The machine hummed softly as it pulled back and away from over her. She was unstrapped and slowly climbed down, refusing the hand of assistance held out to her. She took a couple wobbly steps forward and then regain her normal poise and stance. She took her clothes from the hanger there and began to dress up. Then met with Mitch afterwards, had a little chat with him and left chin clenched and held stubbornly high in the air; into her volks and back home. Just as it had been every Wednesday for the past two years and three weeks.
Billy barked and ran up to her in warm gay welcome, and she gingerly leaned down to rubbed his neck. “Billy, Billy,” she cooed, and continued, Billy at foot, into the house. The door was open so she just entered. She hadn’t spotted Marcus’ Bentley in the driveway, so she probably may have forgotten to lock the door. Unlike her, she just couldn’t recall being that forgetful and clumsy, yet the evidence stared her in the face. “Dear God,” she bemoaned as she came upon the empty sitting room. She dropped the keys wearily upon the formica table top and continued to the fridge to grab herself a glass of water and a glass of orange juice. Her head ached slightly and she felt as if the whole gravity crap was just that – crap. She decided to rest on the bed for a while, if she made it to the bedroom. Somehow, she did, breathing almost harshly as she did. The door this time was slightly open, she frowned; now that was very unlikely. For she did recall shutting and locking the door. Was Marcus’ at home? Slowly, she walked up to the open door and slightly pushed it open. Maybe it was the pounding of her heart, or the harsh breathing, or the violent headache. She wasn’t sure which but she couldn’t at the time hear a thing. Which was usual these days. The door opened and there on the bed she had dreamt of reaching safely was a blonde – a very sexy blonde. Sexy because she was wearing only her hair – sitting astride a pair of extremely hairy legs. Eva cocked her head to a side as somehow the headache worsened, and peered to see clearly.
She raised the back of her hand to her mouth as a small cough overtook her, bringing the attention of the blonde whose perfect back had been to her and that of the owner of the hairy legs, to her. The blonde began to hustle off but an equally hairy hand stayed her. She seemed scared. Marcus however, wasn’t. he just stared in irritation, as if to say she had no right to enter her matrimonial bedroom anymore. She just stared, eyes watery from reasons far from the sight of her husband clearly unperturbed being caught by his wife having sex with a stranger on their matrimonial bed. Slowly, she turned and left. Weaker now by what she had seen.
She was seated on a long stool in the kitchen, nursing her juice when she heard a scuffle and then muffled voices. Then the blonde barged into the kitchen, their gazes met. There was no hostility in her eyes, just empathy. The blonde stared a bit nonplussed and then left, Marcus trying and then failing to hold her back.
He turned around in obvious frustration, ran his fingers through his dark curls and then looked at her. She just stared from above the glass upturned to her lips as she took a healthy sip. And then he said, “I need a divorce.” Turned around and began to leave, then turned back around as if he had recalled something, a scowl on his face. “Go put some make up on, you look horrible.” And then, he walked back into the room. A couple minutes later, he was out with a packed bag. “I’ll have my lawyer draw up the papers. You can keep the house.”
She knew he watched her but she didn’t glance his way, or utter a word. She just continued taking her juice. He must have been so filled with loathe that he stormed out. Or maybe it was her silence that bothered him the more. Or the unfinished sex she had interrupted. She wasn’t sure which.
She glanced up at the white grandfather clock up on the baby blue wall and noted the time with less relevant. 8:03pm. She had sat there for seven hours, had consumed her cereal, her milk, her juice and had began attacking her roasted pork. All the evidence of the hours emptily whiling away scattered all over the kitchen table. She needed to sleep. Her back ached and so did her eyes. They seem swollen and she hadn’t even cried. What for? She hadn’t a tear to spare. All that find her tear glands were dust.
Slowly she rose and began to clean up. The house was quiet, Denise and Dennis were due back for the holidays tomorrow and she was supposed to pick them up at 11am at the bus station. She needed…… she glanced around and searched herself blindly and found nothing she needed. So she concluded her cleaning, took a short cold shower and tucked herself to sleep in the kids’ room. She just couldn’t afford staying in her room.
And so she stared until it was the clock chimed five. 5:00am and she hadn’t even closed her eyes for once. She felt hollow. She couldn’t stay in bed again. So she tore down the house and rested. She had paints in the basement so she repainted and rearranged the whole place. She paused with the bed sheet that she had only lain the morning before and threw it into the trash can just before her. She was beat by then time she put away the last of the items she had used by 10:36am. So she hurried to the shower and fumbled at the mirror where she tried to use make up to conceal her real face.
She was at the station by 11:02am sharp. She hurried and then half ran to the plank where she was sure they would be waiting with worried eager faces and their luggage. She spotted them and for the first time since yesterday, or was it forever, felt a stirring deep within her. She ran to them grinning wildly.
They ran all together and formed a big hug around each other. She took turns kissing and then getting kissed. She looked her children all over, touching them, and filling her heart with joy. They shared the luggage between themselves and hurried into the car. Regaling their mother with stories of their whereabouts and deeds. They were happy to be home, and so was she. For this was home.
The stories continued all the way into the house. “Holy cross!” that was Dennis. She needed to have a word with him on swearing.
Starry eyes took in her hardwork and then felt on her. “Mum,” Denise hugged her, Dennis kissed her.
“Do you like it?” she asked.
“Like it? I love it,” Dennis declared.
“You’re the best, mum,” Denise said. “Can’t wait to see my room.”
“I’ll race you to it,” Dennis declared and off they went. “Leave the bags, mum. We’ll get it.”
She smiled at Billy who had been happy to see the twins too. “Let’s make them a meal, shall we?”
He began to the cooker and soon they were making brunch.
Brenda feeling at home with the sounds from the twins, newly returned home, suddenly started coughing. She removed her hand and washed off the blood there. Then rinsed her mouth. Billy eyed her, she ignored him and started chopping vegetables.
“Hey mum, what are you making?” Dennis the hungry one asked. Brenda smiled and held the lid of the boiling pot open for him to sniff at. “Mmhhmm. Smells yummy.”
“Mum where is dad?” that was Denise. Her hair wet from shower.
Brenda cut her finger and rushed to the sink. How to break the news to them, she thought. She couldn’t tell them she had found their father cheating on her. She just couldn’t. he may have been a fool but there was no real sense sharing the foolishness.
“Honey it’s work hours. Your dad is at work. He has been working pretty hard to put food on the table for us, you know. Lately it has been arduous for him,” Brenda said. “You’ll see him soon, okay.”
Dennis glanced at his mum and didn’t meet her gaze. He knew his mum more than he let on. Mum wasn’t herself. Mum hadn’t been herself for a long time now. And so were the bills. Dad took care of the bills all right, but mum got the larger share; and dad earned higher. Mum wasn’t even supposed to be at home. Yet the walls were a tad wet and fresh paint smell filled the air. Someone wasn’t telling the truth. “Come on, Den,” he said instead. “quit bugging mum and come let’s finish up. I’m famished.”
Denise easily persuaded, joined her brother and dropped the subject. Although her mum’s explanation held water for her. She was a gay girl with chocolate eyes and hair to match and a spirit that was without guile.
Brenda met Dennis’ gaze and felt she was being read, being assessed. She hastily looked away. Hoping all the stress didn’t show on her face.
The phone rang and Dennis paused in his project, then picked the phone. “The Millers’ residence who is speaking?”
“It’s Seth Grahams, Marcus Miller’s divorce attorney can I speak with Mrs Brenda Miller please?”
So this was it, Dennis thought grimly, dad was getting a divorce and mum was saintly covering him up. He swallowed. “It’ll be a minute. I’ll get on the line. If you could hold please.”
“Thank you. I will.”
He didn’t place a hand over the receiver and call his mum. He placed the receiver on the table beside the cradle and went to call her. He knocked and opened the door to what had been his parent’s room. No one there. But he knew she had gone nowhere so he went further to the bathroom to watch his mum cough into her hand, stare at it in resignation and then wash it off in the sink. “Mum?”
She turned pale and shocked to see him there. “Dennis? What is it, honey?”
“Mum are you okay?” Dennis asked, entering the bathroom slowly.
Brenda forced a smile to her face. “Of course, sweetheart. What would give you an idea otherwise?” washed off her hands, turned off the tap and turned to him. “I am okay. Mummy is perfect, darling. Be rest assured.”
Dennis stared at her questionably, “You sure, mum?”
She nodded and inwardly winced. “Of course. You may rest easy now, handsome.”
“Okay, there’s a phone call for you mum?”
“A phone call? Did the caller say whom it was?”
He shrugged. “Nope. Just asked to speak to you. A man, I think.”
He shrugged again. “I know.”
She dropped the towel she had been using to dry her hands and smiled at her little man. “Alright then. I’ll go see who it is then.” And she walked past him out. Dennis just followed slowly, stood away from her and watched the play of emotions on his mum’s face. The call ended swiftly and she replaced the receiver to take some moments. He let her. When she glanced at saw him, she forced another smile. He had to smile back at her. His dad was seeking a divorce and he needed to know why.
The days went by and Dennis shadowed his mum’s activities. She went out f the bakery every Wednesday and instead of returning there, returned home. And each time she wore the look of a woman defeated, only to school it and change to something better when she came in contact with them. Dad never returned home and when he had checked neither were his things. His mum’s cough became quite consistent and the look of defeat on her face each time afterwards roused his curiosity the more. What was his mum hiding? Why did his dad divorce her?
Denise was unaware and to an extent he needed her that way. He could handle this much better without her emotions all over the place. He did more housework than usual because he noticed his mum seemed weaker and weaker, frailer and frailer. Yet she said nothing and acted as if everything was normal. Well, it wasn’t to him. He concluded the laundry he was doing and began ironing. He had Denise trying out a baking session. Afterall, their mum was a baker. A very good one, if he had anything to say about it. He glanced at the clock, 4:19pm. His mum would soon be back and he wanted just as always to be sure that the only thing she did was shower, eat and go to bed.
At exactly 5:15, his mum’s volks reared its engine on the drive way and Denise was out the door to welcome her home. He, however, took his time to study his mum. Already he had tucked the signs down. Constant weakness, paleness, constant cough, curious production of cough. Once he was armed, he would meet a doctor, physically or through the internet.
She walked in, armed with a clinging Denise who had ob eyed him on the count of letting her do precisely nothing, and disobeyed him on clinging to her. He would remind her later.
She looked weaker than she used to be, frailer than she used to be. No, he thought, he had had jus about enough. If his dad wanted to live his life like there weren’t just any lives dependent on him, he was going to educate him otherwise. A man was meant to stick to his family and flee at the slightest provocation. “Hi, honey.”
“Welcome home, mum. How was work today? You look stressed.”
“We’ve done everything,” Denise announced.
Brenda sniffed in the air. “What’s that delicious smell?” she asked with a smile as weak as she was.
Denise smiled and swelled with pride. “Meat loaf, mum.”
“Meat loaf,” Brenda chimed with starry eyes. “You made meat loaf?”
Denise beamed and nodded.
“Mmm. I’m hungry.” Which always landed her in forced spoonfuls of food and nothing more.
“Go shower, mum,” Dennis said. “Supper is almost ready.”
Dennis watched her wobble as she walked away, and noticed her struggle to conceal it. He bunched his apron and dropped it on the table top. “I’ll be right back,” he said to Denise. “ Look after the loaf. No burning this time.” And he was out.
Tears pricked Brenda’s eyes as she sat back and her life replayed itself in her mind. The cold shower pounding in a massage upon her head. Her twin brother who was a consultant neurologist who was away at Kansas with his wife, Veronica, and his kids, Salt and Philip. Her husband who was taking her to court in three days’ time for a divorce. It got her thinking, wasn’t she the wronged party? Wasn’t she supposed to be the one clamouring for blood now? Why was Marcus this way and when had it all gone wrong? And then the kids, oh God, what was she to do with them? Dennis had grown to be a man all of a sudden. She felt his presence everywhere. And Denise, she was clueless and happy. Somehow, she had brought up the question of her father’s whereabouts and Dennis had given her a five worded sentence that had ceased the question till date. What was that he had said to her again? She couldn’t quite recall but it had been sufficient enough to rid her of Denise’s incessant queries about her father. And Dennis, how had Dennis known to silence his sister? What goes on in that mind of his? And now, Mitch had insisted she increase her visits to four times a week, and there was this underlying possibility that it could be further increased. Her whole world as she had known it seemed to have simply toppled down all around her and she was simply helpless.
Her conversation with Mitch replayed itself in her mind. “There is cause for alarm, Brenda,” he had said grimly, looking at the scan results he had with him. “I think it’s time we at least told Brendan.”
She had shook her head vehemently and had suffered a headache and drowsiness. “No, Mitch,” she had said. “I can’t”
Mitch obviously exasperated at her staunch stubbornness had to take a breathing moment or two before speaking. “Why do you insist upon this foolishness, Brenda? Brendan is your brother and deserves the right to know.”
She had slowly shook her head. “No,” she had repeated again.
“Okay what of Veronica?”
Brenda’s eyes widened in shock. “No. she can’t know. She is pregnant and fragile.”
“And you’re not?” Mitch had demanded. “Okay what of Marcus? Divorce or not, he is your husband and the father of your kids. You must tell him.”
“That’s out of the question, Mitch, and you know that.”
“You want to die in silence? I get that, Brenda. Foolishness beyond comparison. But then, what of your kids? Have you ever thought of them? How they would feel about your silence in all these?”
“How bad is it?” she had asked instead and had Mitch hissing in resignation.
“It’s worse and you know it,” Mitch replied. “You feel it. The end is near, Brenda. I tell you. You need to go make ready to embrace it. It’s a straight road now, my dear. A very short one.”
That rang in her mind like church bells and she felt the weight of a burden so heavy and so personal upon her weary shoulders. She did indeed think of Brendan, Veronica, Marcus, Denise and Dennis. Thought of all of them. Brendan would simply slap her amidst tears and then rail on her, just as he hugged and kissed her. Veronica right beside him, weeping and reaching out for the sister in-law she loved dearly. And Salt and Philip, her favourite niece and nephew. Of course they would cry and then, beg her not to go. Salt would make all the promises in the world if she could only stay forever. Philip would just stare as tears would simply just roll down his face. As for Marcus, he has a life now. She didn’t want to mess with it. She didn’t want to seem clingy and all. She needed him to be free. Then her kids, Lord help her. Dennis ……. Dennis………
If only life were a fairy tale……..
“Aunt Veronica is that you?”
“I need to speak to Uncle. Is he home? Tell him it’s urgent please?”
“Are you okay?”
Dennis shook his head.
“Okay, I’ll get him. Hold on.”
Moments later, a male voice came online sounding very urgent. “Dennis, my boy, what troubles you?”
Amidst sobs, Dennis spoke with a voice thick with emotion. “It’s mum. Dad is suing for a divorce. She won’t speak of it. I had answered the call and his lawyer had introduced himself and had asked to speak with mum. She is sickly. She keeps getting frailer every day. She is always weak. She gets thinner. She barely eats. She coughs constantly these days and it produces something that she hides away. Uncle I think it’s blood. At first I had thought it was because of the strains in their marriage but I could swear it’s more. And she is telling no one. I think mum’s dying, Uncle.” And he sobbed.
Shock and contained rage seared through Brendan as he listened to his nephew’s heart break through his sobs. “I’ll be on the next flight, Dennis. I need you wipe your eyes and pretend this call never existed. I’ll be with you shortly.” A pause. “Does Denise know about this, son?”
Dennis sniffed and shook his head. “No.”
“Good,” his uncle said. “Let it remain that way. For now. Gotta go now and pack, son. Expect me without your mum’s knowledge.”
Dennis wiped his face dry and reentered the house and went straight to his room, after making sure Denise was handling super aptly. Buried in the fall of his shower, he sat head bowed and wept for his mum.
Somehow, she hadn’t the strength to rise from the bed, and somehow the kids had known to let her be. She woke up to the smell of breakfast beside her and to the realization that she was no more as strong as she used to be. Mitch’s warnings came flooding back. Reasons she should tell someone. She hadn’t listened. She hissed and gingerly made it up the bed to experience sudden dizziness. Slowly it cleared and she began to reach for the coffee mug but somehow it too didn’t want her stressed for it reached to her first. Grateful for that, she nursed her coffee musingly. Then something cold touched her upper arm and she looked to find a saucer of muffins suspended in the air. she was sicker than she thought, if she was beginning to see utensils helping her, she told herself and groaned.
And they spoke too. That’s it, she was heading to the hospital.
“Hey, hey, hey,” A hand stayed her. “Where are you off to?”
That voice…. She knew it…. somehow. She blinked and gingerly turned to set her eyes on Brendan. It took her some time to register that, then slowly she began to sob. Brendan dropped the saucer and gathered her in his arms. She weighed nothing. Dennis was right, she was thinner and frailer. He lifted her and carried her effortlessly, sobbing, into her car and drove to the hospital. She was sicker than Dennis had even let on. Why hadn’t he listened to his gut instinct and not his sister’s fabricate stories last time he had called? Why? He blamed himself as much as he blamed her.
He inside Mitch’s office and barreling down upon him before he could restrain himself. “How could you, Mitch?” He was panting heavily.
“I told her,” Mitch said. “I told her to tell you but you know your sister, stubborn mole, she insisted on no one knowing. She even came in late because it was me. Because she didn’t want anyone knowing. She even hid the divorce from me until I threatened to go to Marcus’ office to tell him about her illness. She has kept me on a tight leash. I could have called you on the phone but then I was scared she would never come back and then she would just die and nobody will know.”
Brendan ran his fingers through his hair in pure frustration. “What is he divorcing her for?”
“She had returned home after her routine scans to find him in bed with a blondie,” Mitch deftly supplied. “Uhuh,” he said when Brendan turned around to gave him the glare that looked so much like Brenda’s.
“And he wants –“ he suddenly needed to ram his fist into something with flesh and bone, and he knew what.
“I was concerned she wouldn’t make it for her check up today,” Mitch continued. “I’m glad you brought her.”
“Why is that?”
“You see, today is their day at court,” Mitch said. “She was going to dump medication for it.”
“Like hell she would. How the hell did things get this bad, Mitch?” Brendan asked softly, weary of all he now knew and all he was yet to know. “Bree has always been good and jolly. I never liked Marcus for anything but Bee loved him. Felt he was good enough for her and that had been all that had mattered. I had suspected the underlining tension but Bree was always so secretive about it all. Veronica thinks she struggles to hide their flaws so as not to further prove the fact that she was wrong and we right. It’s a useless theory,” he said with a face contorted with pain.
“But true,” Mitch added. “Your sister is loyal to a fault. Even when the odds are seriously against her. She sticks.”
There was a moment or two of silence. “What does the cough produce that she deftly hides?”
“Dennis is a man and I find I am increasingly proud of him,” Mitch stated. “Blood, Brendan. Blood.”
Tears ran down his eyes. “How long?”
“About three months, give or take. I’m no God. That’s my estimate.”
And Brendan wept bitterly.
“Where you up to?”
Without so much as a glance behind him, Brendan opened the door. “They are expecting Brenda, I’ll show them she has family. And hopefully I’ll get some chance to suck that asshole in the face. Repeatedly.” He paused. “I am sure she is to be hospitalized at this moment?” “No,” Mitch said. “But I’ll hold her for you,” was all he said and Brendan understood for he stood awhile at the door to gather his wits all by himself before heading out to the court.
The court proceeding had gone as smooth as gingerly possible for Brendan’s unsettled nerves. He needed action and he needed it now. The papers had already been signed, he had learnt from a man with gawky eyes he had learnt his sister had hired. She hadn’t seemed to have had anything against it which was odd. For a woman who had walked into her cheating husband , only to have him throw the divorce in her face. Brendan had only lip-smiled at him and told him it was one of Brenda’s many good fruits. The asshole had left her with the house and a huge part of his paycheck monthly for her upkeep and that of the kids. It was all grand. Like he was paying her off. Of course he was. Outside the court he held a compulsory meeting with Marcus.
“How generous you are, Marcus?” he said with a voice dripping with sarcasm.
Marcus turned a smiling face at his ex brother in-law. “Glad you could make it, Brendan.“ He held out a hand Brendan almost spat at. But eyed him instead. “How’s your little wife doing?”
Brendan’s eyes narrowed at the adjective and further at his effort to hold his temper. “You’re a good one to inquire about the welfare of another’s wife when yours is in no better shape!” Brendan practically spat at his feet. “I should sue your ass for negligence and incapability to hold your household responsibilities. Ha! So you give out a very huge chunk out of your paycheck, so what? Will it bring back all those years she invested in you? Will it wipe the tears on your twins’ faces? Will it cure my sister of cancer? Will it elongate her lifespan?” Brendan was weeping this time, but his voice rang out with vehemence and bitterness. “The day she caught you with her,” he nodded at the blonde beside Marcus. “she had just returned from her routine chemo. She had returned to put on a bravado face so her burden doesn’t add to yours! Only Bree can be that accommodating seeing as she pays the bills at home not you!” Then at the stunned blonde beside him, “You think him all shiny inside, huh? Go ask that woman you defiled her home and she will hand you a fresher course on the son of a bitch you are sleeping with.”
“Quit the drama, Brendan,” Marcus said. “I won’t return to her if that’s what all this is all about –“
“Who cares?” Brendan cut in savagely. His face contorted in pure rage. “I never wanted you anywhere near her.” His finger ominously pointing at him. “But she loved you, you son of a bitch. She loved you and what does she get? A bambi in her bed.” He eyed the blonde who looked every bit chastised. Her jaw dropped in shock. “Don’t get shocked. “
Marcus stepped forward as if to block Brendan from any physical assault upon his lover. “You have no right to speak to her in that manner?”
“But I do,” a voice suddenly said. Eyes turned and fell upon Dennis and Denise fuming. “Dad, I am shocked at you. Mum has put up with you for years and then when she needs you the most, you stick a knife in her back?” She waited and the tears didn’t come. “Uncle Brendan mum is sick and you and Dennis decided to keep me away from it?” she queried glancing from one person to the other.”How could you two? But that’s much beside the point.” Then back at her dumbstruck father. “And you,” she said, her hand raised to take him in. “I never want to see you ever again! Take your bloody money I don’t need it! I need my mum!” And in a tide of tears, she ran off.
“Mum died, Uncle Brendan,” Dennis announced, fighting his own tears. “She died a couple minutes ago.” The tears seemed to be winning. “Mitch said –“ he swallowed his sob. “Mitch said we should come get you. And give you this note.” He advanced all teary and broken and handed the note over to his dumbfounded, heartbroken uncle, who accepted it with shaky hands.
Slowly, Brendan unfolded the note and tears pricked his eyes harder at the familiar handwriting.
By the time you get this note I would have been gone far from you. I’m sorry. I didn’t have it all planned tight and all. (Smiles) I am sad that I can’t see the new baby, or Veronica one last time. I’m sorry we didn’t even have the chance to talk. I’m sorry I kept my illness from you all. I meant not to be a burden to the ones I love. I had only meant the best for you all. Tell Dennis and Denise to continue with their education and to take what is their right from their father, and more so, to forgive him. It’s a task I know can be done, for I have already. Tell Marcus to change his ways or he is going to end up finding ways to divorce that fine lady again. Tell her I hold no grudge. Brendan, hold your temper. You have the twins to care for. My bakery has to be managed, you know. It’s hard work so I am begging; do not see this as nuisance but a request for aid. I love you all. I love you, Dennis and Denise. Promise me you’ll grow to make me proud. Of course I know you will. Tell Salt and Philip I love them too. Kiss Vero for me. Tell mum and dad I am so sorry.
Forgive me for keeping this from you all, I didn’t want to disrupt any of your lives. (Smiles) I will miss you all.
Kisses and thank you,
I love you all.
The blonde began to look a bit downcast but remained by Marcus’. Maybe it was better she didn’t have any completion, right? After all, she still did have the money she had always wanted. Plus at a time, she had hoped the kids would reject the money from their father; but hearing from their mum, it was most certain they would obey her last wishes. Hhmmhh, much is the pity but heck! She had the money bag, didn’t she?
Brendan stood transfixed as the consequences of the sheet of paper in his hand assailed him. Of course, he would be their guardian, no doubt, they were his kids as much as they were his sister’s. but he would be commuting from base to here. Hhmmhh, Bree, you cut the work too tight. The kids would have to get a transfer. At 17 they both were of age to handle their lives, education and their mum’s business. Properly cared for the bakery held the capability to feed them – steadily – and cater for them. Plus they could still run it while job hunting. Either way, it would serve as a means to help their sense of responsibility. Bree, Brendan mused caught in between mirth and sadness. He blinked te brimming tears away.
“Let’s go home, Uncle,” Dennis said and began to lead his uncle away.
Suddenly Brendan slipped away and sucked Marcus in the jaw and walked away.