Friday, July 21, 2017


             For the first time through all these months of sacrifice and chaos and adjustments and tongue-biting, , Kathie’s voice sounds stressed when she calls.  She has talked to her father about the need to make decisions about the Things in the Basement.
“I told him Frank and I wanted to let his brother Jake stay in the finished room at the bottom of the staircase.  Jake has been living with his son and daughter-in-law, but they’ve just had a baby and want to be able to use his room as a family room.  With all the money he’s been investing in his granite business, he can’t afford much in the way of an apartment.”
“How about other members of the family?  Can’t they help?” I ask.
“They all have children and problems of their own.  Frank and I want to help him, but the finished room is as full of boxes and stacked-up furniture as the main part of the basement.  I pushed Dad to decide what to take and what to donate, but he’s so overwhelmed he’s no readier now than he was last July to dispose of their possessions.”
Kathie wants me to add my persuasions to hers when I come for my weekly visit, to try to convince her father that he can’t keep putting off making some realistic decisions about their property.
“He says Aliceann wants all her things. And he keeps saying he doesn’t know where the money will come from to ship everything to Florida. I’m afraid he just wants to leave everything here for now and ship it down later when he has more money.  Or when I have more money.   He keeps talking about all the income I can get from the apartment after they leave.   I guess he thinks I’ll have so much money to spare that hiring movers will be a good way of getting rid of some of the excess.” 
“Oh Lord,” I say.  “He gave me that same song and dance weeks ago.  He made me cross because I knew he was trying to rationalize his way out from under his obligation to you.  He referred to the money you had spent as an investment.”
“Well, I said to Dad, you talk as if I have this wonderful rental apartment, but you know very well what a nuisance it is to share the same entryway, and to have to see us and listen to the dogs and watch out for the cats every time we come in or go out.  No one who’s not part of the family is going to want a place where they don’t have total privacy. Not to mention the fact that renting to strangers would be a violation of the town’s zoning laws.”         
Kathie brings up the matter of Frank’s offer to drive a truckload of Stuff down to Florida.  “He’s had a bone bruise on his foot for weeks.  It hurts him, and it hasn’t gotten any better.  We went into Mass General yesterday to have it x-rayed.  Luckily, nothing is broken, but the doctor said Frank should keep off his feet until the bruise heals.”
She doesn’t want Frank to follow through on his offer to her father to drive yet another truckload to Florida. “I’d worry about him every minute he was on the road, even if the weather were perfect, even if he got his son to go with him.  And hiring Michael would be an added expense, plus the cost of airfare back to Massachusetts.”   
“I’ll talk to Dad when I see him tomorrow,” I promise. 
* * *
Frank is sitting at the round table looking like a man who is burned out.  I bend over and kiss him, saying, “Ted and Blake both insist you’re not to do one more thing for Ed and Aliceann.  Take it easy, give your foot a chance to heal, and let those two shift for themselves.”
He is waiting for Kathie to finish dressing for the Friday afternoon concert at Symphony Hall.  I tuck some revisions into the manuscript she has left for me and can see she hasn’t had time to do any more editing.  She does have students she is working with at Boston University, even though she’s on sabbatical, and she’s told me she plans to do some writing herself, so I can’t expect her to drop everything for me. 
She wheels out, we exchange hugs, and off they go for lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant where they are well known and made warmly welcome. 
I have promised I will beard the lion as soon as she and Frank are on their way. Bracing myself, I stop to look in the bathroom mirror to make sure my hairpiece isn’t askew. It isn’t, but my lipstick is. My kingdom for a tissue.  The manila envelope I’m carrying won’t do. Ah, here’s one in my pocket.
  Before Aliceann left for the beauty parlor, she placed a bowl of clementine sections on Ed's desk; that’s where he sits and nibbles while we talk.  He’s wearing a tan cashmere sweater over a white shirt with an open neck.  From the neck up, he’s wearing a scowl.  He regards me with the corners of his mouth turned upside-down, and his voice is grim.
“I suppose you know what’s been going on.  Everyone’s against me except Aliceann.  You know what’s going to happen?  This is going to break up the whole family.”
“No, it isn’t,” I say, reaching for a clementine morsel.  “Kathie is still on your team.  She has even become totally supportive of your going back to Florida, since that’s what you want so much.  She loves you, Ed, but for the first time she’s beginning to sound stressed by all her losses.”
The corners of his mouth go further south.   
“You simply must give her basement back to her, Ed, and that means facing up to what you’ll be giving away and what you’ll keep.  I know you can’t take charge yourself, the way you would have in the old days, but please help Aliceann make decisions.”
“Aliceann isn’t going to want to give anything away,” Ed says flatly.  Calvin has jumped up on his desk and is nosing the clementine segments, one by one.  “Everything down there is important to her or she wouldn’t have packed it all so carefully.”
I have lost interest in sharing Ed’s snack.  I try to sound as tough as Ted. 
“ Then you’ll just have to hire a professional mover to clear it out.  Kathie and Frank need to get their space back.”
            “And where is the money supposed to come from?” Ed says, raising his eyes and appealing to Aliceann’s most brazen nude, hanging above his deskShe looks back at him and shrugs.  You’re on your own, Buster.
            “If you don’t have enough money for moving, Edward, you obviously don’t have enough to be buying a house,” 
“I’m going to come up with it somehow,” He scowls.  “Everyone’s against me, even Blake.  Some friend he turned out to be. And I notice you’re acting differently today.”           
           "That’s because Kathie specifically asked me to add my voice to hers.  She wants your stuff out of her basement.  That’s my message, pure and simple, and now we can talk about something pleasanter, if you’d like.”         
Ed says, “Everything that’s happening sucks, it really sucks!”
Even Aliceann’s nude winces.
“Yes,” I say, “It sucks!” taking care to give the word the same obscene emphasis that had shocked me the first time he used it.  It was a few years after we were divorced, and he was between ladyloves, and he wanted me to know he was hurting and lonely   “Life sucks!” he had said, spitting out the sibilant, sickening expression.  It was plain that he regarded his suffering as my fault for not forgiving and forgetting, like other wives.
Now, some ternty-[five years later, we locked eyes and glared accusingly at each other.
“You’ll soon be rid of me,” he snaps.
“So go ahead and go!” I snap back, just barely managing to hold back, ”Good riddance!” 
Our voices are as harsh as they were during long-ago marital disagreements.  My mother, who lived with us for six months every year, must have overheard one of our quarrels when we were berating each other after too many drinks.  Admittedly, I did most of the berating, but then he committed most of the crimes, or so it seemed at 3:00 in the morning.  Mother sublimated her distress in a verse I didn’t find until after she died . . .                                                    
My love and I, we duel.
I know his every trick!
His rapier-wit is cruel,
My parry, sharp and quick.
Deaf to our hearts' pleading,
We wound each other deep,
Till staggering and bleeding,
We sheathe our words and weep.

Calvin has jumped down from Ed’s desk and is preparing for a leap into my lap.  No!” I say, drawing back, disinclined to cuddle one of the animals that started the whole run-away train.
 Stop it, Calvin!” Ed says, as the cat stretches a leg in my direction.  “Just bat him away,” he adds, accepting me as the flawed, not-keen-about-animals person I am.
I flap my manila enveloope in Calvin's face.  Unabashed, he sits serenely on his hindquarters, raises his chin, and turns his face back and forth like someone working on a suntan.
“Look, Ed, he likes it!” I laugh.  “You should change his name to Mikey, like that never-grow-old TV kid with the cereal.”
“Frank has nicknamed all six of them,” Ed says.  “Poopy 1, Poopy 2 . . . you get the idea.” 
The nicknames are validated by the cat-box aroma I’ve been trying not to inhale.  “Yes, I get the idea,” I say, rewarding him with a grin.
            What we are doing, of course, is making up..
“I think Frank is an animal tolerator like me.  Kathie is more like you.  She was so conscientious about taking care of her pets.  The goat, the pony, the parakeets.”
“Don’t forget the rabbits,” Ed says, popping another clementine segment into his mouth. “Kathie and I had a great time together raising those rabbits.”
“Did you know I used to look out Kathie’s window and watch when you were mating them?  I felt a little jealous and left out because no one ever invited me to see the fun. You just told me about it afterwards.”
“Yep, as soon as Papa Rabbit did his job, he collapsed in a heap.  It was amazing.  If you wanted to watch, all you had to do was ask.”
“I was too embarrassed.  Do you remember our cocker spaniel and her seven puppies?”
“Good old Minxi.  We used to keep her and the pups in the laundry room, didn’t we?”
Ed’s long-term memory hadn’t failed him.   The new mother nurtured them like an old hand and the family regularly gathered to ooh and ahh over her achievement.
We both recall the day when the youngsters were a few days old and beginning to stagger around on their rag-doll legs.  Minxi suddenly started behaving erratically.  She ran around the laundry room, whimpering frantically, until at last she found what she was looking for.  One of her seven puppies had toddled away and curled up under the water heater. 
“We talked about that episode for years,” I said.  “How could a so-called dumb animal possibly notice the difference between six nursing babies and seven?  I don’t think I would have noticed.  Four were quite enough to keep track of.”
I open the envelope I’d waved in Calvin’s face.  “Do you want to hear the letter I sent you and Aliceann when Kathie was visiting you in Palm Beach?”
“I remember the visit but I’ve forgotten the letter.  Fire away.”
January 23, 1993
I am living out in the wilds of Westwood with no one for company except Murphy, Pegeen, Shoshi, and Moby.  As you probably know, Murphy and Pegeen are not of Irish descent.  Shoshi is not Japanese.  Moby is not a whale. 
Kathie's two cats and two dogs and I get along tolerably well.  So far I've been able to catch Moby before he pees yet again on the rug.  Kathie says it's because he's getting old.  I say it's because he never liked going out into the cold from puppyhood onward.  Don't tell Kathie I said that.  She'll always find excuses for people and animals she loves.
Her latest love is Frank.  I love him, too.  So will you.  When I opened the door to her refurbished bedroom, I could hardly believe the transformation.  I said to myself, "Thank you, Tike!" (Tike being "the other woman" with whom Dick is living in the house next door).  I liked what I'd said to myself so much that I said it out loud:  "Thank you, Tike!"  My housemates pricked up their ears, hopeful that I was announcing supper time.
By the way, Edward, I suppose you are still feeding the dogs at the table.  Aren’t you glad you married a woman who sees nothing wrong with that?  I think it should be in the marriage vows: Do you promise to love, honor, and refrain from chastising your husband when he smuggles goodies under the table?
“I do not,” I would have said.  Then you would have said, “I’m outta here,” and gone looking for Aliceann, who was five years old but worth waiting for.
Back you would go to New Hampshire where I would be waiting with the Justice of the Peace and saying, “He’ll be back, he just isn’t sold on that pet-spoiling vow.”
Then I would promise to love, honor, and chastise as seldom as possible.  And you would promise to love, honor, and disobey only when the pets looked especially imploring.   

 Ed has stayed awake and laughed in the right places.  Now he tells me Aliceann is going to take him for a walk when she gets home.
“We’ve found a good place for it, the parking lot behind the police station.  It’s good for me to get up out of this wheelchair and use the walker.” 
“That’s a great thing for Aliceann to do,” I say, struck once again by what a gallant effort she is making to consider Ed’s welfare.  So she loses her temper once in awhile.  Who wouldn’t?
“She’s been especially nice to me for the last few days.  I don’t know why.”
I ask Ed about the time Grace Porta, after tending to her husband’s every need for two years, arranged for him to be taken care of for two weeks so she could go on a cruise.
“I remember Aliceann saying she was shocked that Grace abandoned her husband like that.  Do you think she understands better now why Grace needed a break?”
Ed thought for a moment. “I don’t think so.  She’s not that introspective.  Or do I mean retrospective?  She lives only in the present.”
            Barking from the entryway heralds the arrival of Aliceann.  I go out to the car to help her lug in the heavy bags of groceries, some hers, some Kathie’s.  Kathie has asked me if I would stay long enough to put away the perishables and spare Alliceann the task.  When I go back into Ed’s quarters to say goodbye, he says, “How about following us to the police station so you can watch me walk?”
            A predicted snowstorm has begun, but I am so pleased with the fence-mending invitation that I quickly agree.  Whatever happens in the future, I will want our friendship to survive all trials.
            Kathie had suggested I re-read Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions, perhaps thinking her style would help me find my voice as a writer.  I hadn’t gone beyond her acknowledgments when I came to a quote from an old New Yorker story.
“We are not here to see through one another, but to see one another through.”  It’s a message I like, and it comes at just the right time.  I hope I can hold on to it through the next few months as we all deal with the return of the natives to Florida.
Kathie’s phone is tied up while she splashes along on the internet, so I leave a message quoting Lamott and saying I am going to try to do better.  How could I even have thought of saying good riddance to a sick 84-year-old man who has been so caring and generous to me since our divorce?  Ted said recently that we mustn’t let ourselves get so irritated by his father’s current behavior that we lose sight of all the good things he did in his life.  Amen to that.

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