the syringes on a little rubber dome and asked me questions about mymood, my hobbies, my stress level. If I needed a break, she said, I couldlook into getting in-home care a few days a week from nurses in the area.Or, when my mother was ready, the metro care center two hours awayoffered weeklong stays.
The visit had tired my mother. She’d been quieter since then, spending most of the day under a quilt in the living room. She had me movethe reclining armchair next to the window, where she could look outat the street. She got up for Pete, though. She fixed her hair and put onlipstick. I made French toast and sausage.
“It’s good to see the two of you together,” my mother said. “I always
hoped you’d stay friends. An unlucky friendship, but it’s more than what
a lot of people have.”
Pete nodded with respectful solemnity, refusing to meet my gaze. But
he was back for every snowfall after that.
We might not have been friends, but he was still the first person Icalled when my mother started coughing up blood.
It was late, past midnight, but he met me in the waiting area of theemergency room. I was grateful, but there was not much to say. The hospital was short-staffed, and after they admitted my mother, we sat therefor hours, playing the silent game. Pete lost every round.
When the doctor finally came to talk to me, Pete took my hand andgave it a squeeze. He didn’t let go. The doctor was extraordinarily youngand overwhelmed. His fingers picked absently at the acne scars on hischin as he casually threw out terms like massive hemoptysis and therapeutic bronchoscope. More testing needed later. For now, my motherwas stable but sleeping. They’d keep her overnight. I could see her if Iwanted to, but he recommended that I let my husband take me homeand get some rest. Pete pulled his hand away but didn’t correct him.
A bright strip of light above my mother’s bed staged her pale face likea lab specimen or an exhibition piece. Stone still and almost waxen underthat garish light, this woman did not look like my mother. Yet there shewas. Who else could she be? I touched her freckled hand, careful not todisturb the taped-down IV or otherwise jolt her out of sleep. I smoothedher hair and promised to bring her a change of clothes and Cal’s Bible. Ipromised her more chocolate, more red wine. The machines around herbeeped.
Outside, Pete paused with his hand resting on the passenger door.“Do you need somewhere to go?”