The Things Between Us
First things first. You have to meet my mother. You have to meet the Mumzy in the morning, sitting with her old tree root legs, stunted and worn, dangling off the edge of the king-size bed she shares with my father. In front of her is a purple walker, reminiscent of a racing bicycle with four wheels, its wire basket stuffed with socks, notebooks, a Kleenex or two. She looks up at the clock that sings a different bird song every hour on the hour and announces to my father, who is reading in a chair, “Monty, it is eight forty-five.” She holds up three fingers to indicate the number of ounces of gin she wants in her drink. My father leaves the room, and I study my mother’s face, the folds in her skin collapsed around bones and things she cannot express. I pat her shoulder and follow my father into the other room to watch him make my mother a drink—one of his many chores since Mother broke her shoulder a few years earlier.
In the kitchen an old wooden chest of my grandfather’s stores booze and nuts and crackers. My father flips open the top, reaches into its belly to pull out a half-gallon jug of Tanqueray, and pours it into a jigger twice. There is something disconnected about his movements, but he says nothing. The only sounds come from the clinking of glass and ice and the pouring of spirits.
I am following my father around my childhood home now—watching, studying—because the doctors recently found the reason that he has been loosing weight and, in the last few weeks, has found it difficult to swallow: He has a tumor in his stomach. They do not know if it is malignant or not, which is why I study him so vigilantly; I am trying to decipher our future.
Dad reaches into the fridge and grabs a handful of fresh mint, and from a cabinet, a few plastic straws, and stuffs the bunch into the glass. He knows I watch him so he completes this maneuver with a self-conscious flair. “Take that!”
My father and I deliver Mother’s drink and sit silently. I lie back on the lavender carpet and stretch my back, sneaking peeks at the both of them. My mother, sitting on the edge of the bed, stares out the French doors into the field and my father goes back to his paperback thriller. The black pancake face of their little dog, Inky, peeks out from under the bed, and while I pat her, I pull at an odd tumor, a sac of skin, that hangs off her neck. Mom looks at Dad and then at me sadly, with her expression asking, Now what do we do? I smile at her, trying to be reassuring, as I am thinking Dunno. Dunno. Dunno.
Three days earlier, on a bright autumn morning, Mom and Pop call
with the news.