Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dangerous Book - Episode 22

Sunday night

Back from visit to hospital. Phoebe’s on a tear, hates being cooped up in a cold room and did I bring any socks and why not, what is she supposed to do with brand new slippers?

“When else are you going to wear them?” I asked.

“Christmas!” she barked, glaring at me.

Feel her feet, she said. They’re blue with cold. I held them. I held the good one. The fractured foot had been wrapped, her long toes jutted out beyond the flexible cast. These I tried to warm by blowing on them, but this only irritated her. No, she was not angry with me but with her helplessness.

“I’ll bring you your socks,” I said.

“It won’t do any good,” she said, fractious as a thwarted baby.

We sat in silence for a while. I could tell she wanted to apologize for snapping but at the same time knew she couldn’t help herself. For my part, I just wanted to help her feel better but knew that hashing out her fears wasn’t the thing to do. So we sat in a fog until I asked her who Beau was.

“I didn’t ask you to go snooping around my apartment, did I?” she barked.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t think I was snooping. I saw the painting of the cemetery and couldn’t help myself.” I told her about the maps I’d made just that day. “I turned it over to see the date.”

“Dates not on it,” she grumbled.

“So I discovered. But the name Beau is.”

“It’s not a name,” she said. “It’s a relationship.”


More silence. I watched her eyes revolve around the room, at the television screen, at the door to the hallway, the bathroom, every where but at me. Finally they seemed to rest on nothing, on the radiator, the windowsill, already crowded with flowers and cards.

“Beau Dowling,” she said.

“Dowling? The man who died on his birthday?”

She nodded. “Eddie’s father, Robert Dowling, was a friend of mine.”

“The Monnish Court gardener!”

“The gardener.”

“He painted, too. Wow.” And they called him Beau. Not Bo, a Southern nickname for little brother, but the French for beautiful. A word for boyfriend. Suitor. Swain.

“Why did you call him Beau? Was he your beau?”

“He was everyone’s beau. It was just who he was,” she said. “Ask Elizabeth to bring my socks when she comes tomorrow,” she said, dismissing me.

“And how did he come to die on his birthday?”

“He got sick,” she said. “At his party. They said he ate something he was allergic to and died before they could get him to the hospital.”

“That must have been awful.”

People have faces like fraying rope. All the things we hold tight, all the things we tie up and forget eventually loosen and slip free. There seemed to be this kind of an activity visible on Phoebe’s face in the minutes we spent discussing Robert Dowling.

“I wasn’t there,” she said, spitting out the words as if they tasted of bullion. “But of course it must have been.”

As if she had conjured him up, another visitor, Eddie Dowling, walked in. She welcomed him with open arms, literally. He hurried to her, reaching into her bony grasp with familiarity and affection.

I slid away, murmuring a goodbye only I could hear.

“Why do I watch her so carefully?” I asked Billie, much later. She’d brought over a bottle of cold Pinot Grigio and we were drinking it over ice.

“She’s in pain. She’s probably frightened of losing her independence,” she said. “It’s natural to worry about someone you care about.”

“But I hardly know Phoebe. How can I care about her?”

No comments: