Page 74 - Vol. VII #8
P. 74

The Evening of His Last Visit (continued from preceding page)
As I watched Megan walk back toward us, I saw so much of Mom in her—the square determination of her jaw, the way her head tilted to one side, the fierce blue of her eyes. I looked at Michael, and he at me and, as if he’d read my mind, he grabbed my hand and held it tight.
Have you ever seen someone die? I’ve seen it more times than I care to count. Father first, then Mother. By the time she told me about the lump in her breast, the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. She hadn’t wanted the doctor to touch her there. In the old days, they did a radical mastectomy, no questions asked. A second opinion was: Do you want to live, or do you want to die?
 When I took it from her, she said, “I’m sorry about your daddy.”
I still can’t let go.
Clare: The sun was huge this evening. red-orange fringed with yellow. So close it seemed the sun had not only fallen but moved closer to earth. I was watching the sun set when a little girl appeared in the gap of the hospital curtain that sheltered Frank and me. Staring up at me, she held out a beautiful spiral seashell, cream- colored and flecked with iridescent pink.
Her radiation treatments were the worst experi- ence of my life. Mother would lie on a slab in a big empty room, naked from the waist up, without
so much as a sheet covering her. Her scar was six inches long, caved in where her breast used to be, the whole flat expanse of chest red and raw from the treatments. Here was a woman so modest she never even let me see her in a slip. And she would cry with her arm draped across what was left of her chest. And she would cry for me to stay with her and nearly wrench my arm from its socket. What could I do?
Of course, she was referring to my brother, Frank. I wanted to pat her head, but I couldn’t let go of his hand.
I still wonder sometimes if the radiation will give me cancer. Back then, the doctors assured me it was safe. Back then, they let people watch nuclear detonations in the Nevada desert with only sunglasses for protec- tion, and afterwards, let them inspect the sand for sou- venirs. I wonder how many of those people are dead.
Golden boy Frank. Everything he touched worked for him. When it came to our parents, it was Frank this and Frank that. His pictures cluttered the piano. His diplomas lined the walls. His trophies crowded the shelves. Little Clare, now what did she have? I’ll tell you what: a certificate for perfect attendance pasted to the inside of her bedroom closet. It was that year Frank was so sick and Mother forced me to go to school no matter how I felt.
When someone’s chronically ill but survives one crisis after another, you begin to think the person is never going to die. I assumed Frank’s illness was just a ploy to grab all the attention for himself. How could this slightly overweight boy with cheeks like blushed pears and bright green eyes and shiny black hair who played stickball with me always to win, how could he die?
When you grew up in the thirties and forties in a house with a diabetic, your heart never quite beat in full measures. You learned to walk around your moth- er as she twisted her hands together and thumped her chest with her fist, mea culpa, mea culpa. After
a while, you didn’t even see the urine bottles on the back of the toilet with so much liquid gold in them. Oh, what’s the point in going over old grudges? That was so long ago, so far from Frank’s fancy New York apartment filled with antiques and oriental rugs.
But here he is.
“Clare, I’ve got two tickets to this great new off- Broadway play.”
Father used to give Frank and me a nickel a week al- lowance. Frank always spent his right away on that hard candy made especially for diabetics. Once I snuck a piece. It burned the roof of my mouth. I, on the other hand, was a miser. I saved for weeks to buy Jell-O. Cherry was my favorite. I used to sit at the kitchen table and eat the raw sugar straight out of the box while Frank sucked hard on his hard candy. I’d roll my eyes and lick the spoon in long strokes until the sugar was completely gone. So I couldn’t blame Frank the day he swiped the box and ran out of the house.
“Clare, the Monet exhibit at the Met is wonderful. I’ll throw in dinner. What do you say?”
Clare, Clare, Clare. Did I need his sympathy? I stayed with him only once, when his second kidney failed and he needed the transplant. I was the only compat- ible donor.
I screamed after him, “I want my Jell-O back.”
Mother came in and asked what the fuss was about. When I told her Frank stole my Jell-O, she blessed her- self and said, “Jesus, Mary, and St. Joseph, he could die.”

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