure that took place on the twelfth hole.  This one was almost as scary as boat‑sinkings or plane‑crashings.  It started peaceably enough when two elderly ladies let us younger folks go through on the eleventh, not knowing about Ed’s ball‑hunting digressions. 
     Sure enough, on the twelfth tee he hits two drives into the new drainage ditch, a serpentine beauty about four feet deep with sheer sides and sludgy depths.  Ed finds one of his flyaway treasures—it landed in the ditch and is barely visible in the murky water.  He is able to retrieve it by getting down on all fours and coaxing it toward him with his sand wedge.  While I watch him, it occurs to me that if I had a hidden camera and walked around taking pictures of golfers in strange positions, at least ninety percent of them would be my ex-husband.
     The October sun is sinking fast, and the ladies are finishing up on the eleventh green, but Ed continues his search for the second ball.  He spies it wedged in the mud on the far side of the bank.
     “Come on, Ed, it’s not a gold nugget,” I say.  “The ladies are catching up with us.”
     “They haven’t even left the green yet.  I’m going to get that ball,” Ed says with a determined look.  At this point, a patient and practical man would walk back to the cart path and cross the bridge over the ditch, not forgetting to bring his clubs with him.  Then he would walk to the point where his ball was wedged in the mud, use his retriever, and continue on with only slightly dampened spirits.
     Ed neither patient, practical, nor the owner of a retriever, decides to take a short cut.  There are two pipes extending across the ditch, each about four inches in diameter and a foot apart.  He is wearing his golf shoes on this occasion. the cleats designed for clinging to sand, not metal.      
     Nevertheless, Ed sets out while I observe his acrobatics, mesmerized.  Hand alternating with foot, he teeters across the pipes like a chimpanzee in a circus act.  He almost loses his balance, but at the last minute, manages a lunge to terra firma.   This challenge behind him, it’s a cinch to lie flat on his stomach and squirm over the edge of the bank until he can reach down and pry out the embedded ball.
     “The ladies are coming up to the tee,” I say. “Should I wave them through?”
     “No, they’ll hold us up.  I’m ready, let’s go.”
     Then Ed realizes his clubs are still on the other side of the ditch.  This was my fault.  I should have gotten them for him, but I was too spellbound by his performance to leave in the middle.  Moreover, I wasn’t sure which side he would end up on—the near side, the far side, or the inside. 
     Now, before I can stop him from tempting fate again, Ed is making the return trip across the pipes.  Midway he sways from side to side, struggling to maintain his equilibrium.  The cleats slip, and down he goes.
     Wringing my hands and whimpering, “Oh dear, oh Ed,” I watch helplessly as he tries to get to his feet.  It can’t be done, it seems.  Hanging onto the pipe with one hand, he rolls from prone to supine, making futile attempts to stand up.   His visor slips off and floats downstream. 
     “It’s like quicksand!” he gasps.  “I can’t seem to get any purchase.”
     What can I do, I think frantically.  I have a vision of myself sitting on the pipes with my legs hanging down like a sort of ladder.  Then I see that the two ladies, no doubt having noticed Ed’s sudden disappearance and my anguished pantomime, are walking towards us.  Maybe the three of us would be strong enough to haul him out.  I have a feeling he wouldn’t like that, though.
     Ed is finally making progress.  He has managed to clutch the pipe with both hands and is dragging his mud‑soaked body along its length.  When he reaches dry land and crawls up the bank I hear him mutter, “This damn game.  Never again!”
     The ladies, relieved to see that Ed was safe, return to the twelfth tee.  I know better than to suggest we finish our round.  Looking like a chocolate-covered gingerbread man, he leaves for home and a soothing shower.  By the time I arrive for dinner, an hour later, my ex is downright chipper.  Doesn’t remember saying Never Again. 
     “It’s supposed to be beautiful tomorrow; how about meeting me at two o’clock?” he proposes.  The man’s recuperative powers are almost as amazing as the feats that cause him to need them.
     The next day I notice Ed has a retriever, but he didn’t shell out any twenty‑five dollars for it.  He found an old broom handle and taped a rusty tea strainer to the end of it.  Worked fine.
 ~~~
      In my ex-wifely wisdom, I figure Ed’s uneasy mixture of saving pennies and spending big bucks is rooted in his childhood experience as the only son of an Irish immigrant. The luxuries of his mature years—swimming pools, boats, airplanes, a beach-front house in Cohasset, a house on a canal in Fort Lauderdale—are a far cry from the poverty of his youth. He even found himself in an orphanage for a while, never understanding why. His mother later insisted he was there for only a few weeks while some family problems got straightened out, but to him it seemed like a year.   
     When he finally was collected and brought home, not only his home but also his name was anchored firmly on the wrong side of the tracks—as was made abundantly clear by the mothers of girls he got crushes on. He couldn’t date them, and certainly couldn’t go to dances at the Newton Center Women’s Club. No Irish wanted. He still recalled all to well the loneliness and isolation that led to his resolution to become rich enough to buy anything he desired, including acceptance.
     After graduating from Moses Brown and Weslyan, Ed set out to conquer the business world, armed with a persuasive personality and an oft-repeated repertoire of platitudes that would one day be a source of head-shaking irritation to his older son (You can’t make a silk purse . . . Promise him anything but   . . Sufficient unto the day . . . If wishes were horses . . . and of a competitor’s office: I'd like to be a fly on that wall.)
     There were lean years at first, but his perseverance, his gift of gab, and his belief in himself enabled him to accomplish most of his aspirations. Now he feels as if everything he’s achieved is giving way as fast as his legs—not that the collapse keeps him from being almost as obstinate, willful, and waggish as ever.

(2) KATHIE CALLS HERSELF AN AGING HIPPIE ON WHEELS.

March, 1999
     Our oldest child is down in Florida with her husband Frank, to see how Ed and Aliceann are faring in the midst of the major changes in their lives. Kathie, fifty-nine, her shoulder-length brown hair as glossy and unsilvered as it was when she was twenty-five, calls herself an aging hippie on wheels. She can discourse easily on disability with Ed, because she has whizzed around in a wheelchair ever since an automobile accident just before Christmas in 1965.
     Kathie calls me almost every day to update me on assorted medical mishaps and miscellaneous upsets. Her concern about her father is contagious. Stubborn Irishman that he is (I remember it well), he often refuses to use his walker when he wants to make short trips inside the house. Brushing off the worried warnings of any of the women in his life close enough to make them, he employs phrases used by his children in their teens: “Don’t worry about it. I’m fine. I’m not a baby. I can take care of myself. Stop worrying all the time.” And with confidence and aplomb, he sallies forth for another stumble.
    Just today Kathie is in the guest bathroom when she hears a cry from Aliceann and then a crash. She knows what has happened, but not whether her father has really hurt himself this time. Aliceann’s alarmed outcries, barreling through the house, assure her that at least her father is alive and conscious. “Edward, I told you to be more careful. Now look what you’ve done. Why won’t you use your walker? You’re going to give me a heart attack. Why won’t you ever listen to me?” Kathie, feeling somewhat frantic herself, tries to hurry out of the small, cramped bathroom, which is barely wheelchair-accessible. By the time she is able to back her wheelchair out of the bathroom and maneuver through the guest bedroom into the living room, Frank has picked Ed up and helped him into his wheelchair, which he is even more reluctant to use than the walker.
    Aliceann is still distraught. “I keep telling him not to go so fast. He has to use the walker. I can’t lift him up by myself. He has to stop falling.” Kathie and Frank soothe her as best they can.
    After his fall, her dad seems bewildered, disoriented, and depressed. Recently he has suffered one calamity after another. Kathie tells me that on his way to the airport to pick them up, her father started feeling sick and dizzy. He passed out long enough to bump into another car. Fortunately, nobody was hurt and no damage was done. Everyone was kind and helpful. They restored his faith in human kindness. No big deal. But still, Aliceann and the rest of us have been worried about his driving for months now; maybe this is the sign that he should give it up.
     Unable to persuade him, Kathie calls Ted, the older of her two younger brothers. Ted, a tall craggy fifty-seven-year-old who bears a resemblance to Captain Ahab when all his limbs were still intact, has been Ed’s business partner for years, and is better able than Kathie to deal with the “old buzzard” when he gets cantankerous.
     Kathie explains the situation. Ted asks to speak to his father, and adds his arguments to the case. Ed grudgingly promises he won’t drive again, although this is clearly a crushing concession.
    The rest of us are terribly relieved—and not just for traffic safety. Ed had recently driven himself to a flea market where he was going to meet Aliceann, fell on the steps and couldn’t get to his feet. He kept asking people to help him, but they avoided looking at him, pretended they didn’t hear, and passed on by. He says he was near tears, and bursting with frustration, rage, and fear. He was finally able to become upright by grabbing the railing and pulling, and pushing, and shimmying and struggling, but recognizes that this accomplishment has become almost impossible.
     While Kathie and Frank are visiting, Aliceann has scheduled appointments for Ed with most of his regular physicians‑‑a general practitioner, a neurologist, a cardiologist, a dermatologist, and a urologist‑‑so that Kathie and Frank can hear firsthand how the doctors say Ed should deal with his medical problems. More important, she wants them to back her up when he refuses to hear what he is told. She also asks them to back her up when she tries to get Ed to eat more. How much he eats--or how little -- seems to be the source of the most constant conflict between them.
    So, with Ed in tow, Aliceann, Kathie, and Frank, the familial board of overseers, traipse from doctor’s office to doctor’s office, where they hear at least three different versions of medical wisdom. Ed always hears, “You’re doing great, Ed, keep doing whatever you want, and don’t pay any attention to these worrywarts.” Aliceann hears, “Edward, your wife is always right. You absolutely must do what she says—eat your vegetables, clean your plate, and slow down when you walk and talk.” Kathie and Frank, who have been married only three years and still hear things in much the same way, both hear, “Edward and Aliceann, Edward is doing great for an 84-year-old with Parkinson’s disease and a bum knee, but he’s going to have trouble talking and walking. He’ll start out fine, but then he’s going to stumble. It’s the Parkinson’s disease and he can’t help it. Everybody needs to be patient. And Aliceann, just leave him alone when it comes to eating. He’s 84 -- let him eat what he wants and quit when he wants.”
    Ed tells me that part of his problem is that his knee replacement of fifteen years ago needs to be replaced again. Bearing weight on his right leg is extremely painful, and he is sure a new knee will enable his legs to keep up with his intentions. His Florida doctors, who may privately agree with his diagnosis, have adamantly refused to accept his prescription for a cure. They don’t tell him he may be unable to walk anyway, as his Parkinson’s Disease takes its toll. Instead, they say they do not want to undertake this surgery on a man nearing eighty-four. There is the risk of hitting an artery during the procedure, the risk of infection, the possibility of other dangerous complications. He could lose his leg. He could die. These seem like pretty compelling reasons to all of us, except Edward, to leave things alone.
    Ed has other reasons to be depressed. Business reasons. He and Ted jointly own a manufacturing plant that has been leased to a large international company ever since Ed’s retirement nearly 20 years ago. Until last year, income from that building has kept us all going financially. “If they don’t renew their lease,” Ed has been saying fretfully for the last three years, “it will be a disaster.”
    Ed’s fretting is one of his most tenacious traits, so I couldn’t believe the disaster would actually happen, and Aliceann couldn’t, either. The family has always weathered financial crises in the past. But in November of 1998, the tenants did indeed do the unthinkable. They moved out, taking everything with them except the tons of oil that had condensed on every imaginable surface, blackening all the interior walls, ceilings, joists, braces, and pipes so thickly that it cost Ted $100,000 to clean them.
    After several months with no income from their un-leased building, Ted called Ed and Aliceann to tell them the well has run dry. He simply cannot continue sending them the generous income they’ve been accustomed to. He is struggling to get loans to keep them all afloat, but there is no guarantee that there will ever again be enough money to maintain their large, comfortable retirement home. He tells them they will have to sell the house by the first of September and rent a smaller, less expensive one. In fact, he warns, it is likely that by September he will have NO money at all to send them each month unless he starts getting renters.
    Ed and Aliceann have difficulty believing that their fervent wishes won’t serve to bring wealthy clients cantering into the building by the dozens, allowing them to stay where they are with their belts a bit tighter. Ed begs Kathie to talk to her brother and try to persuade him to do something so they will not have to move. Kathie dutifully calls Ted and pleads with him to come down to Florida to consult with their father, see what kind of difficulties he’s having, and try to find a less drastic solution to the financial problems than making him sell his home. In order to help out, Aliceann has even gotten a sales job at a local clothing store.

   Ted has been to Florida and shares Kathie’s concerns about their father’s health. He admits that Ed has aged considerably since his last visit. Not only does he look older, but he has developed the disconcerting habit of falling asleep not just in the middle of the day but in the middle of a conversation. In addition, because the Parkinson’s disease seems to be getting worse and the falls more frequent, Ted believes an assisted living complex is the only practical solution.
    Unfortunately, as is often true of practical solutions, there are major impediments. Some parents are delighted when the children have grown up and flown the nest, leaving them free to come and go as they please. Ed and Aliceann, however, have anything but an empty nest. They are now owned by—or more accurately, possessed by—six cats and two dogs. When their best friends Blake Thaxter and his sweetheart, Grace, recently came to visit, Ed craftily hid the last two kittens that seduced them at the pound, knowing how much the guests would disapprove. When the time comes to move, whither they go, the pets goest. Then, of course, there’s the minor detail that neither Ed nor Aliceann will consider living in any place likely to be inhabited by “a lot of sick old people.”
    His sons think the refusal to part with the pets is insane, but Kathie, a devoted animal-lover, is more sympathetic. She describes an idea she has. She and Frank will remodel their garage and build a wing that would include the large living room they rarely use. This will make a lovely apartment of adequate size, and she and Frank can be Edward’s assisted‑living providers. Aliceann and the pets won’t be able to take care of Ed’s needs by themselves, but if they’re up here in Massachusetts, the whole family will be able to help.

(3) SHE AND I ARE MORE LIKE SISTERS THAN WIFE AND EX-WIFE.

     When I hear of Kathie’s proposal, I can barely voice my fears. “Kathie! How can you make such drastic changes to your house? What will happen to your retirement plans?”
     I know she doesn’t make that much money as a college professor, she tries to supplement her income by teaching extra courses and reviewing manuscripts for publishers, and she has a lot of medically-related expenses that don’t get covered by insurance—adaptive equipment for her car, transfer boards, elastic stockings . . . I also know she was left financially strapped by her first husband, who had a greater talent for spending money than for earning it. He was far better dressed than she was in her perennial dark slacks and inexpensive tops. And she’s pushing 60! What can she be thinking of?
     She tries to reassure me. There’s ample equity in the house that she bought nearly 25 years ago. She and Frank will figure out to the penny how much they can afford to take out and still have a mortgage payment they can cover each month. Frank is as supportive of this project as she is; he’s been distressed by the changes taking place in his father-in-law in the few years he’s known him. As I listen to her arguments, I am still inwardly uneasy, but I withdraw my objections.
     When Ed learns that Kathie is coming to the rescue, he telephones me to say, “She’s a saint.” He promises he will reimburse her for her expenses when business gets better, which sooner or later it is bound to do. It’s a shame that the current crisis is making them give up their Florida home, he says, adding that it’s probably all for the best. It will be nice to live closer to me and his children, and Blake and Jayne will be nearby while they’re summering up North, and some day he’ll be able to make it up to Kathie and Frank for making all this possible. His tone is more relieved and optimistic than it has been for months.
May, 1991
     I don’t know whether the Massachusetts contingent or the Florida contingent is the more tizzied up about the planned exodus of Ed and Aliceann and their children. Down in Florida, Ed is already suffering from the heat and from his fear of falling. Since Aliceann is working, he hires local handymen to take him shopping and to medical appointments, as well as to maintain the appearance of a house he now can’t wait to sell. Ten rooms and two sheds are too much for him to take care of. He can barely take care of himself. Now that the decision is made, he wants only to leave promptly and move north. His biggest worry is that the house has been on the market for a month now and they haven’t had a nibble. He’s still hoping they can sell it and move before the hurricane season.
     Aliceann says anytime is okay with her. She’s being an amazingly good sport about the prospect of uprooting herself.  I’m so glad my ex‑hubby found such a compatible second wife—and so glad of the role I played in helping him find a partner after our divorce. I had no interest in remaining his wife after finding a letter with hugs and kisses that weren’t from me, but I still cared about him, despite our divorce. Knowing how unhappy he was living by himself, I helped him manage his increasingly complicated love life . . .
Flashback:
March, 1983
     Ed’s life resembles a comic opera. A couple of weeks ago he set out in his old Ford station wagon to pick up Claire at the railroad station in Quincy. So I won’t mix up the characters‑‑they can do that very nicely for themselves‑‑I must explain that Claire is the one with the long blonde hair and Southern accent who used to be Ed’s regular date but currently sees him only once a week. Aliceann has long black hair crowning her head like a turban, dramatic spectacles, chunky jewelry, a shaggy dog, and an inscrutable cat named Sybil. She is a favored stand‑in for Eva of the long very, very very blonde hair.
     En route to Quincy, Ed’s Ford began to gasp and falter. Mellow as Ed has become in the autumn of his years, I imagine he swore a bit as he made a U‑turn and headed for Aliceann’s, hoping to borrow his Toyota from her. She was using it because her car was in the repair shop. This may be the reason he hangs on to the venerable station wagon; with four ladies in his life, including the one named Barbara with the silky, naturally brown hair, one of us is bound to be having car trouble. We all do appreciate Ed’s spare wheels.
     Aliceann and Ed’s Toyota were not at home, so he drove on to Eva’s, coaxing a few more miles out of the ailing Ford. “Why should I lend you my car so you can pick her up?” Eva demanded. But she surrendered, as Ed’s ladies usually do, and off he sped to Quincy, where Claire was tapping her foot in front of the station. End of Scene 1.
      In Scene 2, Ed and Claire drive to Aliceann’s and find out that she has returned from her errand. Claire gets out of Eva’s Dodge, climbs into Ed’s Toyota, and follows him to Eva’s house, where he drops off her Dodge and picks up his Ford. With Claire still following in the Toyota, the wheezing Ford manages to make it to Ed’s driveway. End of comic opera.
ALICEANN IN DEFENSIVE MODE WHILE OUR GRAND-
SON PONDERS WHETHER ONE STRAWBERRY IS ENOUGH
     Ted asked me recently which of Ed’s ladies I like best. “I love them all,” I said. Actually, Aliceann has an edge because she has a warm enthusiastic personality and the world’s greatest strawberry cheesecake recipe. I have some superb recipes, too, but they sit in the cupboard with the instant puddings. Aliceann uses hers. She leaves so many treats in Ed’s refrigerator he can’t keep up with them, so my friend Jack and I help out. Any ex‑wife would say the same thing I did when I first sampled Aliceann’s apple strudel: “Ed, you’ve gotta keep this treasure in the family!”
      Ed does his best to keep us all in the family. Claire, the Wednesday night lady, has a steady named Gerald she sees on weekends. Ed is jealous but reasons that one‑seventh of Claire is better than no Claire at all. Weekends, he divides his time between Eva and Aliceann, each of whom is jealous of the other. Eva’s fondness for mini-skirts contrasts notably with her rival’s elegant style. Aliceann always refers to her as Ava Baby‑‑just to annoy Ed, she confided to me on the way home from the airport. I had driven there to pick her up after her week’s vacation with Ed in Fort Lauderdale. (He’s staying on alone for a few days.) I don’t know what Ava Baby calls Aliceann.
     “Is Eva watering your plants the way she promised?” I asked Ed on the phone.
     "I don’t know; she’s pretty mad.”
     As much as I like Eva, I do think she’s being unreasonable. Hadn’t she assured Ed from the beginning that it was okay with her, she was dating other men, he was a free agent, etc. If she’s too irked to water Ed's plants, I suppose I’ll have to do it. Might as well be gracious about it; my clutch has been acting funny lately.
    
    One of the most positive aspects of moving back to Massachusetts is Ed’s confidence that his original surgeon can and will do the knee surgery he is convinced will end his constant pain. Without surgery, he fears he will have to resign himself to living in a wheelchair, as his daughter has done for over 30 years. Ed is so sure Dr. Scott can accomplish this feat, he has already made an appointment for September.
     Meanwhile, Kathie has been floundering in the Great Red Tape whirlpool. To get a building permit, she had to arrange to have members of the Westwood Board of Health, Building Department, and Conservation Committee as well as various other consultants come look at the property. They tell her she cannot add any living space to her home without first hooking up to the town sewer, which means she has had to spend hours on the phone getting bids from engineers for the engineering plan and from contractors for the actual hook‑up.
     My role in the Red Tape whirlpool involves going to the town hall and standing at the Planning Board window to confer with the clerk. I start describing Kathie’s project, and the clerk’s manner changes from casual to dismayed.
     “Tell your daughter she’s making a mistake, a big mistake,” she says urgently. “I understand her motivations, but if she goes ahead with this plan, she could have a disaster on her hands.” Abruptly, she pulls off her glasses, framed in tortoise shell. They dangle from a gold chain as she leans closer to me. Her eyes look even more distressed than her voice sounds. “I know this from past experiences on similar projects.”
     I drive too fast back to Country Lane and repeat the warning to Kathie. She shakes her head. Her daddy needs help, and she is determined to come to his rescue. She is so sure she is doing the right thing, I resolve to suppress my doubts. The original plan for this visit was that Kathie and Frank would help Ed and Aliceann sort through their things and decide what they should bring with them to Massachusetts and what should be donated to charitable organizations in Florida. This plan has been discussed for weeks, so there should be no problem carrying it out, right? Wrong. Kathie’s blow‑by‑blow phone calls to me make it apparent that Ed and Aliceann aren’t ready to part with anything yet. Not so much as a grapefruit picker. Not even one of the sets of poolside lawn furniture.
     Kathie and Frank go to Florida to help Ed and Aliceann get ready for the big migration north. Frank, oldest of seven and, like Kathie, accustomed to watching out for others, is more than ready to support Kathie in her desire to make a home for Ed and Aliceann and Strumfie (dog), and Sheba (dog), and Ling Ling (cat), and Jasmine (cat), and Cleo (cat), and Caesar (cat), and Calvin (more of the same), and Hobbes (you know). Frank, who recently completed a degree in Human Services at U Mass Boston, was a foreman at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy for years, so he has both the care-taking instincts and the mechanical skills to build a new home for the undertaking.
     Plan 2—to reduce the cluttered look in the house, Frank is going to rent a truck and drive one truckload of furniture back up to Massachusetts. Ed will hire professionals to move everything else north, once they’ve sold the house. It has been on the market for two months now without so much as an outrageously low offer that Ed and Aliceann can turn down with impunity. The broker believes one big problem is the clutter—a word that surely must shock the sensibilities of his clients, avid collectors of antique dolls, modern dolls, toy soldiers, doll houses, paper dolls, dioramas, teddy bears, and miniatures. He urges them to pack their valuables in boxes and get them on their way north, or at least out of sight.
     Frank is now painting the walls and doing some minor repair work. Kathie helps him, painting shelves that have been removed from closets and are spread out on newspapers on top of the dining room table. Ling Ling assists Kathie by draping herself around her friend’s neck and intently overseeing every sweep of the brush. Kathie also tackles the trim on doors and cabinets, stretching up as far as she can reach from her wheelchair. Aliceann is taking advantage of their presence to go visit her mother in western Florida, leaving Ed in their protective custody.
     My assignment is to make an appointment with the B‑Dry people and show them Kathie’s basement in Westwood. It floods during major rainstorms and leaks with little provocation. I’ll get a waterproofing estimate, which Kathie expects to be five or six thousand dollars (be still, my frugal heart!), so that Ed and Aliceann’s furniture and other possessions can be safely stored there. I’m glad to do what I can to help, not just for Ed but for Aliceann, too. As the years have passed, she and I have become more like sisters than wife and ex-wife.
         Ed calls from Florida, cautiously ecstatic. They had their first open house since Frank did the makeover, and they’ve already received a bid on the house. It doesn’t come close to enough money, but Ed is sure there’s room for negotiation.
     Kathie’s pleas to B‑Dry have paid off. They advanced her spot on the waiting list and have waterproofed her basement two months ahead of schedule. She and Frank and I have been clearing out all their excess possessions so they can be replaced by all of Ed’s excess possessions.
     After months of broken promises, the engineer Kathie hired last May finally submitted to the Conservation Committee the building plans for the sewer connection. The delays have made Ed extremely nervous, especially now that they may actually have a buyer for the Florida house. He calls Kathie every night, looking for reassurance that he and Aliceann et cetera will be able to move north whenever they have to. He is confused about the weather; he worries that the remodeling will proceed too slowly now that it is “winter up there.” Kathie laughs and says, “Dad, it’s summer up here.” “It can’t be,” he replies. “It’s summer down here so it must be winter up there.” Kathie tries to explain that even though it’s cooler up here than down there, it’s still summer up here too. He wants to believe her but sounds dubious.
     To help convince Ed and Aliceann that all the obstacles will be overcome and there really will be an apartment for them, Kathie supplements telephoned descriptions with building plans drafted by Frank’s nephew, an architect. The former garage will house a spacious, wheelchair-accessible bathroom with roll-in shower, a large bedroom, a little office area for Ed’s large desk, situated so that he can look out over the driveway to the trees and pond beyond, and a spacious eat-in kitchen. The large formal living room/dining room area will be divided into two rooms—a family room and a studio for Aliceann with a fireplace and bay window looking out on the meadow and pond.
     The blueprints lead, of course, to new over-the-phone discussions. Ed and Aliceann are having a hard time visualizing what the final space will look like, especially when the plans change for either financial or accessibility reasons, but say they trust Kathie and Frank to go ahead with what they think is best. One essential component that they check on daily: the sizable attached cat pen where their babies can get out in the fresh air. It will need a roof and a dozen padlocks, since all six foxy felines are known escape artists.

(4) THEY LOOKED LIKE REFUGEES FROM A HURRICANE ZONE.

           Despite having promised Ted that he won’t drive anymore, Ed keeps telling everyone that he knows he can still do it as capably as anyone.  Kathie finally suggests that if he is so sure, how about contacting the Registry of Motor Vehicles and making an appointment for a driving test and seeing what they say.  Ed calls back full of good humor.  He found a phone number for a company that gives driving tests and made an appointment.  After only two tests he has been assured that for a few hundred dollars more, they will give him lessons that will correct all his problems and make him perfectly fit to be on the road again.  Aliceann has a perfect fit when she hears this, and Kathie has a perfect fit of her own.  Can’t he see that this company is just after his money?  No, he can’t see it, everyone’s ganging up on him, nobody has any faith in him, he doesn’t see why he can’t at least try it, but okay, he’s outnumbered.  He’ll try to get his deposit back and cancel the lessons.  Why can’t his family understand that being able to drive equals independence and freedom?
September, 1999
Ted just called, sounding agitated, wondering if it's too late to have Kathie stop the whole onrushing project.  He has now rented half of the building and as early as summer 2000, business might improve much more than he has been expecting.  It is possible that his father and Aliceann could move back to Florida within the year if they and their menagerie would settle for a smaller house.  However, before he says anything to them, he wants me to call Kathie and see if she can put on the brakes.
Kathie says she and Frank have invested in the Dry‑Basement project and the gutting of the garage, and have finally gotten the work started on the sewer connection, but there is still quite a bit of the $50,000 left from the refinancing.  If work is halted now, she could repay the bank to shorten the length of the mortgage term and perhaps even retire by 65, as she had originally planned, instead of teaching at B.U. another four years after that. She adds that she and Frank would have to accommodate the Malleys and their pets in their house for a few months, but she is so worried about her Dad’s failing health, she is willing to do whatever it takes to be able to watch over him.  After all, she points out, Ted is not saying that they can afford to take the house off the market and stay where they are until things get better.  Last time she spoke to him he was still talking about their getting rid of the pets and renting someplace small.  So the problem of short-term housing for everybody still remains.
“Good grief!” I say. “How could you accommodate them without the extra space?”
“Oh, we’d figure out something.  It would be sort of like camping out.”
“In the middle of a zoo?” I ask skeptically, unable to picture Kathie’s two cats plus eight additional animals, plus two wheelchairs co‑existing in a six room house.
“Let’s not worry about it until we have something to worry about,” she replies.  I’ll call Dad now and see how he feels.”
She reports back half an hour later.  Ed says “absolutely no” to her question about stopping the construction.  His move to Westwood is going to be his last, even if Ted later comes up with enough money for a house in Florida.  He says go ahead and finish the apartment; he never wants to live through another hurricane season again.
* * *
Ed calls with big news.  The house in Florida is sold.  Not for anywhere near the price he was hoping for, but enough to get out from under the primary mortgage and make their move up here.  They are overwhelmed.  In addition to packing up the remaining half of their house and the two sheds and arranging for the movers, there are plane reservations to make for themselves and the two dogs and six cats, their Medicare and supplemental health insurance to be switched to Massachusetts, appointments scheduled for Edward in the Boston area with a new primary care physician, a urologist, a dermatologist, a neurologist, and a new veterinarian who will be overjoyed at the prospect of eight potential pampered patients.
There’s a lot of catch-22.  Edward can’t get any appointments at Mass General until he has his Mass General Blue Card; he can’t get his Mass General Blue Card until he has his new Blue Cross number.  He can’t get his new Blue Cross number until he cancels his old Blue Cross policy in Florida and they notify Massachusetts.  The people in Florida won’t cancel his Blue Cross policy there because apparently they’re all at the beach.
The high level of frenzy continues in both Westwood and Florida.  In Florida, shipping boxes for the pets have been measured, the house has been packed, tearful goodbyes have been exchanged, the bridges have been burned, and they are almost on their way.  In Westwood, the hammering, sawing, painting, et cetera continues with a whole array of volunteers, including neighbors, relatives, friends, six of Kathie’s students, and two significant others of students.
Kathie’s brothers Tim and Ted make major contributions to the effort.  Tim, a tall lean photocopy of Ted, and still the baby of the family at almost 53, has heavy-lidded hazel eyes and a penchant for wiring. 
Ted also comes to help whenever he can.  Strapped into his tool belt, he has painstakingly put down the bathroom tile. 
October 1999
Once Delta Airlines had disgorged Ed and Aliceann, it took three men and three vehicles to get everybody and everything to Westwood.  Edward and wife #2—dazed and disoriented— looked like refugees from a hurricane zone.  A substantial number of suitcases and shopping bags were loaded into the back of Frank’s truck.  Finally, four pet carriers containing one dog and six cats were put into Tim’s station wagon.  Wait, you say, one dog?  Aren’t there supposed to be two dogs?  Please, we can’t expect preparations to proceed swimmingly.  Sheba’s dog carrier was proclaimed one inch too long for Delta’s regulations on passenger planes, so she’s coming later on a cargo freight plane.  .
The caravan arrives in Westwood shortly after the paint crew leaves.  Ed and Aliceann are eager to release their pets from their carriers and into the pen, but Frank and Tim need half an hour to finish the final steps of anchoring down the mesh, so that nobody can tunnel under.  That done, “the kids,” as Aliceann calls them, are introduced to their new haven, and what do they do?  Complain, of course, loudly and bitterly.  Kathie's dad and Aliceann seem to feel pretty much the same way as the cats.  They are dismayed to find the apartment unfinished.
“We tried—oh how we tried, but we plain ran out of time.  All the red tape put us months behind schedule.”
The floors, walls, ceilings, outside doors and windows are all in place in what used to be the garage, and the kitchen and bathroom sinks are operative, but the shower and toilet are not yet hooked up, and neither are the kitchen appliances. Frank and Kathie’s extra bed is in the new bedroom, so Ed and Aliceann will be able to sleep in their own quarters, but they’ll be having meals with Kathie and Frank and using the master bathroom in the main house until the final touches are completed. 
Ed falls down in Frank’s bathroom his first day in Massachusetts.  He doesn’t know how it happened.  He started to turn towards his walker and found himself on the floor.  Frank helped him up, but he is shaken.  He plans to use the wheelchair more, which we all think is a blessing, but which he views as another of the curses that disease is imposing on him.
The greatest excitement of the Malleys’ first day in Westwood is not Ed’s fall but the Case of the Missing Cat.  During the morning, Aliceann is busy unpacking and Frank and Chad are busy with ongoing remodeling.  Shortly after noon, a nightmare descends upon Aliceann.  She can’t find Calvin.  He is GONE.  She is convinced that someone has let this member of the Thoroughly Indoor Cats . . . out!  Nobody admits to the felony.  Everyone joins in the hunt.  No box is left unturned.  No suitcase unopened.   No room uninvestigated.  No calling, cooing, coaxing left untried.  But no Calvin can be found.  He is gone, swallowed up in the wilds of Westwood, far from home, cold, lost, afraid, never again to be safely within the bosom of his family.  Aliceann continues unpacking, but the tragedy is writ large upon her face. Then, suddenly, as happened so often even in the safe environs of Florida, she turns to go into a different room, and there sits Calvin, licking his whiskers and looking smug.  Why do these people carry on so?  And why must I get so many kisses when I have merely finished washing?   
Two truckloads of Things arrive in Westwood today.  In addition to the lifetime collections of valued possessions are a bag of garbage that Aliceann didn’t want to leave behind for the new owners, the grapefruit picker, several tropical plants (which reacted to the traumatic move by dying), an antique wooden bird cage, a good deal of scrap lumber, a 40-year-old outboard motor that Ed had tried unsuccessfully to give Ted 20 years ago, two ride-on lawn mowers, and several old-fashioned push mowers.  Kathie says the list goes on and on, and she’ll tell me more when she has time.
Aliceann has adapted nicely to not yet having a fully operative kitchen of her own.   She seems to expect to continue preparing the meals she’s always prepared, so she does it in Kathie’s kitchen and makes enough for everybody.  Indeed, Kathie says, one would think they were all in Aliceann’s dining room back in Florida.  “Eat,” she tells everyone.  “Have some more.  Taste this wonderful garlic bread.  Try the potatoes.  Who would like some margarine?  Eat your vegetables, Edward.”  Kathie is delighted to have dinner cooked for her every day.  Between her full-time job as a psychology professor at Boston University and trying to take time with her Dad, she feels stretched pretty thin, and appreciates not having to worry about fixing a meal at night.  She and Frank do their share by taking care of the cleanup. 
Seeing my ex-hubby is difficult.  He says repeatedly,”How the mighty are fallen!”  It is especially difficult to watch this former athlete when he is trying to transfer from his wheelchair into the passenger seat of a car.  This is a painfully slow process in which he uses the car door to haul himself up onto unsteady legs, gradually edges his feet in a slow arc back towards the wheelchair, and finally, gasping with pain and mortification, manages to get his backside turned toward the seat.  His legs inevitably get tangled up, and Aliceann inevitably gets exasperated: “Edward, think about what you’re doing, you’re lifting the wrong leg, remember?  Lift up your left leg.”  At last, the maneuver is accomplished, as Aliceann pushes him into a  sitting position on the car seat. 
Even in his wheelchair, I notice, his body slopes, much like that of Stephen Hawking, the astrophysicist in his motorized wheelchair.  I puzzle over Aliceann’s constant refrain: “Edward, sit up straight!”  Is she unable or unwilling to accept the fact that his Parkinson’s disease has weakened the required muscles, or is she just hoping a miracle will happen and he’ll say “Of course, dear,” and straighten up.  She gets upset about his memory lapses, as well.  “He drives me crazy,” she tells me.  “He remembers what he wants to remember.  I have to tell him everything over and over again.”  My first-wife hackles go up with the implication that he is forgetful out of sheer perversity, but I murmur, “He probably can’t help it.”  And then it occurs to me that perhaps she can’t help expressing her distress at the changes that have descended so rapidly on them and the constant readjustments they need to make.
When the Florida health insurers finally return from the beach and realize the Malleys truly intend to abandon the warm climes of Florida for the not-so-warm north, the paperwork for transferring insurance is declared complete and Kathie is able to make doctors’ appointments for Ed.  His specialists are all associated with Boston teaching hospitals, but Aliceann considers the prospect of driving the 30 minutes into Boston akin to an invitation to hell.  Consequently, Kathie has arranged for them both to have a primary care physician at Dedham Medical Associates, which is 10 minutes from the house.  Kathie drives them there for their first visit. 
The doctor is a woman, which from Ed’s perspective means one more female trying to tell him how he should live his life.   She and Edward do not hit it off.  Ed is annoyed because she is reluctant to give him a new prescription for the powerful narcotic he finally persuaded the Florida doctors to prescribe for the pain in his knee.  He gives himself away when he explains he must have the medication to sleep at night.  She urges him to try several non-prescription medications, but he insists he has tried them all, and the only thing that has helped him sleep after years of wakeful nights is the pain medication.  She writes the prescription but is unhappy about it.   He is equally unhappy at the reluctance of this young whippersnapper (she can’t be a day over fifty-five) to listen to the voice of greater experience.
 Dr. Wife #1 is convinced Ed’s insomnia would be less of a problem if he hardened his heart and stopped allowing eight restless animals to sleep with him and Wife #2.  He admits they wake him up but says he goes right back to sleep, which doesn’t sound like a man suffering from insomnia.  I’m sure he would argue that this is because of the helpful pain medication.)
Aliceann’s visit with the same doctor is much more successful.  The doctor asks Aliceann how she’s feeling about Ed’s medical problems.  Aliceann promptly bursts into tears and sobs for several minutes about her crumbling world.  The doctor’s professional opinion: Aliceann should be talking to a professional about these feelings.  Kathie has been trying for months to persuade Ed and Aliceann to see a therapist, but both belong to the old “I-don’t-need-any-help-least-of-all-from-a-shrink” school of thought.  Aliceann now agrees with their new doctor that talking to someone will be helpful.

(5) NOW THAT I'M OLD, I APPRECIATE PATIENCE ALMOST MORE THAN LOVE.

     Out to Westwood for my usual Friday morning visit.  Kathie and Frank were sitting at the round table.  She was having a late breakfast of cinnamon toast. I began to talk about Timmy’s conversation with Aliceann, but Kathie held up her hand and asked me to say no more.  I looked over at the double fireplace and whispered, “Do you think Ed can hear me?”
     Frank, meanwhile, had stood up and said he had a couple of errands and would be back in about twenty minutes.  Then Kathie told me why she didn’t want me to discuss anything to do with her dad and Aliceann in front of Frank.   
     “He is totally devastated by what’s happened.  It’s too painful to him to talk about their moving out or even think about it.  He’s blocking out the whole traumatic experience as best he can and carrying on with his life.”
     When Frank returned with a cup of coffee from Dunkin Donuts, he gave us a smile and walked up the hall to the study he shares with Kathie.  “He’s all right, Mom,” she said.  “I can tell.”        
     “That’s a relief,” I said.  “I’ll be more careful after this.” 
     I slid open the kitchen door and had a quick visit with Aliceann.  I told her how much I enjoyed the spaghetti sauce she gave me last week.  She promptly took another container out of the freezer for me to take home.  Collecting Kathie’s grocery list, she left to have her hair done and to food-shop for both families.
     I headed for Ed’s study and showed him three cards for Aliceann’s upcoming birthday. He chose the one with the cat looking into the goldfish bowl.  What a time he had trying to open it to see the message inside.  My Mr. Fix-it ex-hubby, on whom Blake had depended every year to assemble Christmas presents for his children, couldn’t even open a greeting card without an enormous amount of effort.
     Ed reminded me about his frustration with being unable to write.  Gripping a pen with his sausage fingers, he demonstrated what he meant on a scrap of paper.  He began shaping the letters of my name and laboriously formed a fairly legible “Barbara,” but then the pen tapered off after the “M” for my last name.  The wobbly line looked like an electrocardiogram of someone’s heart, slowing down to its final beat. 
     “I can start out all right, but then my fingers get tired or something.  It’s the same way when I use the walker at the parking lot.  I go around a couple of times, and then I’m too tired to take another step.”
     I said he’d be able to practice walking every day once he returned to Florida’s warm climate, and this would surely build up his endurance.  
     “I see you brought one of your folders,” Ed said.  “What do you have for me this time?”
     “It’s a letter you wrote my mother when you sold the island property.  She saved it, and I found it among her keepsakes after she died . . . 

North Terminal Machine Co., Inc.                                         
November 26, 1954
Dearest Ernestine,
     As Barbara has probably told you, we have finally sold the island after getting the price I always thought it was worth.  She is sending Dick and his wife a thousand dollars, and five hundred to Janeth and Walter.  I am enclosing with this letter five hundred that we feel very strongly you should keep and use for yourself—not give to anyone else.
     We are leaving for a short vacation on Friday, December 3, and returning in time for Christmas. Although Barbara, the kids and I shall miss you during the holidays, we can’t help but envy you for spending the winter where it is warm.         
     Inasmuch as I can’t see you to tell you in person, I hope that Isha, the world’s nicest mother-in-law and practically my second mother, has a wonderful Christmas and New Year’s.  We are all looking forward to having you with us again in the spring.  Until then— Love, Eddie

     “You certainly knew how to write then,” I said, but Ed’s expression tells me this is of little comfort.  
     “Would you like to hear Mom’s answer, or are you getting too sleepy?      
     “No, my eyelids are a little tired, but I’m awake.  Read on, McDuff.”
November. 30, 1954
Winter Park, Fla.                                                                   
Dear Eddie,
     I have at last parachuted back to earth.  It took twenty-four hours for me to float down—it really did.  I couldn’t even attempt to write you although I wanted to at once.  I was afraid I’d embarrass you by speaking too much of my heart to you who cover up your sentiments with gaiety or playful brusquerie.  I know you well, for David did the same thing.  I wear my heart as a lapel ornament too often, and so consequently I lose it or it gets brushed a bit hard by some innocent passerby.  I am now trying my best to control the flood of adjectives and impetuous phrases which are natural to me.
   Therefore, speaking with the calmest judgment which I can summon to my garrulous typewriter I want to make an understatement to end all understatements: You, Ed, are a source of pride and joy to me constantly.  I delight in your success, I share your every pleasure, I applaud with true appreciation your growth in all good things of the mind and soul.  I feel that Barbara is the luckiest of girls to have sensed in you long before I did the qualities that are stable and growing.
     Living with you in the summer, I sometimes marvel at your handling of complex situations.  You and Barbara are both more adult than I despite the disparity of age.  I feel that I fail to be wise many times.  So your letter is reassuring; it makes me feel that you are a good forgiver! That you can care for me not for my all-too-few virtues but in spite of my many faults.  Your letter made the check for five hundred feel like two cents.  I so much more valued the former than the latter.
     In accepting it I make an Indian giver of myself, for the land was your wedding gift.  Barbara writes me that she had quite a time to get Janeth to accept the check she sent her.  I can understand, and I honor her attempt to pay you back the loan you made her.  However, I am very, very happy indeed that she yielded to Barbara’s persuasion, for she needs a washing machine and ironer, I think, and now she will surely get them.
   Have fun on your trip, dear.  I’m glad you are able to have a well-earned vacation and rest.
                                                                                                      Lovingly, Ernestine

     I started crying in the middle of this letter and could hardly get through it.  I had read it to myself earlier without getting emotional.  It had something to do with the contrast between the stolid figure beside me, nodding off in his wheelchair, and my dynamic young husband of long ago.  Mother had thought—everyone had thought—even I had thought I’d ruined my life when I had to leave Smith because I was pregnant.  Ed proved we were all wrong. 
     When I blew my nose, he raised his head and said, “I really did love your mother.  If she were still alive, I’ll bet she wouldn’t be against me.”
     “Ed, do you realize how paranoid you sound?”
     “You’re not paranoid if you have good reasons for being paranoid,” said Ed.
     I asked him if he’d heard from Tim.  He said no, he hadn’t, and he felt very unhappy about his son’s harsh words to his wife.   I said I was sure Tim would want to make amends.
     “Could you find it in your heart to forgive him?”
    “Oh sure,” he said.  “But I don’t know where the family gets this idea that all I’ve done is spend, spend, spend, year after year.  It’s not true and it’s not fair.  Well, piss on them!”
    “You don’t mean that any more than you meant what you used to say about your mother’s grave before she died.”
     “What was that?  Oh, yeah, I remember.  That was a terrible thing to say.  I was wrong, she was a good mother, a poor, ignorant woman from Prince Edward Island who did the best she could with what little she and my father had during the Depression.  She made great macaroni and cheese, even better than Aliceann’s.  I don’t know why I was so unkind to her in later years.”
     “Ed, she was a difficult woman to relate to.  Don’t you remember how she used to talk non-stop and annoy you to death?”
     “I should have been more patient.  Now that I’m old, I appreciate patience almost more than love.  There are only two people in this family that aren’t against me—you and Aliceann.”
     “Kathie isn’t against you,” I said.  “She accepts the fact that you want to move to Florida. She’s sad that she won’t be able to visit you in such a small house, but she still hopes you’ll come back here someday.”
     “No, I don’t think we’ll ever see each other again, any of us.  Aliceann will be happy because she has a lot of friends down there, she’s kept in touch, and she can’t wait to see them again.  I won’t have anyone.”
     “You’ll have Blake, only six blocks away, until he moves north in May.”
     “Yeah, I’ll have him six months of the year,” Ed said. 
     Aliceann told me not to forget the spaghetti sauce; Kathie and Frank were departing for Symphony Hall; I kissed everyone goodbye.  In a call to Tim as soon as I got home, I said I thought he shouldn’t postpone talking to his father, suppose he died all of a sudden, Timmy would regret for the rest of his life that he . . .
      “But I did talk to him,” he interrupted, and I said, “Today?  He said this morning he hadn’t heard from you.”
      “It was a couple of days ago.  He’s forgotten.  Aliceann answered the phone, and I started saying I was sorry about what had happened.  She said I should be, I had no right to talk to her that way.   Her one-sided point of view set me off again.  I said, `Aliceann, any time you criticize my sister, that’s the reaction you’re going to get.
      “My words didn’t make a dent.  She said she hoped I’d try to control my tongue in the future.   Then she turned the phone over to Dad.”
      “He has no recollection of talking to you.  What did you say?”       
     “I more or less repeated what I’d said to Aliceann about Kathie.  Then I told him how sorry I was that I’d hurt him.  I said that when I was getting ready for bed, I began thinking of what a great father he had been.  He still is.  I told him I loved him, and he said he loved me, but he wished the family would be more understanding.”    
          
      It's Saturday night, and I just talked to Ted about Ed and Aliceann’s visit to the storage space.             “Was anything accomplished?” I asked.
      “I hardly know what to tell you.  Most of the stuff they brought up here is mind-boggling. This whole thing is sad.  It’s too bad, but it’s driving me crazy.  I’m put in a position where I have to be `tough,’ as Dad puts it, but someone has to be or everything would go down the drain.”
      “What are some of the things that boggle your mind?” I asked out of morbid curiosity.
      “Well, his riding mower, for example.  He bought it a couple of years ago for two or three thousand, and why he shipped it up here, I can’t imagine.  He’ll never be able to use it again.  He should have sold it and got at least $500.   But that’s one thing Timmy will probably be glad to take off his hands.
      “Then there’s an edging tool—a machine that does edging.  Who’s going to use that?  There’s an old mattress, about ten fishing rods for a big boat, a little outboard motor he’s probably had for 15 years.  I said I could use that, the one I have keeps breaking down.
      “But here’s the thing.  It’s like, bite the bullet while you’re down there and make a lot of hard choices about what to sell or give away.  Once a second truck came into the picture, I guess Dad figured he might as well use up all the space and take everything.  Did I tell you he called me a few days ago, saying he wanted to explain his side of the story?”
      I said no, I hadn’t heard about that.
      “He says everybody hates him, and it’s true that he probably said he would help out with the expenses, but he had no idea Kathie would get in so deep.  Then Aliceann wanted to talk to me.  She said she is completely innocent in this mess.  Nobody ever consulted her, they just went ahead and made all these arrangements, so it’s not her fault it didn’t work out.  I felt like saying, `You both knew this disaster could happen since 1990, when I warned you we couldn’t count on keeping the old tenants forever, but did you ever cut back on the spending and put something aside for the future?  Never.  You’re as much a part of this as anybody else.’  But I didn’t say it, of course.”               
     It's the 28th of February, the day before the calendar announces that Leap Year has rolled around again.  I went over to Ted’s house to pick up my alimony check, which he said he’d had ready for days.  He knows I like to deposit it immediately, the better to have it start earning interest.  I remember my father trying to teach me about the importance of interest when I was in the 4th grade.  He took me to the bank next to the Mason School and opened an account in my name.  The next month he again went with me to the teller and showed me how the figure in my account book had increased without my adding a penny.  A great lesson.  Then I married a man who thought a bank was something you found at the edge of a river.               
     Ted said, “I know Dad thinks I’m tough, but I have to be.  There’s nothing I’d like better than to write a check for both of us for $100,000.  Inside of two years his share would be gone, and he’d be looking for more.  If anything went wrong, like one of my tenants going bankrupt, the problem would come back on me and my family.  I’ve worked too hard to provide for the future to jeopardize everything now.”

      A change in this week’s routine.  I got to Kathie’s house early enough to follow Frank to a Roslindale auto-repair shop where the mechanic would work on his truck’s stalling problem.  On the way back to Westwood, we conversed mainly about books and found we have a fondness for many of the same authors.  He is currently reading Darwin’s Origin of Species, which I  read twice and could recall well enough to contribute a few observations on natural selection and survival of the fittest.  All the while I was showing off, I was hoping I had my facts straight.
    I told Frank about my late sweetheart Jack, a charmer with an offbeat sense of humor and not the slightest interest in reading.  Once, when I went to Fort Lauderdale with Ed, I left Jack with a copy of Darwin’s book and told him I expected a report when I got home.  When I queried him with, “Tell me about how the species originated,” his answer was, “Well, it’s a long story.”
     I didn’t confess to Frank that thoughts of Jack entered my mind at least three times a day for a peculiar reason.  He had always maintained that the only logical way to hang a roll of toilet paper was with the outside unfolding from the top.  Trying not to think about this simply didn’t work.  I faithfully hung the paper his way, but still, there I was again, mentally saying hello, Jack.
     He couldn’t hear me because cigarettes killed him several years ago. Once I said to him, “I think of my darling Jack every time I open this kitchen drawer.”  He looked at the cigarette ash next to a pad and pencil and said, “I’ve got to get you something better.”
     After our return to Westwood, I sat with Kathie at the round table and gave her some pages to edit.  She'd been working with four students on their dissertations but still managed to find time for me.  I joined Ed in his apartment and read a couple of typed recollections.  Again, he not only stayed awake while I was reading but laughed aloud several times.  I love it when he laughs. The first vignette was dated March 9, 1965 . . .
     In spite of the threat of bankruptcy hanging over our heads, Ed is still his easy-come-easy-go self.  After telling me how desperate things were and exhorting me not to spend one unnecessary dime, he came home with a tape of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto—despite the fact that we already have all five concertos on records.  Quite pleased with himself he was, too, and quite hurt when I failed to enthuse over his purchase.  If he had to buy a tape, I scolded, he could have at least bought one we didn’t already have.
     “But the tape is so much better than the record,” he said.
     “What’s so much better about it?  I’ll bet if you went into the other room and I played first one and then the other, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.”
     “Yes, I would,” he said.  “And you would, too.”
     All right, so the record was a bit scratched, was that any reason to be such a spend-thrift?  I thought we were supposed to be economizing.  What kind of one-sided budget was this, anyway?
     Meanwhile, Beethoven’s glorious music was pouring from the speaker, and I could tell Ed was wishing he could shut me off.
     “You’ll be sorry when I’m gone,” he said.  That’s what he always says when he’s feeling picked on, and it always reaches me.  Boy, wouldn’t I be sorry!  I suppose there are worse things a man can do than collect Emperor Concertos, I decided.  We sat down with our cocktails and listened companionably to the unscratched version.
     Ed was wide awake and beaming.  One day when I was writing to the Malleys, I began the letter, “Dear ex-hobby and Aliceann.”  This was a typo I didn't correct.   My ex-hubby is still my ex-hobby.

     The March winds are howling, but there's a definite warming trend in the air.  Aliceann suggested that Ed and I go out for lunch.  
    “There’s an Uno’s not far away.  I’ll take you and Edward there after I have my hair done, then I’ll do the shopping and come and pick you up.”
    “Aliceann, why don’t the three of us go?  Wouldn’t that be fun?”
    She was firm.  Edward and I wouldn’t have much more time to spend together, and this was the way she wanted it.  
     I called Kathie to see if Ed was expecting to go out to lunch with me or had he forgotten.  She told me he was looking forward to it like an excited little kid.  Then she said, “They’re leaving two weeks from Tuesday.”
     I said good, being fed up with the whole sorry mess, and she managed a little laugh, “I don’t know how good it is.”  Despite the laugh, I detected a low note in her voice.  Something was troubling her, I was sure, something besides the departure of her father and the other nine neighbors. 
     When I showed up in Aliceann’s kitchen, she had our program efficiently arranged.  She would drive Ed and me to Uno’s, drop us off, then be back for us by 1:30 in order to take Ed for his shot at 2:30. Meanwhile, she would pick up his Luprin medication, which costs $100, and which she had to pay because the pharmacy computer said their Mass Blue Cross policy had been cancelled.   “We didn’t have to pay anything for it in Florida,” she said.
     “Ohmigod,” I said, recalling the reels and reels of red tape Kathie and I and Aliceann got tangled up in when we were trying to switch the Malleys’ Medicare and Blue Cross affiliations to Massa-chusetts.   “Now you’ll have to go through that rigmarole all over again.” 
     “I know. I hate the way they put you on hold and then seem to forget your existence. Sometimes you wait for half an hour, and the next thing you hear is a dial tone.”
     I advised her to keep one her novels beside the phone, so she could forget their existence while she waited.
     Aliceann and I helped Ed into his windbreaker, easily a two-woman job since his arms have lost the knack of thrusting themselves into the sleeves.  “Stand up, Edward,” she said, when the jacket got caught on the back of the wheelchair.  He stood on his shaky legs and was at last bundled up and ready to go.
    I watched Aliceann lift his wheelchair into the back of her car and marveled again at how powerful her arms were.  “It is heavy,” she said, with a final gasp and a push, “but I’m used to it.”
     At Uno’s, Aliceann asked for a booth, wheeled Ed to the one indicated by the hostess and helped him get seated.  “Oh darn,” she said, “I forgot to give you your medication.  Remind me, Barbara, as soon as we get home.”  Then she said, “Now have a good time, you two.”  A fingertips kiss for Ed and one for me.  I thanked her for all her help and told her she was a doll.
     Ed said Aliceann had been much kinder to him the last few weeks. “I don’t know what brought on the change, but it makes life a lot pleasanter.”
     “It must be because she’s so happy about going back to Florida.  I know how much she’s missed her friends and all her activities. Have you hired a mover yet for all your stuff in the basement?”
     A mumbled response.  “What?” I said.
     “We’re going to do it ourselves.  I asked Frank’s brother if he’d do it, and then he asked Frank to go with him.”
     So this was why Kathie’s spirits were low this morning.  She’ll worry about something going wrong every minute until Frank completes the round trip safely.  I pictured him, along with his assistants, lugging everything out of the basement. 
     I would have thought he’d want to leave the whole works in the middle of the yard and set fire to it.  But he is like Kathie.  No matter how much he is hurt, he remains outwardly calm and inwardly non-violent.  
     Ed said something, and I had to ask him to repeat it.  From here on, I will transcribe the mumbled words that issued from his swollen, chapped lips, understandable only after two or three encores.  He said he’d miss the activities he and Aliceann shared for so many years.  
     “I don’t know what I’ll do to keep busy without the boat.  We used to go fishing two or three times a week before I had to sell it.”
      I told him I was sorry his older years were ending up this way, with so many losses, both physical and financial.
     “I can stand the physical infirmities—it’s being poor that is killing me.”
     The waiter took our order.  Ed asked for grilled sirloin tips and mashed potatoes; I went for the Caesar salad and cream of broccoli soup.  When our beer arrived in freezer-frosted mugs, I poured Ed’s for him, then mine.  We clinked glasses and said cheers.
     “Any new gossip about Cohasset?” he asked.
     No new gossip that I could think of, so we resorted to old gossip.  One of the juiciest scandals was that memorable party when the hostess corralled all the male guests in her kitchen, one-by-one, as neatly as a cowgirl singling out steers, and issued to each the same invitation.  Anyone who at any time felt like stopping by for a visit on his way home from work would be welcomed with a drink, hors d’oeuvres, and a relaxing tête-à-tête.  A blanket invitation, you might say.
     The wives were the last to know, of course.  It wasn’t until this femme fatale had broken up a couple of marriages and estranged two aspirants who were brothers that the truth seeped out.  Then she divorced her husband and married a much richer man.  She married again and then again, each new catch wealthier than the last one. Her ex-husband married Ed’s secretary who had the hateful name of Hope Darling.  Oh, how I resented that name.  I used to think, how could he help but have a thing for a Hope Darling he saw daily?  But now he told me I had it backwards: darling Hope had a thing for him. 
     “I knew there was something going on,” I said.  It was kind of fun discussing secrets like this years later when you no longer gave a hoot.  Not even enough of a hoot to ask probing questions of a man who would once have clammed up but now seemed willing to confess all. 
     I listened politely while he described again the Cohasset party he went to after our divorce, where he was the last to leave and ended up with the hostess in his lap, weeping over her breakup with a boyfriend.  “When I wanted to pursue the relationship,” Ed continued, “she said no way would she go out with me, it was common knowledge I was still in love with you.  I lost a lot of potential dates because of you.”
     I figured I should say I was sorry about that, so I did, though I wasn’t.
     His lips were moving rapidly.  I knew he was talking, but I couldn’t hear him. 
     “Slow down, dear, I don’t understand a word you’re saying.”
     He said more slowly, “There was a time when I thought I might lure you back again.  That was fifteen years ago when you agreed you’d be willing to spend six months in Fort Lauderdale with me.”
     “No, Ed, I remember the conversation.  I said four months was all I could take of Florida.”
     “Okay, four months.  I figured if you spent that much time down there, you might find yourself liking to be with me.”
     “I always liked being with you, Ed,” I said.   “But I learned after we separated that I liked being my own person, too, a person who seemed to be lost in the shuffle during the years we were married.”
    The waiter served us, warning that the platters were hot.  I cut Ed’s sirloin tips into smaller, more manageable pieces.
     “I used to get terribly lonesome,” Ed said.  “Didn’t you ever get lonesome?”
     “Sure I did, once in awhile. But I’d say to myself, this will soon pass and life will feel good again.”
     “I couldn’t stand being alone, especially at night.  I had to have someone to keep me company or I’d go nuts.”
     I said I thought that was true of most men, or at least it was in those days.  They started out with their mothers taking care of them, and then married women who took over the nurturing role—feeding them, doing their laundry, cleaning their house, keeping their bed warm.
     “Wasn’t that in the back of your mind when you married Aliceann?  That when you got old you’d have this energetic younger woman to care for you?”
     “Not at the time,” he says.  “I knew I’d get old, but I didn’t dream I’d need as much help as I do.”
     I brought up the possibility of a support group.  Aliceann had mentioned it to me this morning when Ed was in the bathroom.  He responded with his usual refrain that he didn’t want to be involved with sick, old people he had nothing in common with.
      If ever there was a case of Utter Denial, this was it.
     “Ed, Aliceann needs the support of people who are having experiences similar to hers.  Why don’t you go with her for her sake?  She does so much for you, here’s a chance for you to do something for her.”  He mumbled that he didn’t think she cared that much.
   “But she does.  She told me she did.  And Ed, you might have ideas that would help other disabled people, and they might be able to help you.”
     Ed didn’t have many expressions left on his face, but his skepticism was clear.  He was mumbling that he’d think about it when Aliceann said breezily, “Hi, kids, have you had a nice time?  Come on, Edward, we’ve got to get you home so you can take your medication and brush your teeth.”
    The first thing Aliceann did when we got back to the apartment was to give Ed his pills.  She showed me the line-up of tablets, capsules, and liquid medicines on the kitchen counter.  Many of them were not for Ed but for the animals.  No wonder he put the cat’s stool hardener in his ear a few years ago.
     While Ed was brushing his teeth, Aliceann said, “I’m going to ask Kathie if it would be all right to bury four of my pets in her back yard.”  What a marvelous idea, I thought, happily irrational.  I assumed she’d have them put to sleep first, but how would she choose the ones to sacrifice?
     I must have been looking quizzical because Aliceann explained that the pets in question were the first Strumpfe, the second Miette, and cats Sybil and Nicholas. All long deceased and reduced to ashes.  Oh, so that’s what was in those four metal boxes!  Whenever she and Ed moved, the ashes moved, too, along with the grapefruit picker and other valuables.  But even though the animals were not originally from Massachusetts, she thought a woodsy location in Kathie’s yard would be a fitting final resting place.     
     I said I was sure Kathie would be happy to provide space for the interment, since she already had a Pet Cemetery for a couple of her own departed pets.
     Aliceann told me she could hardly wait to get back to Florida.  She intended to get a part-time job, maybe two or three times a week, and get back to her painting and crafts.  I kept my thoughts to myself—how would Ed survive being left alone, he was bound to keep falling, which he did again late the previous night.  Aliceann couldn’t get him back into his wheelchair so she had to call Frank.  Struggling to wrench himself out of a stupefied sleep, Frank for the first time was also unable to help his father-in-law up off the floor.  
    “What a night!” Aliceann groaned.  “None of us got any sleep until Kathie said to use her Quickie wheelchair and roll the back of it under him and get him up that way. We keep forgetting how to do that.”
     Ed wheeled in to join us, and Aliceann prepared him for the exercise she said he needed.  She started working his arms into his windbreaker.  I reached for his hand when it neared the end of the sleeve and said with a wink, “Here’s my chance to hold hands with my ex-husband.”  
    “If I could spare it, I’d let you keep it, as long as you promised to squeeze it now and then.”
    Aliceann said, “Can you hear him huffing, Barbara?  He drives me crazy with his huffing and puffing, but he says he’s always huffed.  Was that true when you were married to him?”
     “Only when we were making love,” I said.  

     It was Thursday, March 16th, and summer was here—72 warm, glorious degrees of it.  A day for walking on the beach at Nantasket if you were young and in love, for rolling down a hill in last fall’s leaves if you’re a kid, for saying to yourself if you were Ed Malley’s first wife, "So there, you old buzzard, just look at what you’ll be leaving when you migrate to hot and humid Florida."  A beautiful New England spring with birds singing and trees budding and crocuses coloring the soft brown earth.
     A sprightly voice on the phone: “Mrs. Malley, this is Mr. Malley’s social secretary.” Giggle.  “He wonders if you would care to have lunch with him tomorrow.”  Giggle.
     I didn’t need the giggles to alert me that Aliceann was calling.  Her voice was as distinctive as everything else about her.  I told her to tell Mr. Malley I would be delighted.
    Sure and it was Friday, the 17th of March. Winter was here, all 31 loathsome degrees of it, along with snow falling, cars skidding, and winds blustering.  Ah yes, a typical New England spring-time prank, toying with us, embarrassing us in front of our visitors from the south.  Mr. O’Malley’s social secretary, declaring the driveway in Westwood unnavigable, postponed the lunch until the following Saturday.
       When I stopped to say hello to Kathie on that Saturday, she asked me if I’d brought the promised tape of “Lost for Words,” Thursday night’s Masterpiece Theater presentation.          
     “Darn it, I left it in the car.  You’ll love it.  The old lady is the image of Mimi.  She’s confused and forgetful like Dad, and her son . . . well, I’ll let you see for yourself.  I’ll be right back.”
    I cautiously made my way down the frozen ruts in Kathie’s driveway to my Behemoth.  I collected the video of “Lost for Words,” leaned back to close the door and whap!  On its way by, the door’s edge clipped me on my cheekbone.  Ice, I was thinking as I trudged back toward the ramp; if I packed it with ice right away, maybe I wouldn’t get a black eye.
    “Are you all right, Mom?” Kathie asked, as I grabbed for a tissue. 
    I confessed I got in the way of my car door, but yes, I was all right.  And no, it wouldn’t be a black eye, it would be a flap of torn skin that would become a lucky horseshoe-shaped scar.  Everyone would want one.  I’d write up the instructions, along with a warning not to stand so close to the door that it broke your cheekbone.   
    Kathie supplied a Band-Aid that stemmed the bleeding but made me look like the loser in a women’s boxing match.  Aliceann slid open the kitchen door and said Ed was dressed and ready to go.
     I joined them in the hallway, and he said, “I see you’re having problems with your skin, too.”  I told him my car did it to get even with me for the most trivial scratches and scrapes.  “I’m going to trade the bully in for a less pugnacious model.”
     After Aliceann got us settled in a booth at Uno’s, she kissed Ed, kissed the air in my direction (giggle), and left us to whatever mischief we could cook up in the middle of a crowded restaurant.  
     “She’s been wonderful lately,” Ed said.  “She’s so much more patient and cheerful.  She hardly ever gets mad at me, and I don’t blame her when she does.  I’m a lot of trouble.”
     How do you convince someone who knows he's a lot of trouble that he's worth the trouble?  The waitress’s appearance was a welcome distraction.  She unloaded our beers and a glass of water for the pills Aliceann asked me to give Ed.  She now carries them in her purse in case she forgets them at home.
     I said I agreed that Aliceann was wonderful.  “She does so many things for you that she doesn’t have to.  Like taking you for a drive even on cold days, so you’ll get some fresh air and a chance to exercise with your walker.”
    While we waited for our order of crab cakes, I described to Ed a dream I’d had about him.  I was in the millinery department of a store, trying on hats.  I hadn’t worn a hat for years except to keep my ears from freezing, but in my dream I was methodically trying on one bonnet after another.  One in particular caught my fancy.  It had large felt petals in various shades of pink.  I tried it on and liked the way the petals framed my face—one of them stuck out in front like a visor.  I could wear it on the golf course.
      "Then I noticed that you were with me.  Generous man that you are, you offered to pay for the hat.  You said, ‘It looks kind of funny on you, but if you want it, I’ll buy it for you.’”
     Ed said, “I like being in your dreams.  I wish I could be in your life, but I guess we’re coming to the end of that possibility.  You don’t want to come to Florida, and I won’t be coming back here.
We’ll probably never see each other again.”
     I stretched my hands out, and so did he, and I swear I felt more like the girl I was before we married than the owner of those mottled old-lady hands.  Where the devil did all those decades go?
     Ed talked about the women he dated after we separated.  I knew the stories by heart.  I was able to supply details he’d forgotten—like it turning out that his temporary fiancee, Carol, had another fiancé who had been promising for years to divorce his wife.  When Ed came into the picture, Fiancé #1 got hysterical and followed her when she flew up to Boston to visit Ed, who found her at the airport embroiled in an emotional scene with a strange man. 
    “Carol stayed with you for a week, right?”
     “Right. When she wasn’t spending hours in the bathroom or on the telephone, she was doing her nails.  It was a big relief when we became unengaged and she went back to her other fiancé.”
     Ed said he’d talked enough about himself, how about me, were there any men in my life he didn’t know about?  No, I replied, I was contented with my single life and my women friends.  I long ago passed the age where I needed a man to fulfill me.
      “You should have married Bob Black,” he said for the second time since we’d started having these conversations.  “He was a steady sort of guy.  I’ll bet the marriage would have lasted.”
     I gave the same answer I did the last time.  I wouldn’t have wanted to miss having my four wonderful children.  He said, “But you’d have other wonderful children.”
     I said I was glad to hear him say that.  Did he remember how he reacted years ago when I remarked that if abortion had been legal in 1939, I wouldn’t have hesitated to have one?
     “I remember.  I was very angry that you could say such a thing.”
     “But you didn’t listen to the rest of what I said.  I said I was thankful that abortion was not legal.  I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on Kathie and Teddy and Vonnie and Timmy for anything in the world.  No other children would do.  Do you understand better now what I was trying to say?”
     “I guess so.  It just brought back all the agonies I went through when you left me and went to stay with your mother in Florida all those months.  My only hope, it seemed, was the baby—and then you tell me years later . . .  “
     The waitress brought our crab cakes.  I cut Ed’s into small pieces, and after one bite we agreed these were the best crab cakes we’d ever tasted.  But he wasn’t ready to let go of the past yet.
     “That night in Worcester, after we were married . . . “
     ”Springfield, you mean.”
     “Yes, Springfield.  That was the most wretched night I have ever spent in my life.”
     “I know, dear, you’ve told me that before.  But why dwell on one awful night when we went on to have so many wonderful ones?  And wonderful days, too, boating and then flying.  It was so good of you to encourage me to get my pilot’s license.”
     Ed wanted ketchup for his crab cakes.  A passing waiter obliged, but my escort’s enfeebled hands were unable to get the top off.  I refrained from offering help but caught the eye of an older man who seemed to be in charge of the staff.  He stood by our table and wrestled with the cap.  Was he being a world-class diplomat when it appeared that he, too, couldn’t untwist it?   He departed with the ketchup and returned with a smile and the opened bottle.  A few minutes later I noticed  Ed was holding it upside-down, but no ketchup was forthcoming.  All right, now I would get into the act.  First I pounded the bottom of the bottle, which might as well have contained cement for all the good that maneuver did.  Then, with both elbows astride his plate, defying all laws of etiquette and gravity, I poked a table knife into the upside-down ketchup bottle and coaxed out enough to cover the crab cakes. 
     “That’s fine,” Ed said. 
     I quoted Ogden Nash’s quatrain on the subject of recalcitrant ketchup bottles:  “Shake and shake the ketchup bottle/None will come and then a lot’ll."
     "We’re lucky a lot’ll didn’t splatter gore all over that good-looking sweater you’re wearing.  Aliceann would think a really bad-tempered waitress had been wielding a steak knife.”
     Our crab cakes weren’t as warm as they were when they arrived, but we enjoyed them.  Ed murmured something about a lovely mature woman, and I assumed he had gone back to the topic of his romantic past.  
      “Which one was lovely and mature?” I asked, a bit weary, statistically speaking.
     “You.  That’s what you’ve become.”
     “Thank you for those kind words, dear, but it’s the funniest thing—inside I feel as young and foolish as ever. I remember hearing old ladies say what I just said, and young know-it-all that I was, I thought they were full of old shoes."
     Ed started talking about another night when he had been utterly miserable. 
      “What night was that?. “
     “It was in the nursing home, when I was recovering from the knee surgery.  When I realized my hopes and dreams about us would never come true, my heart was broken.  I was so disappointed, I cried all night.  Of course I know it was partly the medication, but—”
     “Hi there, you two, are you having a happy time” asked Aliceann, beaming down at us.  Oh yes, very happy, we told her.  She sat down and told us about the errands she’d been doing and the lousy veggie wrap she’d had for lunch—not half as yummy as the ones you get at the supermarket. She radiated so much good cheer, it was contagious.  I told her how much difficulty Ed and I had had, after the waitress took our plates away, trying to get his wallet out of his pocket.  He couldn’t do it, so I went over to his side of the table, put my arm around behind him, and fished in the first pocket I came to.  
     “I could tell I’d better not dig any deeper or I’d be in dangerous territory.”  
     Aliceann  giggled.          
    “Then Ed told me to try the back pocket, and after I unpried the Velcro, sure enough, there was the wallet.”    
    Aliceann helped Ed wobble out from the booth, struggle into his windbreaker, and edge into the wheelchair.  I saw the waitress standing with her tray and realized we were blocking the aisle. I said to her in an undertone, as Aliceann maneuvered the wheelchair, “Would you like to hear some interesting gossip?”
    “Sure,” she said, looking startled.
      “You see that nice gentleman I had lunch with?  Well, I’m his first wife, and the other lady is his second.”
      Her expression evolved from startled to astonished.  “Really!  Then the three of you are married?” she asked with complete innocence. 
     “Oh no, I’m divorced, but we’re all good friends.”
     She said she thought that was lovely, and she was quite right about that.

     Ed and Aliceann went out for Sunday brunch, as they had done every week for the fourteen years of their marriage.  Aliceann, having finished her meal, was reading a book she had brought along. Then she heard a thud, looked up, and saw to her horror that Ed had collapsed, with his head on the table and his cocoa spilled.  She jumped up and started shaking him, trying to restore him to consciousness. Three retired nurses at a nearby table also tried without success to revive Ed.
     “Perhaps he’s had a stroke,” said one.  The manager called for an ambulance.  The medics came, lifted Ed onto a stretcher and told Aliceann to follow them to the hospital.  Crying and panicky, she begged to be allowed to ride in the ambulance.  They said no; for safety reasons that couldn’t be permitted.  John, one of the regular patrons in the restaurant, pointed out that if Aliceann was forced to drive herself to the hospital, there was going to be an accident and they’d be needing another ambulance to transport her.  So they agreed that she could ride up front with the driver.
     On the way to Norwood Hospital, the first thing the medics did was rip off Ed’s shirt so they could check his vital signs.  One of them, filling out a form, asked Aliceann what her name was.  She told him.  The medic who was trying to bring his patient to full consciousness asked him a couple of classic questions: Did he know who he was?  Where he was?  What his wife’s name was?
    Aliceann told me later, “I was absolutely certain that Edward would say his wife’s name was Barbara. I could hardly believe it when he came out with `Aliceann.’  I figured if he was that sharp, he couldn’t have suffered any serious brain damage.”
     Meanwhile John, a genuine Good Samaritan, had followed the ambulance to the hospital. 
Locating Aliceann in the emergency room, he drove her back to the restaurant so she could get Ed’s wheelchair and return Kathie’s car to Westwood. Then, having followed her there, he drove her back to the hospital, where she anxiously awaited the result of Ed’s cat scan—as did the rest of the family, who by now had been alerted by Kathie.  Aliceann called her to report that Ed seemed to be all right, but the doctor wanted to be sure before releasing him.
     Kathie called me late in the afternoon to say that Ed and Aliceann had taken a taxi home, and both appeared to have recovered from their ordeal.  Tim was with me when his sister called, installing something magical in my computer that will enable him to fix any problem I might encounter via his computer at home.  He said he would head for Westwood for a last visit with his father before they left for Florida.

     Tim helped Aliceann put Ed to bed.  He was so distressed to see how weak his father had become, he couldn't hold back his tears.  How could this happen to the strong, ever-patient, dependable dad who had come to his rescue so many, many times, from his rebellious teenage years right up to a few months ago when he needed a loan?  Now he couldn’t even undress himself. 
     I had promised to be in Westwood at 10:30 to drive Edward to an appointment with an ear specialist.  Aliceann was unavailable because she had taken Sheba to the airport, after arranging to have her shipped by freight to Florida.  The standard crate was still one inch too small, so she’d be picked up and delivered to the family’s veterinarian to await the arrival of the other kids.
     Something else was going on that Monday morning—the rain-delayed final round of the Players Championship at Ponte Vedra, Florida.  Woods was on the verge of catching up with Sutton.  Tiger’s eagle on the 16th cut Hal’s lead to one.  Greater love hath no Tiger Woods fan than to turn off the TV at that spell-binding moment and heed the call to service. 
     We used Kathie’s car because I couldn’t possibly lift Ed’s wheelchair into my trunk.  She came out to the driveway to show us the lever that operated the contraption on the roof.  This invention automatically lowers Kathie’s travel wheelchair by a set of chains and then reverses the procedure when it's time to store it again.
     I was amazed that Ed remembered exactly how to get to the Medical Center.  He didn’t know his doctor’s name, but he directed me accurately to the correct intersections and turns.  He even warned me, “There’s some construction around the next bend,” and there was, along with two policemen handling traffic.
     Ed said I was a good driver.  “That’s because you have many of the attributes of a man,” he added.  I buttoned my lip, knowing he had honored me with the ultimate compliment. 
     I pulled to a stop in front of the building, and Ed did as Kathie had instructed—pulled the lever forward to lower the wheelchair.  We heard a humming sound as the mechanism went into action, then saw the chair sink past Ed’s window and onto the pavement.  I removed the metal rod that was supporting the folded seat and told Ed to push the lever the other way.  With a rattle and a clank, the chains rose toward the roof and were scooped into their container.
     Leaving Ed by the entrance (“Are your brakes on?”  “Yes, they’re on,”) I found a parking space.  At the front desk the receptionist asked if Ed had his blue card.  No, he didn’t have anything, not even his wallet.  The computer answered the necessary questions, and we were directed to the elevator and the second floor.  Dr. Benjamin’s office was at the end of a long corridor.
     In the waiting room I began filling out a form about Ed’s medical history, allergies, and his medications.  When I asked him about medications, he said, “Parkingson’s.”  No, I said, can you think of the names of any of your medications?  “Tylenol,” he said. 
     Operations?  Ed looked weary, and I didn’t see the point of going into his back-to-back triple-bypass and carotid-arteries surgeries of twelve years ago and his knee-replacement operations. This Dr. Benjamin was only going to be cleaning his ears, for goodness’ sake.  Then I remembered that Ed was troubled off and on by ear infections until he finally got one in 1968 that didn’t clear up as quickly as usual.  It interfered with his swimming, and that was it . . .
     The operation was something he should have had done years ago, but like all busy businessmen he kept putting it off.  The doctor chipped away at the excess bone growth, taking great care not to damage any facial nerves.  Then he stuffed a corncob in there.  At least that’s what Ed said it felt like, and he was very unhappy because the corncob wasn’t due to come out for a week.  Should have a pun here about ear and cob, shouldn’t I?  Nope, can’t think of one.
     Ed had his two-week checkup.  He came home and told me the doctor tested his hearing and said it was better than ever.
     Deciding to put him to a test of my own, I said softly:”Unphadundil prantivostic?”
     Without flickering an eyelid he answered, “Take your clothes off and lie down and I’ll show you!”
     Ed waited outside the medical center while I got Kathie’s car.  We eased the wheelchair up to the open door on the passenger side.  Ed stood, braced himself with one hand on top of the door, turned and backed toward the seat until he was able to sit down and lift his legs into the car.  “Good job,” I told him, impressed by his lack of grumbling and complaining.  Lately he has seemed almost as accepting of his disability as Kathie is of hers.  He did complain recently that his knee operation was a “disaster.”  It hurt to stand up.  
     Wife #2 said “Edward, that’s because you never do your exercises.”   
     Wife #1 said, “Ed, you must exercise that knee.  Otherwise, it will freeze up on you, as it’s already doing.”  Getting it from both barrels, my ex uttered nary a word.
     After he was settled in the passenger seat, I shut the door, and he pulled the lever that would bring the chains and metal rod down from the roof.  I had folded the wheelchair and had its folded seat ready to receive the rod that would lift it skyward.  It was still a few inches too high, so without being coached, Ed gave the lever another pull, and now everything was lined up as it should be.  I was so proud of him, this Parkinson’s patient who three months ago couldn’t operate a TV remote control. 
      “Okay, all set,” I said, and Ed pushed the lever the other way. I watched as the chair rose toward the roof’s big metal clamshell, which gasped a mighty gulp and then tidily shut its mouth.  I said to a man passing by, “Isn’t that the most fantastic invention?”  “Incredible!” he said.
      Aliceann was waiting for us when we got back to Westwood.  She had agreed to join us for lunch at Uno’s and let me treat on this final occasion.  I went into Kathie’s side of the house, while Ed used the bathroom.  Kathie was busy with a student and said yes, it would be all right to take her car again, so I wouldn’t have to take my golf clubs and shopping cart out of my trunk.
     Aliceann was in the kitchen, helping Ed push his arms into his warm down jacket.  It was just like Frank’s, which Ed wore for the first month he was up here.  Aliceann ordered an identical one from the Frank’s LL Bean catalogue.
     “I love this jacket,” Ed said.  “I’m going to take it to Florida with me in case it snows.”  
     “Careful,” he said, as he always did when we got to the end of the driveway.  A car was sitting there, courteously waiting for us to move onto Country Lane.  “Some of these guys go whipping by at 60 miles an hour.” 
     Aliceann agreed that there were a lot of reckless drivers in the neighborhood.  We had gone only half a block when the door next to Ed flew open.  Of course he was wearing his seat belt, but we were all startled.
     “Edward, what did you do?” cried Aliceann.
     “I didn’t do anything.  It opened by itself.”
    Aliceann and I got out and took turns trying to slam the door shut.  It made a banging noise but the latch seemed to be broken.   No matter what we did, the door hung open, waving in the breeze.  Ed said he was glad he was wearing his warm jacket because the breeze was freezing.  “My nose is dripping icicles.” .  
     “Edward,” said Aliceann, “maybe leaning on the door the way you do has lowered it, so it won’t latch.”
     “No, that wouldn’t do it,” said Wife #1, coming to the accused’s defense.  “Let’s turn around and go back.  Ted is coming over late this afternoon to say goodbye to Ed.  He’ll be able to figure it out.”
     I cautiously backed into the next driveway and returned to Kathie’s house.
    “Maybe she’ll know what’s wrong with it,” said Ed.  “Why don’t you go in and get her?”
     “No, she’s with a student and another one is coming.  I don’t want to disturb her.  We’ll go in my car, Aliceann, if you think you can get the wheelchair into the trunk.”
     I unloaded my golf clubs and shopping cart, while Aliceann helped Ed get settled in the front seat and fastened his safety belt.  She folded his wheelchair, turned it sideways, and lifted it into the trunk, where it stuck up and out, no matter which way we positioned it.  The problem was the spare tire, which neither Aliceann nor I felt like grappling with.
     “We’ll have to go ahead slowly with the trunk open,” said Aliceann.
     “Wait a minute, here’s something that may help.” I reached for a straightened-out coat-hanger.  It had come in handy more than once when I locked myself out of my vehicle.  Between us, Aliceann and I were able to partially secure the trunk’s lid, so I could drive at a normal speed.  
     At Uno’s, Ed ordered the crab cakes again, and Aliceann and I had chicken and veggie rollups.           This time the ketchup bottle behaved itself, and Ed doused his lunch liberally.  Then he tried to cut the crab cakes into pieces but his hands weren’t strong enough.  I watched him sawing away until at last he snagged a very large piece on his fork.  It was too big to put in his mouth, so he tilted his head and bit a section off the dangling chunk.  Oh, what a struggle he had, but I didn’t offer to help, as I did when we were alone.  Aliceann might be offended at any implication that Wife #1 was more thoughtful than Wife #2. 
     Aliceann had wine, and Ed ordered a second beer although he had drunk only half of the first one.  I drank a glass of plain H20, not being the type to order the kind of water that costs money, as so many people did these days.  Were they nuts or was I foolhardy?
     Aliceann said it was now or never if she was going to dig a hole in Kathie’s back yard for the ashes of her four deceased pets.  I told her I’d be glad to participate in any ceremony she might want to have.  
     “I’ll probably forget,” she laughed.  “If I do, they’ll just move back to Florida with us.”  I, too, was amused by the saga of the much-traveled ashes.
     Aliceann asked if I’d stop at the Westwood library, so she could drop off some books on our way home.  While Ed and I were waiting in the parking lot, I heard him muttering angrily; words like arrogant, egotistical, imbecilic, smart aleck drifted to my ears.  He seemed to be flagellating himself          
     “What’s the matter, dear?” I asked.
     “I never should have cheated on you.  I was a damned fool to jeopardize my marriage.”
     “Ed, don’t be so hard on yourself.  Infidelity isn’t all that unusual.  Why do you think the divorce rate is so high?  Men and women succumb to temptation all the time.”
     “It wasn’t worth it.”  Then his thoughts veered in a different direction.  “How I hated Rick Connor!  I hate him to this day.”
     Although Rick had been only a friendly, courtly acquaintance, not one of the hard-core inner circle, I knew immediately what he was talking about.  Like Ed, Rick often went on business trips.  Unlike Ed, he always brought his wife along.  Rick had told me one evening he not only liked Sue’s company but also considered her an asset at conferences and cocktail parties they attended.  “I wouldn’t think of traveling without her,” he said.  The lights burned late at the Malleys that night.
     “All right, Ed,” I conceded, “so Rick was the exception to the rule—a monogamous husband.”
     “Oh yeah, right.”
     “Are you suggesting that he wasn’t?”
     “He’s no different from any other man,” Ed said scornfully.  “They all cheat.”
     “Isn’t that what I’ve just been saying to you?  Why berate yourself for something that is so much a part of human nature?”       
     The discussion ended when Aliceann returned to the car.  

      Back at the Westwood house, I took a minute to interrupt Kathie and her second student visitor of the day, and tell her about her car door.  She said it had happened before, not only with this Chevy but with the previous one.  Ted would fix it for her when he arrived to say goodbye. 
     Aliceann came in, and while she was talking to Kathie, I sought out Ed. He was in the bathroom, sitting in his wheelchair in front of the basin. “I wanted to brush my teeth and wash my face before I kissed you goodbye.”  
     “Would it hurt your knee too much to stand for a minute?“ 
     He pushed backward and started an unsteady rise to his feet.
     “I’d like to hug you totally just one more time,” I said.  
     He felt more like a young boy in my arms than an old man.

     I called Tim to ask him how his trip to Westwood went.  He had brought young Timmy with him.  
     “Dad and Aliceann were out, so we visited with Kathie for awhile. Then the car pulled into the driveway and Aliceann went through the process of helping Dad out of the car and into his wheelchair. Timmy went running out of the house, calling `Grandpa, Grandpa!  I’m so glad to see you!’”
     Timmy halted momentarily when he saw his grandfather’s face, which looked worse than ever with its scabs and sores.  Then he manfully ran up to him and hugged him, pressing his cheek against a face that was a little bit scary.
     “Good for Timmy!” I said. 
     I asked if there was any tension between Tim and his dad and Aliceann.
     “No, there was no reference to past grievances.  Aliceann chattered about the wonderful antique doll show they’d gone to in Dedham after breakfast, and Dad chimed in with some affable remarks.”
     “That sounds like Aliceann.  She’s not one to hold a grudge.  This may be the last time you’ll see your father for a long time, so I’m glad nothing unpleasant happened.”
     My contribution to the Malleys’ exodus was to meet Jody Thaxter—who would be driving their car to Florida—at Blake and Jayne’s old house in Cohasset.  I wasn’t due until 1:30, so I had plenty of time to add several pages to my current writing project, hit the treadmill, haul out my 30-year-old vacuum cleaner (sometimes that was as far as I got because it grows heavier every month), dust here and there, and admire my African violets.  They like the view of the Weymouthport marina, love the glorious sunsets but entreated me to get some potting soil because they needed more root-room.  Thus went the morning of an aging lady living alone and loving every minute except the vacuuming.  And maybe the dusting.  And the violets were lovely, but did they have to be so demanding?
       On my way to collect Jody I got gas for the guzzler at the new exorbitant rate, and made a stop at the liquor store to get some small cardboard cartons for Ed, who mourned about how frustrating it was to be trapped in his wheelchair, unable to help with the packing and truck-loading.  He could  pack small items, like the contents of his desk but told me he needed more boxes.
     When Jody and I arrived in Westwood, the scene was chaotic.  A huge truck was backed up to the front of the apartment, and the driveway was so full of cars, Frank came out to direct me into a grassy area.  Ed and Kathie were sitting on the ramp’s sunny platform, finishing their lunch and watching the dismantling of the apartment.           
      “Look, Mom,” Kathie said, pointing.  I turned and saw that the truck was already full of furniture, the most imposing piece being a sideboard massively stretched midway.  I wondered how Frank and his brother Jake ever managed to hoist it up there.  It was so big that nothing stored behind it was visible.  Jake was in charge of finding spaces for stacks of cartons and large paintings that Frank and Aliceann handed up to him.  One of the cartons included the famous ashes.  When it actually came to burying them, Aliceann couldn’t bear to put them into the cold ground where there was no sign of a real pet cemetery with appropriate commemorative markers. So, like the rest of the family, Strumfe #1 et cetera, would be returning to warmer climes.  
     The front door was blocked, so Ed wheeled around the corner to the side door.  I opened it and tried without success to help him get over the threshold.  “You have to press down on the handles, Mom,” Kathie called.  Pushing the handles down lifted the two front wheels, and a minute later Ed was in his bedroom.  All around us, more chaos reigned.  Big cartons, medium-sized cartons, and Aliceann’s arts and crafts were stacked in every room, including the kitchen.  A few paintings still hung lopsidedly on the walls.  
     I helped Ed zig and zag his way to the bathroom, then spent a few peaceful minutes with Kathie.    She told me her father had said he wanted to come back to Westwood for a month this summer. 
     “To escape the heat, I suppose,” I said. 
     “No, it’s because he wants to see his family again.  He thinks Aliceann would enjoy visiting her mother while he was away.  We’d have him stay in our guest bedroom, since Jake will be in the apartment.  Anyway, I’d want to have him close by, in case he needed help.”
      I heard Ed struggling to get his wheelchair from the kitchen to his study. I cleared a path for him and wheeled him over to his desk.  I showed him the small empty cartons I had brought and he said to put them anywhere I could find a spot.  Aliceann and Frank made trip after trip into the study, transporting Stuff to Jake, who stowed it away in the truck’s “nooks and crannies.”  I noticed that Frank was piling cartons on top of each other, including the empty ones I had just brought.  I figured he was too numb at this point to be making any fine distinctions. This was the first of the two trucks he would be loading.
     The return of the natives is such a complicated process, it is almost impossible to describe, but I’ll try.  Someone was flying up from Florida to drive this truck back to Palm Beach Gardens the next day, and then Jake and Frank would load a second truck that they’d be driving to Florida.
     Ed informed me that he and Aliceann didn’t like the house they were moving into; they could tell from the snapshots that it was too small.  “We’ll be buying a bigger place as soon as we can afford it."
     I gritted my teeth and pushed my surge of annoyance to the back of my mind, reminding myself that Ed was not a selfish monster but a sick old man—a man who in happier days had welcomed into his household my mother, my second mother and childhood caretaker, Vaughan , my sister’s two children when she sorely needed a respite for a month, and my brother’s five-year-old daughter by his foundering first marriage, who lived with us for a year.  Ted told me his father was equally generous to people less fortunate than he in his business life.
     Jody came in, gathered an armload for the truck, then returned and said he really should leave, he’d promised his girl he’d take her out to dinner.  I looked at my watch and was shocked to see that it was 4:30.  I was scheduled to pick up a friend in Weymouth at 5:00 for dinner and a movie, so I’d better get going, too.  The evening’s commuter rush would already be under way.  I leaned over and kissed the back of Ed’s neck and massaged his shoulders, and he said, “I know, I know.” 
     
    Frank and Jake and the second truckload left Westwood early Sunday, arrived in Palm Beach Gardens the next night.  Ed and Aliceann and the rest of the menagerie were picked up at 6:00 a. m. this morning and are now soaring through the air to Florida.  Calvin, annoyed at the lack of attention he was getting during the last-minute arrangements yesterday, hid himself for the day, but was part of the flying family.  Ed, for the first time in his life expressed concern about flying and said he would be nervous until he was safe on the ground.  Even when our Comanche crashed back in 1963, he never for an instant considered giving up flying.