Another Sad Story

He gets a call. It’s a sheriff in California. He has some very bad news for him. His daughter’s been involved in a serious automobile accident. It was on a narrow two-lane road by the ocean. She apparently overcorrected her steering too much to avoid hitting an oncoming car in her lane and went over an embankment. “Yes, yes, is she alive?” “I don’t know how to put it. I’ve never had to tell this to a parent. She died in the ambulance taking her to the hospital.” He puts down the receiver. What to do? He has to call his other daughter. He should tell his wife first. But his wife’s dead, so what’s he thinking? His sisters. One of them, who can tell the other. He’ll do nothing. He’ll lie on his bed and go to sleep. First he should put the cover over his typewriter. No, don’t even do that. He pushes the cover off his bed and lies down and closes his eyes. The phone rings and he gets up to answer it. Probably his older daughter saying she got back to L.A. okay and something about the interview she had in Berkeley. It’s the sheriff. “You hung up before I could finish. I want to tell you how to reach me, where we are, what hospital your daughter’s at and some of the things you or someone you designate to represent you need to know and do.” “I’m to fly out there. I haven’t been on a plane in almost fifteen years. I understand flying is much different today. The preparations at the airport and long waits and so forth. I’ll get a pencil. A pen, I mean. I always have one on me. I’m a writer. What’s a writer without a pen? But for some reason I have none in my pants pockets and one isn’t on my dresser. That’s where I am now. In my bedroom. I was working here, which I also use as my study, when you called. I usually keep a pen on the dresser for messages and to doodle with while I’m on the phone. Where are you? What airport do I fly in to? I’ll remember.” “Better write it down, sir.” He gets a pen off his worktable and writes on a piece of paper on the dresser the sheriff’s name and phone number and the names of the hospital and airport and city. The paper’s a bookmark that came with the last book he bought at the only shop he buys his books at. They always put one in the book you buy. “I think I have everything I need now,” and he gets off the phone. He lies on his bed. He should call his younger daughter in Chicago. What did he do with the bookmark? Oh, if it’s lost, it’s lost. But it couldn’t have gone far. He should call one of his sisters. But what will either of them do but scream and cry and say this is the worst possible thing that could have happened. He wishes he could speak to his wife. He can’t handle this alone, at least now. Maybe if he shut his eyes and slept awhile. He shuts his eyes. He has to call his younger daughter. They were very close. But then he’ll have her hysteria to deal with. Maybe he could get one of his sisters to tell her, but she’d only want to hear it from him. He gets up and goes into his older daughter’s room. When was the last time she slept in it? A few weeks ago. She came for a brief visit. She had a free roundtrip because of all the flying she’s done the past few years. When he dropped her off at the airport, she said she had a wonderful time. When he called her the next day in L.A., she again said she had a wonderful time. He had dinner ready for her the day she came. She said it was the best meal she’s had since the last time she was here. He said he started making it a week ago and defrosted all of it yesterday. The salad, he said, he made today. They went out for dinner at a Japanese restaurant her third and last day. What did they do for dinner the second night? She gave him a drawing she did in California. She worked on it for several weeks. “We should get it framed,” he said. The day after she got here they went to a framing shop. “You choose,” she said. “No, you know better about these things than I. Get what you want, and I don’t care the price.” He left a deposit for the frame. The shop hasn’t called yet to say the frame’s ready. What will he do when they call? He’ll say, “I can’t speak. I’ll call you in a few weeks.” They went out for lunch after they left the shop. Later that day he was going to the Y to work out and swim and asked her if she wanted to come. She said if she finds a yoga class in town, would he drop her off there? She found a yoga class on the computer in his wife’s study. He dropped her off, then picked her up after he went to the Y. They got Persian takeout that night, a favorite food of his wife and daughters. He sits on her bed. She comes into the room. “What are you thinking, Daddy?” “Nothing,” he says. “Just thinking.” “It’s got to be of something.” “Your mother. It’s been so lonely without her. But I don’t want to make you sad by telling you how sad I am. Two years, already, and I’ve barely adjusted to it. All the decisions I have to make on my own now. She was so good at giving me advice and helping me to make up my mind and planning what we should do. I’m also sad that you’re leaving.” “I wish my visit was longer, but I’ve my teaching to get back to.” “We should have timed it better. Planned your coming here during your spring break. That’s what Mommy would have suggested, because what was the rush? But I’m glad for even the short time you were here. It’s been fun. A good change for me.” She sits on the bed and holds his hand. “I’ll try to come here for spring break too.” “Do it. I’ll pay for the trip, and I don’t care what it costs. Now I should call your sister. I don’t want to but it’s something I have to do. And I have to call an airline. What airline flies to Santa Barbara or the closest city to it? I don’t know how to find out.” “Call any airline in the phone book. They’ll tell you.” “Good thinking. Could you do it for me? Then I’ll call your sister. And your aunts, or one of them, who can call the other.” “Now I’m the one who’s not thinking,” she says. “I can get all the information you need on the computer.” She leaves the room. He goes into his bedroom and lies on the bed. He folds his hands on his chest and shuts his eyes. I must look like a corpse, he thinks. All I need is to be in a suit with all the buttons buttoned and to have on a dress shirt and tie. The phone rings. He’s going to let it ring. But maybe it’s his older daughter. He gets up and grabs the receiver off the phone on the dresser and says hello. “I found out what airline you should take,” she says on the phone. “Tell me,” he says. “I’ll write it down. Though what am I going to do about the cat? I’ll have to get someone to look after him.” “Call one of your friends, or Mommy’s friends. Anyone would do it for you.” “That’d mean I’d have to speak to someone other than your sister and one of my sisters and you. I couldn’t do that. It’s not in me right now. I really don’t see how I can go to California.” “You have to. I’ll be here. We’ll have so much fun. I’ll show you my favorite places. We’ll go to museums. And there are so many good galleries and restaurants here.” “Okay, I’m coming.” He lies back on the bed and clasps his hands again on his chest. He sees he’s wearing a suit and dress shirt and tie. The suit’s the same one he got married in at her apartment twenty-nine years ago. His wife insisted he buy it for the wedding. He was going to wear an old sport jacket and freshly pressed slacks. The suit has a few moth holes in it but it still fits. “I am a corpse,” he says. “I can’t move.”