This is the kind of winter day I like most—too cold and snow-banked to do anything but hibernate in my study and commune with my computer. This is what I’m doing when Ted calls with an update on his father and Aliceann. They have bought the Florida house, but for more than the $101,000 they wanted to pay. They telephoned Blake and harangued him about the house being too small, and now he is furious with them. I am wickedly pleased to hear that Blake is furious. It’s so hard to keep everything in perspective when you’re worried, and anxious, and frustrated, and aggravated about members of your own family—especially when they refuse to see the wisdom in your wishes for their well being.
Ted continues to be skeptical about his father’s claim that Blake is lending them the down payment. “He may be using that sizeable chunk he salted away and doesn’t want to admit to. Or Blake may be fronting for them in this transaction, with the understanding that he will be repaid promptly. Dad knows he has to take a cut from Tronlox, so I don’t know where the necessary funds will be coming from. It would be interesting to see what his accounts really look like.”
Ted’s call is followed before long by one from the Abominable Snow-hater himself. To my friendly hello, Ed says, “I suppose you’ve heard the shit has hit the fan.” I say I know they’ve made a deal, and wasn’t Blake a good friend to come to their rescue.
“I don’t know how long that friendship will go on,” he growls, but volunteers no more on the subject. Mostly he talks about what a financial strain he’s under and how he’d had no idea Kathie was spending so much money on the apartment. I ask, how can anyone add an apartment to a house for less? Has he looked at her figures?
“Not all that carefully,” he concedes. He goes on to say what a fortune the move is going to cost, how he’ll have to build a pen for the dogs, and how he’ll have the expense of shipping their possessions to Florida—he doesn’t know how he is going to manage.
Then he says that perhaps if the apartment had been finished when they arrived, it would have been pleasanter to live in. There were still too many things left undone.
At this point I raise my voice a few decibels. “And why is that?” I demand. “Because they’d already spent so much, they had nothing left for further improvements. Don’t you understand that Kathie has $25,000 in credit card debts?”
“Jesus,” he says. “She shouldn’t have let herself get in so deep.”
“She was trying to help you,” I say, adding more decibels. “You told me a few months ago that she was a saint to have rescued you and Aliceann and all your animals.”
I tell him how upset I am that Kathie can’t use her pool because the heater is broken. “You were all for having her fix it when you thought you’d be using the pool. But she couldn’t afford to fix it and pay for building the apartment, too. So she went all last summer without swimming and will have to do the same this summer.”
He complains we are all trying to make him feel guilty. I say I think he is already feeling guilty and is projecting his feelings onto the family.
“Well, Kathie certainly is bitter. Everyone thinks I’m a stinker, and I’m just trying to do the best I can.”
“Kathie isn’t bitter. She admits she feels hurt, but it isn’t like her to be bitter.”
“Well, she’s pretty sour, then. But her attitude has improved, since Aliceann and I kind of jollied her out of it.”
Our conversation ends with his comment, “I’m glad I called you. Now I have a better idea of how things stand.”
How do things stand in his mind? I have no idea.
An hour later, Ed calls again. “There’s something I need to know, and maybe you have the answer. Does Kathie expect me to pay her the entire amount she spent on the apartment?”
“Heavens, no! She’s never expected that. She hoped when things got better for you, you’d help pay off the credit card debt. And I’d like to see you help her put in the carport now that she doesn’t have a garage—and maybe even fix the swimming pool heater.”
“Well, that makes a big difference. I should be able to take care of that in another couple of years.”
I wonder if this is Ed’s face-saving way of finally conceding that he is honor-bound to do a little rescuing himself. Hearing me yell at him almost as loud as Aliceann may have shaken up his brain cells enough to give him a new perspective.
Next he says in an agreeable tone of voice, “Do you know something? Frank is a very kind man. He’s offered to put our stuff on a truck and drive it to Boston.”
“Drive it to Boston? Where do you mean? To the airport?”
“No, he’s going to drive the truck to Boston, to our new house.”
“To Florida, you mean.”
Oh yes, that’s what he meant. So he still get his thoughts mixed up from time to time, but he is much, much better, both physically and mentally, than he was in November. I tell him this, reminding him of what he had said to me when I asked him if he had read anything about Parkinson’s Disease. “You said you had, you knew it could be stopped, and the symptoms could be improved. You were absolutely right. I never saw such a change in a man—you sit up straight, you can stand and walk, thanks to your knee operation, and you speak clearly. Your medication has done wonders for you.”
Ed thanks me for the encouragement but then tells me he has fallen three times in the last two days. I’m shocked at his nonchalant attitude, as if falling was as natural as rain. He has more important things to worry about, he says.“I had thought you and I had something going. But I guess that’s over.”
“Ed,” I say, “your favorite climate is in Florida. New England and I can’t compete with that.”
“When I’m gone, try to think of me with a little love, will you?” I tell him I already do. A lot of love.
Kathie phones, as she does several times a week, just to see how I’m doing. I describe what her father had to say in his two calls yesterday, while she was spending an 8-hour Wednesday at BU. I get to the point where Ed first labeled her as “bitter,” then when I protested, changed the adjective to “sour.” Kathie’s compass needle goes haywire. Out slips a 7-letter word starting with “a,”an epithet I’ve heard her apply only to a couple of choice fatheads.
“Do you know what I did yesterday morning when the blizzard started?” she sputters. “I called Dad and said, `Now aren’t you sorry you’re going off to Florida and leaving this winter wonderland?’
He said, `Yes, I’ll be thinking about it every day and feeling sorry for myself for missing it.’
So I said, `Well, just to make you really suffer, I’m going to take pictures of all this beautiful snow and send them down to you.’”
Her father thanked her for calling. She could tell he knew he was truly forgiven.
“They didn’t jolly me out of anything!” Kathie concludes emphatically. “I went out of my way to reassure him that I loved him despite my fears and disappointments. He is the most aggravating man! I hope we don’t have another snowstorm this whole winter but they have a freak one in Florida as soon as he arrives. It would serve him right.”
Later, Ed tells Kathie he might come back from Florida during July and August. When I visit him, he tells me the same thing. Then he asks me to put on some romantic music, apparently not enraptured by my choice of Rachmaninov’s piano concertos the other day. For my part, I can think of no better way to spend eternity than listening to Sergei’s outpourings. I confessed as much to my journal a while ago. My confidante was 65 and I was 77, old enough to know nothing . . .
When I die, an event I still regard as unlikely, and pass through the pearly gates (an event my brother regards as fundamentally unlikely), I will first seek out Sergei Rachmaninov to thank him from the bottom of my heart (wherever that is) and to admire whatever soul-stirring composition he is playing on his harp.
(As was her custom, my journal maintained an inscrutable silence.)
“Look through those tapes,” Ed says, “and see if you can find Patsy Cline. She sings kind of sad love songs, and that’s what I’m in the mood for.”
While I’m figuring out how to insert the tape and get it started, he tells me for the second time about the Carpenters. Carpenters were carpenters to me until he explained they were a brother-and-sister team who sang together and were very popular. “She loved him too much. She knew she couldn’t have him, so she let herself die of anorexia.” Ed’s voice breaks when he gets to this part, and tears glint in his eyes. He was and is to this day an ardent romanticist.
Then he says, “I was such an innocent when I went to college. Really, my sex life wasn’t--”
“I don’t want to hear about your sex life,” I find myself saying. And I mean it.
“All right,” the romanticist says meekly. Then he notices my folder. “Have you brought something to read to me?”
I tell him I have a lulu about the time he had dinner with one of his girlfriends at Joseph’s, one of Boston’s most elegant restaurants.
“Oh, I remember that,” Ed says. “She wanted to go to Joseph’s because she’d never been there. Gerald hardly ever took her to expensive restaurants.”
“And remember the agreement they had that either one could go out with someone else, only neither should lie about it. It was okay to say, `I’m going to be out tomorrow night.’ It was not okay to say ‘I’m going to Rhode Island to see my old buddy Al’ unless it was true . . .”
Claire and Ed were looking at the menu, when who walks into Joseph’s—of all restaurants—but her live-in boyfriend, Gerald, the buddy from Rhode Island, and a tall brunette who was obviously with Gerald.
The men spoke briefly to the headwaiter, then disappeared, much to Ed’s relief. He had a feeling he wouldn’t be at his most debonair if there were a confrontation. A few minutes later Gerald and Al, minus the young lady, reappeared and walked over to say hello.
I have been reading my account with pleasure, assuming Ed is as amused as I by this misadventure. When I happen to look up, at a point where he should be laughing aloud, he is sound asleep in his chair. So much for my career as a talking book.
When I stop reading, the silence wakes him. “Go on, I’m listening,” he says.
“Well, all right, just a little bit more. The next part is really funny.”
Reporting all this to me the next day, Ed said that of the four actors in this playlet, he had by far the most stage fright. “I felt as if I were out with someone’s wife, and her husband had caught me. I stuttered and turned red and knocked over my wine glass when we shook hands.”
Claire and the two men exchanged banalities, and then the men departed. Later Gerald would explain the disappearance of the brunette by saying she had gone to the ladies room. Two things had made Claire furious, Ed told me. One of them was Gerald’s lying, in violation of their agreement ."
“ . . . and the other,” I chimed in, “was Gerald’s taking the brunette to Joseph’s after years of not taking Claire.”
“ . . . and the other,” I chimed in, “was Gerald’s taking the brunette to Joseph’s after years of not taking Claire.”
Yep, that was it, all right. Nobody understands a woman like another woman.
I glance up and see that Ed’s eyes have glazed over. “I’m not falling asleep,” he insists, propping open his eyelids. “What happened after that?”
“After what?” I say uncooperatively.
“Whatever,” he says.
“Why don’t we just talk and listen to Patsy Cline.” She is singing a mournful song of lost love, which prompts Ed to tell me he’s never forgotten how terribly hurt he was on our wedding night. He had never felt so wretched and hopeless in his life. Well, golly, as the pregnant bride, I wasn’t exactly the happiest person in the world, either. Why does he want to harp on negatives at this late date?
“But things got better, finally, didn’t they?” I say. “Didn’t we live happily-almost-ever-after?”
“If we could leave out the `almost,’ it would be a perfect love story,” Ed says.
I say it was perfect enough for me, kiss him on his dry, papery, mouth then go into Kathie’s to say hello and goodbye to her.