I didn’t know what to say. She seemed to understand how difficult it
was to dwell on her condition. Her asking about Dad felt like a pretext,
permitting me to express concern for a parent without descending into
an arena of unanswerable questions about dementia or infection or sleep.
I turned my face away and looked at her room. It was smaller than
the one across the hall.
“What about the other one?” I said, turning back to her.
She reached out with her soft hand to grab mine, but I pulled away
as if my fingers had been burned or stung. Worse than that was the look
on my mother’s face.
I looked across the hall and saw my father on his knees in front of my
mother in the room where she had seen the river from the window. He
wept on her shoulder, hugging her and murmuring softly. She stroked
his bald head.
A sharp and sour feeling, like a leak from some burst pipe in my
throat, filled my esophagus and rose into my mouth. Without bothering to explain anything to my mother, I left the room. The hallway was
bright, and crossing it felt like leaping through a lightning bolt. In the air
there was a feeling as of a magnetic disruption. The various pieces of machinery in the room and hallway began to shriek at me; then I realized it
was my father shouting as I dragged him away from her.
“We can’t get too close,” I said. “We’re too close.”
“What do you mean?” said my father. “The nurse said I should talk
I shook my head.
“Where is the first one, Dad?”
“The first one.”
“This is the third time we’ve brought her here. Where is the first one?”
I pointed to the room I had pulled him from and then to the room
across the hall, where my mother also sat in her wheelchair. While we
looked back and forth, other residents of the facility passed with their
walkers and IV poles, many in their own wheelchairs; everyone had a
piece of machinery for a best friend. An old man stopped and parked
by the fire extinguisher with a lizard-like stillness, perhaps waiting for a
passing fly. Only his eyes moved.
“She’s here,” my father said. “In a third room somewhere.”
“Dad, I think—”
“No, no.” He shook his head. “She could be at home.”