You Think You Know Her

Court and I were sitting at Claire’s bedside while she took one of her opiate-induced naps. Let’s just say it was the next day, but the days were really running together for me. I mean, even more than usual.

I’m pretty sure I was the one who started the conversation. “So. Ziggy thinks I’m obsessed with being here when Claire goes.”

She didn’t give me the hairy eyeball, but she did chew on her reply for a few second before she said, “Does that bother you?”

“Which, the fact that Ziggy thinks that, or the fact that I might be obsessed?”

Court was looking a little too goth for the middle of Tennessee–eyeliner too heavy and wardrobe too black–except for the fact we were on deathwatch. “Well, think about it, how would you feel if she died while you were out of the room or asleep or something?”

“Sad, I guess? But it doesn’t have to be me sitting here. As long as someone’s here. That’s what matters.”

She nodded. “You’re sure?”

“Pretty sure. I mean, it’s not like I think some kind of divine blessing is going to descend on the person who’s holding her hand when it happens.”

“Don’t look at me. I am the last person who would think that.” Her smirk took on a wicked cast, though. “We should start a pool. We each kick in a hundred bucks, and whoever’s sitting here when she goes wins the pool.”

“That is really macabre.”

“Isn’t it? I bet Ziggy would do it.” She looked around for him, but he was elsewhere at the time.

“What happens if more than one person’s here?”

“They split it, of course.” She shrugged like this was obvious then chuckled. It was good to see a smile on her face even if it was seriously gallows humor.

“Remo will never go for it,” I said, as if we were seriously considering the idea, even though I knew we weren’t.

“Sure he will. He loves throwing money around. Hey, speaking of which, did he tell you what they said at the church?”

The church where Claire had said she wanted her funeral service. “No. Did they say something?” I didn’t know what there was for a church to say, exactly. I had no idea how any of it worked.

“It’s a small enough congregation that it isn’t too difficult to schedule a funeral service. Or a wedding, for that matter.”

I looked at her curiously. “You’re not thinking of getting married, are you?”

“No no, just saying, it’s not just funerals. Weddings, christenings, you can even book the hall in back for the afterparty.”

That made me chuckle. “Afterparty?”

“Reception, I mean. You know what I mean.” She made a scrunched-up face at me.

We sat there for a bit longer in silence while I thought about what she’d asked me. What concerned me more, what was wrong in my head or the actual state of things? “You know, I don’t think it’s that I feel a burning need to be here at the moment she goes so much as this: I can’t control when she goes, but I can control how much time I spend here. I think our schedule works because that is something we control. And feeling like there’s something we can control is important.”

She nodded slowly. “That makes sense.” She pointed to my jacket hanging on the back of the chair. “Your pager is going nuts.”

I shook myself. For me not to have noticed it vibrating I had to really be inside my head. I looked at the number: Carynne. I’d have to call her later. “How about you? How are you going to feel when she goes?”

She squeezed one of her hands in the other so hard it looked painful. “I’m going to be fucking wrecked. I can feel it.”

I must have looked surprised about that because she went on rather vehemently. “Don’t give me that look. You know she always loved me best.”

“I don’t dispute that.”

“That didn’t come out right. I didn’t mean it like in a prima donna way.” She looked like she was holding back tears and I pretended to look at the monitors on the other side of Claire’s bed. “I just think by the time I came along she had figured out how to be a mom a little better. Do you realize how young she was when she had Lilibeth? And Jan a year later?”

I confess I really hadn’t thought about it. I just shook my head.

“She was a teenager. I know, I know, back then fourteen-year-olds quit school to work in factories, yadda yadda. Remo’s told me. She was nineteen when she got pregnant with Lili and she had only been unpregnant for what, two months when she got knocked up again with Jan? I’m already older than that.” Court wiped her eyes. “You’re already older than she was when she had you.”

That sent me down a rabbit hole of figuring out our ages. She was wrong: Claire was 25 when I was born and I’d only been 24 for less than half a year at that point. But close enough, I guess, for the point to be made. When Claire had her first child she was about to turn 20, whereas when she had Courtney she was about to turn 30. And that is a huge difference.

“Anyway, what I’m saying isn’t that I was her favorite,” Court said, as if anyone had accused her of saying it, which I certainly had not, “but that by the time she had me, she could actually be a loving, supportive mother. At least some of the time.”

I finally felt I had to say, “Court, it’s okay. You can feel how you feel without having to justify it to the rest of us.”

She snorted wetly. “Tell that to Janine.”

“I will. If she shows up again.”

“She will. Eventually. Said she didn’t want to traumatize Landon by exposing him to ‘this environment’ too much.” She blew her nose into a tissue, then tossed it toward the garbage can in the corner. She missed and got up to put it in. “Though if you ask me, it’s you and Ziggy she doesn’t want to expose him to ‘too much.'” She put up scare quotes with her fingers on “too much.”

I felt something when she said that, but what I felt wasn’t really pain. It was duller than that. I wasn’t hurt, just disappointed. “I guess I’m not surprised.”

“I get the feeling he asks about you nonstop.”

“Oh, really.”

“Yes. He’s really getting quite clever at asserting his emotions and manipulating his mom’s. You should hear him.” She imitated Landon’s voice: “‘When are we going to see Uncle Daron? Because he is my favorite uncle, you know.’ Stuff like that, that Janine can’t really argue with.”

“She can’t?”

“Not without turning into the kind of unreasonable queen bitch that she doesn’t want to be,” Courtney said matter-of-factly.

In other words, the kind of mom that our mom had been.

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