Last Friday, I’m driving to lunch when a bad headache comes on, all of the sudden, and I turn around to go back to the library. I tell my supervisor I have to go home but I drive instead to my parents’ house in Williamson Valley because I need to pick up my dog. She’s been there for days, because of a javelina situation, and because I’ve been busy. But no one is there when I arrive, just Bella and Milo howling on the porch, and I can’t just take off with Bella because I know my parents will worry when she’s not on the porch, and also my headache is so bad I think I’m going to throw up.
So I take both dogs into my old room and lie down. The dogs curl up on the bed with me, and even though I am allergic to him, I bury my face against Milo’s back and close my eyes. I think about the pain, and the nausea, and about car accidents and whip lash and brain tumors and aneurisms and I fall asleep as Bella, after trying unsuccessfully to engage Milo in a sparring match, sprawls across my feet and settles her head in the crook of my knees.
When my mother comes home about an hour later, the dogs erupt into a hairy ball of thunder and teeth and toenails, scattering pillows and scratching me as they leap from the window to the door to greet her.
She is surprised to see me and but knows right away that it means I am sick.
The phone rings and it is my father. He’s with my grandmother, shopping, and won’t be home for hours. My mother and I sit on the couch and she offers to make me soup and I say yes but first, she sorts through the mail.
“This is for you,” she says. She doesn’t like that after moving out again more than 3 years ago, I still have mail coming to the house. It’s an alumni magazine is from a college I went to in England. I drop the magazine on the living room table. David Attenborough is on the cover, “I thought he died,” she says.
“Maybe it’s a tribute.”
I tell her about my week, about the Volunteer Banquet and the trivia night I went to with a friend and the latest library gossip and she tells me about the family – most of which I picked up already on Facebook, but she’s not on Facebook, so I let her talk.
She tells me about her brother who just published his third novel. She’s eight chapters in, and it’s good, she says. I already bought it, but haven’t had time to start reading it yet. She tells me that our family reunion for the 4th of July has been cancelled, and that my cousin Anne is going to live in England for 6 months.
This ,I’ve known for a while, but no details, no dates, just a half a year in England. “Where will they be living?”
“Near Manchester?” she says but I don’t think she knows where that is. I think about the Manchester accent. I think about the prisoners I knew from there.
And then she says, “We should go. You and I. We should go and you can see your friends and I can tour around with Anne.”
And I immediately reach for the same excuse I’ve used for the past 5 years.
“I don’t have a passport.”
“So… get your passport.”
“So… get your passport.”
Easy answer. Been meaning to do it for years. I got the pictures taken, filled out the form, found another excuse, put the form in a drawer.
There is a reason I haven’t gone back. But maybe now, this time, there is no real excuse anymore. I just need to face it. I should go back and if it happens, if England still feels like home, then maybe I need to think about what that means. And if it doesn’t, then maybe we’ll just have a nice time.
“Oh,” says my mother. She’s on her kindle, checking her email. “I got a message from Marshall.” My brother. “He says he’s sorry about the reunion, and that we should go to Portland instead.”
I tell her I need to think about it, that it depends. I don’t know what it depends on, but I’m tired and my head still hurts and I don’t want to make any decisions or commitments or anything.
“Want to watch a move?” she asks.
“Yes. But, also, can I have some soup?”
She puts down the kindle and tells me to go upstairs and lie down, turn on the TV and she will make me a tray.
“Also, cheese and crackers?”
“Yes. Now go upstairs. Take the dogs.”
I lie down on the couch and start sneezing. I’m starting to think it’s not Milo I’m allergic to but something in the house. But the couch is sort of new and wide and soft and I pull a fuzzy blanket up to my chin and think about England but also how nice it is to have my parents living nearby when I feel like this.
My mother calls from downstairs. “Have you got the dogs? If Bella jumps on me on the stairs … no soup for you.”
Milo was already asleep on the floor, but I call Bella over and she climbs halfway onto my chest. She’s not allowed on the couch, but if her back legs are on the floor it doesn’t count. I know this and she knows this. I hold onto her collar just in case.
My mother comes up the stairs carrying a tray with two bowls of homemade chicken soup, a glass of water and cheese and crackers.
“Let’s watch something terrible,” she says.
And we do. Automata, a dystopian sci-fi low-budget version of I, Robot starring Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith.
My mother sleeps through half of it, startling awake occasionally and grabbing my foot because she thinks it’s the remote control. “Oops,” she says, taking back her hand. “Sorry.”
More time passes and she doesn’t know what’s going on. A robot voiced by Javier Bardem gets his head blown off. “Why do all the robots have different accents?”
I think that’s a great question.
After the movie, we go back downstairs. My allergies are out of control and it’s time to go home. My headache is gone, but then my father pulls into the driveway, so I wait.
He comes in, asks about my headache, asks if it’s because of the accident, reminds me to drink more water and not settle with the insurance company yet.
“They keep calling me. But I’m always at work,” I say.
“You’ve got time. You don’t know the long term effects.”
He tells me about his week, about shopping with Grandma. The phone rings, my mom says ‘it’s your mother’ as she answers it, but the line goes dead. His cell goes off next. I listen to his one-sided conversation.
“It wasn’t on the list, Ma.” There’s a pause, and then louder, “It wasn’t ON THE LIST. I’ll bring it tomorrow. I’LL BRING IT TOMORROW. TOMORROW MA. TOMORROW!”
And then his voice drops to barely a whisper. “Ok. Bye bye.” I think about how she probably never hears him say goodbye. I wonder if she thinks he hangs up on her.
He turns to me as he puts his phone away. “We forgot the water. It wasn’t on her list. I told her to make a list.”
He asks me about my phone. He wants to know how many apps I have. We have the same phone, but he’s been taking a class. “Did you know that locking your phone doesn’t shut off Siri? Anybody can get in there? A bad guy could steal the phone, say ‘call gramma,’ pretend to be you and steal all her money?”
I give it a try. I pick up my phone, double click the button without unlocking it first and ask Siri to call home. The house phone starts ringing. My mother, Captain Oblivious, says, “Phone!”
I do another test. “Siri. Set my alarm for 6:30 tomorrow.” Siri does it.
That’s cool. At least the bad guy won’t be late to his bad guy appointments.
I get up to leave.
Bella prances to the door, all tail and legs and growling purrs, and I wait for her to calm down before I attach the leash.
I say bye to my parents as she pulls me out the door. At the top of the stairs Bella pauses, head between the railings, searching for rabbits. She is so still, I can’t blame her for what happens next.
I’m on the second step when my left leg stops working, or gives out, or disappears completely. In slow motion, I fall and land first on my knees, then my wrists and finally onto my right shoulder. I lay there for a moment until Bella turns, whines, and licks my face.
I take a deep breath and am glad, as I always am when this happens, that no one else was there to see. I pull myself up and rub my knees and imagine dark, symmetrical bruises.
The front door opens behind me, and my father steps onto the porch with the magazine in his hand. “Your mother says you forgot this.”
He doesn’t really care if I pick up my mail either.
“I thought you came out because you heard me fall down.”
“Nope. You forgot this thing.” He waves it at me and I take it. “Are you ok?”
“Yep. See you later.”
“Your car. I looked it up. For a side impact collision, it rates ok.” He’s continuing a conversation we’ve been having since my accident. He doesn’t think my Civic is safe anymore. “I couldn’t find the article about the roll over accidents though,” he said.
“Well, there’s a support bar, Dad. By the window?” I point at my car, and then continue, stupidly. “But I don’t know how safe a car can be with a sunroof? The glass would go everywhere.”
“I didn’t know it had a sunroof,” he says, like this changes something. Like he’s going straight back to the Consumer Report to see if a sunroof makes a difference. This is what he does. I was in an accident. I’m mostly ok. But still he worries.
“I don’t know,” he says again. “Just be careful.”
I put Bella in the car and drive back downtown to my house, thinking about accidents and England and my library and my grandmother, about headaches and falling down and how much it’s all going to hurt later.
Bella whines as we pull into the driveway, relieved to be home.