You want to know why I didn’t call my partner/spouse/other half/love of my life back right away after we had an epic telephone fight? Well, there are a lot of reasons, but the main one may surprise you.
I mean, of course the next day was hectic. Our plan was to move, after all.
And getting Claire’s stuff packed up and out of her room was a lot more of a project than I’d been expecting. I hadn’t really slept after the fight with Ziggy. I had finished the laundry and packed and then got in bed and I guess I dozed a bit, but I kept waking up with spiky anxiety stabbing me in the sternum. Some time after sunrise, and after Ricky would have gone off shift, I got dressed and loaded my stuff into the car.
Then I went to see if Claire was awake. She came to her door and opened it a tiny crack. “I’m not sure I’m up to having breakfast,” she said.
“Are you all right?”
“Well, they say loss of appetite is typical of my condition.”
“I’m not currently… oh, wait. No.” She hurried away suddenly. I got a hand in the door before it shut (yeah, that hand) and followed cautiously. She had shut the bathroom door between us but she was experiencing one of the common symptoms of her illness rather noisily. I felt a pang of guilt over the facetious conversation Court and I had after Christmas when Claire had had a hangover. No one deserves to be made nauseous, not even a toxic narcissist, okay?
I went to the lobby and got myself some coffee and sugar-and-milked it heavily so I could drink it fast. Then I commandeered a chocolate chip muffin in a napkin. I also thought about turning in my key and checking out of my room, but then I thought what if she’s too sick to move today? I decided to wait and do it later. If she was well enough to go, I could check us both out at the same time.
Back at the room she was lying on the bed looking exhausted. She had gotten dressed but had curled up in the space where she’d slept, the covers bunched up around her but not covering her.
“Ugh,” she said.
“Ditto.” I looked around the room. “Are you up to getting out of here, today?”
“I hope so. I was too ill last night to do my packing, though.” She didn’t open her eyes but waved her hand vaguely toward the rest of the room. “The only time the nausea stops is when I lie perfectly still and do nothing but breathe very, very slowly.”
“Okay, you just breathe then and I’ll see about packing up your things, all right?”
I concentrated on my own breathing. Deep breath in, let it out, deep breath in, let it out. I started with the dresser drawers.
Remo, I discovered, had left some things behind in the closet. A brown flannel shirt, a fawn-colored ribbed turtleneck. They smelled faintly of booze and cigarettes, even though Remo didn’t smoke. I packed them, figuring I’d have to try to remember to give his clothes to him later.
At some point I realized Claire was snoring. Well, at least one of us was getting some rest, and while she was asleep she wasn’t nauseous, so that was something.
I packed all her things. It took a long time, or at least it seemed to. I had to improvise the best way to get all her little bottles of cosmetics and things into her suitcase using a couple of small shopping bags that hadn’t been thrown away yet.
When she woke up, she sat up, and her eyes were yellow.
“You don’t look so good,” I said.
“Well, you’re not exactly a sight to behold either,” she sniffed.
“No no, I mean, you look like maybe we should take you to an actual doctor.” I was suddenly afraid she was going to die right then and there. Or in the car on the way to the hospital. Why this fear was sudden, I don’t know, but it was. I mean, think about it. I was ready for her to die but I wasn’t ready for her to die right then?
I know, I know. Emotions don’t have to make sense, Daron. That’s why they’re emotions and not rational thoughts.
“Do you still feel sick to your stomach?”
She put a hand on her middle. “It’s not as bad as it was, but it doesn’t feel good, let’s put it that way.”
“Jeez. The last person I saw who looked that yellow was–” I cut myself off suddenly. “Um.”
“Let me guess. Your father.” She glared into the middle distance as if he were out there somewhere to receive her ire.
“Um, yeah. How’d you guess?”
“Courtney told me about his liver problems.” She trained her gaze on me then. “And now he’s mooching from Lilibeth? Ugh.” She shook her head. “I suppose you had better get me to a doctor. I can’t bear the thought that he’s going to outlive me. And maybe they can give me something to relieve the pain.”
“Okay, where’s the number to your doctor?”
She sighed heavily and got a tiny notebook out of her purse. “Here. I’m not sure which one of these is going to be best.”
There was a page that was just the names of doctors and their phone numbers. I figured I would try to one at the top. That turned out to be a surgeon whose answering service said he would get back to me. they suggested I contact her primary care provider. She seemed to not thing she had one, or not under that name, so I kept working my way down the list until I got a nurse on the phone who actually knew who I was talking about.
“And who are you again?” She had a southern lilt and a gritty edge to her voice.
“I’m her son. She’s right here,” I said. “But she doesn’t feel well enough to talk.” Which was only half-true.
“All right. And you say she’s jaundiced and vomiting?”
“Yeah. Is there something wrong with her liver, too?”
“You are aware that your mother has cancer of the pancreas, are you not?”
“Um, yeah, but no one’s actually told me what the pancreas does.”
“Well, I’m not going to give you a medical degree over the phone, but I can tell you that as the cancer affects the pancreas, the bile ducts are negatively impacted. And when bile is negatively impacted, the entire GI tract and digestive system are negatively impacted.”
I couldn’t hear the word “impacted” without thinking about wisdom teeth, but that wasn’t how she meant the word. “But has the cancer spread to her liver?”
“What I’m saying is that anything that causes bile to build up will cause jaundice and that this is likely a result of your mother’s pre-existing condition and not a new condition.”
“Oh, okay. That’s… good, I guess. Is there anything we can do for her?”
Claire piped up from the bed. “I’m having sharp pains in my stomach now.”
“She’s having sharp pains in her stomach now, she says.”
“If you can get here by noon, I can fit you in a quick slot right when the doctor gets back.”
“Great. Can you give me the address and, um, directions? I haven’t driven there before.” I felt proud of myself for remembering to ask. I wrote down what she told me. The office was at least a forty-five minute drive, maybe closer to an hour. But that would put us closer to the bungalow.
Claire and I decided to check out of the motel and just go with all our things in the car to the doctor’s office, and then go right to the bungalow from there.
We were just starting to move her things into the car when the maid came to clean her room. She was a teenage girl–another relative or friend of the management I think, but I never got her name–and she cheerfully helped us tote the stuff to the car. She had barrettes with butterflies on them in her straight blond hair and a collection of bracelets on one wrist.
“Sure is going to be dull around here with you leaving,” she said.
“Yeah, Ricky said something like that, too,” I said, and then kicked myself for bringing him up.
She giggled, and shook her bracelets at me as we walked back to the room. “Hey, I like your style.”
I held up my left wrist, which had its usual assortment of things around it. “It’s funny. I didn’t really intend to make a fashion statement but somehow I’ve accumulated a bunch of things. Most of them are gifts from people I’ve met along my travels.”
“Oh, that’s cool.”
I told her about the beaded one from the Native American woman in Colorado–wasn’t that Colorado? we might have been in another state by then–and the one Ziggy made and a couple of the others. (I can’t remember if I told you about the leather one with the flat studs on it yet. Um, maybe not. Anyway.)
She had stars in her eyes, I’m not kidding. “That is so cool.” Hers were mostly colored versions of the black rubber gaskets that were popular when I was her age and beaded “friendship” bracelets. She showed me one with the letters WWJD on it.
“It’s so corny, I know, but it stands for What Would Jesus Do? My Bible camp boyfriend’s name was John, though, and he gave it to me, and so to me it’s also What Would John Do.” She kind of winked and then rolled her eyes. “Or, you know, not do. Bible camp and all.”
“Yeah, of course,” I said, as if I knew. Well, maybe I did know. I know all about what it’s like to have sex that your society disapproves of. “I take it that’s a thing? WWJD, I mean.”
“Oh yeah, it’s totally a thing.” Apparently Christian youth around the country had adopted Jesus as a fashion accessory. I suppose that’s no more or less surprising than the existence of Christian rock.
I went back for one last check of the room where Claire was sitting on the corner of the bed, looking very yellow. The girl said goodbye and then went to finish cleaning the room next door.
Claire looked around somewhat surreptitiously. “Is she gone?”
“She’s busy,” I said, glancing into the hallway.
“Would it be terrible of me to borrow the trash can from the bathroom?” she asked. “I feel that may be the best way to ensure you aren’t charged a cleaning fee when you return your rental car.”
Aha. “If you really feel terrible about it, let’s leave a twenty as a tip.”
“I’ve got one,” I said, digging into my pocket. “You go on ahead.”
She got up and exited. I put a twenty dollar bill on the nightstand along with an elastic string of beads with a tiny sticker of Jesus on one of them that I’d picked up somewhere in South America.
Claire was silent for the entire car ride, the small wastebasket perched on her knees, her eyes closed, doing her deep breathing.
That left me free to obsess over Ziggy for a good hour. WWZD? What would Ziggy do if he were in my position? I decided that trying to answer that question would help me understand what was going on.
Of course, figuring out what Ziggy would do was a long and complex exercise which took input from a lot of people, which was time consuming to collect because the one thing the bungalow didn’t have, besides on-site laundry, was a working phone.