Through the small tall bathroom window the December yard is gray and scratchy, the trees calligraphic. Exhaust from the dryer billows clumsily out from the house and up, breaking apart while tumbling into the white sky.
The house is a factory.
I put my pants back on and go back to my mother. I walk down the hall, past the laundry room, and into the family room. I close the door behind me, muffling the rumbling of the small shoes in the dryer, Toph's.
"Where were you?" my mother says.
"In the bathroom," I say.
"Hmph," she says.
"For fifteen minutes?"
"It wasn't that long."
"It was longer. Was something broken?"
"Did you fall in?"
"Were you playing with yourself?"
"I was cutting my hair."
"You were contemplating your navel."
"Did you clean up?"
I had not cleaned up, had actually left hair everywhere, twisted brown doodles drawn in the sink, but knew that my mother would not find out. She could not get up to check.
My mother is on the couch. At this point, she does not move from the couch. There was a time, until a few months ago, when she was still up and about, walking and driving, running errands. After that there was a period when she spent most of her time in her chair, the one next to the couch, occasionally doing things, going out, whatnot. Finally she moved to the couch, but even then, for a while at least, while spending most of her time on the couch, every night at 11 p.m. or so, she had made a point of making her way up the stairs, in her bare feet, still tanned brown in November, slow and careful on the green carpet, to my sister's old bedroom. She had been sleeping there for years -- the room was pink, and clean, and the bed had a canopy, and long ago she resolved that she could no longer sleep with my father's coughing.
But the last time she went upstairs was weeks ago. Now she is on the couch, not moving from the couch, reclining on the couch during the day and sleeping there at night, in her nightgown, with the TV on until dawn, a comforter over her, toe to neck. People know.
While reclining on the couch most of the day and night, on her back, my mom turns her head to watch television and turns it back to spit up green fluid into a plastic receptacle. The plastic receptacle is new. For many weeks she had been spitting the green fluid into a towel, not the same towel, but a rotation of towels, one of which she would keep on her chest. But the towel on her chest, my sister Beth and I found after a short while, was not such a good place to spit the green fluid, because, as it turned out, the green fluid smelled awful, much more pungent an aroma than one might expect. (One expects some sort of odor, sure, but this.) And so the green fluid could not be left there, festering and then petrifying on the terry-cloth towels. (Because the green fluid hardened to a crust on the terry-cloth towels, they were almost impossible to clean. So the green-fluid towels were one-use only, and even if you used every corner of the towels, folding and turning, turning and folding, they would only last a few days each, and the supply was running short, even after we plundered the bathrooms, closets, the garage.) So finally Beth procured, and our mother began to spit the green fluid into, a small plastic container which looked makeshift, like a piece of an air-conditioning unit, but had been provided by the hospital and was as far as we knew designed for people who do a lot of spitting up of green fluid. It's a molded plastic receptacle, cream-colored, in the shape of a half-moon, which can be kept handy and spit into. It can be cupped around the mouth of a reclining person, just under the chin, in a way that allows the depositor of green bodily fluids to either raise one's head to spit directly into it, or to simply let the fluid dribble down, over his or her chin, and then into the receptacle waiting below. It was a great find, the half-moon plastic receptacle.
"That thing is handy, huh?" I ask my mother, walking past her, toward the kitchen.
"Yeah, it's the cat's meow," she says.
I get a popsicle from the refrigerator and come back to the family room.
They took my mother's stomach out about six months ago. At that point, there wasn't a lot left to remove -- they had already taken out [I would use the medical terms here if I knew them] the rest of it about a year before. Then they tied the [something] to the [something], hoped that they had removed the offending portion, and set her on a schedule of chemotherapy. But of course they didn't get it all. They had left some of it and it had grown, it had come back, it had laid eggs, was stowed away, was stuck to the side of the spaceship. She had seemed good for a while, had done the chemo, had gotten the wigs, and then her hair had grown back -- darker, more brittle. But six months later she began to have pain again -- Was it indigestion? It could just be indigestion, of course, the burping and the pain, the leaning over the kitchen table at dinner; people have indigestion; people take Tums; Hey Mom, should I get some Tums? -- but when she went in again, and they had "opened her up" -- a phrase they used -- and had looked inside, it was staring out at them, at the doctors, like a thousand writhing worms under a rock, swarming, shimmering, wet and oily -- Good God! -- or maybe not like worms but like a million little podules, each a tiny city of cancer, each with an unruly, sprawling, environmentally careless citizenry with no zoning laws whatsoever. When the doctor opened her up, and there was suddenly light thrown upon the world of cancer-podules, they were annoyed by the disturbance, and defiant. Turn off. The fucking. Light. They glared at the doctor, each podule, though a city unto itself, having one single eye, one blind evil eye in the middle, which stared imperiously, as only a blind eye can do, out at the doctor. Go. The. Fuck. Away. The doctors did what they could, took the whole stomach out, connected what was left, this part to that, and sewed her back up, leaving the city as is, the colonists to their manifest destiny, their fossil fuels, their strip malls and suburban sprawl, and replaced the stomach with a tube and a portable external IV bag. It's kind of cute, the IV bag. She used to carry it with her, in a gray backpack -- it's futuristic-looking, like a synthetic ice pack crossed with those liquid food pouches engineered for space travel. We have a name for it. We call it "the bag."
My mother and I are watching TV. It's the show where young amateur athletes with day jobs in marketing and engineering compete in sports of strength and agility against male and female bodybuilders. The bodybuilders are mostly blond and are impeccably tanned. They look great. They have names that sound fast and indomitable, names like American cars and electronics, like Firestar and Mercury and Zenith. It is a great show.
"What is this?" she asks, leaning toward the TV. Her eyes, once small, sharp, intimidating, are now dull, yellow, droopy, strained -- the spitting gives them a look of constant exasperation.
"The fighting show thing," I say.
"Hmm," she says, then turns, lifts her head to spit.
"Is it still bleeding?" I ask, sucking on my popsicle.
We are having a nosebleed. While I was in the bathroom, she was holding the nose, but she can't hold it tight enough, so now I relieve her, pinching her nostrils with my free hand. Her skin is oily, smooth.
"Hold it tighter," she says.
"Okay," I say, and hold it tighter. Her skin is hot.
Toph's shoes continue to rumble.
A month ago Beth was awake early; she cannot remember why. She walked down the stairs, shushing the green carpet, down to the foyer's black slate floor. The front door was open, with only the screen door closed. It was fall, and cold, and so with two hands she closed the large wooden door, click, and turned toward the kitchen. She walked down the hall and into the kitchen, frost spiderwebbed on the corners of its sliding glass door, frost on the bare trees in the backyard. She opened the refrigerator and looked inside. Milk, fruit, IV bags dated for proper use. She closed the refrigerator. She walked from the kitchen into the family room, where the curtains surrounding the large front window were open, and the light outside was white. The window was a bright silver screen, lit from behind. She squinted until her eyes adjusted. As her eyes focused, in the middle of the screen, at the end of the driveway, was my father, kneeling.
It's not that our family has no taste, it's just that our family's taste is inconsistent. The wallpaper in the downstairs bathroom, though it came with the house, is the house's most telling decorative statement, featuring a pattern of fifteen or so slogans and expressions popular at the time of its installation. Right On, Neat-O, Outta Sight! -- arranged so they unite and abut in intriguing combinations. That-A-Way meets Way Out so that the A in That-A-Way creates A Way Out. The words are hand-rendered in stylized block letters, red and black against white. It could not be uglier, and yet the wallpaper is a novelty that visitors appreciate, evidence of a family with no pressing interest in addressing obvious problems of decor, and also proof of a happy time, an exuberant, fanciful time in American history that spawned exuberant and fanciful wallpaper.
The living room is kind of classy, actually -- clean, neat, full of heirlooms and antiques, an oriental rug covering the center of the hardwood floor. But the family room, the only room where any of us has ever spent any time, has always been, for better or for worse, the ultimate reflection of our true inclinations. It's always been jumbled, the furniture competing, with clenched teeth and sharp elbows, for the honor of the Most Wrong-looking Object. For twelve years, the dominant chairs were blood orange. The couch of our youth, that which interacted with the orange chairs and white shag carpet, was plaid -- green, brown and white. The family room has always had the look of a ship's cabin, wood paneled, with six heavy wooden beams holding, or pretending to hold, the ceiling above. The family room is dark and, save for a general sort of decaying of its furniture and walls, has not changed much in the twenty years we've lived here. The furniture is overwhelmingly brown and squat, like the furniture of a family of bears. There is our latest couch, my father's, long and covered with something like tan-colored velour, and there is the chair next to the couch, which five years ago replaced the bloodoranges, a sofa-chair of brownish plaid, my mother's. In front of the couch is a coffee table made from a cross section of a tree, cut in such a way that the bark is still there, albeit heavily lacquered. We brought it back, many years ago, from California and it, like most of the house's furniture, is evidence of an empathetic sort of decorating philosophy -- for aesthetically disenfranchised furnishings we are like the families that adopt troubled children and refugees from around the world -- we see beauty within and cannot say no.
One wall of the family room was and is dominated by a brick fireplace. The fireplace has a small recessed area that was built to facilitate indoor barbecuing, though we never put it to use, chiefly because when we moved in, we were told that raccoons lived somewhere high in the chimney. So for many years the recessed area sat dormant, until the day, about four years ago, that our father, possessed by the same odd sort of inspiration that had led him for many years to decorate the lamp next to the couch with rubber spiders and snakes, put a fish tank inside. The fish tank, its size chosen by a wild guess, ended up fitting perfectly.
"Hey hey!" he had said when he installed it, sliding it right in, with no more than a centimeter of give on either side. "Hey hey!" was something he said, and to our ears it sounded a little too Fonzie, coming as it did from a gray-haired lawyer wearing madras pants. "Hey hey!" he would say after such miracles, which were dizzying in their quantity and wonderment -- in addition to the Miracle of the Fish-tank Fitting, there was, for example, the Miracle of Getting the TV Wired Through the Stereo for True Stereo Sound, not to mention the Miracle of Running the Nintendo Wires Under the Wall-to-Wall Carpet So as Not to Have the Baby Tripping Over Them All the Time Goddammit. (He was addicted to Nintendo.) To bring attention to each marvel, he would stand before whoever happened to be in the room and, while grinning wildly, grip his hands together in triumph, over one shoulder and then the other, like the Cub Scout who won the Pinewood Derby. Sometimes, for modesty's sake, he would do it with his eyes closed and his head tilted. Did I do that?
"Loser," we would say.
"Aw, screw you," he would say, and go make himself a Bloody Mary.
The ceiling in one corner of the living room is stained in concentric circles of yellow and brown, a souvenir from heavy rains the spring before. The door to the foyer hangs by one of its three hinges. The carpet, off-white wall-to-wall, is worn to its core and has not been vacuumed in months. The screen windows are still up -- my father tried to take them down but could not this year. The family room's front window faces east, and because the house sits beneath a number of large elms, it receives little light. The light in the family room is not significantly different in the day and the night. The family room is usually dark.
I am home from college for Christmas break. Our older brother, Bill, just went back to D.C., where he works for the Heritage Foundation -- something to do with eastern European economics, privatization, conversion. My sister is home because she has been home all year -- she deferred law school to be here for the fun. When I come home, Beth goes out.
"Where are you going?" I usually say.
"Out," she usually says.
I am holding the nose. As the nose bleeds and we try to stop it, we watch TV. On the TV an accountant from Denver is trying to climb up a wall before a bodybuilder named Striker catches him and pulls him off the wall. The other segments of the show can be tense -- there is an obstacle course segment, where the contestants are racing against each other and also the clock, and another segment where they hit each other with sponge-ended paddles, both of which can be extremely exciting, especially if the contest is a close one, evenly matched and with much at stake -- but this part, with the wall climbing, is too disturbing. The idea of the accountant being chased while climbing a wall...no one wants to be chased while climbing a wall, chased by anything, by people, hands grabbing at their ankles as they reach for the bell at the top. Striker wants to grab and pull the accountant down -- he lunges every so often at the accountant's legs -- all he needs is a good grip, a lunge and a grip and a good yank -- and if Striker and his hands do that before the accountant gets to ring the bell...it's a horrible part of the show. The accountant climbs quickly, feverishly, nailing foothold after foothold, and for a second it looks like he'll make it, because Striker is so far below, two people-lengths easily, but then the accountant pauses. He cannot see his next move. The next grip is too far to reach from where he is. So then he actually backs up, goes down a notch to set out on a different path and when he steps down it is unbearable, the suspense. The accountant steps down and then starts up the left side of the wall, but suddenly Striker is there, out of nowhere -- he wasn't even in the screen! -- and he has the accountant's leg, at the calf, and he yanks and it's over. The accountant flies from the wall (attached by rope of course) and descends slowly to the floor. It's terrible. I won't watch this show again.
Mom prefers the show where three young women sit on a pastel-colored couch and recount blind dates that they have all enjoyed or suffered through with the same man. For months, Beth and Mom have watched the show, every night. Sometimes the show's participants have had sex with one another, but use funny words to describe it. And there is the funny host with the big nose and the black curly hair. He is a funny man, and has fun with the show, keeps everything buoyant. At the end the show, the bachelor picks one of the three with whom he wants to go on another date. The host then does something pretty incredible: even though he's already paid for the three dates previously described, and even though he has nothing to gain from doing anything more, he still gives the bachelor and bachelorette money for their next date.
Mom watches it every night; it's the only thing she can watch without falling asleep, which she does a lot, dozing on and off during the day. But she does not sleep at night.
"Of course you sleep at night," I say.
"I don't," she says.
"Everyone sleeps at night," I say -- this is an issue with me -- "even if it doesn't feel like it. The night is way, way too long to stay awake the whole way through. I mean, there have been times when I was pretty sure I had stayed up all night, like when I was sure the vampires from Salem's Lot -- do you remember that one, with David Soul and everything? With the people impaled on the antlers? I was afraid to sleep, so I would stay up all night, watching that little portable TV on my stomach, the whole night, afraid to drift off, because I was sure they'd be waiting for just that moment, just when I fell asleep, to come and float up to my window, or down the hall, and bite me, all slow-like..."
She spits into her half-moon and looks at me.
"What the hell are you talking about?"
In the fireplace, the fish tank is still there, but the fish, four or five of those bug-eyed goldfish with elephantiasis, died weeks ago. The water, still lit from above by the purplish aquarium light, is gray with mold and fish feces, hazy like a shaken snow globe. I am wondering about something. I am wondering what the water would taste like. Like a nutritional shake? Like sewage? I think of asking my mother: What do you think that would taste like? But she will not find the question amusing. She will not answer.
"Would you check it?" she says, referring to her nose.
I let go of her nostrils. Nothing.
I watch the nose. She is still tan from the summer. Her skin is smooth, brown.
Then it comes, the blood, first in a tiny rivulet, followed by a thick eel, venturing out, slowly. I get a towel and dab it away.
"It's still coming," I say.
Her white blood cell count has been low. Her blood cannot clot properly, the doctor had said the last time this had happened, so, he said, we can have no bleeding. Any bleeding could be the end, he said. Yes, we said. We were not worried. There seemed to be precious few opportunities to draw blood, with her living, as she did, on the couch. I'll keep sharp objects out of proximity, I had joked to the doctor. The doctor did not chuckle. I wondered if he had heard me. I considered repeating it, but then figured that he had probably heard me but had not found it funny. But maybe he didn't hear me. I thought briefly, then, about supplementing the joke somehow, pushing it over the top, so to speak, with the second joke bringing the first one up and creating a sort of one-two punch. No more knife fights, I might say. No more knife throwing, I might say, heh heh. But this doctor does not joke much. Some of the nurses do. It is our job to joke with the doctors and nurses. It is our job to listen to the doctors, and after listening to the doctors, Beth usually asks the doctors specific questions -- How often will she have to take that? Can't we just add that to the mix in the IV? -- and then we sometimes add some levity with a witty aside. From books and television I know to do this. One should joke in the face of adversity; there is always humor, we are told. But in the last few weeks, we haven't found much. We have been looking for funny things, but have found very little.
"I can't get the game to work," says Toph, who has appeared from the basement. Christmas was a week ago, and we got him a bunch of new games for the Sega.
"I can't get the game to work."
"Is it turned on?"
"Is the cartridge plugged all the way in?"
"Turn it off and on again."
"Okay," he says, and goes back downstairs.
Through the family room window, in the middle of the white-silver screen, my father was in his suit, a gray suit, dressed for work. Beth paused in the entrance between the kitchen and the family room and watched. The trees in the yard across the street were huge, gray-trunked, high-limbed, the short grass on the lawn yellowed, spotted with fall leaves. He did not move. His suit, even with him kneeling, leaning forward, was loose on his shoulders and back. He had lost so much weight. A car went by, a gray blur. She waited for him to get up.
You should see the area where her stomach was. It's grown like a pumpkin. Round, bloated. It's odd -- they removed the stomach, and some of the surrounding area if I remember correctly, but even with the removal of so much thereabouts, she looks pregnant. You can see it, the bulge, even under the blanket. I'm assuming it's the cancer, but I haven't asked my mother, or Beth. Was it the bloating of the starving child? I don't know. I don't ask questions. Before, when I said that I asked questions, I lied.
The nose has at this point been bleeding for about ten minutes. She had had one nosebleed before, two weeks ago maybe, and Beth could not make it stop, so she and Beth had gone to the emergency room. The hospital people had kept her for two days. Her oncologist, who sometimes we liked and sometimes we did not, came and visited and glanced at stainless steel charts and chatted on the side of the bed -- he has been her oncologist for many years. They gave her new blood and had monitored her white blood cell count. They had wanted to keep her longer, but she had insisted on going home; she was terrified of being in there, was finished with hospitals, did not want --
She had come out feeling defeated, stripped, and now, safely at home, she did not want to go back. She had made me and Beth promise that she would never have to go back. We had promised.
"Okay," we said.
"I'm serious," she said.
"Okay," we said.
I push her forehead as far back as possible. The arm of the couch is soft and pliable.
She spits. She is used to the spitting, but still makes strained, soft vomiting noises.
"Does it hurt?" I ask.
"Does what hurt?"
"No, it feels good, stupid."
A family walks by outside, two parents, a small child in snowpants and a parka, a stroller. They do not look through our window. It is hard to tell if they know. They might know but are being polite. People know.
My mother likes to have the curtains open so she can see the yard and the street. During the day it is often very bright outside, and though the brightness is visible from inside the family room, somehow the light does not travel effectively into the family room, in terms of bringing to the family room any noticeable illumination. I am not a proponent of the curtains being open.
Some people know. Of course they know.
Everyone is talking. Waiting.
I have plans for them, the nosy, the inquisitive, the pitying, have developed elaborate fantasies for those who would see us as grotesque, pathetic, our situation gossip fodder. I picture strangulations -- Tsk tsk, I hear she's-GURGLE! -- neck-breakings -- what will happen to that poor little bo-CRACK! -- I picture kicking bodies as they lie curled on the ground, spitting blood as they -- Jesus Christ, Jesus fucking Christ, I'm sorry, I'm sorry! -- beg for mercy. I lift them over my head and then bring them down, break them over my knee, their spines like dowels of balsa. Can't you see it? I push offenders into giant vats of acid and watch them struggle, scream as the acid burns, breaks them apart. My hands fly into them, breaking their skin -- I pull out hearts and intestines and toss them aside. I do head-crushings, beheadings, some work with baseball bats -- the variety and degree of punishment depending on the offender and the offense. Those whom I don't like or my mother doesn't like in the first place get the worst -- usually long, drawn-out strangulations, faces of red then purple then mauve. Those I barely know, like the family that just walked by, are spared the worst -- nothing personal. I'll run them over with my car.
We are both distantly worried about the bleeding nose, my mother and I, but are for the time being working under the assumption that the nose will stop bleeding. While I hold her nose she holds the half-moon receptacle as it rests on the upper portion of her chest, under her chin.
Just then I have a great idea. I try to get her to talk funny, the way people talk when their nose is being held.
"Please?" I say.
"No," she says.
"Cut it out."
My mother's hands are veiny and strong. Her neck has veins. Her back has freckles. She used to do a trick where it looked like she would be pulling off her thumb, when in fact she was not. Do you know this trick? Part of one's right thumb is made to look like part of one's left hand, and then is slid up and down the index finger of the left finger -- attached, then detached. It's an unsettling trick, and more so when my mother used to do it, because she did it in a way where her hands sort of shook, vibrated, her neck's veins protruding and taut, her face gripped with the strain plausibly attendant to pulling off one's finger. As children, we watched with both glee and terror. We knew it was not real, we had seen it dozens of times, but its power was never diminished, because my mother's was a uniquely physical presence -- she was all skin and muscles. We would make her do the trick for our friends, who were also horrified and enthralled. But kids loved her. Everyone knew her from school -- she directed the plays in grade school, would take in kids who were going through divorces, knew and loved and was not shy about hugging any of them, especially the shy ones -- there was an effortless kind of understanding, an utter lack of doubt about what she was doing that put people at ease, so unlike some of the mothers, so brittle and unsure. Of course, if she didn't like someone, that kid knew it. Like Dean Baldwin, the beefy, dirty-blond boy up the block, who would stand in the street and, unprovoked, give her the finger as she drove by. "Bad kid," she would say, and she meant it -- she had an inner hardness that under no circumstances did you want to trifle with -- and would have him struck from her list until the second he might say sorry (Dean unfortunately did not), at which time he would have gotten a hug like anyone else. As strong as she was physically, most of the power was in her eyes, small and blue, and when she squinted, she would squint with a murderous intensity that meant, unmistakably, that, if pushed, she would deliver on her stare's implied threat, that to protect what she cared about, she would not stop, that she would run right over you. But she wore her strength casually, had a trusting carelessness with her flesh and muscles. She would cut herself while slicing vegetables, cut the living shit out of her finger, usually her thumb, and it would bleed everywhere, on the tomatoes, the cutting board, in the sink, while we watched at her waist, awed, scared she would die. But she would just grimace, wash the thumb clean under the tap, wrap the thumb in a paper towel and keep cutting, while the blood slowly soaked through the paper towel, crawling, as blood crawls, outward from the wound's wet center.
Beside the TV there are various pictures of us children, including one featuring me, Bill, and Beth, all under seven, in an orange dinghy, all expressions panicked. In the picture, we seem surrounded by water, for all anyone knows, miles from shore -- our expressions certainly indicate that. But of course we couldn't have been more than ten feet out, our mother standing over us, ankle-deep, in her brown one-piece with the white fringe, taking the picture. It is the picture we know best, the one we have seen every day, and its colors -- the blue of Lake Michigan, the orange of the dinghy, our tan skin and blond hair -- are the colors we associate with our childhoods. In the picture we are all holding the side of the little boat, wanting out, wanting our mother to lift us out, before the thing would sink or drift away.
"How's school?" she asks.
I don't tell her I've been dropping classes.
"I always liked her. Nice girl. Spunky."
When I rest my head on the couch I know that it's coming, coming like something in the mail, something sent away for. We know it is coming, but are not sure when -- weeks? months? She is fifty-one. I am twenty-one. My sister is twenty-three. My brothers are twenty-four and seven.
We are ready. We are not ready. People know.
Our house sits on a sinkhole. Our house is the one being swept up in the tornado, the little train-set model house floating helplessly, pathetically around in the howling black funnel. We're weak and tiny. We're Grenada. There are men parachuting from the sky.
We are waiting for everything to finally stop working -- the organs and systems, one by one, throwing up their hands -- The jig is up, says the endocrine; I did what I could, says the stomach, or what's left of it; We'll get em next time, adds the heart, with a friendly punch to the shoulder.
After half an hour I remove the towel, and for a moment the blood does not come.
"I think we got it," I say.
"Really?" she says, looking up at me.
"Nothing's coming," I say.
I notice the size of her pores, large, especially those on her nose. Her skin has been leathery for years, tanned to permanence, not in an unflattering way, but in a way interesting considering her Irish background, the fact that she must have grown up fair --
It begins to come again, the blood thick and slow at first, dotted with the black remnants of scabs, then thinner, a lighter red. I squeeze again.
"Too hard," she says. "That hurts."
"Sorry," I say.
"I'm hungry," says a voice. Toph. He is standing behind me, next to the couch.
"What?" I say.
"I can't feed you now. Have something from the fridge."
"I don't care, anything."
"I don't know."
"What do we have?"
"Why don't you look? You're seven, you're perfectly capable of looking."
"We don't have anything good."
"Then don't eat."
"But I'm hungry."
"Then eat something."
"Jesus, Toph, just have an apple."
"I don't want an apple."
"C'mere, sweetie," says Mom.
"We'll get some food later," I say.
"Come to Mommy."
"What kind of food?"
"Go downstairs, Topher."
Toph goes back downstairs.
"He's scared of me," she says.
"He's not scared of you."
In a few minutes, I lift the towel to see the nose. The nose is turning purple. The blood is not thickening. The blood is still thin and red.
"It's not clotting," I say.
"What do you want to do?"
"What do you mean, nothing?"
"It's not stopping."
"We've been waiting awhile."
"I think we should do something."
"When's Beth coming back?"
"I don't know."
"We should do something."
"Fine. Call the nurse."
I call the nurse we call when we have questions. We call her when the IV isn't dripping properly, or when there's a bubble in the tube, or when bruises the size of dinner plates appear on our mother's back. For the nose the nurse suggests pressure, and keeping her head back. I tell her that I have been doing just that, and that it has not yet worked. She suggests ice. I say thank you and hang up and go to the kitchen and wrap three cubes of ice in a paper towel. I bring them back and apply them to the bridge of her nose.
"Ah!" she says.
"Sorry," I say.
"I know it's ice."
"Well, ice is cold."
I still have to apply pressure to the nose, so with my left hand I apply pressure, and with my right I hold the ice to the bridge of her nose. It's awkward, and I can't do both things while sitting on the arm of the couch and still be in a position to see the television. I try kneeling on the floor next to the couch. I reach over the arm of the couch to apply the ice with one hand, and pressure with the other. This works fine, but after a short while my neck gets sore, having to turn ninety degrees to see the screen. It's all wrong.
I have an inspiration. I climb onto the top of the couch, above the cushions, on top of the back of the couch. I stretch out on the top, the cushions shhhing as I settle my weight upon them. I reach down so my head and arms are both aiming in the same direction, with my arms just reaching her nose and my head resting comfortably on the top of the couch, with a nice view of the set. Perfect. She looks up at me and rolls her eyes. I give her a thumbs up. Then she spits green fluid into the half-moon receptacle.
My father had not moved. Beth stood in the entranceway to the family room and waited. He was about ten feet from the street. He was kneeling, but with his hands on the ground, fingers extended down, like roots from a riverbed tree. He was not praying. His head tilted back for a moment as he looked up, not to the sky, but to the trees in the neighbor's backyard. He was still on his knees. He had gone to get the newspaper.
The half-moon container is full. There are now three colors in the half-moon container -- green, red, and black. The blood, which is coming through her nose, is also coming through her mouth. I study the container, noting the way the three fluids do not mix, the green fluid being more viscous, the blood, this blood so thin, just swishing around on top. There is some black liquid in the corner. Maybe that is bile.
"What's the black stuff?" I ask, pointing to it from my perch above her.
"That's probably bile," she says.
A car pulls into the driveway and into the garage. The door connecting the garage to the laundry room opens and closes and then the door to the bathroom opens and closes. Beth is home.
Beth has been working out. Beth likes it when I am home from college for the weekends because then she can work out. She needs her workouts, she says. Toph's shoes continue to rumble. Beth comes into the room. She is wearing a sweatshirt and spandex leggings. Her hair is up though it's usually down.
"Hi," I say.
"Hi," Beth says.
"Hi," Mom says.
"What are you doing on top of the couch?" Beth asks.
"It's easier this way."
"Nosebleed," I say.
"Shit. How long?"
"Forty minutes maybe."
"Did you call the nurse?"
"Yeah, she said to put ice on."
"That didn't work last time."
"You tried ice before?"
"You didn't tell me that, Mom."
"I'm not going back in."
My father, a man of minor miracles, had done something pretty incredible. This is what he did: six months or so ago, he had sat us down, Beth and I -- not Bill, Bill was in D.C., and not Toph, who for reasons that are obvious enough was not invited -- in the family room. Our mother was not there for some reason, I can't remember exactly where she was -- but so we were there, sitting as far away as possible from the customary cloud of smoke around him and his cigarette. The conversation, if it had followed the standard procedure for such things, would have included warm-up talk, some talk of things generally, and how what he was about to say was very difficult, etcetera, but we were just settling in, kind of well obviously not expecting --
"Your mother's going to die."
I have Beth take my place, holding the ice and squeezing the nose. Eschewing my innovation, she sits on the arm of the couch instead of on the top of the couch. The towel is soaked. The blood is warm and wet against my palm. I go to the laundry room and toss the towel into the washbasin, where it lands with a slap. I shake the cramps out of my hands and get another towel, and Toph's shoes, out of the dryer. I give the towel to Beth.
I go downstairs to check on Toph. I sit on the stairs, which afford a view of the basement, a rec room converted into a bedroom and then converted again into a rec room.
"Hi," I say.
"Hi," Toph says.
"How's it going?"
"Are you still hungry?"
"Are you still hungry?"
"Pause the stupid game."
"Can you hear me?"
"Are you listening?"
"Do you still want food?"
"We'll get some pizza in a while."
"Here's your shoes."
"Are they dry?"
I go back upstairs.
"We need to empty this," Beth says, indicating the half-moon receptacle.
"Why not you?"
I slowly lift the half-moon receptacle over Mom's head and walk it to the kitchen. It is full to the brim. It is swishing forward and back. Halfway into the kitchen I spill most of it down my leg, immediately wondering how acidic the contents of the half-moon receptacle are, with the bile and all. Will the fluid burn through my pants? I stand still and watch to see if it burns through, like acid, expecting to see smoke, a gradually growing hole -- as happens when one spills alien blood.
But it does not burn. I decide to change my pants anyway.
Beth holds the nose for a while. She sits on the arm of the couch, next to Mom's head. From the kitchen, I turn up the volume on the TV. It's been an hour.
With the nose still bleeding, Beth meets me in the kitchen.
"What are we going to do?" she whispers.
"We have to go in, right?"
"This can't be it."
"It could be it."
"I know it could be it, but it shouldn't be it."
"She wants it to be it."
"No, she doesn't."
"I think she does."
"No she doesn't."
"She said so."
"She didn't mean it."
"I think she might."
"No way. That's ridiculous."
"Did you hear her?"
"No, but even so."
"What do you think?"
"I think she's scared."
"And I think she's not ready. I mean, are you ready?"
"No, of course not. You?"
"No. No, no."
Beth goes back to the family room. I wash out the half-moon receptacle, my head struggling with the logistics. So. Okay. At this rate, with the blood coming out slowly but continuously, how long would it actually take? A day? No, no, less -- it's not all the blood, well before all the blood was gone it would be -- We wouldn't actually be waiting for all the blood to drain; rather, after a while, things would break down, would -- Jesus, how much blood? A gallon? Less? We could find out. We could call the nurse again. No, no, we can't. If we ask someone they'll make us bring her in. And if they knew we needed to bring her in, and we didn't bring her in, we'd be murderers. We could call the emergency room, ask hypothetically: "Hi, I'm doing a report for school about slow blood leakage and..." Fuck. Would we have enough towels? God no. We could use sheets, we have plenty of sheets -- It might be only a few hours. Would that be enough time? What's enough time? We would talk a lot. Yes. We would sum up. Would we be serious, sober, or funny? We would be serious for a few minutes -- Okay okay okay okay. Fuck, what if we ran out of things to say and -- We've already made the necessary arrangements. Yes, yes, we wouldn't need to talk details. We'd have Toph come up. Would we have Toph come up? Of course, but...oh he shouldn't be there, should he? Who wants to be there at the very end? No one, no one. But for her to be alone...of course she won't be alone, you'll be there, Beth'll be there, dumb-ass. Fuck. We'd have to get Bill on the phone. Who else? Which relatives? No grandparents, her parents long gone, in-laws gone, her sister Ruth gone, her sister Ann not dead but gone, out of touch, hiding, that hippie freak -- Fuck. Some of those people hadn't called in years. Friends then. Which? The ones from volleyball, from Montessori -- Shit, we'll definitely forget some people...Hell, we'll forget some people, people will understand, they'll have to -- Fuck it, we're leaving anyway, we're moving away after all this, fuck it -- A conference call? No, no -- tacky. Tacky but practical, definitely practical, and it might also be fun, people chatting, lots of voices, we could use noise and distraction, not quiet, not quiet, quiet not good -- need noise. We'd have to prime them, warn them, but shit, what to say? "Things are happening quickly" -- something like that, vague but clear enough, do it quietly, everything implicit, get on the kitchen extension, out of earshot, say something before Mom gets on the phone -- That would do the trick, all the people on the line at once -- I'll have to call the phone company, get some kind of hookup -- Are we already signed up for that kind of thing? Call-waiting, sure, but conference calling -- probably not, definitely not, fuck -- We need a speakerphone is what we need. That would do it, a speakerphone -- I could go get one, I'd have to go all the way up to Kmart, take Dad's car even, faster than Mom's, much faster -- Is that a stick? No, no, automatic, I can drive it, haven't driven it before but could drive it, no problem, fast car, open it up there on the highway -- But fuck, it's easily twenty minutes here and back, plus shopping time and what if they didn't have -- I could call first, of course I'd call, dumbshit, ask them if they have the speakerphone...I'd have to know what kind of phone I've got here, for compatibility, okay, Sony and then -- But why the fuck should I go? Beth's been here all year, had all the extra time, Beth should go, of course Beth, Beth'll go Beth'll go -- But she won't think the speakerphone is necessary, she'll say forget it -- Fuck, maybe we should just screw it -- Screw it. Screw it. Screw it. Would the speakerphone really make it easier? Of course not, we'd still need the conference-call hookup deal -- We'll call Bill and Aunt Jane and the cousins, Susie and Janie, Ruth's daughters. That's it. So the phone call would be twenty minutes maybe, then we'd bring Toph upstairs for a while, a little visit, again, casual, light, fun, loose, loose, fun, light -- So twenty minutes or so of Toph upstairs, then -- All right, all right, wait: how much time total are we talking? How long for the nose? Two hours maybe, easily more, for sure, could be a day -- Jesus, does anyone know this? -- the conservative estimate would be two hours -- Wait. I can stop the nosebleed. I will stop the nosebleed. Yes. I will find a way. More ice. Rearrange her -- a reverse incline; gravity, yes. I will hold the nose tighter, tighter this time; I probably wasn't holding tight enough before -- Fuck. What if it doesn't work? It won't work. We shouldn't spend the last hours fighting it; no, we will know and let it go -- turn the TV off right away, of course -- But would that be too dramatic? Fuck, we can be dramatic here, we can -- Well, we'd ask her, of course, dumbshit, it'd be up to Mom of course, the TV, whether it was on or off -- it's her show of course -- that's a dumb way of putting it, "her show," so crass, such disrespect, you fucking dumbshit. Fuck. Okay, so we'd have some time, we could sit there, hang out, just sit there, it'd be nice -- Jesus, it's not going to be nice, not with the blood everywhere -- The blood is going to make it unbearable -- But maybe not, it's so slow, the blood -- Oh, it'll be days, days before it drains, enough drains, but maybe that'll be good, natural, a slow draining, like a leeching -- not like a leeching, asshole you sick fucking asshole -- not a goddamn motherfucking leeching -- Would we tell people how it happened? No, no. This would be a "died at home" thing, nice phrase, the phrase they used, come to think of it, for that one guy from high school who shot himself after graduating, the guy from art class with those Marty Feldman eyes. Also when that one woman, the one with bone cancer, locked herself in the house and burned it down. That was incredible. Was it brave, or unhinged? Would that have made it easier, the burning of everything? Yes. No. "Died at home." That's how we'll do it, say nothing else. People will know anyway. No one'll say a thing. Fine. Fine. Fine. Fine.
I pour the contents of the container over the food collected inside the disposal. I turn on the water, then the disposal, and it grinds everything up. I can hear Beth in the family room.
"Mom, we should go in."
"We have to."
"We do not."
"What do you want to do?"
"We can't. You're bleeding."
"You said we would stay here."
"But, Mom. C'mon."
"This is crazy."
"You can't just keep bleeding."
"Call the nurse again."
"We already called the nurse again. The nurse said we had to go in. They're waiting for us."
"Call another nurse."
"This is stupid."
"Don't call me stupid."
"I didn't call you stupid."
"Who were you calling stupid?"
"No one. I said it was stupid."
"Dying of a bloody nose."
"I'm not going to die of a bloody nose."
"The nurse said you could."
"The doctor said you could."
"If we go in, I'll never leave."
"Yes you will."
"I don't want to go back in there."
"Don't cry, Mom, Jesus."
"Don't say that."
"We'll get you out."
"You'll get out."
"You want me in there."
"Look at you two, Tweedledum and Tweedledee."
"You want to go out tonight, that's what it is."
"It's New Year's Eve. You two have plans!"
"Fine, bleed. Sit there and bleed to death."
"Just bleed. But we don't have enough towels for all the blood. I'll have to get more towels."
"And you'll ruin the couch."
"Where's Toph?" she asks.
"What's he doing?"
"Playing his game."
"What will he do?"
"He'll have to come with."
At the end of the driveway my father knelt. Beth watched and it was kind of pretty for a second, him just kneeling there in the gray winter window. Then she knew. He had been falling. In the kitchen, the shower. She ran and flung open the door, threw the screen wide and ran to him.
I clear out the backseat of the station wagon and put a blanket down, then put a pillow against the side door and lock it. I come back into the living room.
"How am I going to get in the car?" she says.
"I'm gonna carry you," I say.
We get her jacket. We get another blanket. We get the half-moon receptacle. We get the IV bag. Another nightgown. Slippers. Some snacks for Toph. Beth puts everything in the car.
I open the basement door.
"Toph, let's go."
"To the hospital."
"For a checkup."
"Do I have to go?"
"Why? I can stay with Beth."
"Beth's coming with."
"I can stay alone."
"No, you can't."
"Because you can't."
"Jesus, Toph, get up here!"
I am not sure I can lift her. I don't know how heavy she'll be. She could be a hundred pounds, she could be a hundred and fifty pounds. I open the door to the garage and come back. I move the table away from the couch. I kneel in front of her. I put one arm under her legs, and the other behind her back. She has tried to sit up.
"You'll never get up if you're kneeling."
I get off my knees and crouch.
"Put your arm around my neck," I say.
"Be careful," she says.
She puts her arm around my neck. Her hand is hot.
I remember to use my legs. I keep her nightgown between my hand and the back of her knees. I do not know what her skin there will feel like. I am afraid of what is under her nightgown -- bruises, spots, holes. There are bruises, soft spots...where things have rotted through? As I stand up, she reaches her other arm around to meet the one around my neck, and grabs one hand with the other. She is not as heavy as I thought she would be. She is not as bony as I feared she would be. I step around the chair next to the couch. I had once seen them both, my mother and father, on the couch, both sitting there. I head toward the hallway to the garage. The whites of her eyes are yellow.
"Don't let my head hit."
We pass the first doorway. The wood molding cracks.
"Sorry, sorry, sorry. You okay?"
The door to the garage is open. The air in the garage is frozen. She pulls her head in and I clear the doorway. I think of honeymoons, the threshold. She is pregnant. She is a knocked-up bride. The tumor is a balloon. The tumor is a fruit, an empty gourd. She is lighter than I thought she would be. I had expected the tumor to create more weight. The tumor is large and round. She wears her pants over it, wore her pants over it, the ones with the elastic waistband, the last time she wore pants, before the nightgowns. But she is light. The tumor is a light tumor, empty, a balloon. The tumor is rotten fruit, graying at the edges. Or an insects' hive, something festering and black and alive, fuzzy on its sides. Something with eyes. A spider. A tarantula, the legs fanning out, metastasizing. A balloon covered in dirt. The color is the color of dirt. Or blacker, shinier. Caviar. Like caviar in color and also in the shape and size of its components. She had had Toph late. She was forty-two then. She had prayed in church every day while pregnant. When she was ready, they cut her stomach open to get him but he was fine, perfect.
I step down into the garage and she spits. It is audible, the gurgling sound. She does not have the towel or the half-moon receptacle. The green fluid comes over her chin and lands on her nightgown. A second wave comes but she holds her mouth closed, her cheeks puffed out. There is green fluid on her face.
The car door is open and I aim her head in first. She shrugs her shoulders, tries to make herself smaller for an easier fit. I shuffle my feet, adjust my grip. I move in slow motion. I am barely moving. She is a vase, a doll. A giant vase. A giant fruit. A prize-winning vegetable. I pass her through the door. I lean down and place her on the seat. She is suddenly girlish in the nightgown, self-consciously pushing it down to cover her legs. She adjusts the pillow against the door, behind her, and slides back into it.
When she is settled she reaches for a towel on the floor of the car and brings it to her mouth and spits into it and wipes off her chin.
"Thank you," she says.
I close the door and wait in the passenger seat. Beth comes out with Toph, who is in his winter coat and is wearing mittens. Beth opens the station wagon's hatchback and Toph climbs in.
"Hi, sweetie," Mom says, craning her head back, looking up at him.
"Hi," says Toph.
Beth gets in the driver's seat, turns around and claps her hands together.
You should have seen my father's service. People came, third-grade teachers, friends of my mother, a few people from my father's office, no one knew them, parents of our friends, everyone bundled up, huffing inside, glassy-eyed from the cold, kicking their snowy feet on the mats. It was the third week in November, and prematurely freezing, the roads covered with ice, the worst in years.
All the guests looked stricken. Everyone knew my mother was sick, were expecting this sort of thing from her, but this, this from him was a surprise. No one knew what do to, what to say. Not that many people knew him -- he didn't socialize much, at least not in town, had maintained only a handful of friends -- but they knew my mother, and they must have felt like they were at the funeral for the husband of ghost.
We were embarrassed. It was all so gaudy, so gruesome -- here we were, inviting everyone to come and watch us in the middle of our disintegration. We smiled and shook hands with everyone as they walked in. Oh hi! I said to Mrs. Glacking, my fourth-grade teacher, whom I hadn't seen in easily ten years. She looked good, looked the same. Huddled together in the lobby, we were sheepish and apologetic, trying to keep things breezy. My mom, wearing a flower-print dress (it was the best thing she had in which she could conceal her intravenous apparatus), tried to stand and receive the comers, but she soon had to sit, grinning up at everyone, hello hello, thank you thank you, how are you? I thought about sending Toph to another room, half for his own benefit and half so the guests didn't have to see the whole horrific tableau, but then he went off with a friend anyway.
The minister, a corpulent stranger in black and white and that churchy neon green they wear, was at a loss. My father was an atheist, and thus this minister, who knew my father only through what he had been told an hour before, talked about how much my father enjoyed his work (Did he? we wondered, having no idea one way or the other), and how much he enjoyed golf (he did, we knew that much). Then Bill got up. He was dressed well; he knew how to wear suits. He made some jokes, bantered brightly, a little too brightly, perhaps, a little too a-few-jokes-to-warm-up-the-crowd (he was at the time doing a lot of public speaking). Beth and I nudged my mother a few times in solidarity, embarrassed further, always looking for fun at his expense, mocking the leavened earnestness. And then we filed out, everyone watching our mother and her slow careful steps, she smiling to all, happy to see everyone, all these people she hadn't seen in so long. We milled a little in the foyer, and then told everyone that we'd be having a little party at home, we had so much food people had brought by, thanks by the way, if anyone wanted to come by.
Many came, my mother's friends, brother's, sister's, my friends from high school and college, home for Thanksgiving, and with everyone there and it dark out and winter, I spent much of the time trying to convert what was a sort of dour affair into something fun. I hinted that someone should get some beer -- Someone should get a case, man, I whispered to Steve, a college friend -- but no one did. I thought we should be getting drunk, not out of misery or whatever, but just -- it was a party, right?
Bill was out from D.C. with the girlfriend we didn't like. Kirsten got jealous because Marny, an old girlfriend of mine, was there. Sitting in the family room, we tried to play Trivial Pursuit, still dressed in jackets and ties, but it wasn't much fun, especially without the beer. Toph played Sega in the basement with a friend. My mother sat in the kitchen while her old volleyball friends stood around her, drinking wine, laughing loudly.
Les Blau came by. He was the only friend of our father's who we actually knew, who we had ever really heard anything about. Years ago, they had been at the same downtown law firm, and even after they each left and went elsewhere they still commuted into Chicago together occasionally. As Les and his wife were gathering their coats and scarves to leave, Beth and I met him at the door, thanked him. Les, a kind and funny man, meandered into talking about my father's driving.
"He was the best driver I've ever seen," said Les, marveling. "So smooth, so in control. He was incredible. He would see three, four moves ahead, would drive with a only few fingers on the wheel."
Beth and I were eating it up. We had never heard anything about our father, knew nothing about him outside of what we'd seen ourselves. We asked Les for more, anything. He told us how our father used to call Toph the caboose.
"Yeah, I didn't even know his name for a long time," Les said, shaking his shoulders into his coat. "Always 'the caboose.'"
Les was great, so great. We had never heard this term. It was not used in the house, not once. I pictured my father saying it, pictured him and Les at a restaurant off Wacker, him telling Les jokes about Stosh and Jon, the two Polish fishermen. We wanted Les to stay. I wanted Les to tell me what my father thought about me, about us, the rest of us, if he knew he was in trouble, if he had given up (why had he given up?). And Les, why was he still going to work, a few days before he expired? Did you know that, Les? That he was at work four days before? When did you last talk to him, Les? Did he know? What did he know? Did he tell you? What did he say about all this?
We ask Les if he'll come for dinner sometime. He says yes, of course. Just call, whenever.
I did not know that the last time I saw my father would be the last time I would see my father. He was in intensive care. I had come up from college to visit, but because it had been so soon after his diagnosis, I didn't make much of it. He was expected to undergo some tests and treatment, get his strength back, and return home in a few days. I had come to the hospital with my mother, Beth, and Toph. The door to my father's room was closed. We pushed it open, heavy, and inside he was smoking. In intensive care. The windows were closed and the haze was thick, the stench unbelievable, and in the midst of it all was my father, looking happy to see us.
No one talked much. We stayed for maybe ten minutes, huddled on the far side of the room, attempting as best we could to stay away from the smoke. Toph was hiding behind me. Two green lights on the machine next to my father blinked, alternately, on, off, on, off. A red light stayed steady, red.
My father was reclining on the bed, propped against two pillows. His legs were crossed casually, and he had his hands clasped behind his head. He was grinning like he had won the biggest award there ever was.
After a night in the emergency room and after a day in intensive care, she is in a good room, a huge room with huge windows.
"This is the death room," Beth says. "Look, they give you all this space, room for relatives, room to sleep..."
There is another bed in the room, a big couch that folds out, and we are all in the bed, fully dressed. I forgot to change my pants before we left the house, and the stain from the spill is brown, with black edges. It is late. Mom is asleep. Toph is asleep. The foldout bed is not comfortable. The metal bars under the mattress dig.
A light above her bed is kept on, creating a much-too-dramatic amber halo around her head. A machine behind her bed looks like an accordion, but is light blue. It is vertical and stretches and compresses, making a sucking sound. There is that sound, and the sound of her breathing, and the humming from other machines, and the humming from the heater, and Toph's breathing, close and constant. Mom's breaths are desperate, irregular.
"Toph snores," Beth says.
"I know," I say.
"Are kids supposed to snore?"
"I don't know."
"Listen to her breathing. It's so uneven. It takes so long for every breath."
"Yeah. It's like twenty seconds sometimes."
"It's fucking nuts."
"Toph kicks in his sleep."
"Look at him. Out cold."
"He needs a haircut."
"No TV, though."
"Yeah, that's weird."
After most of the guests left, Kirsten and I had gone into my parents' bathroom. The bed would squeak, and we didn't really want to sleep there anyway, the way it smelled, like my father, the pillows and walls soaked in it, the gray smell of smoke. The only reason any of us ever went in there was either to steal change from his dresser or to go through their window to get onto the roof -- you had to go through their window to get to the roof. Everyone in the house was asleep, downstairs and in the various bedrooms, and we were in my parents' walk-in closet. We brought blankets and a pillow into the carpeted area between the wardrobe and the shower, and spread the blanket on the ground, in front of the mirrored sliding closet doors.
"This is weird," Kirsten said. Kirsten and I met in college, had dated for many months, and for a long time we were tentative -- we liked each other a great deal but I expected someone so normal and sweet-looking to find me out soon enough -- until one weekend she came home with me, and we went to the lake, and I told her my mother was sick, had been given time parameters, and she told me that that was weird, because her mother had a brain tumor. I had known that her father had disappeared when she was young, that she had been working, year-round, since she was fourteen, I knew she was strong but then there were these new words coming from her face, these small shadowy words. From then on we were more serious.
"Too weird," she said.
"No, this is good," I said, undressing her.
Everywhere people were sleeping -- my mother in Beth's room, my friend Kim on the living room couch, my friend Brooke on the family room couch, Beth in my old room, Bill in the basement, Toph in his room.
We were quiet. There was nothing left of anything.
Beth remembers first, with a gasp, in the middle of the night. We had been vaguely conscious of it, in recent days, but then we had forgotten, until just now, at 3:21 a.m., that tomorrow -- today -- is her birthday.
"He can't hear. He's asleep."
"What should we do?"
"There's a gift shop."
She will not know that we had almost forgotten.
"Sign Bill's name."
"Maybe a stuffed animal."
"God, it's all so gift-shoppy."
"What else can we do?"
"Toph just kicked me."
"He turns in his sleep. A hundred eighty degrees."
"Shhh! She hasn't breathed."
"Seems like forever."
"Wait. There she goes."
"God that's weird."
"Maybe we should wait until we get home before the birthday thing."
"No, we have to do something."
"I hate that this room is on the first floor."
"Yeah, but it's a nice room."
"I don't like the headlights."
"Should we close the curtains?"
"What about in the morning?"
At 4:20 Beth is asleep. I sit up and look at Mom. She has hair again. For so long she did no