This morning Kathie tells me her father fell at six a.m. when he tried to get to the bathroom. He hadn’t turned the light on because he didn’t want to waken Aliceann; his fingers had slipped from the handhold on the wall when he attempted to get into his wheelchair. He’s unhurt, but Aliceann makes a distraught report to Kathie, ending with, “Tell your father to turn the light on after this! He just won’t pay any attention to me.”
Ed comes in to do a crossword puzzle with Kathie, a hangdog look on his face. Kathie does not want to add to his misery, but tries to supportive as she says, “If you have to get up to go to the bathroom, Dad, I’m sure it will be much safer if you have the light on.”
His response has some of his old feistiness in it. He may go down, but he’s not doing it without a fight. “Aliceann is always complaining that she doesn’t get enough sleep. So, what am I supposed to do? I don’t want to be the one to wake her up.”
“How about keeping a pee bottle next to your bed and using that if you need to?”
“I’ve tried it. It doesn’t work. I have to stand up to pee, and if I have to get up I might as well go to the bathroom.”
“How about a commode chair next to your bed? That would be safer than going all the way to the bathroom.”
“I don’t want to use a commode chair, and I don’t want to wake Aliceann up.”
“I understand, Dad, but the last thing she wants you to do is fall. . .”
Ed, having heard this tune before, reaches for the crossword puzzle.
It must be awful for him to be getting lectured like a misbehaving child. But our former pilot is able to tune out his co-pilots, as if they were noise from a static-filled radio on the instrument panel . . .
Tonight I watch an especially funny hour of “Time and Again” and call Aliceann to see if she and Ed also enjoyed it. Given half a chance, she wants to be friendly, so we have a pleasant talk, just as if no ultimatums had been issued regarding Wife #1, and just as if nobody suspected that said wife might be harboring covert plans to supplant Wife #2 in Edward’s affections.
“Was he able to stay awake?” I ask. She says yes, and turns the phone over to him. He greets me with an affectionate “Hello, luv,” an endearment that may not help matters.
Kathie tells me that when they went out to dinner last week, Ed said at least three times that he wished they’d thought to invite me. I can see where this would begin to get to Aliceann. She has all the hard part of being with him, and when I offer to take him out to lunch, thinking it would be helpful to her, she sees it as a kind of date. Putting myself in her shoes, I think I’d feel the same way.
Tim has told me that he is going to Westwood this morning to help Frank with various projects and is bringing his computer to show Ed how it works. He has a “virtual flying” program for the computer that he thought would interest his father. I’m coming, too, bringing strawberries for the Malleys and Malley-Morrisons.
Ed and Kathie are sitting at the round table, working on a crossword puzzle. I wave to them, put the strawberries in the refrigerator, and go to the other part of the house to say hello and goodbye to Tim and Frank and Aliceann. Then, realizing I’ve forgotten my pocketbook, I slide the foyer door back to get into the kitchen. Ed is standing there with his walker, looking sluggish. “Careful,” Kathie warns, afraid I might jostle him as I sidle by. “He suddenly felt too sleepy to do the puzzle.”
“Are you going to take a nap?” I ask him, retrieving my pocketbook from the kitchen counter.
“No, I’m just taking a little walk to wake myself up.” He pushes along through the entrance to the study, and I start to go on my way. Suddenly there is a sickening crash—he has fallen again. I yell for Frank and Tim, Kathie tells me to get the wheelchair, and a few minutes later, he is safely lifted into it, unhurt.
Aliceann looks stricken. “Edward, here are your pills. I should have given them to you at 1:00.”
We all realize it’s now 2:30, but no one says anything. Later, when she’s alone with Kathie, after getting Edward into bed, Aliceann bursts into tears and says she’s afraid she’s losing her mind. “It’s my fault he fell. I forgot his pills. I feel ready to have a nervous breakdown any minute.”
Kathie tries to comfort her, but adds: “You can’t do it all yourself, Aliceann. There’s too much going on. And he’s not going to be able to remember these things himself. That’s why we want you to stay up here where there’s plenty of help available. Suppose the same thing happened in Florida—what would you do if Dad broke a leg during one of these falls?”
Aliceann sobs louder but her face tightens and she turns away. Clearly she does not want to consider staying in Massachusetts as a solution to dealing with their problems.
As for the computer lesson, Ed says vaguely that he doesn’t know if it’s something he should spend any time on. “I don’t know what will be happening in the future.” Tim admits his Dad did not get much enjoyment out of the flying lesson. “Frank’s computer is slow, which makes things even harder, but I finally was able to show Dad how the flying program works. He kept pushing the wrong rudder when he was making turns.”
Night before last the sneezing bug struck again. Over and over again with no pauses in between. My favorite cold medication has lost its charm, despite a dose taken Monday night and a second one at 6:00 in the morning when I was still sneezing. I don’t want to miss bowling, a visit to Ed in the afternoon, and my Tuesday night bridge, so I try a drastic formula I had tacked up in my kitchen cabinet: 2000 mg. of Vitamin C every hour for three hours.
The megadose begins to work its miracle. By the time I get to bowling I am almost dripless, and by noon, back to normal. I stop to pick up some shoes I’d seen advertised on sale with Velcro fastenings, for Ed. Aliceann has invited me to come for lunch, but I prefer not to dine at a table decorated with live cats. Instead, I have a hasty sandwich at my condo and get to Westwood at 1:15 before Aliceann leaves for her appointment with her therapist.
Ed calls from the bathroom that he will be out in a minute. I go over to see Kathie and Frank, shutting the sliding door in the face of various animals intent on accompanying me. Rude, but necessary, as Kathie’s cat Pegeen regards six cats as six too many interlopers.
After saying hello to Kathie and Frank, I tell Ed, who is in the bathroom, “Take your time, I’ll read the paper.” I warn him that I’m recovering from a cold, so I won’t be kissing anyone in case I’m still contagious. He says, “I’ll be out in a minute. It takes me a while to get myself pulled together.”
Can I help? No, he’s almost ready.
Out he comes, moving capably along with his walker, and emitting a penetrating fragrance. “I don’t know what this stuff is, but I think I put too much on,” he says. I think so, too.
He tries on the shoes, with some help from me and a shoehorn, and they fit perfectly. Catching sight of Frank in the entryway, he asks for an Orange Crush with ice in it.
“I could have done that,” I say.
“Frank doesn’t mind. He’s always kind and patient, does anything I ask him to, never gets upset.”
When the Orange Crush is delivered, Ed utters one of his trademark axioms: “Frank, you’re a gentleman and a scholar.” And a genie, I think to myself.
We proceed into his study, where I tell him I have more letters to read to him, if he’s interested. “Let’s put on some music,” he says. I look through the rack of CDs and find one of my favorites, Rachmaninov’s piano concertos. After Ed demonstrates how he can use a remote control to turn down the volume, I begin reading and sneezing and blowing my nose with every other paragraph. Oh dear, my cold has started up again; Aliceann won’t be happy if I give it to her husband. I use up all my tissues, then get a bunch more from Kathie.
The letter I’m reading was written in July of 1984 and concerned Edward’s romance with Ava Baby. She had just dumped him for a younger man, a lot richer but not half as good-looking, or so a friend of hers reassured Ed.
Aliceann works all week and is often busy weekends, too. Ed is becoming increasingly lonesome and depressed. He has a bum knee that may require surgery; he fretting over an unresolved business deal; and his love life stinks. No wonder the Sheik of Scituate is restless.
Worried about him, I asked him why he didn’t try his luck at the singles cocktail lounge where Eva had met her Dreamboat.
For every woman there,” he explained, “there’s at least twenty males vying for her attention. How can a man in his sixties cope with all that competition?
At this point in my reading, Ed interrupts me with one of those “you-always” comments that crop up in marital arguments. “You always used to accuse me of picking up women in bars. I never did that in my life.”
“But you always . . .” he persists, and not wanting to get into a hassle over the past, I respond mildly, “Okay, Edward, if you say so.”
Changing the subject, I say, “By the way, I was astonished at first that Aliceann didn’t want me to take you out to lunch. I thought it would give her some time to herself, and she knew I was no threat to her.”
“But you are a threat,” said Ed. “She knows how I feel about you.”
“Well, anyway, I’ve been thinking this over,” I continue, “and I tried putting myself in her place. Suppose we had stayed married, and I was the one doing everything for you that she is—cooking, laundry, shopping for groceries, taking you out for walks, lifting the wheelchair in and out of the car. Then suppose one of your old sweethearts came along and said she’d like to take you out for lunch. As Kathie says, that’s too much like a date. I realized I’d feel exactly the way Aliceann does.”
“I’ve been noticing you’re keeping yourself pretty distant,” he says glumly.
“That’s because I don’t want you to catch my cold. As soon as it’s better, I’ll give you a double dose of hugs and kisses.”
Ed doesn’t have a chance to respond because the dogs are barking their welcome to Aliceann. As I gather up my letters, she comes in with her radiant smile, looks around the room with a puzzled expression, then says, “Barbara, someone’s wearing Attar of Roses. Is it you?”
“Not me,” I say. “Remember how allergic I used to get in the car when the three of us went to those Doll Study Club meetings and I sneezed all the way? I was allergic to that lovely fragrance of yours.”
Aliceann goes over to Edward and sniffs him. “Edward! Why did you put on my perfume!”
“Oh, was that yours? I was looking for my cologne.” As soon as I get into my car, I stop sneezing. On the drive home, I recall another time when Ed picked up something he thought would be useful, only to find he’d made a mistake . . . .
I am sending Ed a gift that I hope will help him with a difficulty he had last week with Sybil's cat-box. Aliceann, giggling all the while, called me to describe his frustration.
"Aliceann," he called, "There's something wrong with the pooper-scooper. I've been trying for fifteen minutes to clean up this box, but the darn scooper isn't scooping. It just keeps flopping all around." Aliceann went out on the patio to investigate.
"Edward," she said. "It's not working because what you have in your hand is our green fly-swatter. The pooper-scooper is blue."
I'm counting on my gift, a hand-crocheted Teddy-bear fly-swatter, to clear up the confusion.