1. Mr. and Mrs. Adams [3]

“Yes, hi, it’s me.”

Caroline clutched the receiver in her hand. She looked at Mr. Adams, and words failed her as tears sprung into her eyes. She hadn’t heard Marty’s voice in almost three years. Now, out of the blue, there he was, sounding just as he did before. Mr. Adams walked into his study and picked up the phone on his desk there. He spoke into it in a quiet, sad voice.

“Where have you been, Marty?”

“Oh,” the voice over the phone sounded taken aback. “Hi, Dan.”

“Well?”

“I- I’m sorry,” the voice began to choke as the words tumbled out. “I’m so sorry, to both of you. It’s just that after Susan… and then the funeral was just horrible and Claire wasn’t speaking to anyone and I couldn’t shake the feeling that the both of you blamed me somehow – blamed me for listening to Susan, for not telling you sooner, for hiding it from you for a year. And then the operation – and the doctors didn’t know that they’d find what they found and just – we didn’t know, and it was supposed to be easy and quick and gone within a few months and Susan felt that it was bad enough that we lived so far away and I just…”

“Oh, Marty,” breathed Mrs. Adams.

She and Mr. Adams had the same memories flooding their senses. Both were remembering their blissful lives, teaching at the university and living peacefully in this house that they finally managed to pay off the mortgage on. Both remembered how three years ago they got a phone call from their only daughter, their Susan. They remembered her calm and collected voice as she lied to them outright, telling them that she needed to have some really minor surgery and not to worry and not to come down to Manhattan for it – it was just this tiny lump the doctors needed to take out, it would be over in a few days. The surgery had, in actuality, been for removing her breast-cancer, which she hadn’t told her parents about since it was considered curable. The doctors hadn’t expected what resulted in the surgery – a complication, a blood clot. They’d removed it, but apparently some of it had traveled through her bloodstream already and had obstructed some smaller veins. She’d died from the blood not managing to travel to her brain rather than from her cancer.

She hadn’t told her parents about any of her chemotherapy, hadn’t told them about what she was going through – she didn’t want to worry them, as she told Marty over and over again. It was bad enough, in her eyes, that Claire, their daughter, had to know and see what was happening. That was Susan’s biggest flaw and always had been – she wanted to take everything on herself, without help from the outside, without causing worry to anyone. Mr. and Mrs. Adams knew this. It was themselves they blamed for not guessing more about her surgery. They blamed Susan, too, although it had taken them two years in counseling after her death to be able to admit it to themselves. But the only thing they blamed Marty for was his cutting his ties with them after Susan’s funeral. They loved Marty like a son, and they wanted to be a part of Clair’s life.

This is what they both, through many moments of choked silences, managed to convey to Marty during their conversation that August evening. Marty, who had broken down completely and sobbed into the phone a few times, sat alone in his apartment in Manhattan – Claire was at her drawing class – and felt that for the first time in three years he had some hope in his horizons. He’d lost his own parents when he was much younger, and the simple warmth of Susan’s folks and the way they forgave him immediately for his mule-headed guilt-trip went straight to his heart.

It sealed his decision. After hanging up with his in-laws, and promising them that he’d bring Claire for a visit very soon, he made a big post-it note and hung it on the fridge. It said “CALL REAL ESTATE AGENT AND SAY YES.” He underlined the word “YES” three times, picked up his keys, and set out to pick Claire up, thinking that the future might finally be looking up.

Dora’s Birthday [Part III]

Part I

Part II

Dora was curled up in an uncomfortable hospital chair, pretending to sleep. She felt like they’d been in that stupid waiting room for hours and hours. Either her father or her mother were always with her, but her Grandpa had gone to sit with Grandma in her room. Dora’s mother explained that Grandma was still unconscious [“sort of like asleep,” she’d said when Dora asked what that meant] and that Grandpa wanted to be with her when she woke up. Dora wasn’t allowed in yet.
This was her worst birthday ever. She was hungry and uncomfortable and tired and bored. She was also scared about Grandma – everyone was acting like Grandma might not wake up at all, and that thought made Dora so sad. She loved her Grandma very much. It was she who had let Dora help bake chocolate chip cookies, and it was she who gave Dora lovely books to read and helped her read them. Her parents did some of the same things too, of course, but Dora always spent Friday afternoons and evenings at her grandparents’ house, and she loved their routines there together. Grandpa would make something yummy for dinner and Dora and her grandmother always had the dessert all ready for afterwards. Then they’d maybe watch a funny video or play games or read books together, all three of them. Dora was scared that things would  change now.
Just as Dora felt like she would start crying again, she felt a soft touch on her shoulder. Her father shook her gently, thinking she was asleep. She opened her eyes and saw him peering down at her with a smile.
“Dora-Dear, Grandma’s awake now. She says she’s feeling well enough for you to come in and see her.”
Dora sat up immediately. Her father took her by the hand and led her down a long corridor. Dora glimpsed people in the rooms they passed. Some of them frightened her, because they looked so very ill or they had tubes coming out of their noses and mouths. Some were moaning and some were snoring loudly. Dora averted her eyes and clung hard to her father’s big hand. She didn’t want Grandma to look like that.
Her father stopped at one of the rooms and gently pushed Dora through the door, encouraging her. She walked shyly up to the big hospital bed and stopped beside her mother who was sitting on one side of it. Her mother lifted her up into her lap, and Dora could see that her Grandma was sitting up in bed, smiling at her.
“Grandma!” she yelped and almost threw herself on her. Her mother held her back with a smile.
“Grandma’s feeling better but she’s still a little weak, pumpkin. No jumping on her quite yet, alright?” her mother chastised gently.
Dora was smiling fit to burst, and leaned over and gently pecked her grandmother who was proffering her cheek. “Grandma, are you okay now?” she asked.
“I will be, beautiful Dora, I will be,” Grandma answered in her smooth, melodic voice.
“And I’ll be able to come over to yours’ and Grandpa’s house and we’ll bake cookies and you’ll continue reading me The Little Princess?” she asked hopefully.
“Yes, honey-pie. When I get out of here, we’ll be able to do everything we used to.”
Dora felt as if her heart would burst. She broke into a fit of giggles. She was so happy that everything was alright with Grandma that she even forgot about the fact that she hadn’t eaten any cake.

The Unremarkable Man on the Route 46 Bus

An unremarkable man, wearing an unremarkable pair of jeans and unremarkable long sleeved shirt, stepped onto the Route 46 bus as it juddered to a halt at the Route 46 bus-stop. He flashed his monthly bus-pass at the driver who waved him into the interior of the bus (without looking at the man’s unremarkable picture and name on the bus-pass). The man walked unobtrusively into the bus, which was quite a feat as it was an early Monday morning and the bus was packed full of early Monday morning commuters, dressed in suits or geared up for the gym.

There were, of course, no seats available on the bus, and so the man had no choice but to hold onto one of the rails and stand, in an unremarkable fashion, as the bus began trundling out of the station with much clanking, banging and groaning.

It was good that two other passengers had gotten on at the same stop as the man had, or the people on the bus would have been very confused as to the reason the bus driver had stopped. No passengers had gotten off, and nobody had actually noticed the unremarkable man got on the bus at all, so it was good that the old man and his small granddaughter had been waiting at that particular Route 46 bus-stop as well. When people looked over as the unremarkable man, their gazes slid off him and they would focus on their neighbor’s magazine or the sunlight outside or the Route 46 map that hung right above the man.

The unremarkable man, used to this sort of treatment, didn’t even try to dominate the space he stood in. Instead, he let the space float around him and he let people’s eyes slide away from him, and he focused on his first project of the morning: the little girl who had gotten on with the old man at that particular Route 46 bus-stop. The girl was almost as unremarkable as the man, he thought; she was quiet, focused only on the ragged teddy-bear in her arms, and seemed not to notice her grandfather’s wheezing and coughing as he unfolded a newspaper and ignored her. The girl’s hair was an unremarkable brown, not shiny or bouncy or curly, but simply lying limply and often obscuring her face as it swung back and forth with the motion of the bus. The girl’s face, half hidden by the unremarkable hair, was plain and expressionless as she stared at the teddy-bear on her lap and twisted his ears in an absentminded way.

The unremarkable man was usually drawn to flashy characters – women in orange spandex suits fiddling with their sunglasses and purses, clowns on their ways to birthday parties looking grumpy and hot in their makeup and outfits, suited men and women who seemed only to be waiting for their next cigarette and who shouted on their cellphones. Today, though, the unremarkable man decided he was interested in an unremarkable girl. He focused his thoughts on her, and her eyes snapped up to look into his. And there it was, for a split second.

…grandaddy is so boring he’s reading the newspaper again and mr. snuffles is bored because i’m bored too and why does grandaddy have to take me to kindergarten anyway i mean he isn’t as funny as mommy is on the bus and anyway he doesn’t talk to mr. snuffles like mommy or daddy do and i’m hungry but grandaddy said that buying ice-cream early in the morning would make my teeth rotten but i don’t care because i like dr. leslie that dentist who mommy took me to because she gave me a sticker and a lolly-pop and said i was a good little girl and that my teeth would never be rotten if i kept coming to see her and mommy laughed and patted my hair and said we’ll keep coming back to see dr. leslie and miriam is going to bring me a brownie her mom made today to kindergarten and maybe mommy will pick me up and grandaddy won’t be with her anyd then i won’t have to sleep at his house tonight and i’ll be able to go home and watch barnie with mommy and then go to bed with my yellow blankets and mr. snuffles will be happy because mommy will sing us a lullaby

The unremarkable man broke his eye-contact with the girl, who promptly turned away and continued to twist Mr. Snuffle’s worn-out ears. The man almost gasped. His brow was dripping with sweat. For a moment, everyone on the bus almost noticed him standing there. Then the moment passed, and the man calmed himself, smiling in such a manner which in anyone less unremarkable would seem to be amused. I’VE GOTTEN LAZY, thought the unremarkable man. I’LL HAVE TO FIND SOME MORE LIKE THAT GIRL. SUCH VIVIDNESS COULD LAST FOR WEEKS. WHO KNOWS? MAYBE OTHERS LIKE HER WILL MAKE ME REAL AGAIN.