The thing about the shift schedule we’d devised is that I had been spending the nights at the hospital, and so mostly sleeping there. Back at the extended stay diorama, there were only two beds, and so if I napped there, I usually did it on the couch. This was all well and fine when it was just me, but now I had Ziggy attached to my hip, which complicated things.
Not that I minded having him attached to my hip at that point. I don’t get lonely easily. And it wasn’t like I wasn’t constantly interacting with Court and Remo and Claire. But oh god was it good to have him there.
Leave it to Ziggy to bring Claire something that she would eat. He was no fool. When he showed up in her room for the first time he put his all into the performance. Which isn’t to say it was fake when he threw up his hands and hurried across the room to kiss her forehead and make excited noises. But I had seen the way he psyched himself up outside her door, that deep breath, just like before going on stage.
“Claire, my God, I’m so sorry I couldn’t be here sooner but you wouldn’t belieeeeve the wringer these bastard lawyers put me through. But you don’t want to hear about that awfulness. Let’s talk about something else. Like what I brought you.”
She beamed. “Oh, you brought me something? From LA?”
“No. From New England.” He pulled a fancilly wrapped package from the shopping bag he had carried in. It had glittery wrapping paper and ribbon and it struck me that the wrapping paper on a gift is like the curtain on a theater stage. Waiting for it to reveal what it hides increases the anticipation, and increasing the anticipation intensifies the experience. (For most people, anyway.)
It certainly worked on Claire whose sounds of appreciation increased as she got closer to getting it open, culminating in a gasp and a cry, “Oh my goodness! I haven’t had these since I was a child! I loved these!”
He had brought her a box of maple sugar candies. When she opened it, I was suddenly transported to the IHOP in Kenmore Square, the maple syrup scent was that strong. Each one in the box was the color of beach sand and the shape of a maple leaf. She put one in her mouth and made a groan of pleasure so deep you would’ve thought maple sugar was better than opium.
Maybe it was. She politely offered each of us one. I took one while Ziggy declined, declaring that he’d eaten an entire box himself before the trip.
I bit into the candy and had to shovel it into my mouth because it broke apart once my teeth had gone through it. It was almost hard on the outside but once that surface was breached, it began to dissolve into a creamy sweetness that really wasn’t like any other candy I knew of. It was almost like when fudge has that really meltingly creamy texture except this was basically pure maple sugar as far as I knew.
“Well, that is a uniquely sensual pleasure,” I said, when my mouth was no longer full.
Claire just made a happy noise and picked another one out of the box, beaming at Ziggy.
Later, he and me and Court went out to get something nominally less sugary to eat while Remo stayed with Claire. I say nominally because we went to a pancake house.
“Well, you hit a home run,” I said to him while we were looking at the menu.
“I think she ate the entire box,” Court added. She looked tired, with extra bags under her eyes.
“And I have four more boxes in my suitcase.” Ziggy preened a little under our appreciation. “My mother loved those candies. But she was diabetic and wasn’t supposed to have them. But I’d sneak them to her once in a while, not the big box like these, though. You can get a box with just two in it.”
“I thought you hardly ever saw your mother,” I said, before I realized how callous that sounded.
“I hardly did,” he said, chewing his lip. “But, you know, on holidays or whatever. Or I’d give them to Tony to give to his brother who would slip them to her.”
“Wait a second. Tony’s brother who works as an occupational therapist just happened to work at the home where your mother ended up? What the hell kind of small world coincidence is that?”
Ziggy looked at me over the top of the menu. “Dear one, it’s not a coincidence at all. How do you think we picked the place where my mother ‘ended up?’ It’s not like we just threw a dart into the Yellow Pages or something.”
“Oh.” My head hurt a little. “I guess… you had a lot more choice than we did.”
“A little bit, anyway. It’s different when the person is expected to live for years and years.”
“Okay, but… how did you know we’ve been trying to get more calories into Claire?”
He and Court shared a look then. Court answered. “Because you’re not the only person in the world, brother mine. We talk, too.”
Right. That just showed how wrapped up in my own head I was. The waitress came then and we ordered a lot of calories for ourselves.
“So, how’s the song going?” Ziggy asked, when we were alone again in our booth.
“It’s not,” I said. To Court I added, “Claire’s last request—or at least her latest one—is she wants me to write a song and perform it at the funeral.”
“Oh jeez,” my sister said. “No pressure.”
“Fear not,” Ziggy said. “His muse is here now.” He posed coquettishly against the banquette of the booth.
“Not that it should be that kind of song,” I said seriously.
Ziggy was deadpan. “I meant it as a joke.”
Court was not. She snorted. “No, you didn’t.”
They were both right. Because only Ziggy could somehow lie and tell the truth at the exact same time.