Flip summoned me to the RV later that day to take a call on the “bag phone” from Remo.
“I’m calling to say happy birthday,” Remo announced when I got on the call. I sat on an upturned crate outside the RV in the driveway. “I was trying to reach you yesterday but apparently I had the wrong number.”
I ignored that that might have been a dig at me and my lack of phone and the suddenness with which I’d moved us out of the hotel and decided to assume it was that Flip or he had the bag phone’s number wrong. “How’s things?”
“Does that mean you and Mel made peace?”
“You make it sound like we were at war.”
“Not as bad as your parents.”
Touché. “You in LA?”
“Yep, with her and the baby. She eventually got as tired of her family as I did and we started seeing eye to eye again.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. Congratulations? “That’s good.”
“Yeah.” There was a silence long enough for me to wonder just how expensive this phone call was, before he went on. “Speaking of family–”
“Claire’s fine. I mean, not fine-fine, you know, cancer and all, but she likes this little cabin in the woods we’ve got, and she’s enjoying Doctor Flip’s bedside manner.” I didn’t mention the drugs. I figured that was implied.
“Is she doing any better? Physically, I mean?”
“I don’t know, Reem. I talked to her doctor after her eyes turned yellow and he told me it’s really difficult to tell. The pancreas and liver and stomach are all really closely connected. Because the pancreas makes digestive juices for the stomach, when it’s fucked up, the symptoms look an awful lot like the chemo side-effects. Also you can’t get the calories and nutrition out of your food, so you don’t have the fuel to fight the cancer. Plus the tumor creates abdominal pain, which’ll kill the appetite. He told us to let her eat anything she wants and to encourage stuff high in calories. So she’s been living on creamed spinach and chocolate mousse.”
“If chocolate mousse turns out to be a miracle cure, she should write a book and it’ll be a bestseller, I swear.”
When I didn’t laugh he said, “That bad, huh.”
My eyes started to water profusely but I held my voice together. “I don’t think she’s getting better. She feels better because she’s not in pain and not nauseous, thanks to Nurse Mary Jane. Meanwhile, I have to go back to the city to take care of some stuff and I–”
“Give me the address. I’ll–”
“Remo, stop it. Just stop.” I had forgotten there was a reason I didn’t want to tell him about my problems.
“Daron, it’s all right. Mel and I understand each other now. She’s not going through such an emotional time right now–”
“And so you’re going to leave her alone in your mansion in the Hollywood Hills where she doesn’t know anyone and start the whole argument all over again?”
“It’s not like that,” he said.
“And you’re going to just charge on down here without even checking with Claire first about whether she actually wants to see you again? I mean, I know that seems to be the default around her, but honestly, what’s up with that?”
“She… your mother…”
“I mean, I really can’t tell if it’s Claire who wants everyone else in charge of her life or if it’s everyone else just making that assumption. Which is it, Reem? Are we supposed to be taking care of her like she’s a child just because she’s a woman and we’re the quote-unquote men of the family? That is just some 1950s gender norm bullshit, isn’t it?”
“You’re right. You’re right. Your mother does defer to the men around her but we–I–shouldn’t make assumptions.” He paused again. “Look. If you have to leave her for a while, you’ll have to tell her. You could ask her then if she wants a visit from me or not.”
Shit. I guess I had just put myself in the position of having to do that, didn’t I… “And if she says no?”
“If she says she doesn’t want to see me, ask her if it’s okay for me to come to her funeral.”
“I am asking no such thing!”
“I didn’t mean it like that! I meant… never mind. That came out wrong. What are you going to say if she says no, don’t go?”
“I don’t know.” I looked down and saw that a frog had hopped out of the rough grass and weeds onto the slab of concrete under the car port. It was looking at me with bulbous eyes. “Ziggy’s here. Maybe he’ll know what to say.”
“Yeah, he might. Okay, look, I better let you go. But the truth of the matter is I have some business in Nashville and so I could swing by.”
Sure. Just like Barrett. “I’ll talk to her and let you know what she says.” I stood up, the bag of the bag phone slung on my shoulder like a mail-delivery sack. I held the handset to one ear while I used my free hand to encourage the frog to go back into the grass. “Have a good one, Reem.”
“No, you have a good one, birthday boy.” He joshed me a bit: “Shit. Twenty-four already? You’re catching up.”
“No, I’m not. You’re still more than twice my age.” And you’ll always be old enough to be my father, I thought, but didn’t say.
“Not by much,” he said with an appreciative whistle. “You sure you’re all right?”
“No, I’m not, but there’s nothing you can do about it so quit asking. None of this is easy.”
“I know.” He cleared his throat. “Well, I love you, Daron Moondog Marks and I hope I’m still telling you that in another twenty-four years.”
“I love you, too, Reem.”
I hung up then before either of us could be tempted into ruining an otherwise heartfelt moment.
(I just wanted an excuse to use this song. Another 1992 Top 40 hit. -d)