Dan’s answering service phoned him at two o'clock in the morning. A woman named Rose Petrovich or Petrush, the operator hadn't caught the name exactly, had called. It was an emergency, a death.
“A death? Who's this message for? I'm Dan Dorenbusch, the obstetrician.” In the dark, he ran though a mental list of his patients, all stable. Dan fumbled with his flashlight pen, shook it until the batteries made contact and the minuscule light went on. Beside him his sleeping wife mumbled something, turned away from him, drifted to the far side of the bed. Still half-asleep himself, he took down the area code (a New Jersey area code) and phone number, and hung up. Maybe the caller wanted his father, who was a pediatrician in East Orange.
Almost before Dan finished pushing the buttons, the woman was whispering and sobbing into the telephone, words and wails and a sputtering sound of s’s tumbling over each other, like roiling water. "He's dead. He's dead. Your father's dead."
"Who is this?" he whispered. "What are you talking about?" He strained to hear as though there were static on the line.
"Your father's dead! Sam’s dead! Can you come here? Please! My son's asleep downstairs."
“What? What?" He had heard her. "Who are you? Who is this?”
"It's Rosemarie.” She paused. “Rosemarie Petrowski, your father's receptionist, his nurse. Sam's dead!"
Dan had an urge to cry April Fool’s! and laugh uproariously, except it was July. Cut the crap, he wanted to insist, and put my mother on the phone. Although he knew very well that the number he had called was not his parents', he imagined the nurse setting the telephone down on the familiar hall table and walking through his parents' large dark house to wake his mother. Go on, go get her, he wanted to shout. But he sat in silence watching the fluorescent second-hand sweep the bedside clock. Mine sweeper, he thought, absurdly.
Certain "reasonable" questions bobbled in his mind--What's his pulse? His respirations? Can you get his blood pressure?--and then disappeared.
I love you.
I'm always thinking
The old song surfaced (from where? wherever) again and again in his mind until it turned to babble.
On the other end the nurse was crying.
"Shhh, shhh," he said foolishly. "You'll wake my wife." So as not to disturb her for what was probably a crackpot call, Dan walked cautiously out of the bedroom, past the children’s rooms to the kitchen where he took directions, the white telephone a strange thing in his strange hand. He half-heard, half-remembered that his father’s nurse had a mild speech defect, a sibilant s. Now she sounded like a steam radiator whistling at him about the West Side Highway, the Lincoln Tunnel, the New Jersey Turnpike, this street, that street, most of which he knew, having grown up nearby, but he wrote it down with automatic hand.
He was aware that he had asked her nothing--Cat got your tongue?--he who asked patients if they used drugs and how many sexual partners they had, and whether their husbands had relations with men.
The roads were empty. He sped through the hot night but he had the feeling that he was plodding, that the air had thickened into sludge.
He had grabbed an emergency kit they kept in the apartment. Ridiculous. It probably contained gauze pads and antibiotic cream and some scissors and maybe a pair of tweezers to remove splinters.
Who was this hissing woman whom he'd seen over the years at his father's office without especially attending to her? She had seemed a bit older than Dan, perhaps in her mid-fifties, or maybe she seemed older because her hair was half gray, and she was mildly overweight, but shapely. His mother had complained she said "ecksetera" and "for him and I." Sum total of his memories, except Rosemarie had once made him a sandwich and a good cup of coffee at the office and unobtrusively exchanged Dan's father's full ashtray for a clean one.
As he drove, the red numbers of his expensive digital watch--a present from his father--flashed 2:14:40:9, the tenths of seconds rolling over each other, the seconds running, the minutes. He was warm and clammy despite the blasting air conditioner.
Counting carefully, he pulled as instructed into the third driveway on the north side of the block (the house with the Walt Disney statues, she had said. Jesus!) and turned off his lights.
It was a bright night, the sky white with stars. White-hot. Carrying his emergency kit, he walked quickly past the statues of a faun and Snow White and a number of dwarfs--were all seven of them really there, Happy and Dopey and whomever? White dwarfs…disintegrating stars. How peculiar that the Universe contained billions of stars in billions of constellations, in billions of galaxies. Every star had to die. Although it was a short walk, his shirt felt damp on his chest by the time he entered the house.
She had left the side door open for him and a small light on in the muggy kitchen. There was a portable TV on the kitchen table, and the walls, of pasteboard paneling meant to look like knotty pine, were dotted with picture postcards and articles ripped out of newspapers. The close air smelled of beer and cigars.
He turned left and moved quickly through the living room where her son--what was his name? Alan? Albert? Dan had seen him once years ago at the office reading a comic book--was supposed to be sleeping on the couch. To Dan's relief, a long thin boy who looked to be fourteen was, in fact, stretched out there asleep, mouth breathing, a bare foot on the coffee table where a plastic fan clattered. Beside it a sandwich lay half-eaten on a paper plate along with a full glass of milk.
His small penlight barely piercing the dark, Dan carried his kit (the metal box was slippery now--he stopped a second to wipe his hand on his pants) up the narrow, noisy staircase to the second floor. In the dark hallway there was a thin strip of light from ceiling to floor where a door was open a crack.
He pushed it open wider and entered the small ill-lit bedroom. At once he became aware of an unpleasant, sweetish-sharp smell in the air. He looked around quickly, wrinkling up his nose in the heat. At the far end of the room on a dark dresser lay a plastic tray of perfume bottles and scattered hairpins, and a bra, the cups of which stood up. A man's trousers and knit shirt and what appeared to be a pair of red silk boxer shorts were hung over the back of the one chair, beside the dresser. A large fan whirred in the window, blowing the white curtains into the room. Two small lamps, the only sources of light, stood on the night tables on either side of the double bed, which looked freshly made with white sheets and a white eyelet cover pulled tight.
For an instant Dan had the thought that he was alone in this peculiar house except for the boy downstairs, that it was a prank some spiteful patient had pulled and here he was carrying his emergency kit into a strange bedroom in the middle of the night looking for all he knew like a burglar, or a murderer who couldn't make up his mind about his weapon.
Then he saw her sitting on the floor on the other side of the bed almost in the corner, her back up against the wall, her head bowed. Her harsh blue-black hair was stuck to her round face, her dark eyes were downcast, and under her bright reddish-orange lipstick--it seemed freshly applied, the brightest thing in the place except for the boxer shorts--her lips looked swollen. Over a pajama top and full tight dungarees, she wore her open nurse-receptionist's white coat, Rosemarie embroidered on the pocket in script.
As she made no sign of being aware of Dan's presence, he walked quickly toward her around the foot of the bed. There on the floor, covered to his neck with a bedspread, lay his father, his head cradled in her lap; she was caressing his face. Dan shone his light on the pale blue shiny acetate fabric of the bedspread, as if it were the center of the scene.
He knelt and felt for his father's pulse at his cool throat and at his wrist, which seemed warm. Had she been holding it? Dan shone his flashlight at his father's pupils, which were fixed and not responsive to light. Although it made no sense, he yanked off the bedspread and, looking away from his father's lax glistening penis curved on the dark scrotum, hauled him away from her. Dan quickly extricated his father's arms from his undershirt, which was on inside-out with the label in front, and pulled the shirt off over his father’s head. Then with his hands joined in a fist, Dan smashed down as hard as he could at the midpoint of his father's chest. He banged down twice more and thought he heard or felt a rib crack. He pressed his ear very tightly against the cool chest wall. He could hear his own blood racing in his ear as if he were listening to a sea shell. He banged again and again and again and stopped only when Rosemarie threw her arms around his father's chest. Dan pushed her away roughly and listened. The empty shell.
He turned his penlight off. He drew the bedspread back up. Dan shut his father’s eyes and closed his own and sat outside the arc of light thrown by the small bedside lamp and heard himself say the first line of the Schma, all he knew: Schma Yisroel Adonai Elohenu Adonai Echad. Hear O Israel the Lord our God the Lord is One. He was surprised and moved to hear himself say it because he didn't believe in God.
After a moment Dan opened his eyes and turned the penlight on again and shone the light on the slack skin of his father's neck, on his prominent cheekbones. Tartar cheekbones. Where had they come from? Dan would never know. One of his father's eyes was narrower than the other, as if he had been punched, and the tissues had begun to swell. Dan shone the light on Rosemarie's "peasant face,” his mother had once called it, to his father's annoyance. Had she suspected? "Pleasant face," his father had corrected her. It was a pleasant face still, despite the sag at the chin: all the features were full, soft, rounded, even the lines at the corners of her eyes and mouth curved upwards. Dan saw now that her lower lip was indeed swollen, bruised.
She covered her mouth with her hand and then moved it to shade her eyes from his light.
He shifted the beam back to his father's narrowed eye. There was a cluster of broken blood vessels on his father's right cheek.
Dan sat down on the bed, his eyes intent on her face.
After a while she said, continuing to look down at his father, "We were--” She touched her fingertips together and bounced them against each other several times and then clasped her hands shut. "Well, he came by around twelve, like always. We drank some beer. Ali's asleep downstairs, so we never sit there long--usually just till your father unwinds. We watched maybe fifteen minutes of TV. An old movie." She paused for a moment and twirled two fingers back and forth around each other as if they were dancing. "Gigi," she finally got out, "with Leslie Caron," and almost smiled as if she were happy to retrieve anything at all.
Usually. Always. Never. The words sounded strange to him, foreign. Although she spoke softly, they boomed ominously, battering rams.
"We--came--up here. He was edgy because he'd missed a diagnosis of AIDS in an infant. Not that it made a practical difference, someone else caught it, but he felt humiliated. Then he talked about a business idea he had high hopes for, and I talked about the trouble my boy's been having at school. He said he'd get Ali some tutoring--" She began to cry, her shoulders hunched in the white coat. She covered her mouth with her hand and rocked back and forth. After a while she leaned over the dead man and dried her eyes with the bedspread.
"We--we--” Again she opposed her fingertips and bounced them off each other. "I wasn't looking at him with the idea of any health problem, and he was going along--waiting--" She smiled at the dead man tenderly. Dan's hot face heated up further. “He even started telling me this joke about the Germans starting a sex school during the Second World War. For making babies. And they had a graduating class and they were asking the girls who they wanted to father their kids…” She stopped speaking, looking perplexed as if she couldn't understand what she was doing telling Dan a joke. "Suddenly your father opened his mouth wide--" She opened her mouth."--and made high yipping noises and choking sounds, and his eyes were tearing--" She shut her eyes tight. "--and I thought, like an idiot, he's really into this joke. `Shhh, shhh,' I say. `Ali's sleeping.'" She looked apprehensively at the door now as if she expected to see her son there any minute. "Of course your father couldn't hear me. His eyes rolled up--" She raised hers as far up as she could. "--and he started thrashing around on top of me, arms going, head banging. It was a big fit, a seizure. I couldn't move. I thought, he'll break my nose if he doesn't fracture my skull! It didn't last long. Like he didn't really mean to hurt me."
She began to cry again and buried her face in his father's chest. Dan felt an urge to lift her up—whether to comfort her, or to get her off his father, he wasn't sure. But she sat up by herself, her hands still on his father's chest, her fingers rolling and unrolling his gray chest hairs as she spoke. "I tried to slide him onto the floor. He's a big man, your father." She smiled proudly. "I think his face got banged up in that convulsion, or when I pushed him off the bed to do CPR, and his elbow--" Rosemarie lifted his arm up gently to examine the elbow but then stopped and laid it dully down.
"He had an airway so I pounded on his chest and breathed for him. I went on for a good twenty minutes." She picked up his father's wrist and looked at his watch.
"Afterwards I sponged him down." She inclined her head toward a pink plastic bowl of washcloths and soapy water on the floor under the window. Beside it was a box of Ivory Flakes and he realized that she wanted him to know that she had changed the sheets before Dan arrived and “aired” everything out--next to the box of soap stood a can that looked like air spray, which probably accounted for the sweet chemical odor in the room--and she had combed his thin hair and tried to dress him.
Dan looked at her crying quietly. She covered his father again with the bedspread and was sitting just as she had been when Dan entered the room, her back against the wall, her head inclined toward his father's head in her lap, her fingers feeling their way over his dark face. And Dan realized he felt completely strange before this woman, who was grieving for his father whom she had loved, it seemed, and who had perhaps loved her, for years.
He thought again of touching her shoulder. He thought of telling her the rest of that joke. He thought of helping her off with her receptionist's coat and her tight dungarees and getting into her where his father had just been warm and alive. (Had he come, the poor bastard? No, he’d apparently missed out, but only that last once.) Should he slap this woman around out of respect for his mother? He’d never slapped anyone around, let alone a woman.
Holding his penlight, his eyes dry and gritty, Dan sat motionless on the bed.
They dressed his father, Rosemarie pulling his undershirt down over his head and shoulders while Dan hoisted up the dead man's heavy chest at the armpits. He was repelled at touching his father's buttocks, at grazing his sparse gray pubic hair with his hand as he helped her shimmy up the red boxers. They spent a quarter of an hour lifting and rolling his father's dead weight into his cotton slacks and the maroon knit shirt with the alligator on the pocket. Rosemarie couldn't find his socks. Although she said she had extras, Dan was afraid to change anything. (Just how much clothing had his father kept here? Besides being in each other’s company all day at the office, had they gone out evenings, gone dancing? What did they do, whatever did they do?) He looked under the bed with his penlight for the socks (only dust there), looked in the disordered bathroom (open lipstick containers and soiled cotton puffs on the counter), and in the stuffed hamper. Finally they just put his father’s sandals on his bare feet.
Then they moved slowly, jerkily, down the stairs, Rosemarie walking backwards holding the feet, Dan holding the torso at the armpits, feeling the weight in his lower back, at the same place he felt it when he bent over to do a pelvic or pull out a kid. He had the strange thought that he was really helping carry a chest of drawers, or a couch, and he should have hired movers. Had Dan renewed his disability coverage? This could lay him up for weeks.
Did his father have any life insurance, had he left anything for his mother? Pediatricians were the worst-paid doctors, right down there with psychiatrists. And his father was an improvident type, had been involved in one bad business scheme after another--once Dan’s mother’s piano had been carted off, supposedly to pay debts (it was back in the living room by the end of the week), and another time his father almost lost the house. Circumstances of death the only thing he had in common with Rockefeller.
In the dark, one of his father's arms made a dull wooden sound as it collided with the banister. Dan signaled to Rosemarie. While he leaned against the banister listening to her son's even breathing below, listening to their own harsher sounds, and at the same time trying to figure out how in God’s name he might earn a few extra thousand bucks a month for his mother (Dan almost groaned aloud), he watched Rosemarie set his father’s legs down carefully on the steps, then try to fold the arms up on the chest. But they were unyielding, two poles.
Still no sound from his father.
Suddenly on the dark stairway, Dan was gasping for air. He was in a body bag, they had zipped him by mistake into one of those black vinyl bags morticians brought to the hospital to carry off “remains.” He wanted to shout out that he was alive, he was suffocating, he would bump and roll down the stairs…
Rosemarie whispered, “Are you all right?”
He held up one finger to indicate he needed a minute, then sat down on the stairs, holding his father’s head in his lap, and forced himself to take slow shallow breaths, build up some carbon dioxide in his blood stream. He was breathing like a tornado, hyperventilating. He mustn’t faint, mustn’t leave her alone.
After a few moments he felt less woozy, although mildly ashamed of himself. Slowly they got the body down the stairs, through the kitchen where Dan noticed again the picture postcards tacked haphazardly to the fake wood paneling. He suddenly wondered if they could be from places his father and Rosemarie had visited together--his father had been attending a lot of professional meetings lately. Dan remembered receiving a postcard of a silver beach in Acapulco, was that where the Pediatric Association had held its meeting? He had considered going (there were some neonatal talks, if he had the right meeting) but his father had dissuaded him. Dan couldn’t think about it now….
They carried the body out the back door, down the steps, and pushing and pulling and yanking, hiked it onto the front seat of Dan's car. Dan sat rigid behind the wheel. If he was rigid, he couldn’t faint, right? Rosemarie was in the passenger seat by the window, his father in a sort-of sitting position between them, legs nearly straight out, rear end at the edge of the seat. Dan kept an arm like a strap across the dead man's chest. Rosemarie got his father’s head close to her shoulder, as if he were asleep or drunk. She held his father's hand.
Although Dan wanted to floor the accelerator, he drove slowly through the deserted side-streets, careful to stop at every corner. Rosemarie and he did not speak. They passed a police car parked beside the golf course, a policeman in the front seat with a bleached-blonde whose hair seemed to be burning in the dark. They were smoking and they paid no attention to Dan, who proceeded slowly.
I am in bed asleep beside my sleeping wife.
His wife would think he'd been drugged, and maybe he had, because otherwise what was he doing out here in the middle of the mad night slithering past the orthodontist’s office where he’d had his braces applied as a boy; past the squat candy--now video--store behind which Dan and two buddies had smoked their first cigarettes ("They're for my father," Dan, who'd been delegated to buy the pack, had offered unasked, pronouncing them Pell Mells, as in the old television commercial); past the turreted junior high school with its black playing fields and tennis courts where Dan had won--unseen by his father who had been suturing a boy's torn lip, or so he'd said--the Under-Fifteen Rough Riders' Tennis Tournament.
Had his father been carrying on with Rosemarie way back then? No, impossible, Rosemarie had been only a little girl herself. But had there been others? For God’s sake, was that boy, that Ali his half-brother? No, no. Rosemarie had been married to a male nurse and had a child, this child, and later gotten a divorce. Dan was almost sure. Besides, she’d said “my boy.” Well, what was she supposed to say?
Had his mother kept her eyes deliberately shut? She'd fought a deep-freeze war with his father all her life, and this escalation, if known to her, would have atomized the marriage. Besides, his mother would never have stood for his father having any pleasure.
Dousing his headlights, Dan pulled onto the noisy gravel driveway, then watched Rosemarie's largish--voluptuous?--can sway in the white coat as she made her way to the rear door of the flagstone house that had served as his father's office. Zaftig, his father had called her without Dan's picking up on anything: his father was always commenting on women's bodies--TV actresses', waitresses', store clerks', passers'by.
As he watched Rosemarie lean over the lock, he wondered what there had been between her and his father besides the old in-and-out: Camaraderie? Passion? Love? What went on between a man and a woman who was twenty years younger? If his father had wanted Dan to know, he would have told him himself. Or maybe he had tried to tell Dan, and Dan had failed to decipher the code. As he watched Rosemarie now returning to the car, her layers of clothes sticking to her so that every curvy curve was thrown into bold white relief, Dan remembered his father once mentioning that his nurse sweated like a basketball player.
Dan got out of the car, and Rosemarie and he carried the body across the driveway, barely managing to keep it above the gravel. How could it be so hot at three-thirty in the morning? How unreal, how numb he felt! His thoughts seemed to be occurring at a certain physical distance from his head, as if they weren't his or were stillborn at the moment he thought them. Suddenly he felt terrified he would drop to his knees holding his father and howl. And howl and howl. Without giving any warning, he began to walk faster, almost to run, and Rosemarie nearly fell. “Sorry, sorry,” he whispered.
Inside they hoisted the body onto a child-size gurney, which they wheeled through the dark storage room, Dan training the beam of his small light in front of Rosemarie who moved cartons of supplies and stacks of records out of their way. One of his father's feet pointed uncomfortably close to Dan's crotch. They proceeded past the examining rooms, into his father's office where the facade of the Basilica of San Marco glittered from the surface of his desk. (His father’d bought that garish desk in Venice maybe five years ago. Hadn’t there been a symposium in Venice, hadn’t Dan gotten a post card?) Dan eased his father into his leather chair, Rosemarie guiding the head carefully down onto the shining desktop.
Her own head slumped over as if she were mirroring the dead man. "Do you think if we hadn't been--Do you think if we'd stayed watching television--this wouldn't have happened?"
Although he had wondered himself, he smiled uncomfortably, "People can get pretty excited watching television." To stop smiling (although she probably couldn’t see his face), he frowned. "He must have thrown an embolus into his brain, or he ruptured a major vessel."
"You think so?" Her head rose a bit.
"Well, I've seen two sudden deaths from emboli--an amniotic fluid embolus in one case, but it should work the same way." By its whiteness Dan found a lab coat in his father's closet and took it off the hanger. "In the other patient, there was a seizure first, and I think on autopsy"--he couldn't believe he was giving a case conference--"on autopsy they either found an embolus in her brain or they hypothesized that that's where the clot must have gone...." Aiming his small light at his father and laying it on the desk, he began pushing one of his father's cool hands into the sleeve of the lab coat. While he whispered professorially at her (he was whispering, wasn’t he, not howling?), he imagined himself at a blackboard anxiously drawing a crude diagram of the blood supply to the brain. There were the two internal carotid arteries and the two vertebrals joining in some way to form the Circle of Willis. What was the way? Dan fed the shoulder in as he threaded his father's stiffened hand down out the sleeve.
"Do you think if I'd injected epinephrine directly into the heart? I mean, if I'd had it in the house."
"You wouldn't have done him any favor. He must have suffered massive brain damage."
"You think so?" Rosemarie asked almost eagerly, turning fully towards Dan, who was working the other shoulder into the coat. "What are you doing?" She sounded as if she had just now noticed.
"We want the police to think he came in because he was worried about some patient, maybe that baby with AIDS. He looked at some slides. He sat down at his desk. He dropped dead. Where does he keep the slides? Still in the kitchen?"
"What do you need the lab coat for?"
Dan shrugged his shoulders. "You look at slides, you wear a lab coat."
"Sam was hardly a stickler for details."
"What do you need yours for?"
She looked at her white coat and the pajama top beneath it. He imagined her flushing.
"It'll authenticate the story," he said, although he was not sure what story he was authenticating. As he got the other arm through, he blurted out, "Does my mother know?"
"I don't think so. I don't think they talk enough for her to know anything." Rosemarie sounded bitter, as if she were personally affronted by the relationship between his parents.
"It was kind of you to call me." After all, why should she spare his mother? So kind of you to call. Where had that pleasantry come from? Was he condescending? Maybe it was a class distinction he was drawing. His mother's son. It suddenly occurred to him, as if he were a young child, that that was all he was now, his mother’s son; he had an impulse to go down on his knees and embrace his father’s ankles and not let go.
"I was thinking about Ali, about his waking up with Sam dead there, the police. He was very fond of your father.” Her voice wavered. “Do you know they played baseball together? Your dad took him to a few Yankees’ games."
He never took me to any Yankees' games.
Embarrassed as if she could read his mind, he quickly said, "Look, we need some kind of story for the police. In case my mother doesn't know. I could say he was in the office working late and he called me because he felt acutely ill and I drove out and found him."
In the dark Dan raised his own objections: "They'll ask why didn't I call 911, or the ambulance or whoever you call out here..." He looked at Rosemarie: "Why didn't you call 911?"
"I’m 911," she said. "I go out with the ambulance."
A low farting noise sounded from the body. Dan picked up his father's wrist and felt for a pulse. The sound erupted again, a gurgle, and a dark stain began to spread from the seat of his father's pants, down one leg, and onto the industrial gray carpet. He wanted to throw a cover, some kind of shield over his father. In the dark his father's forehead seemed ash-colored, his elbow was gashed, and the back of his maroon shirt was torn and dirty beneath the lab coat. Although he knew the provenance of every bruise, and that he himself must have gashed his father’s elbow when he dragged him across the driveway, Dan found himself wondering why he had accepted this woman's story so readily. Someone walking in might think the two had rolled and killed the old man. Rolled him for his debts. Probably left a mountain of them. "He looks like a murdered derelict."
Rosemarie began to wail.
He rose on tiptoe, moved his finger stupidly to his lips lest he wail himself. He tried not to imagine the tears coursing down her face, wetting her white coat.
"There must be another shirt around." He began rifling through his father's desk drawers pointing the flashlight.
"Leave him alone, it's enough." Still crying, she started for the door.
"We have to have a story for the police." He felt like a determined lunatic. Having found a wrinkled short-sleeved cotton shirt in a drawer, he tried to pull the maroon shirt up over his father's head. Papers fell off the desk and onto the floor.
"I'm going home. Maybe my boy is awake."
Dan grabbed her wrist. With his other hand he stood holding the short-sleeved shirt.
She said simply, "I'll tell the police not to say anything to your mother, if that's what your worry is."
"Don't they have to write the circumstances and the place on the death certificate?" He remembered that much, although he rarely wrote death certificates.
"She's not going to ask for the death certificate."
He would subsequently find out you had to ask for many death certificates.
"Look, everyone knows me. The police, the undertaker--Buddy Lerner's the undertaker. I’ve known him since fourth grade. I'll ask him to do me a favor."
Just like that? Dan had to figure this out. "It'll take only a few minutes to change his shirt--" Who was Dan kidding? "--and wash his face."
"Let go of me, I want to go home.”
Surprised that he was still holding onto her wrist, and also, it seemed, to her waist, to her warm flesh, of course he released her.
“I can clean him up in the morning,” she continued. “I'll find him in the morning when I come in to work and I'll tell everyone he must have had a stroke.”
"And a seizure. And you tried to resuscitate him. Banged him up more.”
“Okay. The truth. A seizure and a stroke.”
“But you have to have his car here. You can't have his body here and his car at your place." Was he writing a mystery story?
She nodded. "I'll drive it over in the morning. Let go of me."
He thought he had. He moved several steps away from her to make sure he was letting her go. "But what about your car? How will they think you got to work?"
She felt through his father's pants pockets and slapped the keys into Dan's hand.
He drove her home. When she got out of the car and walked up the dark steps to her house, he felt unspeakably lonely.
He found his father's leased red Jaguar parked two blocks from her house. The car was a beacon, a torch, he would be stopped by the police--he felt a spurt of fear which momentarily overcame his loneliness as he drove the car to the office and left it in the driveway.
It was an hour’s walk back to Rosemarie's. He walked briskly along the finally cooling suburban streets, the white flowering dogwoods lit up ghostly in the graying dark, past the golf course, the green smell of black grass. He had a sudden memory of prairies, of a childhood vacation out West. It was one of the few vacations his busy father had been able to take--he was always at the hospital, making house calls, talking on the phone to other doctors…. Dan had spent his childhood yearning for his father. His mother had stayed in the hotel the afternoon he and his father had visited the thousands-of-feet-high ruined dwellings of the Anasazi Indians. Standing holding his father’s big hand at the edge of the cliff with the bright blue cloudless sky and orange sun above them, he’d had the commonplace thought that if they made one misstep, his beloved father and he would fall to their deaths together. It had been an awful, but thrilling thought.
And now his father had died alone. No, not alone. Without him. With another.
He heard the sounds of hundreds of frogs from the golf course. He heard his footsteps. Although he was exhausted, he knew he could not sleep. He wondered was anyone lying awake in the houses he passed, was anyone listening to his footsteps, watching him through a window? He wondered how it could be that his eyes were as dry as if the tear ducts had been cut out of them, and he was walking along a street at five-thirty in the morning wondering if anyone was hearing him, if anyone was watching him. Was his father watching him?
Back at his own car, for an instant he imagined himself running up the stairs and embracing Rosemarie, holding tight to her in a sudden flash of sunlight forever. But he saw the two-wheel bicycle on her front lawn and how dark, how dark her house was, and he drove away.