Lemonade and White Melons Ch. 03byNigel Debonnaire©
Another August morning in Lawrence, Kansas dawned bright and crimson, the sky turning blue as night gave way to day. Chris Jenkins awakened to hear his mother puttering around above his basement apartment. A glance at the clock told him she was moving around earlier than usual, and concerned, he got out of bed, put on a bathrobe, and went up to the kitchen.
Chris' mother Wilma was puttering around with the coffeemaker, her walker between her and the counter, her oxygen bag hanging by a strap around her shoulder. She was bent, dressed in a blue gown, her grey hair frayed, and her face creased in concentration. He stood watching her, waiting for her to see him, but she was in her own world at half speed. Her hands were shaking now, barely trembling, and her right eye was blinking rapidly.
"Mom, Mom, are you all right?"
She looked around the kitchen before seeing him, and her winkled face creased in a frown. "Who are you, young man, and what are you doing in my kitchen?"
"Mom, I'm your youngest son Chris, I live downstairs."
"Chris, Chris, Chris who?"
"Are you feeling all right?"
"Things are a bit shaky this morning, but I'll be all right in a minute. Virgil will need his breakfast, and I have to get the kids ready for school."
The old body teetered and Chris came over to make sure she didn't fall hard. Somehow she righted herself, and continued her slow progress toward the refrigerator.
"Mom, I'm calling 911."
Her head shaking, she looked at him, and a fragile voice said: "If you want to call one of your friends this early, Timmy, go ahead, but don't talk too long. You have to catch the bus in a few minutes."
Grabbing the cordless phone, Chris dialed for the paramedics, gave the dispatcher the directions, and hung up, waiting for the ambulance. The possibility his mother would need help was the positive reason Chris was still living at home in his 30th year, and he'd rehearsed what they would do many times. His brothers and sisters were aware of the situation and concerned about their mother's frail condition, but agreed she should live at home as long as she could.
An aroma wafted up and caught his attention. It took him a moment to recognize it, and it frightened him. The night before, a Saturday night, he'd spent with Frau Pearson. She drove them into Kansas City for dinner and an orchestra concert, coming back and ascending the stairs to her bedroom. He lifted his hand to his nose: her aroma was still there, all the way to his wrist, and suddenly he was afraid his mother would notice it and know what it was. The lights in her bedroom were on when he got home around 2:00AM, but that wasn't unusual. He didn't shower because he was afraid of what she might think, since he normally showered on awakening.
A wail of sirens crept into fringes of his hearing. His mother continued to putter around the kitchen, getting cups, bowls and saucers from the cabinets, looking in the refrigerator, then shutting the door absent mindedly to cross the room to the stove. Getting a skillet from underneath the oven, she put it on a burner and fired up the gas, still shaking and wobbling. Chris watched her closely and tried to get her attention, but she ignored him.
The wailing peaked, and the front doorbell rang. Chris went down the hallway past the cluttered front room to open the door. Sam Hearns, an old classmate of his at Lawrence High, was at the door, his partners stood behind him with a gurney and other equipment. "Somebody here call for an ambulance? Oh, hi Chris."
"Hi Sam. It's my mom."
They came in and he led them back to the kitchen. His mother was barely keeping upright as she bent over to look in a cabinet. The paramedic came up and asked: "Is there anything we can do to help you, Mrs. Jenkins?"
"Oh, you frightened me," she said, almost falling as she tried to stand up. "Did Timmy say you could come over for breakfast?"
He took her arm, and led her to a chair, where he sat her down. "I'd like to check you out a little bit, Mrs. Jenkins."
"All right, Dr. Francis. It's been a while since you made a house call, but it's kind of you to come over."
Sam began to check her out while his team brought everything in. She submitted to his examination meekly. Chris shut off the burners, and watched intently.
After a few moments, Sam stood up and said, "Mrs. Jenkins, I think we need to take a little ride. How does that sound to you?"
"Well, I don't know, I have to get breakfast ready for my family."
"I'll take care of everything, Mom. You need to go right away," Chris said.
"That's nice of you, young man, but my duty is to my husband and my family."
"Something happened to Dad, I mean, Virgil. They had to take him to the emergency room. He had chest pains"
"Oh, that's different. All right, young man, I'll go with you. I hope my Virgil's all right." The paramedics were able to walk her gently out the door, but halfway down the sidewalk, she collapsed and they had to load her into the gurney for the trip to the hospital. Sam turned to Chris after they loaded her in: "Do you want to ride with us?"
"No, I better make sure everything's all right here before I come in. It'll only take me about five minutes. I'll meet you there."
"Good. You know where to go."
The ambulance pulled away and Chris looked around at the lightening sky. His thoughts raced, and after a moment's pause, he went back in the house to organize things before he followed them.
The faint aroma still haunted him as he sat in the waiting room and called his brothers and sisters. Breakfast was a pack of little chocolate donuts from a vending machine and a can of soda; only a few people were stirring in the Emergency Room that early Sunday morning and the waiting room was nearly empty. After making the calls, he dozed fitfully in the chair as he waited for news.
The duty nurse came out to see him around 8:00AM. "Mr. Jenkins, your mother is doing better. We don't know exactly what happened, but it's something in her brain. She had a slight stroke 3 years ago?"
"Yes. They called it a TIA."
"How long has she been on oxygen?"
"About three years. They discovered the emphysema at that time, although she hadn't been breathing well for a while."
"Is she still smoking?"
"Yes. We've all tried to tell her how dangerous it is, but she won't listen. Been afraid she'd set herself and the house on fire."
"All right. We're sending her up for some tests later today, an MRI and some blood work, to see what we're dealing with. She hasn't been conscious since she came in. Is your family on the way?"
"Yes, my sister Brenda's on her way up from Wichita, and Sheila's on her way from Dodge."
"We'll give you the room number in a few minutes, and you can go home and rest for a while. Don't think she'll get there before 11:00, and she probably won't be conscious until this evening."
"I see. Well, thank you."
"You're welcome, Mr. Jenkins."
Chris watched as the nurse departed, taken aback at being called 'Mr. Jenkins.' She looked like a teenager in her floral scrubs. He left and went home, to be awakened from his nap an hour later.
"Schatzi, Schatzi, are you all right?"
"H'lo?" came the fuzzy reply.
It was Frau Pearson, Anna, as he needed to think of her now. "Did you forget we had a brunch date before I left for Europe today?"
He shook his head. "No, Anna, I had to take Mom to the hospital this morning. Something's wrong with her head, she thought Dad was still alive. My sisters are heading to town."
"I'm sorry to hear that, Schatzi. I understand completely. Do your duty to your family. I will see you when I get back in three weeks."
"Thanks, Anna. Safe journeys. Stay in touch."
"Of course, Schatzi. You're a wonderful man; never forget that."
"Thanks." He hung up, then hit his head with his hand. Should he have offered to come anyway? They wouldn't need him at the hospital, and he wouldn't get to see her for three long weeks. After all, she was his. . .
Burying his head under his pillow, he shook in confusion. He was dating someone at last, after many years alone, but his girlfriend was almost as old as his mother. Well, five years younger, but it was the same ballpark. Although he was head over heels for her, it was something he had to keep secret, even from his buddy Dave, lest he lose every semblance of respect from anyone else, as far as he knew. His head spinning, he entered an unconsciousness that was mercifully devoid of dreams.
The phone rang again around 3:00PM, and it was his sister Brenda announcing her arrival at the hospital. She kindly offered to stay until Sheila's arrival in two hours, and told him to go to work as usual.
Instead he called his supervisor and got time off immediately. For once, his boss didn't argue about being away: he was excused the next three nights. After a quick shower, he went to meet his sister at the hospital.
Brenda was his next oldest sister, his height and coloring, a little heavier, and freshly sunburned from a day in the sun. Sheila was next to the oldest: short, bleach blond, a vision of her mother as a young woman. They got to see their mother around 5:00; after awakening her from sleep they found she could say coherent words, but her sentences made no sense.
The next morning, their other three brothers arrived: Virgil, Fred and Terry. Timmy was the brother they lost in childhood: he died in a swimming accident just before Chris was born. Their mother's fixation on Timmy worried them, and the bits starting to trickle in from the reports worried them more. Over the next few days, the family spoke in groups of two, three and four in the waiting room, in the hotel rooms they booked, in the restaurants and the hospital dining room. Their mother's physical condition stabilized, but her mind stayed away.
Virgil took Chris outside Thursday morning for a short walk. The two brothers sat on an outside bench and watched the employees arrive for their 9:00AM shifts as Virgil burned through cigarette after cigarette.
"Chris, we've got to face facts," Virgil started. "No matter what happens, Mom isn't coming back home." Chris nodded. "We think we can get her into a nursing home in Wichita near Brenda." He nodded again. "You've done a good job looking after her here, and we appreciate it. It's time we let you live your life. It's time somebody else takes over looking after Mom. Bren's not working right now, and her kids are in school all day. She wants to do it."
"That's fine," Chris said in a small voice. "I knew something like this would happen someday, Virgil. Just never thought it would come this soon."
Virgil put his hand on his brother's shoulder and squeezed. "Fred and Terry and I are going to clean the place up a bit soon. We'll need to have everything ready to go before long."
"We might as well split things up between us, get the house cleaned out. Do you have a problem with us putting the house on the market?"
Chris shook his head. "I guess not. I don't want to stay there without Mom."
"Don't worry, Chris. It'll take a long time to sell, probably, and you'll have plenty of time to find another place to live. Do'ya need help with that?"
"Nope. I got friends."
Virgil nodded his head. He was the image of his father, taller and heavier, his black hair sprinkled with grey, and always looked after Chris until he left home. Occasionally, he took Chris on fishing trips, and let him stay at his house for days at a time. "I know things are going to go fast the next few days. We'll take our time divvying things up, and set up a garage sale for anything we don't want. The Jenkins family will stand tall together, right?"
"Right, Virgil." He remembered his Dad telling them to stand tall whenever things looked bad. "You ok?"
It took the six Jenkins siblings four days to organize their mother's house, marking items each wanted, and setting aside items for a garage sale. One of them kept track of their mother's progress: on Monday she would be ready to travel, and the nursing home in Wichita was ready for her. A realtor was contacted and a 'For Sale' sign appeared in the front yard. Chris had to duck out to take his shifts at the Convenience Store Thursday and Friday, and he put his yard work business on hold. Frau Pearson stayed in touch, telling him about her travels and giving him moral support.
After seeing his mother off to Wichita on a Monday morning, he gathered his equipment and went over to the Pearson house to clip the yard and hedges. The activity gave him something to focus on, take his mind off what was happening, and gave him a chance to be in Anna's presence.
The house seemed strange, occupied. He knew Frau Pearson was in Germany, and wondered who was there. As he did the back yard hedges, he saw a dark head of hair bobbing around atop a pink bikini top, a phone to her ear. He was finishing up when the back door opened.
"Hi, are you Chris?"
"I'm Anjie Pearson, Anna's granddaughter. Mutti told me you might be over this morning, and I wanted to say hi."
"Hi." The woman before him was Anna's height, with long dark hair and blue eyes, wearing thick, black rimmed glasses, a pink bikini top and short white shorts. Her hips were a little wide, her stomach a little flabby, and her long legs strong, her bare feet displayed red painted toenails the same shade her grandmother wore just before leaving for Europe. The acres of skin was white; she hadn't spent much time outside lately.
"D'ya want some lemonade?" she asked with a smile.
Chris was suddenly aware his meaty torso was bare, his t-shirt hanging by his belt, and his shorts were inadequate to conceal a budding erection. "Well, y-y-yes," he stammered.
"Great. C'mon in." She turned to re-enter, revealing a large, well sculpted backside. He put on his t-shirt and followed her carefully.
Two frosty glasses awaited them on the table, and he sat down quickly at the nearest chair. "When did you get into town?" he asked.
"Last night. I usually come out this time of year, my favorite time in Lawrence at the beginning of a new academic year."
"Yeah, it's starting to get busy. The store's been swamped."
"Did Mutti tell you much about me?"
He struggled to think about how he knew about her. Frau Pearson mentioned her often before going to Europe, but how? Then it came to him: "You're a book publisher."
"You're my publisher. I signed a contract with your company."
"Sharp man. We're going to sell a lot of copies of Journey through the Valley of Evil. One of the best Fantasy books I've read for a while."
"Thanks. I appreciate that."
She gave him a quizzical look, her eyes looking at him closely. "Do you remember me from High School?"
He thought for a while. "No, I don't think so."
"You were two grades ahead of me, and Lawrence High is a big place. We weren't in any activities together, but I remember you. You were in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead."
"Yes, that's right. Gosh, that's been a long time ago. Were you one of the stagehands?" She nodded with a big smile on her face. "Wow. Wow. I remember now. You always wore a ponytail and a KU sweatshirt." She nodded, smiling broadly. "How come you're back home? Do your parents still live here?"
She looked down for a minute. "I lost my folks in an accident when I was in junior high. Spent my teens with Mutti here in Lawrence."
"I'm sorry, Anjie. I didn't know."
She continued unfazed. "It was a long time ago. Went to the University, English Major, got a job at a publisher in New York, did well. Got a couple of hot tips and invested my money smartly, made enough to buy the company. Been making money for the past three years."
"Garrison Keillor would be proud of you."
"I usually visit Mutti in the summertime, and when she told me she was visiting family in Germany, I asked if I could house sit. I love Lawrence in August, when school's starting and all things are possible."
"That's one way of looking at it. I see it as the return of awful traffic and bunches of barbarians invading town."
She giggled. "Of course, that too. How's your Mom doing?"
"She moved to Wichita today. Going to live in a nursing home, Brenda's going to look in on her. It's going to be empty around the house."
"I can imagine."
"Anyway, I thought I'd catch up on the yardwork for your grandmother before I go to work later today. Have to do my shift at the convenience store."
"Do you get a day off soon?"
"Let's bum around town Wednesday. I'd love to see all the old haunts on campus, and it's more fun with company. What do you say?"
He looked at her for a moment. Her eyes were bright and inviting, and the cool air of the kitchen made her nipples perk within her top. "All right. Meet you when?"
"9:00AM right here. Bring your bicycle."
"How did you know. . ."
"Figure it out. I've got some things to do online. Later." She bounded up the stairs, jiggling nicely, leaving him to finish his drink and wonder what just happened.
When he got home, there was an e-mail in his inbox:
Having a wonderful time, and I sincerely wish you were here. Spent a lovely day with cousin Magda touring where we grew up and crossed into the Czech Republic for a while. Tomorrow we're going hiking in the Schwartzwald, and end up at cousin Heinrich's bistro for supper. I found a lovely beer stein for you.
I hope everything will work out well for your Mother in Wichita. It will be quite a time of adjustment for you, I know, and you're probably quite concerned about moving for the first time of your life.Don't worry, if you can't find anyplace suitable you can stay with me for a while. Have you met my Angela yet? I told her to look for you. If you have some time, please keep her company, she works far too hard and needs to have some fun.
I miss you, Schatzi, I miss your gentle touch. Take care of yourself in these hard days.
Work that night was rather quiet after the dinner rush. Dave Chapman strolled in around 8:30 with his girlfriend Tina on his arm. "Hey, Chris, got a minute?"
"Sure Dave. Hi Tina." Tina returned his greeting.
"We have announcement to make." Tina held out her left hand, and Chris discovered a small diamond ring on her third finger.
"Congratulations, guys. I'm happy for you. Wow, Dave, this is pretty impulsive for you. Get tired of your freedom?"
"Oh Christopher, my old friend, how little do you understand about life? Tina's the perfect girl for me: she even plays D & D. Gotta snap her up while I can."
"A match made in heaven. When's the happy day?"
"New Year's Eve," Tina cut in. "We're going to start the New Year together, and we'd like you to be our Best Man."
"I'm touched. I'd say you two are, too, but that's beside the point. Of course, Dave, I'd be honored. We go way back."
"Excellent." Dave looked around, finding Chris' new associate Frieda arranging shelves in the cooler. "Where the bitch Jessica?"
"Quit last week while I was gone. The Internet pics humiliated her; she said everybody who came in last Monday night asked when she was getting naked. I don't know what she's doing and I don't care. I didn't even look at the clip."
"Just as well, you've got enough headaches right now. How's things with your Mom?"
"Went to Wichita today."
"You have to move out of the house anytime soon?"
"Nope. Brother Virgil said I could take my time, and they'd help me if I need it. Don't think the house will sell soon; it needs some work." "If you need a place to crash for a while, bud. . ."
Tina looked at her watch and gave Dave a nudge. "We gotta go, dude. Gotta. . .gotta. . .gotta . . .work on our stamp collection." Dave gave him a big wink.