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Vol. 3, No. 2

The Worst Thing a Suburban Girl Could Imagine
by Melissa Bank

XIII

As a doctor, my father must have known what was happening. It may have been gradual but it seemed to me that all of a sudden he became very quiet. When his friends visited, he answered their questions, and that was all.

 

~

I worried that he was thinking about dying, but I wasn't going to bring it up; I asked if there was anything on his mind.
    "Yes," he said. "How's it going with Archie?"
    "Pretty good," I said.
    "Good," he said.
    "I know you were relieved when I broke up with Archie last time," I said. "Will you tell me why?"
    He said that he'd noticed Archie's insulin in the refrigerator at the shore that weekend. "Diabetes is a serious disease," he said. "But he didn't treat it like it was. He wasn't taking care of himself, which made me think someone else would wind up doing it. His daughter didn't seem to visit or feel much of an obligation to him. I worried that you'd be the only one. I didn't want you to spend your life that way." He paused. He asked me if I knew how long Archie had been diabetic--an important prognostic factor, he said.
    I said I didn't. Archie's standard line was that Beefeater had eaten his pancreas.
    I must have looked worried, because my father said, "It's hard, isn't it, love?"
    I said it was.

 

~

 

I began to notice how formal he and my mother were. She spoke to him in a soothing voice, but distantly, and he was just as cool. He acted as though dying was his own private business, and I guess it was.

 

~

Walking back with my mother to the car, I said, "Wasn't it hard keeping Dad's illness a secret all those years?"
    She looked at me as though I'd accused her of something.
    "Did you and Dad talk about it a lot?"
    She said, "At first we did." Then she told me that she'd cried to him once about how scared she was; he'd told her that he could not comfort her about himself.
    I said, "Did you ever want to talk to anybody else about it?"
    "No," she said. "It was between your father and me."

 

~

My mother told me that Henry might not come down this weekend as planned; his firm was entering a competition and Aldo had asked him to draw the trees--a big honor.
    I realized how angry I was that Henry wasn't here, and I called him right back and said, "You should come right now."
    "That's not what Mom said." He told me that it wasn't just the competition, he wanted to research the newest treatments for Dad's disease; he'd read about one in Scotland, but so far they'd only experimented on mice.
    "Mice?"
    We had to be open-minded, Henry said; we'd given conventional medicine a chance and it wasn't working. In a different voice, he said, "I can't just sit around waiting for Dad to die."
    "Henry," I said, "Dad isn't going to Scotland."
    "Maybe we'll have to force him," he said.
    I was about to say, Force Dad? Instead, I took a breath. "Please come," I said. "I need you here."
    After I hung up, my mother avoided looking at me. I said, "What do you think I did that was so wrong?"
    "I didn't say you were doing anything wrong," she said, in the even tone she now used with my father.
    I said, "You're not talking to me anymore."
    "That's not true." She turned her attention from the dishes to the stove and back to the sink.
    "Mom," I said, "you look at me like I'm the enemy of hope."
    "Sweetheart," she said. Her voice was creamy. "This is hard on all of us."

 

~

Henry arrived the next morning.
    At the hospital, he took over, talking to the doctors and the nurses. He reminded me of my father in an emergency; he was calm, getting all of the facts.
    We went into my father's room together. He was sleeping. My mother was sitting by the bed, and Henry put his arm around her, which I'd never seen him do before. I was grateful to him for that.
    My mother wasn't angry that he hadn't come sooner, of course. I didn't think my father was either. After all, Henry had done as he was told.

 

~

At home, in the kitchen, Henry and I split a beer.
    "Oh," he said, and he took a gadget out of his bag. I recognized one of Rebecca's water purifiers. He attached it to our tap, and then ran the faucet. He handed me a glass, and got one for himself.
    "It tastes the same to me," I said.
    He said, "Your taste buds are dead."
    In a Southern accent, I said, "That girl is a waterhead."
    He said, "I like her." Then: "When'd you get back with ol' Archie?"
    "I don't know," I said. "May?"
    He nodded. I steeled myself to be teased, but Henry just said, "Ready?" and turned off the kitchen lights.

 

~

In the middle of the night, the phone rang.
    I sat up in bed not breathing right and waited for my mother to come into my room.
    "Jane," she said, at my door. "It's for you."
    I followed her to the phone. It was New York Hospital. Archie was in Intensive Care.

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