938. Digging in the Dirt

So this is how I met my nephew Landon. Sitting in the waiting room of a hospital. Remo had driven Janine home to have a nap while Ziggy and I stayed at the ER. By the time we got there Claire had been insisting that we not fuss over her, but in that way that I took to mean she actually really wanted us to fuss over her but she of course couldn’t come out and say that.

The doctors decided to take her for some tests, so I stayed, and so Ziggy stayed. Ziggy seemed determined to read every word of an issue of Vogue in the waiting room. I had started trying to read something but in the end I just sat there, staring at the clock on the wall and thinking. Eventually I went to the nurse’s station and asked them if I could borrow a rubber band, and I was doing my finger exercises when Remo returned, carrying Landon.

“This is your uncle Daron,” he said, lowering the kid to the floor in front of me.

“Hi,” I said.

Landon was shy for about two seconds. Then he put a frown on his little face. “What are you doing?”

“I’m exercising my fingers.”

“Oh.” He watched me moving my fingertips back and forth on the surface of the side table. Totally fascinated by it, in fact.

“It’s like a spider,” he said.

“Yeah, I guess it is.”

“Like a spider going to the gym.”

“Exactly. You know what weight lifting is?”


“This is like weight lifting except instead of teeny tiny weights, I have a rubber band.”

“Can I try it?”

“Sure.” The nurses had given me small handful of rubber bands tangled together and I still had the rest in my pocket. I pulled them out with my free hand and gave them to him.

Pretty soon Landon was on the floor at my feet training a spider army that consisted of both his hands and was overseen by a plastic toy dog he had in his pocket.

Ziggy was amused. “Cute kid.” Landon had wispy brown hair in need of a trim and was wearing red corduroy pants. “He took to you right away.”

I shrugged. “Any reason he shouldn’t? I don’t understand how kids work.”

Remo chuckled. “Kids are just kids.”

Landon looked up at Ziggy then. “Oh, are you with us?”

“I’m with him,” Ziggy said, pointing at me.

“Oh. Hi.” Landon brushed his hands together in one or two exaggerated movements and then offered one to Ziggy. “I’m Landon.”

“I’m Ziggy.” Ziggy shook his hand.

“Do you want to play Spider Army with me and Uncle Daron?”

“No, but thank you for asking.”

Landon seemed to accept that answer and went back to his fantasy world.

A nurse came out to talk to us, then, and said we could visit Claire until she was discharged by the doctor on duty.

He came around a little while later, told her that it was important to stay hydrated, but that they didn’t find anything that would interfere with her treatment scheduled for Monday. This was the first I’d heard of a treatment coming up on Monday.

Claire was subdued. I’m not sure if she was on tranquilizers or if fainting had sapped her of all her energy. On the ride back to Janine’s, she sat quietly in the front seat even though the radio was off, listening to Landon playing let’s pretend with his plastic dog. He was buckled into the middle seat between me and Ziggy. The dog as far as I could tell was just a plastic model of a German Shepherd but in Landon’s world he was some kind of superdog, possibly a space alien, who was in charge of a whole planet.

Back at the house Claire decided to lie down for a while. Meanwhile, Janine was awake, and Jake, her ex, was there. He was a big, sunburned dude with midnight black hair who turned out to be Hawaiian. “Okay, buddy, back to our place. Movie night tonight.”

Landon was excited about this prospect. He kissed his mama goodbye and he and Jake–and Remo–went out to Jake’s car.

Janine watched them go. “How much you want to bet Remo’s going to try to give him some money.”

“I’m sure he will,” I said. “But explain this to me, then. You’re so strapped for cash you can’t make a phone call, but you won’t let him give you money?”

She glared at me. I guess little brothers weren’t supposed to ask those kind of questions. “You have to draw the line somewhere. It’s enough that he’s paying for mom’s medical expenses.”

“He is?”

“She’s got the world’s crappiest insurance. It was all she could get after the quickie divorce. She almost didn’t get insured at all.” Janine dug through a drawer in a stand by the door and pulled out a bandanna. She wound it around her head, covering her hair. “A lot of the cancer treatments aren’t even covered. And they aren’t cheap.”

“What’s happening Monday?”

“She’s going to Memphis where there’s a treatment center.”

“No one’s given me any details, you know.”

Janine stood there looking at me for a long moment. “If Remo doesn’t fill you in tonight, I will after I get home. Assuming you’ll be up. I wasn’t sure you’d want to hear it.”

Well, she was right about that, but… there was a tinge of accusation in her voice that set me on edge.

“In fact, I’m surprised you’re here at all. I was under the impression you really couldn’t care less about her.” Her tone sharpened with each additional word: “Or me. Or Lili.”

She was right about that, too. But I wasn’t about to tell her that the main reason I was there was because Ziggy threatened to cut my balls off if I didn’t go. “I was under the impression you didn’t care if I cared or not.”

We were on the verge of a fight, derailed only by the fact she had to go to work and Remo coming back in, all smiles. “No worries, Jan. They’re holding a take-out pizza for him to swing by and pick up.”

“They’re holding it?” she said skeptically.

“Well, presumably they’ll make it fresh when he says he’s coming to get it.” But apparently Remo had paid for it back when we were there.

Poor kid. Growing up on chain pizza. “I’ll see you later, Janine.”

“Count on it.” She shrugged her coat on and went out the door.


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