Mike Lee is a writer, labor journalist, editor and photographer based in New York City. Fiction published and forthcoming include The Ampersand Review, The Solidago Journal, Paraphilia and Visions Libres.
Rochelle stared at her father. He was tired, aged and she felt it unwise for him to stay awake to write something he could do with ease in the morning—Daddy was exhausted and looking a little dog-eared.
“Sure,” said Rochelle. Stay up all night, she thought. It won’t do you a bit of good.
“I’m going out to the beach for a while, Daddy.”
“Have fun, dear daughter.”
“You too, father dear,” said Rochelle, already heading out onto the porch.
She sighed. 1996 must have been a good year for him. He wrote his first novel and his daughter Rochelle was born. He was likely hopeful—knowing him, unrealistically so, since he dreamed as much as Rochelle often did. He was a young man on the verge of discovering his limits, which then were wide open as the sky. Of triumph, making it, moving forward with the books in the stores and seeing his photograph on the back cover.
Later, while watching the breakers crash on Folly Beach, under the moonlight of a cloudless sky, Rochelle sat on the sands mused on how it must to have been for her father, to have reached the pinnacle of literary success, not realizing that it was really mounting a molehill and quickly sliding back to where he was before; although a little wiser, and still dreaming.
Daddy was like a breaker, never a wave, cracking, not crashing upon the shore, a promised white cap that never appeared except for a brief moment, and collecting foam upon the sandy shore. Fading back he did, silently. Receding into the ocean to become another wavelet, smaller with each passage as the tides—like cultural tastes and the onrush of history—irrevocably changed; becoming more of a challenge with each novel he completed and sent off to a series of agents, repeating the process until there were no longer any efforts to write anymore, at least for publication.
Grimacing, Rochelle felt sad for him, but she was only an observer with the awareness of an adult, too old to shed tears about it but feel the empathy of watching Daddy become more withdrawn and knowing that while he remained, one day eventually, Rochelle realized, he won’t be.
Rochelle knew her mother left when she was three, and when asking about it later, all Daddy did was go into a file cabinet and pulled out a legal folder containing the papers from the divorce and custody proceedings.
After reading them, she never asked again.
Her father never remarried, though did date. Some Rochelle liked, others she ignored. After she graduated college, Daddy moved south to Charleston, South Carolina, while Rochelle stayed in New York.
Now established with a career, Rochelle spent two weeks in Charleston with him, staying at his beach house on Folly Beach, and taking in the waves in peaceful reflection.
Daddy was the memory keeper for both of them, having collected everything of his daughter. From prenatal sonogram prints, her school records and essays, and all the photographs, Daddy kept them all in several folders, carefully arranged on a shelf in the front room, which also served as his writing study and library.
These artifacts appealed little to Rochelle until her visit the previous year. She became curious about her past, namely her aged grandmother in Texas. She could not remember meeting her, and asked him about her. About herself, Rochelle knew everything. Of her father and his family—there was nothing.
“Not much to say, except she’s alive and totally out of it,” was his reply.
“How come you never talked to me about your childhood?”
“There was never much I wanted to say about that, either.”
Rochelle saw the expression on his face, and decided against proceeding further. Thinking about it, listening to the roar of the Atlantic, there were the novels he wrote, and so when she returned to them for information, there seemed to be broad, vague hints of his past. She did know his father left before Daddy was born, and had died in Ely, Nevada sometime in the early 1970s. That was from a death certificate in a folder along with some papers involving her grandmother’s commitment to the nursing home. Daddy’s birth certificate was in that file, too. One intriguing entry was her grandfather’s occupation was listed as a freelance writer. Yet, through all the Internet searches she made as a consequence, Rochelle found nothing published by the man. It was as if he jumped in a hole, and took it with him until he died in Nevada. Daddy did admit that his mother received letters from him after he had left, but those letters were gone by the time he was able to go through her papers after she had had her stroke.
Rarely was there mail in Daddy’s mailbox, but this time a letter arrived; a thick packet, addressed from the nursing home in Texas. Daddy grimaced as he went through the papers, before sharing them with his daughter.
There had been a change in grandmother’s condition. A turn for the worse, a slippage toward the landing at the River Styx, near death and a reminder to her son that he had medical power of attorney, along with various forms to fill out and sign.
“I got several calls about this, and asked for them to send the paperwork,” Daddy said. He paused for a moment, adding, “Do you realize I have seen her only 19 times since I was 23 years old? And five of those visits were to her nursing home. As I told you, I go once a year—not that it makes much sense. She has been out of it since the stroke. Several of her friends visit with her, as does my cousin Bernadette.”
“You should see her, now. I only met her twice, and don’t remember,” said Rochelle. “So I am going with you. I also like Bernadette. I like your family.” She emphasized your. Rochelle hardly met any of Daddy’s relatives, either.
Daddy seemed the perpetual loner, and his literary output was reduced to an occasional short story—he worked on one a month—selling a few in online journals and the occasional print magazine, yet he admitted he had not started a novel in years.
Dad had done some checking on the computer and Skyped with the doctor in charge. Rochelle left him alone; she spent her life keeping her head low in these personal situations. It was none of her business. No need for the other to know everything; this was one of the aspects that anchored a good relationship between them. They were just very private people.
Rochelle felt visiting his mother would improve Daddy’s mood, including trying to get over the fact that all of his novels were long out-of-print. Thinking of that, she browsed Amazon to check on the prices for used copies of his books—at least Daddy’s oeuvre was collectable. The prices had stayed steady in the last year, though on occasion there was a great bargain for library discards, and sometimes Rochelle bought one to give as gifts for friends, or reading copies for her. The library stamps fascinated her. She got his second book from a library from the London system. Daddy did have a contract there, with a trade paper edition of all the novels in book shops and online in the United Kingdom and the European Union. Daddy was translated into eleven languages, and his biggest audience was in Poland, Brazil and Argentina. So, he was not a total failure, nor patently obscure; in fact, in certain parts of the globe, Daddy was quite highly regarded in literary circles, and in the latter two countries he was often invited to literary conferences. He also entertained thoughts of leaving America for good, and see out his days on Copacabana or Ipanema in Rio.
Rochelle never knew how to react when he spoke of it. She hoped it was fanciful talk. It wasn’t because of any dependence, she liked the aging writer, and Daddy was the link to her history, and the only relative she remained on speaking terms with.
She had her friends, dear and close, but father is father, and blood and heart, and the one who could do anything for Rochelle when her back was against the wall. So, when Daddy suggested that they should travel to Texas to visit his mother, Rochelle automatically said yes, though she had to call her office and ask to use up her remaining personal time without being docked. When she called, the boss understood, because Rochelle, later telling her father to his amusement, knew how to cry well.
“That’s a Texas thing, you know,” he responded, smiling.
Both were excited, but pensive as they rode the train from Florida to Texas. They whiled away the time reading, journaling and playing Pyramid in the club car. Rochelle composed a poem while crossing Alabama, her first in several years. The poem was about the thunderstorm outside her window, and the mysteries of her family, particularly the woman she was to visit. Ever since Daddy reminded Rochelle of her grandmother’s existence and the oft-confounding ambiguities surrounding her grandfather’s life and fate, she wondered often of these family roots that seemed to stop at impenetrable boulders an inch deep. Though, as Daddy reminded her, Grandma was in bad shape, she wanted to see for herself, and hope that somehow there was something in finally meeting her grandmother for the first time in memory, that would fill the often vast gaps in who she was.
It was not as if Daddy was holding anything back. He did not know much, and father was not given to bullshit. He showed her everything he had, and in terms of information, it was a rather thin hand, indeed.
Ever since she learned about her grandfather, for example, Rochelle wanted to discover everything there was to know about him, his wife, and the human figures who laid behind them. She wanted to know family, and thin old Xeroxes of documenting limited information only increased her curiosity. She hoped the visit would help, at least if she was given access to medical records, or if Grandma actually spoke. Daddy told her not to expect that to happen, but Rochelle held hopes.
What did she know of her grandmother? She knew, unlike her father, that she was raised by both parents, born in Staten Island in the early 1920s, and moved to New Jersey while she was attending middle school. After graduating high school, early it seemed, at age sixteen, grandma went to nursing school at Bergen Pines Hospital, and went into service as a hospital laboratory technician at Bellevue Hospital shortly before Pearl Harbor. She got married then had two kids. She told Daddy at the time he published his first novel that the man beat her.
He was going through an old photo album, and came upon photos of a stout man wearing a gas station attendant’s cap. He gave them to his half-sister a decade later. In keeping with the Lyvere family tradition of absence with mild indifference, neither Rochelle nor her father kept in contact with his half-siblings, though on occasion the sister does visit grandma. Daddy knew this only by assumption.
Donna Lyvere raised the children on her own, until she met another bad man. What is known is the second husband, Daddy’s unknown Dad, disappeared into a country that long ago ceased to exist.
After a week of hard traveling that included an 18-hour wait on the Louisiana-Texas state line because of a train breakdown, they arrived at the tiny Missouri Pacific station in Austin. Despite being worn down from the journey, from there, Rochelle and her dad took a taxi to the nursing home south of Austin, to Buda.
Rochelle had not been to Texas since she was a little girl and memory, though dim, remembered a more placid place, less urban than it was now upon their arrival. As Daddy spoke on the ride down I-35, the changes from his life there were far more pronounced, dramatic, and ill-defined as a poor draw from Tarot. The country was gone in so many ways, replaced by traffic jams, and the idyll was reserved for the privileged. The long ago decades of Daddy’s youth were far behind him, and as Rochelle watched him stare sadly out the taxi window, the sense of loss was spied in his deepening brow. As expected, no tears shed—Daddy told her he stopped crying long ago because there were no more tears that could be shed. So in the arid, urban plain of suburban Austin, Daddy sat in this desert.
When they arrived at the nursing home, Rochelle was struck at the number of men and women in military uniforms. The home was part of a complex that included the barracks of the Texas Rangers, Daddy explained, commandeered because of the border troubles with Mexico and the proliferation of the drug gangs moving further north as a consequence and profit from the collapsing political situation of the neighboring nation to the south.
The soldiers clustered in the parking lot in the shade cast from a truck, sweating in their desert fatigues. The summer heat got to everyone and there was no existing fabric, even the naked skin, that was immune under the high heat from the Texas summer sun.
Daddy commented sourly at the irony of seeing a tank parked nearby, close to the barracks opposite the nursing home. He kept his voice low to be out of earshot of the soldier lolling against a cracking stucco wall beside the entrance to the atrium. This was a different world—not Florida, or New York—and Rochelle understood that you spoke differently and quietly about such things. They read newspapers politically and between the lines and knew what was really going on in this place. Things change rapidly, and Texas is an entirely different country than the one they left, even if it nominally remained part of the States.
As they walked towards the glass double doors, Rochelle took note of the fading copper tin sign above: _AND_DALE C__TE_ F__ SEN_OR_. Originally read a tad awkward, when deciphering it—Rochelle questioned why the institution was just named “senior center.”
“Landsdale,” Daddy muttered.
On entering, both father and daughter choked; the hallway reeked of urine. Rochelle immediately noticed the stains on the wall, and both stepped gingerly around the sticky dark pools of drying piss collecting on the filthy gray and white tiled floor. The patients moved slowly, like the Christmastime motorized dolls Rochelle used to see in the New York department stores. Except for color seasonal costumes, the patients were dressed in stained white linen gowns and flower patterned housedresses. The men seemed to be in baggy ski pants of an assortment of primary colors and white button down polo shirts, usually untucked in. Daddy remarked they were doing the Thorazine shuffle, implying that this was as much a mental institution as a senior home.
As they passed one woman, Rochelle noticed that her hair was cropped close to the skull, and moving in circles by the acrylic enclosed front desk, twirling a lock of imaginary hair, while beaming—her smile a slash across a frog-like visage, the appearance of which momentarily startled Rochelle. She moved closer to Daddy, who could not help but hold his nose at the stench inside the lobby.
Another patient earnestly pushed an imaginary broom through the lobby, his head down as if deep in thought, another stood, leaning with his face against the wall, his feet still walking in step, like a toy windup robot from oldest Tokyo. When Daddy looked at her, both shared a knowing, yet guilty, smile.
When they reached the main booth, they caught the window clerk quite openly picking her nose, compulsively even when Daddy made eye contact with her. Both made an attempt to ignore the behavior while Rochelle stood behind her father. Daddy brusquely filled out the multiple forms the clerk provided at the counter. After signing off, they stood in the waiting area; both reticent about sitting on the furniture.
They did not wait long before a man arrived, wearing a military uniform.
He reached out with his hand to Rochelle’s father. “I’m Major Thompson—sorry, I am Doctor Thompson,” he said, shaking Daddy’s hand. “I should explain the uniform. State law requires everyone belonging to the State Guard to wear it while we are under the state of emergency. I am your mother’s physician.”
“Yes, thank you for the emails, sir,” Daddy said.
Rochelle observed Doctor Thompson as they spoke; tall, African American and younger than Daddy—rather split age-wise between father and daughter. Her first impression behind the sincere smile was a sense his dedication to his work was constantly challenged, considering the circumstances of being on the edge of a possible war that she and her father were only slightly aware of because of the happy talk the dominant national media put on the situation. They knew more from reading online articles through the few online international news sources that had somehow remained uncensored, but those stories leaned toward the government line, and so they were unaware of a lot, obviously. A military base next to a decaying nursing home, and a doctor in an officer’s uniform is not something they expected while riding the train from Florida.
Rochelle turned to watch the imaginary sweeper move his invisible broom making the motions of sweeping into his magic dustpan, wondering how soul-destroying working here would be.
She turned her attention to the conversation.
“Yes, I understand,” Daddy said.
“Yes, Texas is Texas,” said Doctor Thompson. “We’re allowed some degree to act independently in this situation, and so it’s all hands on deck, as it were. So far, thankfully, no excitement here since we are further north than the Valley, although at times we have had some issues. I assure you that all the patients, including your mother, are in no danger.”
“Thank you,” Daddy said. Rochelle saw the worried expression on his face.
The Doctor turned toward Rochelle. He smiled. “You must be Ms. Lyvere, I presume.”
“Yes,” said Rochelle.
“I am very pleased to meet you. You also look so much like your father,” said Doctor Thompson as they shook hands. “I am so glad you could make it. I noted in your grandmother’s case that you have never visited the facility before.”
“Yes, this is true. I was five when she was admitted.”
“That’s a very long time. Your grandmother is one tough and brave lady.”
“That she is. Thank you, sir.”
Rochelle was a bit intimidated by the uniform, but his physician manner slowly eased her mood. Still, she couldn’t get over the smell, or the clearly declining conditions of the facility. Things were not good in the so-called heart of Texas. Rather poor, in fact. Rochelle could understand up to a point why things were happening the way they were, but there comes a boundary to cross when both were owed an explanation, and hopefully, a means to a solution.
She had a feeling there was more of the former, but precious little of the latter. Such as it were, this was the way things have been for most of her adult life, and pondering the stench, the man with the invisible broom and the nose-picking clerk, she drew the unpleasant conclusion there was little to do here. At least at this time, and so Rochelle began to stop considering strategies—which were pipe dream fantasies, anyway—and expect the half-truths and rituals of evasion from Doctor Thompson, though spoken totally within the confines of ethics. At least, she figured, the doctor was aware, and would be as honest as legally possible with both of them. Such is life in interesting times, and unavoidable is the progression of decline. Much like the receding of Atlantic waves, with the exception that in time, nothing ever returns; it all moves forward, but in their case, a pulling back, exposing the desolation of fragments expressing accomplishments and glories gone away, leaving ruins to ponder.
The doctor led them through the lobby and down the side corridor to his office. When ushered in, they were struck at the Spartan cleanliness, smelling of Fabuloso cleaner. This was to be expected, considering that Doctor Thompson was, for at least the near future, a military man, an officer, and also a doctor. But as Rochelle scanned the room, she was taken with how purposefully utilitarian every object with the Doctor’s sanctum seemed. There was no clutter, but a great deal of empty space. Yes, Doctor Thompson had his neatly framed diplomas, and a wall bookshelf devoted to medical knowledge, but his stained oak desk was spare with one telephone, a thick file in a gray folder, probably that of Donna Lyvere, and his civilian nameplate. Beside the desk was his tan computer, which, judging by the model, was at about a decade old. There were two chairs facing the desk, and they sat as the doctor walked around before pulling up his chair.
Doctor Thompson folded his hands together in front of his face while staring silently at Daddy for a few moments. He pulled down his right hand and opened the file.
“In utter confidence, I must apologize for the conditions your mother is under care with, Mr. Lyvere. Along with key staff, I have done everything possible and taken every effort—some beyond a boundary—to ensure the best in health care for the patients. I have, but failed, to transfer your mother and others to a general facility in Austin that I believe would provide superior care than here at Landsdale, but unfortunately, as I wrote in our email exchange last week, the situation precludes a possibility.”
Rochelle noted that deep down inside his soul, Doctor Thompson’s medical degree was a second choice. Man was erudite, all right.
He continued. “However, I am not giving up. I am taking further measures to improve the quality of care. The problem is I have a terrible trouble keeping maintenance staff. As you realize we are in a serious situation. But I am waiting for an approval for my request to order the soldiers stationed next door to work here when not on duty. Beyond that I cannot speak further about the situation, except to say that I have been diligent in my efforts, and as I said—I don’t give up.”
“I appreciate that, Doctor,” said Daddy. “You are only being fair, and my daughter and I appreciate the honestly.”
Doctor Thompson leaned back in his leather chair, folding his hands again. “I appreciate that more than you may ever. Ever spent a lifetime being lied to?”
“My experiences were different, but I understand bullshit. We live in a world full of it.”
“We certainly do. I noticed you were both surprised, horrified at what this place looks like.”
“To tell you the truth, at her last visit your sister suggested arson. But not before evacuating the patients.”
“She has power of attorney, so she gets the right of having the big mouth.”
“I responded with the issues of gasoline rationing. Imagine that—gas rationing in Texas.”
“It’s happened before. When I was a teenager I worked at a gas station during one of the oil crises. Before your time.”
“But not like this.”
“You can imagine the paperwork.”
“If you have paper to fill out. I’ve been using scrap in Florida for manuscripts for a year now.”
Doctor Thompson smiled sardonically, and returned to the folder in front of him.
“Let’s get down to business. Your mother has been here for quite some time. Multiple strokes twenty years ago left her without speech and she remained semi-comatose for the first two years at Landsdale. Fortunately, she did regain consciousness, and though she has been unable, despite intensive therapy, to speak, she has been able to function, but has had limited mobility and unable to function outside of managed care.”
“I know we are going over everything.”
“Yes, leads to a point.”
“At her age, she is amazing. She has a will to live I have never seen in my experience.”
Rochelle could hear her father’s thoughts: “And, for what?” Rochelle assumed in hearing his voice.
“That she does,” Daddy said, instead. That was true, too, Rochelle thought.
Then Daddy added, “But it does seem she is rotting away here. Partly my responsibility, but I do not have power of attorney. My sister does.”
“Yes, she does. But, as you will see later, I do not think your mother is rotting away. I know Landsdale looks bad, and I do want her transferred, but when you both spend time with her you’ll come away feeling better. At least that is my hope.”
Doctor Thompson paused, “Also, this could be the last time you see her. She’s 98, you know.”
Rochelle saw Daddy begin to turn sideways in the chair, a sign when he was feeling confused and perplexed, becoming uncomfortable in a situation, and knowing him as well as she did, he likely had a growing sense of guilt. This was likely what motivated him to ask her to come here. It was likely her last chance to see her grandmother, as it would be for him. And yes, she has been rotting away in this dump for nearly 20 years, a fact that she found astonishing. At least her aunt visited on a regular basis—Daddy paid his respects semi-annually until a few years ago. She understood it had become difficult both financially and politically because of the situation, but Donna Lyvere was forever his mother, whatever the issues that remained between them.
Doctor Thompson sighed, his breath hissing through his teeth. He leaned back in his chair, folding his arms across his chest. He seemed more tense than relaxed.
“Well, I should tell you why I have taken such a personal interest in your mother’s case, Mr. Lyvere. There was an improvement—not expected, yet it has happened before with other long-term patients with her medical history. But not at this age, or stage in her medical condition.”
“You’re going to tell me she can talk,” Daddy said.
“She hasn’t, but she might. The speech therapy failed years ago, but in the last month she has been able to verbalize simple words, but in her sleep. That’s why I requested your visit, and yours, too, Ms. Lyvere.”
“Did I ever tell you the story of the first time I saw grandma after the first stroke?” Daddy said to Rochelle, as they sat together on a worn leather couch in an interior waiting room, down the hall from Dr. Thompson’s office.
“Not that I can recall,” said Rochelle.
“It was at my Aunt’s house; she was staying with her before the second attack. She was still able to speak, but her memory was going. She sat in a chair, with a pen, her hand shaking, with an old tin TV tray in front of her. She had a pen, and a small spiral notepad—a reporter’s notebook.”
“She would ask me questions, and I would answer them. Very simple facts: your name, for example. What was her favorite childhood memory, which she had told me. Things like that.”
“I would tell her. She would write them down. Then she would look up, then down at the page again, and stare at me, and ask me to repeat the questions.”
“’Please tell me again,’ she said. ‘I want to remember.’”
“You never told me that story,” said Rochelle.
“Yes, and that was 20 years ago. Dear God.”
Daddy stretched out his legs and ran his hand through his gray hair.
“I know you want to do this, dear daughter, but father dear may not be ready for this.”
“You will. You’ve had to deal with shit before.”
“Not quite like this.”
“I know you, Daddy. You will.”
“Thanks, I guess.” Daddy smiled a little as they waited for the call that Donna Lyvere was ready, after her physical therapy session was finished.
When grandma was ready to be seen, Doctor Thompson requested Daddy visit his mother alone first. While she waited, Rochelle recalled her clearest childhood memory. Grandma was only known to her as a shadow in her sister’s house, which was in Tyler, Texas. A mid-century ranch-style home was what she remembered, with a disused living room, and curtains closed over every window to keep out the heat. Rochelle found it strange, this house in the darkness, but this was mid-summer in East Texas and somewhat dangerous to go out into the sun.
Aunt Dilcy and her would sit at the kitchen table and do arts and crafts. One afternoon, the day before they were to return to New York, Rochelle and Aunt Dilcy created crosses with palm fronds. When they came to one, her aunt put it aside, telling her, “Let’s leave this one unfinished. Someday you will come back, and we can finish it together.”
This never happened. Rochelle never returned to Tyler. Her aunt had died a year later, so it remained unfinished. Rochelle kept the cross wrapped in a napkin and placed it in a book on her shelf in New York. Manhattan Transfer, by Dos Passos to be exact—between pages 232-233.
The doctor came by. “It’s time for you to see her, Ms. Lee.”
Rochelle followed him down the corridor, and entered the room. Daddy was at the door, and led her gently by the hand into the room. Rochelle noted this was something he had not done since before she was a teenager.
Grandma Donna was well-cared for. Her aunt spared no expense in making sure the room was dealt with, probably paying cash under the table to the attendants to make it so. The room was private, small, and neat. Framed photographs, dusted and straight, were placed strategically throughout the light blue walls, and bluebell patterned curtains framed the single window. Her walker was next to her neatly made bed, and Rochelle made note that the comforter matched the wall color, and that the air conditioning worked. The room smelled of artificially scented lilacs, accentuated by cleaning supplies, again, likely Fabuloso. This was a relief; a vast improvement on what her father and Rochelle had witnessed elsewhere in the nursing home.
Beside the bed was a mahogany wardrobe, opposite it, tautly hanging from the wall, was a floor-length mirror. At her right was another set of curtains, and beside it the door to private bathroom.
Daddy gestured toward the curtains, “She is over there. Grandma shares a terrace. Are you ready to meet her?”
“Sure,” Rochelle said, taking a deep breath.
Daddy let go of her hand to open the curtains, and turned the handle of double French doors, leading out into the light. They stepped onto the terrace, Daddy closing the doors behind them. The terrace was large, the same size of the room where Grandma lived. Persian rugs covered the concrete flooring, and at the center were several white wicker chairs around a square metal and glass table.
Grandma looked at Daddy, who looked like Rochelle, particularly the Lyvere bump on their noses. She was old, but her hazel eyes unglazed, staring intently at Rochelle, while gripping her black metal cane with weathered, veined hands. Rochelle and her father sat wordlessly on either side of her. Doctor Thompson advised Rochelle to wait for Grandma to acknowledge her before speaking. Rochelle studied her grandmother’s face; despite the nearly two decades of relative isolation, several strokes and diminished mental and physical capacity, there was a flame. Not a fire, or of anger, but quiet, appraising.
Rochelle smiled at her. Grandma returned the gesture, nodding slightly.
Until Doctor Thompson said it was time to leave the three generations of Lyveres sat together around the table under the turning of the overhead fan, without speaking.
As they rose to leave, Grandma struggled to speak, grabbing Rochelle and pointing at Daddy.
“Oh, I get it,” said Doctor Thompson.
“Yes, she looks like me,” said Daddy. “The family curse.”
Grandma laughed, her head bobbing.
After two more visits to the senior center, they bid goodbye and returned to Florida. Rochelle had an additional week before returning to New York. Both realized that they learned nothing new, and Grandma Donna still refused to speak. But Daddy felt more at peace, while Rochelle had more questions.
The night before Rochelle had to take the train home to New York, father and daughter sat on a sand dune, watching the breakers. “You know, the moral of the tale is the quest is the point of the journey, not the destination.”
“I don’t think it’s fair,” said Rochelle.
“Nothing is. I am as lost in the mystery of my past as you are in yours.”
“I will still look for your father.”
“I know you will, but at least you found my mother. Or what remains of her. One must say she is spirited, and though you and I found the whole thing strange and for me uncomfortable, I am not sad about it—Mom and I were never close, but at the very least I was able to get her to see the future she had missed. She deserved better, but this was the best I could do.”
“Change the subject. Are you still thinking of leaving for South America?”
“I’d like to. I have the money to leave, and there are teaching positions open. I’d rather not, though. You know—if something happened.”
“I know,” said Rochelle, her eyes following the crest of a larger than normal breaker rise and crash to the shore under moonlight.