The phone rang, sometimes, at two or three in the morning. When Duane picked it up no one spoke from the receiver, just the sound of sobbed, desperate respiration, but he knew the sound of her breathing, knew just as well as he knew the nape of her neck, the way it looked when you pushed the heavy black hair aside and kissed there. As he know how her intestines sometimes rumbled when he lay with his head on her naked belly. All these years later he still knew these things better than he knew his own mind. And he would say to the breathing, “He’s all right. He’s fine.” Over and over until the clattering death of the connection and the moaning of the abandoned line. It was all he could think to say.
She had taken the child out when the mosquitoes were bad.
She had neglected to put the repellent on the child.
She had dismissed the early symptoms thinking it was just a ‘bug.’
She wouldn’t leave his room. They brought her a chair, a big recliner borrowed from labor and delivery and she settled there with her guilt. As the teams, the intravenous team and the radiology team and the internal medicine team, entered and surrounded the child, revolving walls of courteous white coats, with fervent activity, then left again, she was silent, a still thing with great, watching eyes, changing, evolving and the person who finally stood up again was no one Duane had ever met.
(He couldn’t stand to be in the hospital room, the child so little in it. He paced the hall incessantly, stepping outside to smoke, then pacing again. He was walking the halls or outside smoking or in the canteen having a cup of coffee when his child entered the coma from which he wasn’t expected to return.)
She didn’t last long after the hospital. When the hospital turned him out and the nursing home took him in. When care became maintenance and hope founded.
Duane wasn’t surprised when she left the house and the city because she had really left already. When she began her exile she had already put more distance between them than he knew was possible between two people living in the same house.
Not long after she left he liquidated selling the house, cashing out their short list of investments and the two acres they’d bought in Missouri, where they intended to build and retire someday. For when the insurance company threw up its hands and the state refused to pay. It didn’t really amount to that much, but it was the the best he could do to prepare. Despite the insurance company’s promises and the state’s position. He’d learned not to trust. To expect the worst.