In May, Mary scared me nearly out of my wits by coming down with pneumonia right after the spring blooming season and dust storms. We'd both caught some kind of virus weeks before, blaming someone at our church for infecting us. But while I was nearly healthy again, she grew worse, running a fever and coughing weakly. I would check on her every day at lunchtime and after work, because her temperature kept spiking even though she was taking aspirin around the clock. Her friend Mr. Albert stopped in to see her every evening; her pals from the parish, Lourdie and Ida, called her every day and brought food.
I skipped going to the estate that weekend, and around noon on Saturday, stopped in to check on her. She didn't answer the door, and in a panic, I used my key to her house. She lay on the sofa, awake, but too weak to get to the door to open it. "Mary," I said, as I sat down on the edge of the couch. "How are you feeling?" Her skin as I touched her arm was very hot. I gently pinched her skin -- the fold stood up like a little wall. She was very dehydrated.
"Jack's here," she said in a whisper. "Say hi to him. He's waiting to meet Albert."
The doorbell rang and I opened the door to admit Lourdie, who held a small casserole dish. "Lourdie," I said, "she thinks her husband is here."
Lourdie made the Sign of the Cross and said something in Portuguese before approaching Mary. "Mary, do you understand me?" she said loudly.
"Yes, of course I do. I'm just feeling under the weather because I'm pregnant."
I went to the phone and dialed 9-1-1.
Eleven-thirty his time, not really too late to call on a Saturday night. In my desk drawer I found the original piece of paper on which he'd written his phone number five years before. As I carefully dialed the number, I imagined how he'd use this bold print for writing tickets or citations, and could just about see his scowling face intimidating his perpetrators. After about five rings, his phone was answered -- by a female voice. "Is this the John LeMay residence?" I asked, looking at the number in my hand, and wondering if I was that much out of date.
"And who is this, please?" said the voice, dripping with unwarranted curiosity.
"This is Sully Ambris, thank you for inquiring." Darnit, I've become my mother, I thought, Zero to Pissed Off in no time at all. "And now could I please speak to John LeMay." There seemed to be a cannonball that had just lodged in my chest, making it hard to speak. Odd that a cannonball didn't hurt just yet, but was growing larger by the second.
"Sully Ambris? You're a woman? John!" she called, away from the phone. "Your buddy Sully would like to speak to you."
"Here, gimme that, that's California calling!" Oh, good, I was so glad to have statehood conferred upon me. Statehood would stop me thinking about a woman in his apartment at night, of course it would.
"Here he is," the woman's voice said unctuously.
"Goddammit, Caitlin! Hello, Sully, what's up? Is everything okay?"
"You have some explaining to do, Johnny-boy," the woman's voice announced in the background.
"Hello, John," I started. Why hadn't I let Lourdie call him instead? I didn't want to talk to him. Not now, not if there was a woman listening to him in his apartment. At night. "I just wanted to keep you informed of what was happening, no emergency, really. Your mom caught a cold and we thought it was getting bad, so we took her to the hospital for observation. They said she's going to be okay, but they wanted her to stay overnight while the antibiotics work on her a little, and they can do some inhalant therapy. She's going to be fine, I just figured you would want to know she was at the hospital, sorry for calling so late."
"Do I need to come out there and take care of her? I can be out there tomorrow."
God, no. "Really, between Lourdie and Ida, Mr. Albert, and me, we've got her taken care of around the clock. Anyway Lourdie's going to move in with her for a few days, until she's better. You could give her a call at the hospital tomorrow morning, say, between eleven and one your time. After that, she'll probably be home."
"Okay, good. Get me the number for the hospital, would you, Sul? Hey, are you sure everything's all right? You sound funny."
Funny? You bet, down-home slapstick wacko funny. "She's fine, John. We've just had a long day." I gave him the numbers for the hospital and said goodnight, feeling my face sagging with disappointment.
Alright, why was I upset? Just because we were always paired out here for our platonic little outings, what, did I actually think that he was supposed to live a life of celibacy, as I did? Did I actually believe that he lived for the twice-a-year opportunities to hold hands during one prayer at Mass? Why is my face burning? Because this "Caitlin" might have read my recent e-mails to him, and seen that I was fond of him? That I had let myself become more than fond of him, and wasn't it too damn bad if I was?
My phone rang, and I knew it would be John calling back. I didn't want to answer; my face felt as though it were made of chilled wax in an ugly pose. As I reached for the phone, I tried to remember how I would have answered the phone if I thought it was my sister, or perhaps a telemarketer.
"Sully, this is John. I'm worried that something's wrong and you're not telling me. You didn't sound like yourself, and you didn't sound tired, either. You're saying Ma's okay, what about you, are you all right?"
Deep breath, I'm a trooper, make my face pose as though for a company picture, square the shoulders, I can carry anything; I've carried far worse than this before. Take a lesson from good ol' Adam: redirect and step out of the line of fire. "We had a really ugly dust storm about two weeks ago, the strangest yellow dust I've ever seen out here. I came down with a sinus infection, and my nose and throat are still kind of iffy. I don't doubt that same storm is what has affected your mother so."
"I'll take your word for it. You keep e-mailing me with news, okay? Listen, why don't we set a time for the instant message thing, and you can give me the low-down on everything? Sul, are you there?"
Reeling. How can he ask that? He brought me flowers, he was glued to my side through his last visit, his gray eyes watched me like stars looking down at the earth, and he has a woman in his apartment on a Saturday night. Do all men lead double lives? "I'll e-mail you with a good time for chatting on-line, I don't know right now. I really must hang up, John. Talk to you later or as soon as I hear any news, okay? Good night." I hung up the phone, feeling pains shooting through me like lightning bolts of shame and foolishness.
I let Gabe out for his nightly duties, and stood in the yard staring up at the wispy clouds tickling the waxing moon. Just what the hell was all that turmoil about? When did this emotional attachment crap sink its talons into me? When he started shooting out of his mother's house half-dressed, pretending that he'd been up for hours, to accompany me on walks with the dog? When I started listening to what he said rather than just keeping him at arm's length?
Last fall I talked frankly to Mary and told her that although I really liked John, and looked forward to seeing him and spending time with him, I was not going to lead him on -- I wasn't going to carry on an affair with him, and I was not able to pursue an annulment. And though she assured me that she had informed him of this situation, he still came out to California to visit at Christmas time and was if anything, more attentive and openly flirting.
I wiped away water that had appeared under my eyes, salt water that had no excuse for being there. There was no reason for me to feel hurt. This was what I'd wanted for the past five years, wasn't it? To know that I'm not his love interest? Then why am I feeling let down when I've got my wish?
Shaking my head with disgust for my stupid schoolgirl's heart, I wrestled my thoughts back to Mary, who was the important person anyway. First thing in the morning, I should call the parish priest and let him know she was ill. He could have someone bring her Communion whether she stayed in the hospital another day or came home. She'd like that.
"Psssst," I called to Gabe. "In, boy."
When I crawled under my blankets, Gabe jumped up on the bed and bouncily turned around a few times before lying down with a huff. And although I really didn't want to continue to think about John, my mind turned again to the woman's voice. She didn't know I existed. I hadn't known she existed. I couldn't believe he was talking about chatting on the computer with me -- in front of her! Well, why the hell not, I argued with my heart. I'm just a friend. A friend. He's still my friend. He's still the friend I said he could never be more than. Even if he has a date or another "friend" or a floozy, he's still trying to be my friend.
There were two dogs running loose up the street, and I had let Gabe out the front door without his leash. He had a penchant for chasing after other animals, and once he began to run, his brain invariably overloaded and he would be oblivious to my shouts. This time I decided I would teach him a powerful lesson and let him go. He saw the other dogs. His head came up, ears fully in sail, and with a scrabbling of toenails, off he went to make contact with them. I followed him, intending to beat him soundly to show him that taking off like that was a bad idea. But by the time I caught up with him, he was already coming back to me. We walked back down the sidewalk together, my anger dissipating. My last thought before I awoke: "Will it make me feel better or worse if I beat him?"
All symbols in dreams are symbols of our own selves, for our own selves. Shortly after Adam moved out, I dreamt of three sickly, emaciated infants that I found abandoned in a religious shrine. I picked them up and held them tightly, and fixed their blankets and fed them, and they began to look more healthy, and to smile. Those tiny orphans were me, abandoned by Adam, abandoned by God, abandoned by myself. Somewhere inside me, my heart was telling me to find myself, love myself, feed myself. It took years to do it, years to figure out the symbols. "What is the point in that?" one may ask. What good does the symbol do if you can't see the meaning for years on end? I believe that talking to ourselves in dreams is like talking to anyone -- can you make a person believe anything until they are ready to accept it?
As soon as I awoke, I knew the dream about beating Gabe was about punishing myself. For what? I had chosen to live alone. Was I subconsciously ready to beat myself for that choice? Or was it because now that you mention it, I didn't like the choice I'd made?
Caitlin, eh? Probably a tramp.