Fly Away Page 42

On the day of the funeral, she woke to a surprisingly bright and sunny morning. She showered carefully and conditioned her hair, although she was hopeless at styling it and, really, that cut had made little difference. She still had a vague Albert-Einstein-meets-old-hippie vibe going on. What could she do about it, though? Her wrinkled face and tired-looking eyes could not be helped by makeup. With her fading eyesight and unsteady hand, she’d probably end up looking like Bette Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Still, she did her best. She brushed her teeth and dressed in her new clothes. She looked a little—very little—like Blythe Danner after a bad night with tequila, but her clothes were respectable.

She climbed onto her bike and rode into town, grateful beyond measure for the sunshine, but it was cold out.

Downtown, she splurged on a soy milk chai tea latte and waited impatiently for the bus, going through those sentences in her head again. When the bus pulled up, she got on.

She could do this. She could go to her daughter and help her. At last.

She stared out the window, seeing a ghostly version of her own face. Beyond was the freeway, and beyond that, an unexpected memory.

A parking lot full of cars. Maple trees providing shade, a city park with kids playing …

I am stoned out of my mind. It’s the only way.

I am here because my mother has died.

“Mom. Thank God you’re here.”

My daughter is so beautiful, and the sight of her makes me impossibly sad. Is she sixteen? How can I not know for sure? The darkness swells, slops over the edges, and I feel myself getting smaller, weaker.

“You knew I’d need you.”

Tully is smiling. Smiling.

I think of how often I have tried to be what this girl needed, and how often and how profoundly I have failed. Tully is talking, saying more, and I feel the start of tears. I stumble forward, say, “Look at me.”

“I’m looking.”

“No. Look. I can’t help you.”

Tully frowns and steps back. “But I need you.”

Dorothy turned away from the window. What had she said to her daughter on that day of her own mother’s funeral? She couldn’t remember now. All she remembered was leaving … and the dark, dark days—months, years—that followed. The men. The drugs.

She’d let her daughter become a ward of the state that day.

The bus pulled up to the ferry terminal and came to a wheezing stop. Dorothy disembarked and boarded the ferry for Bainbridge.

Had she ever been there before? She didn’t think so; or, if she had, she must have been drunk or high, because she couldn’t remember it.

The island was pretty in a well-tended way, with quaint shops and quiet streets. Definitely the kind of place where everybody knew everybody and someone like her would stand out, even in new, clean clothes.

She knew that if she weren’t on her meds she’d be whack right now. But with her meds she was okay. Fuzzy-thinking, a little dull in the mind, but steady, and that was what mattered. For years she’d hated the fuzziness of meds enough to suffer through the Ferris Wheel highs and subterranean lows. But now she would take steady any day.

Although, honestly, she wanted a drink. Just one.

She put her hand in her coat pocket and clutched the nine-month-clean chip she had earned at the last meeting. Soon, she’d get the ten-month. One day at a time.

She moved with the steady stream of locals and tourists, off the boat, up the terminal, and out into the sunshine. Following her directions, she walked through town, which was quiet on this early October day. The distance to the Catholic church was farther than she’d thought and so when she arrived, she was late. The service had already begun. The big double doors were closed. She had crashed a lot of things in her life, but she wasn’t about to go into that church alone.

She found a bench beneath a pair of maple trees at the edge of the parking lot and sat beneath their multicolored canopy. Above her, an autumn leaf released its last tenuous hold on life and fluttered to the ground. Dorothy brushed it from her face and stared down at her hands, thinking.

When she looked up again, Tully stood alone in front of the church. Dorothy got to her feet and started to move forward, but then she stopped.

The parking lot was filling up with people. Mourners poured out of the church. Several of them collected around Tully.

Kate’s family, probably. A gorgeous man, a beautiful teenaged girl, and two mop-headed boys.

Margie hugged Tully, who sobbed in her arms.

Dorothy stepped back into the shadows beneath the tree. She’d been an idiot to think she had a place here, that her presence would help.

Her daughter had people who cared about her, and about whom she cared. They would gather together on this day and ease their grief by sharing it. Wasn’t that what people did? What families did?

It made Dorothy feel inestimably sad and old and tired. She’d come all this way, following a beam of light that couldn’t be grasped.

* * *

It’s no good to pretend, you know. And we don’t have all the time in the world. I hear Kate’s voice, and honestly, I wish I didn’t. You see now, don’t you?

I am like a little kid, squeezing my eyes shut, certain that in my self-imposed darkness I can’t be seen. That’s what I want right now: to disappear. I don’t want to do this whole going-into-the-light/looking-back-on-your-life thing anymore. It hurts too much.

You’re hiding from me.

“Yeah. No shit. You dead people don’t miss a thing.”

I feel her coming closer; it is like firelight drawing near. Tiny yellow white stars burst across the black expanse of my vision. I smell lavender and Love’s Baby Soft spray and … pot smoke.

That takes me back.

Open your eyes.

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The way she says it breaks my resolve. I slowly do as she asks, but even before I see the poster of David Cassidy and hear Elton John singing “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” I know where I am. Back in my bedroom in the house on Firefly Lane. My old Close ’n Play is on the bedside table, along with a stack of 45s.

Dorothy. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” The Emerald City. How had I missed all the obvious clues in my life? I was always a little girl, lost in Oz, looking for a way to believe that there was no place like home …

Kate is beside me. We are sitting on my bed in the house on Firefly Lane, leaning against the rickety headboard. A yellow poster that reads WAR IS NOT HEALTHY FOR CHILDREN AND OTHER LIVING THINGS fills my vision.

You see now, don’t you? Kate says again, more quietly this time.

I don’t want to think about it all—the day my mother showed up to “help” me with my “addiction” and how badly I handled it. What else have I been wrong about? But before I can answer her, there is another voice, whispering in my ear. I’m sorry.

Oh, my God.

It is my mother. The bedroom dissolves around me. I smell disinfectant.

I turn to look at Kate. “She’s here? Or there? At the hospital, I mean?”

Listen, Kate says gently. Close your eyes.

September 3, 2010

4:57 P.M.

“Lady? Lady? Are you getting out?”

Dorothy came back to the present with a start. She was in the cab, parked in front of the hospital’s emergency entrance. She paid the cabbie, giving much too big a tip, and then she opened the door and stepped out into the rain.

The walk to the front door unnerved her. Every footstep felt like an act of unimaginable will, and God knew her will had always had the strength of warm wax.

As she moved into the austere lobby, she felt self-conscious, a ragged old hippie in a high-tech world.

At the reception desk, she stopped, cleared her throat. “I’m Doro—Cloud Hart,” she said quietly. The old name pinched like a bad bra, but it was how Tully knew her. “Tully Hart’s mother.”

The woman at the desk nodded, gave her the room number.

Gritting her teeth, fisting her cold hands, Dorothy headed for the elevator and rode it up to the fourth floor. There, feeling her nerves tightening with every step, she followed the whitish linoleum floor to the waiting room, which was mostly empty—mustard-colored chairs, a woman at a desk, a pair of TVs on without sound. Vanna White turned the letter R on-screen.

The smell of the place—disinfectant and cafeteria food and despair—hit her hard. She’d spent a considerable effort in her life to stay away from hospitals, although she’d awakened in them a few times.

Margie sat in the waiting room. At Dorothy’s arrival, she put down her knitting and stood.

Beside her was that good-looking man who’d been Kate’s husband. He saw Margie stand, followed her gaze, and frowned. Then he slowly got to his feet, too. Dorothy had seen him from a distance at the funeral; he looked grayer now. Thinner.

Margie came forward, her hands outstretched. “I’m glad you got my note. I had to have Bud pin it on the door. I didn’t have time to go looking for you.”

“Thank you,” Dorothy said. “How is she?”

“Our girl is a fighter,” Margie said.

Dorothy felt a squeeze of emotion—longing, maybe. Our girl. As if she and Margie were both mothers to Tully. Dorothy wished it were true—but only Margie could claim that connection, really. She started to say something—she had no idea what—when he approached them. At the shuttered anger in his eyes, Dorothy’s voice turned to ash.

“You remember Johnny,” Margie said. “Katie’s husband and Tully’s friend.”

“We met years ago,” Dorothy said quietly. It was not a good memory.

“You’ve never done anything but hurt her,” he said in a soft voice.

“I know.”

“If you hurt her now, it’s me you’ll be dealing with. You got that?”

Dorothy swallowed hard but didn’t look away. “Thank you.”

He frowned. “For what?”

“Loving her.”

He looked surprised by that.

Margie took Dorothy by the arm and led her down the hallway, and into a bright ICU enclave with glass-walled rooms that fanned out behind a central nurses’ station desk. There, Margie let go of her long enough to go speak to the woman at the desk.

“Okay,” Margie said when she returned. “That’s her room right there. You can go talk to her.”

“She won’t want me here.”

“Just talk to her, Dorothy. The doctors think it helps.”

Dorothy glanced over at the glass window; inside, a utilitarian curtain shielded the bed from view.

“Just talk to her.”

Dorothy nodded. She stepped forward, shuffling like an invalid, her fear expanding with every step, filling her lungs, aching. Invalid. In valid. That was her.

Her hand was literally shaking as she opened the door.

Dorothy took a deep breath and went toward the bed.

Tully lay there, surrounded by buzzing, thumping, whooshing machines. A clear plastic tube invaded her slack mouth. Her face was misshapen and scraped and bruised. She was bald and a plastic tube went into her head. One arm was in a cast.

Dorothy pulled a chair up to the bed and sat down. She knew what Tully would want to hear. It was what her daughter had come to Snohomish for, what she’d asked for in a thousand ways over the years. The truth. Dorothy’s story. Their story.

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