I woke up from a nap a while later. It was dark but, you know, it was winter, so it was only like six o’clock? Claire was out cold.
She had picked the bedroom that had the window that faced the back. I had tried to steer her toward the other one, which only had a small side window, but having less exposure to the outside walls meant it was better insulated and therefore warmer.
She was bundled under the covers, sleeping in a ball, her mouth open and snoring lightly. I decided not to wake her.
I wasn’t hungry yet and thought maybe the best idea would be for me to go up to the gas station and try to figure out the phone situation. So I got in the car and drove out to the main road and on up to the intersection with the county road. The gas station was another mile or so toward the interstate. It was maybe a six or seven minute drive, which isn’t far by most reckoning, but that meant a half hour or more to walk. Not something that would be convenient to do.
I put gas in the car while I was thinking of it, and felt good about remembering to do so for about half a second before I sort of crushed myself with the whole sarcastic oh-yeah-SO-competent, now if only the reason you were at the gas station in the first place weren’t your incompetence…?
I was really embarrassed about the whole thing and I didn’t even know why.
The first call I made was to our landlady, but she didn’t pick up the phone. I left a voice mail saying I’d just discovered there was no phone service, that is, there was a phone, so I thought that had meant it would work, but it didn’t, and I didn’t know whether to call the phone company or what and could she give me a clue about it?
I tried Carynne next and didn’t get her. I left her a voice mail, too.
It was chilly and the pay phone was on the outside of the gas station. I was bundled up pretty good but, you know, no hat, no gloves, because I had convinced myself it wasn’t that cold compared to New England. In fact, it turns out, forty-eight degrees is the same amount cold no matter what your latitude but let’s not talk about that right now.
I decided to call Sarah.
Having just left two voice mails I was primed to leave a third one, and then when she picked up the phone I wasn’t really ready to talk. My “hello?” was a startled noise.
“Daron? Is that you?”
“Yeah. Hi. Um. Hi from Tennessee. I’m still here. I’m still sorry. Are you still mad?”
“What? Hang on.” I heard rustling and then she came back, presumably after moving to a more comfortable place to talk or something. “Am I still mad about what? You not coming to Jordan’s thing?”
“Yeah, isn’t that what you were mad about? Or was there something else you didn’t tell me?”
“No, that was the main thing. I mean, I’m mad about Jordan dying in general but he’s not around to be mad at so maybe I’m taking it out on the people around me. I don’t know. Death fucks up a lot of things.”
“Um, yeah.” I tucked my bad hand under my arm and held the phone receiver in the other. “Do you even remember calling me?”
“Vaguely. I remember it being a pain in the ass to track down your number.”
“Yeah, well, it’s going to be even harder to track my number down for a while because I’m in a place that doesn’t have one.”
“What? Because you’re avoiding me?”
“No! Nothing like that. We moved out of the motel into a vacation cottage, but we have to get phone service set up, I guess. Or something.” The wind blew my hair into my eyes and mouth. I huddled against the wall of the gas station and ignored the fact it was leaving white dust on me. “Sarah, I need your advice about Ziggy.”
“My advice about your… husband? Spouse? What word are you guys using anyway?”
“Uh, we really haven’t settled on one.”
“Well, my advice about your Significant Other is you should let him cool off a bit. And let him see his damn shrink. Which he’s supposed to this week anyway, while he’s in the city.”
“You think so?”
“I do. Even without the Jordan thing, D. He arrived here with his head all twisted out of shape.”
“He told me he feels emotionally abandoned.”
“Did he use those words?”
“Not those exact words but I think that’s the gist.”
She sighed. “Okay, I’m going to say this before I lose my nerve. Daron. I love you and I value you as a peer and a friend. But I can’t get in the middle of you two. I mean, I can’t choose between you.”
“Um, why would you have to choose between us?”
“Because if you break up I’ll have to pick which one of you to stay friends with and that will absolutely fucking suck for everyone, but you and me especially. So you had better get your shit figured out.”
“And that’s the thing I mean about I can’t get in the middle. I want you to work out your shit and I want to help if I can but you are both such needy bitches!”
That startled a laugh out of me, even though I didn’t feel at all mirthful. “Okay, so tell me how to talk to him. What does he need from me? Besides going back in time and flying to New York with him?”
“You said he feels emotionally abandoned? The problem with that is he can feel like that even when you’re there, if you pull into yourself. You’re like a pill bug sometimes, D.”
“A pill bug?”
“You know what I mean. Like one of those insects that balls up like a teeny armadillo?”
“Um, I can imagine it, anyway.”
“If I had to guess, I would guess that you are balled up tighter than a pill bug right now because you’ve been taking shots left and right from your mom and family and even if he knows it intellectually isn’t his fault, emotionally Ziggy feels like you’ve pulled away from him.”
“Huh.” It was a plausible theory, I supposed. I didn’t feel particularly armored right then. But I was probably a bad judge of that. And even if I wasn’t, it was about how it felt to Zig. “But you think I should wait to talk to him until after he sees his therapist?”
“I think it’ll be more productive and you’ll be less likely to scream at each other, anyway.”
“I suppose I should find out when the appointment is.”
“I think it’s tomorrow but I could be wrong. Barrett knows, I’m sure. One thing that is great about Ziggy, and about sharing a manager with him. I never come across as a drama queen by comparison.” She chuckled. “It’s nice to not be the center of attention once in a while.”
Ziggy had said something to that effect to me when we’d first arrived in Tennessee, but I wondered if part of his current upset wasn’t that he’d just spent over a month in the background. Just a hanger-on to my family drama.
I was still mulling that and Sarah’s advice not to call him and her theory that I had made myself emotionally inaccessible to protect myself when I got back to the bungalow. I parked in the car port. I could see a light on in the front window.
Claire confronted me the moment I came through the front door. “Where did you go! I woke up and you were gone and I had no idea where you were!”
“I just went up the road to use the payphone to call our landl–”
“You gave me such a fright! What if I’d had an attack while you were gone?”
“An attack? Of–?”
“I might vomit so hard that I rupture myself,” she babbled, gripping the edges of my jacket like she was going to drown if she didn’t hang on. “I might bleed to death. My spleen might give out. I might have a seizure.”
And on it went. Far as I know she had never had a seizure and that wasn’t a symptom we were expecting, but maybe she was serious about rupturing herself. I didn’t even think her spleen was involved. As with Ziggy I reminded myself the facts didn’t matter as much as the way she felt. And what she felt most was… fear. She was terrified. This wasn’t pearl-clutching, hand-on-forehead drama queen acting. This was a total breakdown.
I ended up hugging her when she broke down into tears. What could I say? It was all going to be okay? That was too close to flat out lying to her. I settled for, “I’m here. I’m right here.”
Her sobs eventually devolved to hiccups and then to breaths with the occasional gasp. And when she could use words again she said, “I know it’s coming. I’m going to waste away to nothing while hooked up to a pile of machines in a hospital or I’m going to die here, choking on my own blood from organ failure. Or worse.”
Or worse? I didn’t want to know what worse she could imagine. She was shaking.
Remember when I said we had been trying to find a grocery store that was next to a pharmacy? I didn’t tell you about the pharmacy. We’d picked up a couple of prescriptions. One was for nausea.
One was for pain.
“Claire,” I said, trying to let go of her but she wasn’t letting go of me. “Claire, why don’t you take one of the pills we got today.”
“Those are for when the pain gets bad,” she said, voice shaking. “Because it will.”
“I’d say you’re in mental anguish right now, and that counts as pain.”
She looked up at me with her wrecked eyes then. “Are you sure?”
Should I have known better? Should I have said something else? “I’m sure.”
“Are you sure?” she repeated.
“Yes, I’m sure. Come on. Let’s have some chicken soup and Vicodin. Cures for all ailments.”
I got a chuckle out of her with that. “Well, if you say so.”
I counted how many vikes were in the bottle. Not very many, truth be told. I started making a list of people to call tomorrow and I put Flip at the top of the list.