Commodore – A Novel

A novel portraying the extraordinary life of Cornelius Vanderbilt

After Lisa Chapter 5 and 6

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Chapter 5

 

A week later. They’ve been to the hospital again. Maria has bumped it up to still another level. Standing on the swing, she holds on to the ropes and momentarily lifts her body into the air as she flies back and forth. Each time she returns to earth she is bracing herself trying to extend her time in the air. She saw a trapeze artist at the Big Apple circus and vowed she would one day match her miracles.   Deborah erupted when Lisa did similar experiments. She grabbed her and let her have it.

  That didn’t stop Lisa from trying to do tricks again. Deborah blamed Michael for encouraging her wildness, which is fair enough. Lisa’s stunts gave him a kick. He’s done the same thing with Ritchie, despite promising Deborah he would try to get them to be more careful.

Deborah looks out the window as she speaks. Despite her fear when Lisa was trying similar maneuvers, seeing Maria succeed again and again is elevating her spirits. She has stopped picturing a calamity. Gathering her courage she goes forward.

“Joanne cousin had a lymphoma. Everyone said nothing could be done… Shark cartilage. I know you think it’s crazy, but it worked. Sharks are all cartilage. They don’t get cancer. They’ve used it in China for thousands of years. Joanne’s said it cured her cousin.”

Michael’s face tightens. Joanne cuts Deborah’s hair so they get to talk at length. Joanne’s place is a lot different than the beauty parlor his mother used to go to weekly.   She has an acupuncturist and a Yoga instructor. There is talk of a spa. She sells facial creams containing natural herbs. Deborah claims the creams work wonders. She doesn’t only do Deborah’s hair. She massages her scalp helping her to relax. Since the women’s movement places like this have gained a legitimacy about health issues that would have been unimaginable in his mother’s era of beauticians.

From Michael’s point of view Joanne presents a problem. She is mellow and soft spoken with a smile and an aura of understanding that hints she knows the secrets of the universe. In her very marrow she believes she knows what is healthy and unhealthy. She is the very opposite of Michael in style. He knows a lot more than her about these things. She never went to college. He was an outstanding student with genuine curiosity and questions about practically everything. Which is the reason Joanne is winning the war for Deborah’s mind. Her confidence, her knowing things, contrasts with Michael’s continuous questions. Deborah’s confidence in Joanne’s understanding drives him wild. He has looked over some of the brochures that Deborah’s brought home. They are nonsense.

Unfortunately, not only Joanne but Deborah’s friend Laura is also into organic foods, and on the face of it, she doesn’t seem very crazy. No ax to grind.  Deborah has several other acquaintances who are in the same camp. Health food is no longer a cult for the crazies like Macrobiotics was in the 60’s. There are too many mainstream true believers. On the talk shows that Deborah watches similar information is repeated again and again by celebrity after celebrity, all with relaxed confidence that they know what they are talking about.   

Healthy foods, unprocessed food; at first pass that kind of makes sense. But the amount of misinformation being broadcast in the mainstream media about food drives him nuts. Michael’s mother had her chicken soup as a remedy for sniffles, and honey and lemon juice for a cough. She knew however that these were bubameinsas that she got from her mother, and her mother got from her mother.  She knew that her children should drink plenty of milk, and eat their vegetables, and fish was good for the brain. She also knew that she didn’t know very much about scientific subjects. Nothing, in fact. That doesn’t mean she adopted an I am a dodo persona. Not a hint of Lucy or Gracie Allen. She expected to be taken seriously but in science it would have been apt for her to be classified as stupid. His mother didn’t know how to change the channel on the TV nor did she care to learn.

“You want Lisa to take shark cartilage?”

“Michael, It’s natural.”

Michael erupts when he hears that word. He has gone over this subject in his mind again and again. Every time he reads or hears someone refer to “natural” as validation of a product, he comes up with a thousand counter arguments, which he assumes should be the end of the debate. It never is.   This is the perfect opportunity to unleash his full battery of thoughts as he has organized it in his mind

“Deborah I love nature … I love the Grand Canyon. I love that stream we discovered upstate, forming as it flows down from the rocks. I don’t think people have ever gone near that area. Unspoiled nature turns me on. I agree with you. It is sacred. That place we went to in the mountains, the clouds lit up by the sunset. Going there in autumn, the trees’ foliage blending their colors, miles and miles of colors. It dwarfs Cezanne. I agree. Nature is mind boggling. No one should mess around with certain places. They are sacred. But that doesn’t mean that everything natural is safe or good. Especially when it comes to medicines.”

“There is a balance in nature. It has its own rhythms and equilibriums. We are always messing it up.

I get that, but nature’s equilibriums are not sacrosanct. You know Manhattan was full of swamps. Living there in the summer meant being in a smelly, clammy, damp, rotting environment. Yellow Fever could hit anytime. Washington DC was even worse. Guess what? They drained the swamps.

They tampered with the wetlands. If some birds had to be displaced? Fuck ‘em. I don’t doubt some may have died when they lost their swamps. No argument. Except now we have New York City and Washington D.C.”

“ Yeah that’s great. We’ve paved over the whole island with concrete. It’s really great. The subways in the summer are worse than swamps.”

“Not since they put in air conditioning. D.C, New York we have two vibrant centers of human activity. I’ll take that over a swamp…Nature is just what it is. it is good, it is bad. It can be very good. It also can be very bad.”

There he goes again, lecturing. Deborah walks over to the kitchen table. Conspicuously ignoring Michael she starts opening envelopes and studying the bills.

That makes Michael’s voice go up several decibels.

“Bubonic plague is natural. So is smallpox. That killed 300 million people.”

“Michael-”

“They mine asbestos. It is a natural product buried under the earth. Poisonous mushrooms, mosquitos carrying malaria…”

“I get the point.”

That doesn’t stop him.

“Mold, fungal diseases, if we go the way of nature we will have very few roses. Nature does its best to keep them from being plentiful. Black spot, aphids, mites. That’s nature’s gift to us.”

Michael gathers still more gusto.   In his mind, scoring point after point is supposed to win her agreement. It never does.

“Roses represent a victory over nature. Same for the Polio vaccine.”

Deborah irritation is clear, but he takes that as a sign that she doesn’t yet grasp the essentials of what he is saying. That makes him pile on still more examples for his argument.

“Cholesterol plaques build up in your arteries. If they get too clogged you die. That’s how nature arranged things in our body. Guess what. We’ve chosen to defy nature. According to Joanne’s brochure, Lipitor is a nasty chemical, wholly synthetic, a disturbance of the natural balance in your body.

Yes Lipitor has some side effects. Yes it changes some of your body’s equilibriums. It is an unnatural chemical doing unnatural things. But it happens to have saved the lives of, I don’t know what the number is, but I’ll bet it is hundreds of millions of people. This artificial chemical is a miracle as great as anything nature serves up.”

“Michael-“

“When I was growing up, three of my friends’ dads died in their 40’s of a heart attack. Have you noticed that just isn’t happening any more? Lipitor!”

“Foods without preservatives are natural. Nature’s true purpose for once living things is for them to spoil and rot. Entropy is the final state of nature. So over hundreds of years people fought back. They salted food, smoked it, pickled it, peppered it. froze it. You know they can’t grow food in the winter. They have to have a way to store it. So they’ve found chemicals that act as preservatives in tiny amounts. Spoiled food once killed tens of thousands of people before they added those unnatural processed chemicals, the preservatives that Joanne’s brochures carry on about.”

“Okay Michael, Okay, Okay. This is just what I need, you ranting and raving. You’re like a bull dog.”

“You don’t want to hear it? Don’t get me started with that kind of bullshit. Natural.” He unsuccessfully hunts for one of the brochures she brought home from Joannes. He finds it, but before he can open it, and read some silly quotes that he’s underlined, Deborah cuts him off

“It’s not just the brochures. I’ve read articles, a lot of articles. Plenty of people believe in natural foods..”

“ I don’t care if 99% of people buy into it. Debbie. You’re not stupid. Use your brain instead of going along with everyone. What they are saying simply doesn’t make sense. What counts is whether something makes sense. Whether something is natural or not has nothing to do with the facts about it.

“You’re so narrow minded. If it’s not Western thinking…”

“Deborah, think about what they’re saying. My mother would have never claimed she knew more than doctors, She knew her chicken soup worked and that was the end of it. He doesn’t like the look on her face. “Oh right. My mother’s not liberated?”

“You said it. I didn’t.”

“Thank God she isn’t.  Let me tell you. My mother had a good mind. Still does. She can sort out bullshit better than either one of us. She knows how smart she is. She doesn’t buy into this women know better than men bullshit.   She never thought men were smarter than women. Well maybe her father. She thought he was brilliant, how he spoke with a thick accent, quit elementary school in Russia to come here, but he could do her advanced math problems in Hunter High, like a whiz.

“Okay. Your mother’s not an idiot. She has a mind of her own.”

“Deborah You’re not stupid but you are too taken by what other people say. I know Joanne is cool, and the people on Oprah are cool but they know shit about health and medical treatment. They’re like you, all liberal artsy in college. Science was for nerds. Those brochures you bring home? If you had ever taken a science course and taken it seriously, a course in anything, you would have read the first paragraph in that brochure and thrown it away.”

She raises her voice louder than him, “Can we stop? Michael we were talking about Lisa. Not politics. This is about Lisa. I know you need to talk about stuff that you think about. But… Why do you need to get so angry?“

He doesn’t know why, but he agrees that he’s gotten carried away once again. He should have been a teacher. So he could lecture all day long and get it out of his system. It would have been easier on her. Lately he’s been lecturing more than ever. She knows he is a gifted teacher, but she no longer wants to be his student. Hasn’t for ten years.

The room is quiet for the first time in a while.

“You want to give her shark cartilage, give her shark cartilage.” His tone is remorseful.

“I don’t really care.”

“But it stops there,” he adds emphatically. “Shark cartilage. That’s it! We’re not going to replace real treatment with any of that.”      

Pleased, Deborah drifts back to the window.   She’s thinking about where she can buy shark cartilage.


 

Chapter 6

 

Deborah tunes out the noise from the Jets game. There is a time-out. Michael is caught up with the analysts offering theories about what they are doing right and what they are screwing up. Deborah’s eyes return to Maria in the park. She remembers her as a pipsqueak, quick to cry if she didn’t get her way. But now she is a new person. Except Maria’s antics have stopped working as a distraction. Billy’s scream and the doctor’s shouting is still running through Deborah’s mind. She returns from the window. She addresses Michael. “I’m not going to let them torture Lisa.”

Torture?  Deborah come on.” She stares back defiantly. “Torture?” he repeats in a sarcastic tone.

She is unaffected. Lately she has gotten used to his counterassaults. He fumbles with the remote control, turns the sound back on, then turns it off. Then on. The Jets are behind by two points.

 “Yes torture!” she repeats unapologetically. He can only half hear her. Once again he turns the TV off then puts it back on with the sound muted.  

“They’re not going to torture Lisa” Deborah states with growing insistence.

“Come on,”

“God only knows what they were doing to Billy last week. I swear. They get off on it. The needles they stick into Lisa to start an I.V. are nothing compared to when they can’t find a vein. Last week, the interns were all happy and excited that Dr. Peppard was going to show them how he does a cut-down. No one could find a vein. He took out a scalpel and just like that cut into Lisa’s arm looking for one. Peppard sounded like an Eagle scout, out in the forest showing a Boy Scout how to carve a stick. They were having a good time. They just had to keep their voices sounding like doctors.

Michael is upset, picturing what it must have been for Lisa.

“Some of the interns are nice. They make friends with Lisa, explain what they plan to do to her. The guys doing the cut-down were not from that group.”

Without hesitation she continues. “They make her swallow awful tasting syrups. I gag when I watch her.”

“Yesterday she had to swallow a plastic tube. She has trouble with pills. A plastic tube? She almost vomited… twice.”

Deborah takes a deep breath. Michael sees a tear forming. He takes her hand. He gently strokes it.

“You have a problem with Joanne? I want to know where doctors come up with what they do to the patients. Tell me. What stupid person dreams up the procedures they do to her?”

“Those stupid people are Harvard trained.”

“Oh Harvard. Mr. Harvard. There are fewer sadists at Harvard. Right? People are really nice there, soft spoken, nice, no bubermeisters.

She takes a breath then continues. “Did it ever occur to you that maybe all that bookishness makes for better ways to torture children? They finally get to do something besides read.”

He says nothing. He knows where this is heading.

  “Leopold and Loeb. Turned on by Dostoyevsky. Brilliant. The two of them bored out of their minds.   City boys, bookworms, wanting adventure.”

“I don’t want to talk about Leopold and Loeb again.”

“The trick was finding someone weak enough to bully. They figured it out. A baby!   A baby. Those bastards killed a baby!”

She waits for a moment before continuing, “I just wonder about child cancer doctors. There has to be something wrong with someone who doesn’t mind seeing children in pain, someone who has no trouble doing those procedures. Doing them every day, year after year.”

They don’t do them after a few years. That’s for the interns. They are busy trying to beat the cancer.”

“I’m telling you. They’re bored book people. This is their form of excitement.”

 “Dr. Clark doesn’t have time to get bored.”

  She continues. “You think being smart makes people nicer.” She looks him straight in the eye. “It just makes for better bullshit.”

She’s said all of this before. Often. He’s always tolerated it. At first it got to him. It doesn’t any longer. Repetition has dulled its sharp edges. But you never know what Deborah might come up with. He waits for what is coming next.

The phone rings. It is Michael’s mother. They both get on.

“How are the two of you holding up?”

“We’re okay.”

“Anything new?”

“Not really.”

She can hear from their voices that she is interrupting them.

“Is this a bad time?”

“Well…”

“Put Ritchie on. His birthday is coming up isn’t it? Any ideas?”

Both of them are miffed with themselves for forgetting his birthday.

“No real ideas. …Maybe a video game?”

“Which one?”

“I don’t know?”

“Okay, just put him on.”

Michael screams down the hall to Ritchie.

 “Pick it up…It’s Grandma.”

“Hi Grandma.”

“Someone told me you have a birthday coming. Are you going to have a party?”

“No.”

“Your Mom didn’t say anything?”

“No.”

“What video games are you playing now?”

“ Duke Nukem.”

“That’s your favorite?”

“I’m at level 3.”

“So you’re good at it?”

“Well…”

“Is there a new one coming out?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Find out. It’s getting harder to find presents for you. Duke and Nukem?”

“ No just Duke Nukem.”

“Okay. I’ve written it down. How’s school?”

“Okay.”

“Keeping up with your homework?”

“Yes.”

“Getting good grades? You’ve got your father’s brains. Don’t waste what God has given you.”

He doesn’t answer.

“You and Lisa getting along?”

“She’s still in the hospital?“

“I know honey. Will you give her a kiss for me?”

“Yes…”

“Okay. I’m getting off. Duke and Nukem?

“No just Duke Nukem.”

They get off. Deborah doesn’t waste a moment to get started again.

“You think Billy’s a cry baby don’t you?”

“I was wrong about Billy okay. I admit it. Last week I saw him.   They barely touched him and he was screaming.”

“You called him a wuss. Do you know what he’s been through?”

“I was pissed, okay? I took it out on him. I’m not allowed to get pissed?”

“You said it loud enough for his mother to hear you.”

“You really think she could hear me?”

  “Are you kidding? Billy heard it too.”

His face drops. “I’m sorry. I just lost it.”

Deborah knows Michael is telling the truth. She believes Michael is sorry, but she can’t bring herself to forgive him.

“I was wrong,” he repeats. “Okay?”

It is not okay and won’t be. She talks about Billy all the time. The other patients on the ward and their families have become family to her. They are the only ones that understand.

He knows how important they are to Deborah, but it slips his mind. He has never felt part of it. At that moment he couldn’t stand the whimpering. No it wasn’t the whimpering. It was when Billy began to scream.

She stares at him waiting.

“What do you want me to say? I know Billy’s been through hell. I was wrong. I can’t take it back.”

She continues to stare at him coldly.

“We’re talking about a lymphoma. Dr. Clark knows what he is doing.”

“It’s not whether she’s going to lose control of herself. I know she won’t. They’re not going to break her. She can put up with anything they throw at her. Anything.   Lisa is not Billy.”

“So you understand what I was saying?”

“I understand nothing.”

“They are not trying to break her.”

“Oh no?”

He would like to grab her. Shake some sense into her head.

“Lisa is better than Billy at putting up with pain. She can withstand a lot. I just can’t stand her having to put up with the pain. I don’t care if she shows it. It’s feeling it. When she hurts I hurt. I can’t help it. You don’t think I’d like to be like you, feel nothing.”

“I feel something. Just not like you.”

“It’s okay. You’re a guy. If you felt as much as a women, you’d be one.”

“You mean gay?”

“Not necessarily”

It’s not what she is saying as much as her measured tone, like his mother would get when he was in trouble with her.

His tone becomes calmer.

“Do you really believe that the doctors want to give the children pain?”

“You’re right. Most don’t. You can’t do your job if you get caught up with your patients?”

“So you can understand that?”

“I’m sure they probably have to do most of what they do. But some of it…. I swear!   One day they are going to do one thing, which they tell me is critical. Then they change their mind and don’t do it. Or they do something else instead. They’re in the dark and they are chopping away at my daughter.”

“There’s nothing wrong with changing plans. It means they are thinking things over, not just following a cookbook.”

Michael continues. “I hated when they were following protocols. Everything preordained. The doctor’s decision-making totally shut down.”

“But they knew what they were doing.“

“They didn’t know anything. They were just following a protocol.”

“Michael, the protocols meant they knew what they were doing.”

 “They knew all right.” He says with deep sarcasm.

  That shuts  both of them down.

  “The good old days,” he says morosely.

She speaks slowly. “So what are we going to do? Lately they really don’t know what they are doing. Half of it is just to do something. Anything”.

“Well, I…”

Every one of those procedures hurts Lisa.”

“Maybe, but they’re trying. It is better than nothing.”

“It’s vanity. They’re just trying to impress everyone that they are a great doctor.”

“Deborah. Come on… Maybe Dr. Fabian’s like that. But not Clark. He usually talks to me about what he’s planning. He reads somewhere about a procedure.   He goes over it with me. We both agree. If might help, why not?

“Why doesn’t he talk to me? Is this a man thing?“

“There is no way you can hear him out when he’s talking about the pluses and minuses of a procedure. You go bonkers.”

“Maybe it’s something else. Have you looked at those bills? Every time they do a procedure they get paid a fortune, what you earn in a month.”

“Deborah, the money goes to the school not them.”

She is only half listening, which starts him off again, makes him speak louder.

“They’re doing their best.”

She won’t look at him.

  He glances at the TV hoping nothing has gone wrong for the Jets.

She shuts off the TV manually.  

He clicks it on with his remote.

“I hate that TV.”

“Deborah!”

“Fine. You want to watch it. But while you are off in TV land what about me?”

“Deborah. I need to unwind. it’s not about you.”

“Okay. But less… okay? Less.”

As her eyes water her anger softens. “Michael it’s just that I can’t do this alone.”

She sits down on the arm of his chair. Her tears continue. Soon his fingers begin kneading a knot at the back of her neck.

“Over here?”

“A little higher. More to the left. That’s it. You got it.”

She continues, “You’re not at the hospital during the week.”

His fingers stop.

“I have to work. We have bills. You don’t have to make everything add up. I do. It’s a disaster.”

“Still.”

   “I’m not going to apologize. I have a job. We need money.”

“ Fine, I understand. I do. I admire the way you manage to keep bill collectors away from us. I know it is not easy. But understand. You miss half of what is going on.”

“Like what? What?” he repeats.

“Everything!”

He knows and she knows she is exaggerating.

She takes his hand. “Okay, not everything.   But a lot.”

“What? Really?” He means it. At this moment his anger is gone.

“What?” he asks.

“Like Lisa’s spinal tap Tuesday.” Deborah smiles proudly like Lisa has done something big at school.

“ She had that little scared smile. Remember…at her three year-old birthday party…? The clown broke a balloon? She was startled but it was her “princess” party.   That’s what you called it. Those crinolines. She looked like a princess. She knew she was a princess.   A princess doesn’t get scared. So scared or not, she smiled.”

Michael does remember that day. It is on video. At one point during the party, she has her hands on her hips, like she is about to sing out a verse from Oklahoma. Scared, not scared. Hamming it up.

Deborah continues. “It was like she was in one of her stories.’

She loved picturing herself as someone else. Still does. Making believe she is that person. They used to talk about how she was going to be an actress.

“I don’t know who she was playing, what story she was in.”

She continues.

“Maybe it wasn’t a story. I don’t know what it was but during the spinal tap she did whatever the neurologist told her to do. No resistance…”

Deborah smiles again, “She’s a trooper. She gets that from you.” Her eyes water. She whispers Lisa’s name through tightened lips. Then she’s back.

“The neurologist asked her to lie down on her stomach.   She did. She did everything he asked.   Waited for the next direction. She had it under control. She was determined to go right along with the doctor. Florence Nightingale, a patient’s version of it.

They told her to roll on her side. She did. The nurses rubbed Betadyne on her back. They moved her higher up on the examining table. That’s when the trouble started.”

“What do you mean?”

“Her hospital gown got pulled up. Her underpants were showing. She tried to pull her gown down.

But, suddenly they were in a hurry. They had her pinned down and they weren’t going to let go. The neurologist had had enough pussy footing around. Getting it done was all he was thinking about.

Her fingers kept moving, trying to catch her gown. A nurse noticed.   She held her wrist even tighter.”

“So what did you do?”

“I was whispering into her ear, kissing her.   I could see what was going on.”

Her voice rises. “I thought nurses are supposed to know about twelve year-olds.   About her underwear showing…I swear. They aren’t really nurses. They’re doctor wannabes.”

“Some of the nurses are good. Lisa loves Barbara.”

“Barbara wasn’t there. It was that tall one with the braids, and that

other short one. I wanted to shout: “Let go of her hand. Let go of her

hand. Give her a minute.” Deborah hesitates. She’s again fighting her tears.

“I said nothing. Nothing.”

Deborah’s rubbing her wrist.

“They could have waited two seconds so she could cover up her underpants…She’s a twelve year-old girl.”

She rubs her wrist some more.

“I don’t understand why I said nothing.”

“You didn’t want to get them upset. You wanted them to have a cool head. They were going to stick something in Lisa’s spine.”

Deborah’s face hardens. “It’s not that. It’s that they’re in charge. What time we come, what time we go, what they feed her. They are just automatically in charge.”

“It’s their hospital.”

“It’s our daughter. Lisa’s ours. Michael she’s ours.” She cries for a moment.

His voice is sympathetic. “Okay fine. But Debby, Joanne’s health food stories are wacko.”

“Doctors are no better.”

“Dr. Clark studied for years, studied hard. He’s not stupid.”

“Were back to that. Good. He’s not stupid. But you know what? It doesn’t matter… Sometimes the cancer calls the shots. I just want Clark to admit it if nothing is working.”

“He’s giving it everything he’s got. Deborah. Everything”

She looks out the window.

  “If he’d slow down. Not just Clark. All of them, … In and out of the room.   Dr. Clark should stop staring at Lisa’s chart and look into her eyes.”  

   Deborah eyes water again.

    “Just once.” She wipes her eyes.

She pushes Michael’s hand away as he tries to stroke her.

Angrily she shouts “He’s gotta tell me if he can’t do anything.” She looks imploringly at Michael “He has to stop torturing Lisa. Am I asking too much?”

He doesn’t answer

“Am I?”

“No.”

“I’ve gone along with you all along, but now we’re done. Lisa’s staying in the hospital for us. She puts up with them for us. For us!”

“Deborah, No more. I can’t do this.”

Deborah ignores him. She continues. “She’s waiting for me to say it. Come on. We’re out of here. She’s waiting.”

“Deborah…”

“I’m going to take her home.”

“Deborah. Please. We’ve been here. Again and again”

“What do you expect? I should come home after seeing her and do my nails?”

“No, but-“

“One more incident and we’re out of there.”

“This is bullshit. Taking her home will make everything worse!”

She stops. She knows that particular pitch and volume. Michael is about to blow. She suddenly becomes very quiet, like she has heard thunder in the distance. They’ve been here too many times. The argument has gone on way too long. They’re both exhausted.

She returns to the window. The only person still in the park is a fourteen year-old girl, sitting on a bench. She is fixing her hair, waiting for her boyfriend.

He arrives. They talk earnestly. Biting her lip, Deborah gets lost in them. That calms her. Her voice is warm.

“Remember the time I had that flat tire with them in the car? Lisa was about six.”

“No.”

“AAA? I had a fight with you that night?”

“Right.”

“I never told you the whole story…” She has his attention.

“I was screaming at Ritchie and Lisa to stop fighting, I got out. Opened the trunk. I couldn’t find the jack. Meanwhile the back door opens. The traffic is buzzing by. I screamed. “Close the door. Close the door.” Lisa steps out anyway.   ”Get back in the car. Get back in the car.” She just looked at me and understood everything. I didn’t have to fake that I knew what I was doing. I couldn’t fake it.   She knew that I didn’t. But she also knew it was going to turn out OK. I wasn’t going to let anything bad happen. Lisa and Ritchie used to get that from me.”

She smiles, “Lisa pushed her body against the car and slipped over near me at the back. When she was close enough she stood next to me, “Mom. Call AAA.” She ignored that I didn’t know what to do because she did. Or thought she did. Either way it didn’t matter. She knew I wasn’t going to let anything bad happen. Lisa and Ritchie knew that. That was my job. I was good at it!” Again tears.

“Sorry about AAA.”

“It’s okay, Michael. We didn’t have much money back then.”

“Yeah but you were pissed about it and you were right.”

“Well you said no. I wasn’t going to let you get away with that.”

She refocuses. Her voice changes. “I understood. We had to economize.”

“So okay we agree?”

“Yes.”

“If anything gets screwed up we are out of there. ”

“ No we are not agreed. We’re going to do whatever Dr. Clark says. We have to.”

She screams at him. “You’ve got this thing with Clark.”

“Yeah he’s the doctor.”

“Clark doesn’t give a shit. It’s just a job to him.”

He shouts louder than her. “You said that already. Clark tries to do his job right. That’s enough. That’s plenty.”

There is a trace of resignation in her voice. They are both exhausted, and saddened by their inability to get to the same page.   Lately that’s how it’s been. No matter how third they try.

She trails off “If we’re not going anywhere, he better admit it.” She mumbles, “Fuckin’ Clark’s’ ego.”

           She pours scotch into a large glass, fills it half way up. She sips a little, then downs it. She stares down Michael’s disapproval. She knows at this moment she has become a typical shiksa in his eyes. She’s not sure she can forgive him for putting her in that box.

“You think your praying is any different? You think you’re gonna get a miracle here?”

She downs another, then continues.

           “You think God listens to your mumbling? He’s old Michael. He needs a hearing aid and better glasses. Because if he hears okay and sees okay he’s definitely a sadist.”

“Shut up. Debby”

In his room Ritchie turns up the volume on his video game.   It fills the entire apartment with its pounding, its laser gun screeches, grunts from splattered monsters as they are gunned down.

Yet despite his game’s battlefield noise he can still hear parts of his parent’s fights, the anger, Michael’s “shut ups”. He hates him for that. Adding to her mother’s anguish.

He turns up the volume of his game still more, to the point where it is now banging on Deborah and Michael’s ear’. That pisses Michael off. But he doesn’t shout to him. He allows it to bang away at him. The action gets more furious. Deborah shouts from the foyer.

“Ritchie do your homework.”

   Ritchie shoots a mutant alien. A loud groan.

  “Ritchie. I mean it,” she shouts to him at the top of her lungs.

   There is a letup in the action. Michael goes to his computer. He checks the football score. The Jets lost. He gets back to work on his novel about Cornelius Vanderbilt. This man always won. Always! Michael is blessedly absorbed within minutes.

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