Over the weekend, my father told me he was concerned about my missing work; when was I going back?
"I'm taking a leave of absence," I said, deciding then.
He said, "I'm glad." Then he looked right at me. "It means a great deal to me that you're here."
My mother said that there was no reason for Henry to come, as long as I was here. But I kept expecting he would, and Archie did, too. "Stay as long as you need to," Archie said, "but don't forget I need you here."
One night, Archie told me I sounded vague.
I said that it was the suburbs. "They put tranquilizers in the water."
My mother was standing there, and smiled.
"Honey," he said, "I'm not getting a clear idea of what's going on down there."
I tried to explain, but I realized I wasn't sure myself. So I called Irwin Lasker, one of the doctor friends who visited every day. Dr. Lasker was gruff and his sarcasm had frightened me as a child, when I'd been friends with his daughter and slept over at their house.
"The doctors are telling you what you need to know, Jane," he said, and he sounded angry. "It's up to you whether you want to listen or not."
I got angry myself. "Maybe when you hear about blood counts you get the big picture, but I don't."
He didn't speak right away. When he did he was grave, and I realized I'd asked him to imagine his own daughter hearing about him. "It's just a matter of days, Jane."
When I told my mother what he'd said, she cried, and then she got angry at Dr. Lasker.
"Mom," I said, "I asked him to tell me."
She said, "Irwin's a pessimist."
The next morning, her eyes were so swollen from crying they were almost closed. I got her to lie down and brought her ice cubes in a washcloth and cucumber slices. We waited to go to the hospital until the swelling went down.
She put on her prettiest summer dress. This was her way of making my father feel she was okay. But it was something else, too. It was almost a superstition--like if she looked pretty enough everything would turn out well.
I didn't know what I looked like. I was seeing myself in the mirrors of my adolescence, where I'd discovered that I'd never be a beautiful woman. It mattered to me less now than it ever had, but when my mother said, "Put on a little rouge, Jane," I did.
She watched me anxiously, and I said, "You look like you could use a tall glass of suburban water."
She nodded, not getting my joke. She stood in the doorway in her pretty floral dress, a watercolor of her former self.
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