Sunday, August 13, 2017


    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 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.  
    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 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.
     “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 muttering 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.
     Ed wheeled in to join us, and Aliceann bundled him up for his daily constitutional in the town parking lot..

     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 back 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 to me,” Ed said.  “She’s so patient and cheerful.  She hardly ever gets gets upset, 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.  
     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 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.  
     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. 
     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."
     “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.
     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 followed through on their plan to return to 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 Ed to Boston for 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 Sheba would 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 for the trip to Boston because I couldn’t possibly lift Ed’s wheelchair into my trunk.  She came out to the driveway to show us the lever that operates 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 Medical Canter, 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 answered. 
     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 replied, “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
      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.
     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.” .  
     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 seat 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 roll-ups.  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.”  

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