“Mom,” said Morgan at the dinner table that night, “did you know the Knowleses are back in town?”
Mavis Izaak put down her fork and looked up. “Not quite,” she said.
“‘Not quite?’ What does that mean?”
“Not quite all the Knowleses. Baxter and his mother are back. Mr. Knowles has … well, he’s still in New York.”
Morgan felt his heart skip a beat. “Then it’s temporary?”
Mavis lowered her eyes. “I’m afraid not.”
He studied her closely. It was plain that she knew more than she was saying. As a matter of fact, he had the oddest feeling that she was actually embarrassed, maybe even ashamed, to say anything else.
“I don’t get it,” he said. “Something about it must be temporary. I mean, if they’re here and he’s there, then—”
Mavis stopped him with a glance. “They’re splitting up, Morgan,” she said, her cheeks coloring delicately. “His parents are splitting up.”
“They’re getting a divorce?”
Against his better judgment, he wrinkled up his nose and snorted. “Doesn’t surprise me! I wonder how they stood each other this long!”
“Now that big shot Baxter will find out what it’s like not to have a dad!”
Mavis said nothing.
Morgan stood up. “Mom! Why are you acting like this? Why should you care so much about the Knowleses? It doesn’t have anything to do with you!”
She looked up at him. “But it does,” she said quietly. “Everything that happens to our friends and neighbors concerns us.”
“Well, they’re not my friends! As far as I’m concerned, the Knowleses deserve everything they get! All of them!”
She frowned severely. “I don’t want to hear any more of that kind of talk,” she said. With a sigh, she glanced over at a steaming plate of food on the sideboard. “Why don’t you take your grandmother’s dinner in to her?”
Something in her tone told him that it was time to quit. Biting his lip, he went to the sideboard, picked up the plate, and carried it out through the dining room and down the hall.
Grandma Wilma Izaak had been living with them for several weeks—ever since Grandpa Charles had died of a stroke at the beginning of August. She had to live with them, Mavis said, because she couldn’t take care of herself. Grandpa had done everything for her while he was alive: cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, driving. What’s more, she had to have a room of her own because she spent all of her time in bed. That wouldn’t have been so bad if it wasn’t Morgan’s room. He’d been sleeping on the living room couch for nearly two months now.
Grandma Wilma had been in bed for as long as Morgan could remember. Nobody seemed to know exactly why. She talked as if she were deathly ill, but all her doctors said they couldn’t find anything wrong with her.
That didn’t put Grandma off her story. Nor did it keep her from describing her ailments in detail to anyone unfortunate enough to be within hearing range. She was sick and weak and faint all the time. On some days her legs hurt. On others her stomach was “out of sorts.” On still others she suffered from heart palpitations and anxiety attacks. The complex constellation of her symptoms seemed to change, like the shifting colors of a kaleidoscope, with every passing day. You never could tell what new malady she’d be complaining about when you went in to see her.
Balancing the plate on one hand, Morgan approached the door of the room and knocked lightly. Without waiting for an answer he turned the knob and stepped inside. Though the sky outside was still light, all was obscure in this somber chamber where the shades were perpetually drawn and the curtains always closed. The air was still, cold, and heavy. The whole place smelled of disinfectants, medications, and freshly laundered linens.
“That you, Morgan?” said a voice from the bed—a voice as thin and frail as dry eggshells.
Treading softly, he went to the tray beside the bed and set the food down. He could barely make her out in the faint light. Her head was propped up against two big pillows, and her thin, withered face looked like a raisin in a bird’s nest of frazzled white hair.
“I brought your dinner, Grandma,” he said.
“What is it, dear? Your mother knows I can’t eat just anything.”
“Corned beef and cabbage.”
The figure in the bed shifted slightly. “Take it back,” she muttered. “Get me some chicken broth.”
“But why? This stuff is good. Even I liked it.”
She drew back her withered lips and winced. “If your gums were as sore as mine you wouldn’t ask. That biscuit you brought me yesterday was hard as a binnick! Go get me some chicken broth. That’s a good boy.”
“And Morgan,” she said, clutching his arm and drawing him closer, “don’t forget what I told you.”
Morgan sighed. “I know, Grandma. ‘Perilous times.’” He’d heard the sermon so often he knew it by heart.
“Signs in the heavens and signs on the earth.”
“And earthquakes,” Morgan volunteered. “And famines and wars.”
“Earthquakes, yes! We just had one of them! A doozie, too! Young men will see visions. Old women will dream dreams. I’ve seen him, Morgan, in my dreams. Perilous times.”
Seen who? thought Morgan. But he didn’t feel inclined to ask. Why drag this out any longer than necessary?
Grandma, meanwhile, coughed feebly and ran her tongue gingerly over her gums. Morgan wondered how anyone who believed so fervently in miracles could be so sick all the time. “I’ll get you that chicken broth now,” he said.
“Wait!” she said, lowering her voice. “One more thing!”
Morgan sighed. “What?”
“Your father knew all this. He never said so—not in so many words. But he knew. He still does.”
Morgan froze. My father? This was something new. He peered at her intently through the dimness. “Still knows? What does he know?”
“Perilous times,” she repeated, nodding vigorously. “John knows. I saw him.” She fell silent and motioned him away with a wave of her hand. “Chicken broth,” she said.
Morgan backed away. Bumping against the bedside tray, he picked up the plate of food and stumbled out the door.
* * * * *
(To be continued …)