Oak Island Chapter 5: A witness

Oak Island Chapter 5: A witness

A Chapter by SweetNutmeg
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A witness (Originally Tinder Island)

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Chapter Five

I had washed my face and changed into comfy clothes by the time Ezra got home. He greeted me with a kiss.

“Did you have fun with Cheryl?”

“Yes. She has some lovely begonias.” 

“Anthony has taken over east coast shipping. Someone fucked up big time. Shipping was backed up in the entire region, people trying to buy goods and and no stock available. So he gets to clean up the mess and take the position himself.” 

“That's good. I think?” I was never sure if these lateral moves and company reassignments were good or not. I couldn't even remember who Anthony worked for. 

“It's great. He's got his foot in the door now. He's sure to move up after this. He'll get to transfer to New York.”

He made it sound like getting transferred to New York City was a good thing. I liked Mantville. I didn't want to leave. I liked living in these quiet suburbs not far from Columbia's financial district. Lower cost of living, shorter commutes, less of the big city crime. I didn't want to live in Boston or Philadelphia or New York City. That's why I liked Cornell, located in Ithaca, NY. It wasn't a big city with all of the big city problems. 

Ezra had continued talking about Anthony's prospects while my mind wandered, back to my encounter with Leo. You couldn't really call it a conversation. We'd only spoken for a few minutes. That was enough. I looked at things through Leo's eyes. Here I was. I had come home with this stuck up a*****e, living a frou frou life, no time for old friends, then complaining about it. I wasn't one of them, I wasn't one of Ezra's crowd. I had to hide my business school pedigree, pretend to be something I was not. 

And it wasn't even that I liked the things this life brought me all that much. Sure, the food was better at Anthony's and Frances' party. They had a bartender mixing up martinis, catered side dishes. The drinks at least were far superior to Cheryl's home made punch, but I liked the punch better. At Cheryl's I could be myself and not pretend to be some Ivy League blue blood. I could have a mother who worked in a factory. I could be proud of my degree from Cornell instead of ashamed that I attended the business school. I could make friends, real friends. I could trust people here. Well, except Janine who was a congenital gossip. But she meant well. 

***

Thursday night, Ezra came home and found me in the sun room, quietly drinking mint tea and contemplating my situation. I had finally adjusted to the idea that my mother was dying and that I had choose to do something, and that not doing anything was choosing something. I was still afraid of that horrible ball of emotions, but that seemed under control at the moment.

I gave him an absent minded kiss on the cheek and drifted back into my thoughts. 

His hand on mine brought me to the present here and now. He was sitting next to me. He took my hand and asked me, “Are you thinking about your mother?” 

I nodded.

“If you ever want to talk, I'm here. It has seemed like you didn't want to talk, but if you do, I'm here.” 

I stated to cry. He put his arm around me and I leaned into his warmth and care.

“How is she doing? What are the doctors saying?” 

“I don't know.” I inspected my emotions about this. “I guess I don't care.” 

“I thought your Aunt was keeping you informed.” 

I shook my head.  “I haven't heard from Aunt Pam since before Labor Day.” 

“And you don't know how she's doing?”

“No.” I knew my apathy was hiding something else, but I didn't want to look and see.

“Cassie, you need to know. You need to know what the doctors are saying, you need to make sure she has a living will, you need to know when she will need to go into hospice.” 

I pulled away from Ezra and looked at him.

“Actually, I don't. I don't need to do any of those things.”

“But she's your mother.” 

“I cannot help that unfortunate fact. If she wanted a caring daughter, she should have been a loving mother.” 

“But--” 

I interrupted him. “No buts, Ezra. She is not my problem.” I got up. “I'm going to the park.” 

Once settled on my favorite bench, I returned to my thoughts. Cheryl's words kept coming back, again and again. Once she's gone, she's gone. Cheryl had also said, 'Talk to Leo.' That thought was like glue. He knew exactly how awful my mother was. People do things in front of children as if the children will not remember. But they do remember. They remember and they grow up into adults, and they make judgments. Leo saw, Leo was a witness. 

I didn't even know how to get in touch with Leo. 

I folded up these thoughts and put them away. I could get them out at another time.


***

I met Cheryl at Marisol's at 11. She had snagged a booth and greeted me with a mimosa. The place was overflowing as usual. I ordered the eggs Benedict and we settled down for some serious girl talk. Cheryl had an idea for a new hairstyle for me. Her own hair was platinum now, sleek and very short. 

“I think I might get a wig while I grow out my hair. It can't get any shorter than this. The next step would be shaving. I might try a perm when it's long enough.”

After we had exhausted the topics of hair, clothes, food and men, I ventured to ask Cheryl for Leo's number. 

“Sure. I'll text it to you.” She seemed to have no intention of asking why I wanted his number. Unlike Janine, Cheryl was discreet and respected privacy. 


***

I decided to take Monday as a mental health day so I could call Leo without Ezra around. I tried at ten and got voicemail. I left a brief, uninformative message. Deciding to distract myself while waiting, I went to Netflix and chose Buffy the Vampire Slayer. My phone startled me when it vibrated against my leg at noon. I checked the number. Leo. I almost chickened out, I almost rolled it over to voicemail. 

I accepted the call. 

“Cassie?” Over his voice I heard knocking and banging noises. He must be at work. 

“Hi, Leo.” I didn't know how to proceed.

“What's up? Is something going on?”

What to say? “I, uh, wanted to talk to you.” I heard a grinding noise. “About my mother.” 

“What?” The grinding noise went on and I tried again, shouting my request. 

“Can I call you after work? I get off at three.” 

“Sure,” I shouted. 

He said something more, then disconnected. 

Buffy was not enough to distract me for three hours. I went to the gym in our apartment complex and got on the elliptical. I cued up my favorite playlist, starting with “I will Survive.” 45 minutes later Tina Turner was demanding respect as I slowed down and collapsed in a sweating heap. I was going to be sore tomorrow. 

Back in the apartment, I hauled down the shower curtain and put it in the washer. I got out fresh sheets and changed the bed. Mopped the kitchen floor. Scrubbed the kitchen sink. I was putting the shower curtain into the dryer when Leo called. 

“Hi, Leo.”

“Hi, Cassie. It's great to hear from you.” He sounded friendly. Perhaps he had forgiven Ezra. Or at least decided I couldn't be held responsible for someone else's behavior. “How are you?”

“Not so great, actually. I wanted to talk to you about my mother.” 

“Cheryl told me she was not well. What's going on?”

What to say? “Do you think we might get together some time? It's sort of complicated.” 

A big rush of emotions swelled up at the idea of seeing him, telling him, talking to some one who would understand. I squashed the feelings down. 

“Sure. Tonight? Or I get off at three tomorrow. When would you like to meet?”

I wanted to meet tonight, right this second, but I had Ezra to think about. Ezra would not like this at all. 

“Could you get off work early? Say, two o'clock?” Ezra got home at about six. That would be plenty of time. 

“No problem, Cassie. Anything for you.” 

“This is sort of weird, Leo, but could we get together at your house?” I didn't want to be talking about this in public and there was Ezra. He could come home at any time.

“Let me give you my address.”


***


Leaving work early the day after taking paid time off was not the best thing to do, but I rarely took time off. So I left at one, when I normally took my lunch break. I didn't want to see Leo in my work clothes, after his comment about my dress on Labor Day. I dressed pretty sharp for work. 

Instead, I went home and changed into a casual dress, the green and white one I loved to wear on weekends when lounging about the house. Might as well be comfortable if you're going to turn your insides out and be a total emotional mess. 

I let my GPS direct me to his house. He lived in the historic district, in a small  house adorned with decorative wood work in curlicues and fan shapes. The front porch had a swing, and a trellis of climbing plants hid it from view. This would be a nice place to sit at night. I rang the doorbell. The front door had etched glass set in a solid wooden door. The glass might have been original to the house. 

Leo looked more like I remembered him from our childhood, in a t-shirt and shabby jeans. He was barefoot. Opening the door wider, he invited me in. Polished hard wood floors gleamed. His furniture was nondescript and functional, but he had a fantastic rug on the living room floor. He offered me a seat. 

“Cassie, it's good to see you.” 

I put my head in my hands. I couldn't prevent the tears spilling out and I closed my eyes. I felt Leo's hand on my shoulder. 

“Cassie.” I couldn't look at him. “Cassie, what's wrong?” 

“She's dying and I don't know what to do.” Leo rubbed my back while I cried. 

I finally looked up. “You know what she was like. You remember. How am I supposed to feel? Aunt Pam expects me to make peace with her, Ezra thinks I should take care of her, and I don't even want to be in the same room with her. You were the only thing that made life worth living. You and Aunt Pam.  

“There's no one way you're supposed to feel, Cassie. And you don't need to do anything you don't want to do.” 

“You remember? Don't you remember? She was vicious. You would have thought I had chosen to be born just to make her life horrible. Like I plotted to do it from infancy. It was all my fault.” The pulsing, messy ball broke loose and I started sobbing. “It was always all my fault.”  

Leo put his arm around me and I turned into his embrace. He stroked my hair. 

“Leo, why couldn't she love me? What was wrong with me?” 

He pulled me closer and said, “There's nothing wrong with you, Cassie.” 

I thought I might never stop crying. Until anger brought me upright. “She acted like that and now she wants me to be kind to her.” I was practically yelling. I took the handkerchief Leo was offering me. 

“I don't know what to do, Leo. Cheryl says I should say what I want to say now, before she dies. But I don't even know where to begin.” I wiped my nose. Leo squeezed my shoulders and sat back a little, putting some space between us.

“When my father passed away, it was hard. People all giving me condolences when I really was just relieved. He never changed and I never could find any other feeling towards him but fear. Being an adult now, I can't imagine treating a child the way he treated me. But I was lucky. He died quickly and unexpectedly. He didn't linger.”

We sat for a while in silence. 

“You should think about what you want, not what she wants, not what anyone else wants. You don't have to do anything you don't want to do.”


***

Driving home, I felt lighter. Unburdening myself to someone not trying to get me to do something, someone who understood, made a huge difference. It also cut through a lot of the back and forth I had been dragging myself through, indecisive ruminating. I made up my mind. No one was going to convince me to see my mother and that was final. 

I had to call Aunt Pam. It had been over three weeks since I freaked out on her. When I got home from Leo's, I called and she answered right away. 

“Hi, Aunt Pam, I wanted to apologize for yelling and everything.” I seemed to be apologizing for flipping out a lot.

“I understand, honey. This is hard for you.”

“I know you are an understanding person, Aunt Pam, and that you are being understanding with me. And I appreciate it. But you can't understand what it's like for me.” 

“I get that.”

“How is mother doing?” 

“She is responding well to treatment. Life is easier for her now she that has oxygen. And the inhalers help. But the lung function tests... they are getting steadily worse.”

“Lung function tests?”

“They have her blow into a tube and measure different things, how she exhales and inhales, how well her lungs are working. She's not doing well. She is in end stage COPD. They don't know how long she will live.”

“Ezra mentioned a living will? That's where she puts down what to do if she can't communicate her medical wishes? When to stop trying to keep her alive?” 

“Yes, but she won't make one. She thinks it is fixable, that there is hope.” 

“But surely her doctors are being clear about this. Aren't they?”

“You know how stubborn your mother is. She is sending money to one of these faith healers. I have no control over that, I can't do anything.” After a pause, Aunt Pam went on, “Cassie, can you talk to her about this?”

I gave a cynical laugh. “Do you really think she would listen to me?” 

“She might. She is always going on about how smart you are and how you went to Cornell. She's very proud of you.”

“She's not proud of me. She wants something to brag about, that's all.”

“You don't know that, sweetie.” 

“I know, Aunt Pam. She's done this all my life. Believe me, I know.” 

“Can you come and see her?” 

I had been thinking about this and not thinking about this, and thinking about it when I wasn't paying attention, unable to focus my attention when I did want to think about it. 

“Aunt Pam, I don't think so. Do you know what happened when I left for college?”

“No, honey. What happened?” 

“She told me to take my stuff and never come back, she never wanted to see me again. That 18 years was enough and no one could make her do it any more.” 

Aunt Pam was silent. Then she said, “I'm sorry, Cassie. That was a terrible thing for any mother to say.” 

“Yeah, well, I'm used to it.” I laughed bitterly. 

“I never knew it was so bad. I knew she was hard on you but she also seemed so proud of you for doing well academically. I thought she just had trouble expressing herself to you.” 

“Oh, no, she expressed herself very well. She made it clear I was an unwanted burden.” 

Aunt Pam was silent for a while.

“Look, I better get going. I need to fix dinner,” I said. 

“I'm sorry Cassie.”

“Hey, no problem. It's not your fault. I'll talk to you soon.”

I hung up and started setting out what I'd need to make dinner. 


© 2017 SweetNutmeg


Author's Note

SweetNutmeg
Thank you for reading. All comments, large and small are welcome

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Featured Review

things are really getting interesting as the mother hangs on for dear life will Cassie give in and se her ? or will she leave the woman to die in vain or wanting on her last words. guess I will have to keep reading to find out. excellent story so far.

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.




Reviews

things are really getting interesting as the mother hangs on for dear life will Cassie give in and se her ? or will she leave the woman to die in vain or wanting on her last words. guess I will have to keep reading to find out. excellent story so far.

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Cassie's world is becoming more clear. Ezra more interesting here. He had a good, conventional upbringing, and expects people to.be civil above all else. And likely thinks the playing field is level for everyone.

This line, sweet nutmeg, is so powerful:
'I had choose to do something, and that not doing anything was choosing something.' so true.

Posted 3 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

SweetNutmeg

3 Years Ago

Thank you for reading and reviewing. I appreciate your comments.

Ezra doesn't exactl.. read more

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