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The Things between Us: A Memoir
October 1998 Framingham, Massachusetts
First things first. You have to meet my mother. You have to meet the Mumzy in the morning, sitting with her old tree root legs, stunted and worn, dangling off the edge of the king-size bed she shares with my father. In front of her is a purple walker, reminiscent of a racing bicycle with four wheels, its wire basket stuffed with socks, notebooks, a Kleenex or two. She looks up at the clock that sings a different bird song every hour on the hour and announces to my father, who is reading in a chair, "Monty, it is eight forty-five." She holds up three fingers to indicate the number of ounces of gin she wants in her drink. My father leaves the room, and I study my mother's face, the folds in her skin collapsed around bones and things she cannot express. I pat her shoulder and follow my father into the other room to watch him make my mother a drink — one of his many chores since Mother broke her shoulder a few years earlier.
In the kitchen an old wooden chest of my grandfather's stores booze and nuts and crackers. My father flips open the top, reaches into its belly to pull out a half-gallon jug of Tanqueray, and pours it into a jigger twice. There is something disconnected about his movements, but he says nothing. The only sounds come from the clinking of glass and ice and the pouring of spirits.
I am following my father around my childhood home now — watching, studying — because the doctors recently found the reason that he has been losing weight and, in the last few weeks, has found it difficult to swallow: He has a tumor in his stomach. They do not know if it is malignant or not, which is why I study him so vigilantly; I am trying to decipher our future.
Dad reaches into the fridge and grabs a handful of fresh mint, and from a cabinet, a few plastic straws, and stuffs the bunch into the glass. He knows I watch him so he completes this maneuver with a self-conscious flair. "Take that!"
My father and I deliver Mother's drink and sit silently. I lie back on the lavender carpet and stretch my back, sneaking peeks at both of them. My mother, sitting on the edge of the bed, stares out the French doors into the field and my father goes back to his paperback thriller. The black pancake face of their little dog, Inky, peeks out from under the bed, and while I pat her, I pull at an odd tumor, a sac of skin, that hangs off her neck. Mom looks at Dad and then at me sadly, her expression asking, Now what do we do? I smile at her, trying to be reassuring, as I am thinking Dunno. Dunno. Dunno.
Three days earlier, on a bright autumn morning, Mom and Pop call with the news.
"But the test says no cancer?" I say into the phone. "That's good, isn't it?"
"Partly sunny, partly cloudy," Dad says. "It's the same damn thing. There's still a tumor there."
According to my father, they can't identify the tumor because "the asshole" on the other end of the scope can't get a piece of the thing to analyze. When he says this, all I can think about is the doctor. I had known his daughter in kindergarten. I remember her especially well because I had adored her mother, particularly how she made tuna sandwiches. I'd never seen anyone do anything so mundane with such care. She used Miracle Whip, not mayonnaise, and toasted the bread, cutting off the crusts, and slicing the beautiful remainder into tiny triangles.
"Please come," Mother says from the other extension.
"What is she going to do, Barbara?" my father says.
"You need support."
"I DO NOT need support."
"I do, then," she says.
"I need the kids available if I have to have surgery," my father says. "There's no point..."
"Fuck it," I finally say. "I'm coming."
"Jesus," my father says. "Your language is awful. You take after your mother."
"Go to hell," my mother says.
Dad says nothing, but hell is where I'm headed. I climb on a plane and fly east, back to Framingham and my parents' home.
Copyright © 2006 by Lee Montgomery
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