“Mr. Weathers?” I whisper. He won’t hear me, but I need to work up the courage to speak at an audible pitch. “Mr. Weathers?” a little bit louder. “Mr. Weathers?” “Huh?” he switches his gaze from a bookshelf that he’s been staring at for at least half an hour. “Is there anything I can help you with?” “Dear, could you get that book down for me? It has a leather binding, small, on the third from top shelf.”
I point to a book, “That one?”
“No!” he shouts and I cower. “Sorry, one shelf to the right.”
I point again, “That one?”
“Yes, dear, exactly. Bring it to me.”
I take the book down from the shelf and pass it to him. He takes it, almost grabbing at it, and smiles. It’s the first smile I’ve ever seen grace his lips, and somehow it lights up this desolate room even more than the monitor that beeps so I know that he’s still living. His daughter hired me. She didn’t want to deal with him, so she placed a hospital bed, iv drip, and the monitor in a room that echoes when I speak loud enough so he can hear. Bookshelves line three walls, floor to ceiling windows line the fourth, but they rarely encounter anything more than a curtain, all remnants of the outside world shut out.
“I read this book when I want to remember.” I’m about to ask what it is, when he says, “It was my wife’s diary. She had an uncanny ability to recount every single detail. When I begin to forget any of it, my marriage, my daughter, all of it. She wrote it all down. I like to read it when I feel like I do now,” This sets me in action. “Which is how? Do you feel sick? What hurts?”
“No, no, I don’t feel sick. Well, not anymore than usual. I just feel, melancholy. You know, it’s a shame that more people don’t use that word anymore. It sounds exactly as it should; melancholy, sober thoughtfulness. Pull up a chair dear, I want to tell you. You’re the first person that I want to tell.”
I’m confused as to why he wants to tell me, of all people, seeing as how our relationship is purely business, but I do as he says, avoiding one of his fits of anger.
He opens the book, and with it comes the story. “We first met in June of 1937, I was 20, her 17, and we were both just stupid kids, but I won’t add much more of a disclaimer at that.” He begins to read. “June 2nd, 1937. Today was a most wonderful day, I met Richard Weathers at the ice cream shop. The one on Main Street, in between the tailor and the bookstore. Anyway, I went into the ice cream shop because I had to pick up a book that they finally found for me at the bookstore, a first edition Ivanhoe that I’ve wanted for years. It wasn’t cheap, it cost almost $5, but I’ve been saving up every penny. So, I went to the bookstore and told them that they had telephoned me alerting me that they had the edition waiting for me at the store. The silly cashier, he must be new, he had no idea what I was talking about and said that he would ask his manager and to come back in about half an hour to get the book. So I went to get ice cream. I had found a quarter earlier in a hole in my purse. As soon as I walked in, ready with my quarter to buy a Good Humor bar that I knew would make me feel better about having to wait for my book, I saw him. He’s a beautiful man really. He has brown hair and blue eyes, and I think he felt the same thing that I did when we first saw each other, because he asked for my telephone number. I told him to only call me after six, because that’s when my parents go upstairs and don’t care if I phone someone, and he said he would! He really did! Richard Weathers is going to call me some time in the next few days and I could not be more excited! That was our first encounter.” My patient closes the book. It’s time for lunch and I can barely get myself up and out of my mesmerized daze and get his tray.
After lunch, I bring Mr. Weathers his afternoon medicine, and he falls asleep. I want to hear more of the story, but clearly it will have to wait. As I sit there, I listen for his weak voice. I’ve always been fascinated by sleep-talkers. I find something about the way one’s subconscious speaks is interesting in every way. One’s most intimate thoughts come out.
“Annie,” he says, his voice sounding a little hoarse. I listen closer. “Annie, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you, please come back. Annie?” He pauses. “Annie! Stop it Annie!” Another pause. “I’m sorry, Annie, I didn’t mean to! Stop! Stop!” The monitor starts beeping rapidly and I jump. I adjust his morphine and the beeping goes back to normal, but I know that his sleep will be calm now, with no more fragments of conversation for me to analyze.
Two hours later he wakes up. “Dear?” he says in a groggy voice.
“Could you get me my book again?”
I excitedly grab the book off of its shelf and hand it to him, ready for the second installment.
“So where were we? Right. Our first encounter. I’ll skip ahead to our wedding day; I hope you don’t mind.” I don’t mind at all, anxious to hear what happens next. “It was exactly one year, two months, and one week later. August 10, 1938. Today I got married. Now, what are you doing writing in your diary on your wedding day? Well, diary, I was getting to that. I am slightly concerned over Richard’s behavior. Today we got married. My dress, with its cap sleeves, and its shimmer, but not too much, was beautiful. We said our vows, we walked down the aisle, we did all of the wedding stuff, and then my father danced with me. We danced for the entirety of the song, and afterward Richard cut in and we started dancing. Well it was then, as we danced, that he brought up something that concerned me. ‘Your father thinks I’m disturbed,’ he said. ‘What are you talking about?’ I asked.
‘He was frowning at me while you two were dancing.’ Then he stopped talking to me, we finished the song, and he walked away and started talking to some long-lost relative. The way his eyes darted when he said that, I was terrified, and I don’t know what to do.” “That was the beginning of what? Schizophrenia? I don’t remember seeing anything about that on your chart…” I ask him, looking for some sort of medical significance to this story. “Stop!” “What?” “It’s not medical. I’m not telling you this because I think that it will give you more insight into your patient. I’m telling you this because I want to tell you. All you do is hear!” his voice pushes me, so I’m upright. “What would you rather I do?” “Listen.” His words startle me, and we both fall silent, then he goes to sleep and I retreat to my small table. This time, I take the journal with me, knowing that he won’t be awake for another two hours, and I have some time to read. I flip to a random page. February 1st, 1939. I have realized that I’m pregnant and this scares me very much. I do not at all wish to stay with Richard, but if I am to raise a child, they need to have a father. I guess I will stay with him for his or her sake. I will not tell Richard, though, at least not until it is absolutely necessary. I still have the red stain on my nightgown, diary, and I’m scared that if I tell him that I’m pregnant he will be angry with me. He will surely yell at me for putting more pressure on him to earn money. I often wonder if he would be like this had he not lost his job. His temper was never this bad in over a year that we spent together before we were married. Oh, diary is this all too fast? Am I too young to be married? He’s only hit me twice since he hit me so hard that my nightgown was stained, but I really don’t like it, diary. I flip through the journal, trying to find the day when “her nightgown was stained,” disgusted. November 30th, 1938. Today was an awful day. I woke up from an afternoon nap to find Richard sitting in the kitchen drinking. ‘What’s wrong?’ All I asked him was what’s wrong. His face turned scarlet, and he inhaled and I was terrified. I’ve never seen him that angry. He pushed me into a table, telling me that I was an idiot. I apologized, sheepishly, and he shouted, ‘What’s wrong?!’ in response. ‘Are you scared of me? Am I really that horrible? Is that what this all is? I’ve lost my job and now you see me as a threat, you don’t think of me as a man anymore.’ ‘I never said anything like that, Richard, you’re just being paranoid.’ I tried to reassure him. ‘Paranoid? I put a roof over your head! I put food on the table! Now, because I lost my job, I’m paranoid?’ he yelled at me. ‘Richard, it’s okay, calm down!’ Him slapping me is the last thing I remember. Afterwards I blacked out, and woke up tucked under the covers of my bed, a small blood stain on my nightgown, and a bandage on my forehead. I turn the page again, horrified. November 9th, 1939. Annie was born yesterday. She has stormy blue eyes, like oceans that know that a tsunami is coming, ten fingers, ten toes, as healthy as possible. I don’t know, something about having a daughter has changed Richard I think, he seems happier. “I hope he stays that way,” I mutter to myself, but know that he most definitely did not change. I decide to flip fairly far into the future. Mr. Weathers will be up from his nap soon enough and I want to understand this story before I’m pulled away. January 17, 1955. The new house is odd, diary, without Richard’s booming voice always shouting. It seems quiet and huge, but Annie and I know that we will be happy here. She seems very scared, and I feel awful. A fifteen-year-old girl should not have to run away from the only home that she knows in the middle of the night. I brought this on her. I should’ve left earlier, but I didn’t. I stayed there, praying that Richard would change, knowing all along that he never would. I’ve been silly, diary, but not anymore. We’ve moved on to a better life. I see a few more entries and skim them. They mainly speak of Annie at her new school, and how they were adjusting to life in a new town. How did he get this if she left? I wonder. My question is answered when I flip to the very last page and find a letter dated 1978. “Dear Richard, My mother left this when she died, telling me that it had to go to you, to remind you of your mistakes. I hope that it helps you. I’m sorry you didn’t get to watch me grow up. Sincerely, Annie Weathers” I am suddenly very aware of the fact that Mr. Weathers is not sleep talking. I walk over to him, check that he’s okay, and go back to my corner, waiting for him to wake up. By 10:30 he is still not awake, and I decide to go to sleep myself. I wake up the next morning to a steady beep from the heart monitor, but still he is not awake. Finally, at two in the afternoon I hear a grunt from his side of the room, followed by a faster beeping of the monitor, and then nothing. I try to resuscitate him, but to no avail. I pull a sheet over his head, and realize that my palms are sweating. I record his time of death on a form that I’ve known existed since I started at my job, but have never had to use. I feel almost numb, and set into motion. I begin to follow the procedure laid out for this very moment, too afraid to look over at him. I dial the number of the morgue that’s on a laminated sheet of paper in a folder labeled “Important Information.” I hang up the phone and dial the contact number that I was given, for Annie Weathers. “Hello?” Her voice is much gentler than her father’s. “Hi, is this Annie Weathers?”
“Yes, may I ask who’s calling?”
“This is Eleanor from Visiting Nurse Service. I’m calling to let you know that your father passed away today at about 10:40, and that his body will be at the Richmond county morgue in case you want to bury him. Otherwise he’ll be buried in a public graveyard.”
There’s a long pause on her end of the phone, then I hear her take a deep breath. “Oh no, that won’t be necessary, but thank you.” She stutters as she speaks, seeming to be holding back tears.
“Goodbye.” I say.
“Is there anyway I could see him, before they take him away?”
“All right, well, the morgue is coming in about an hour, if you can make it by then, you’re welcome.”
“Okay, I’ll try. Goodbye.”
I hang up the phone and go to another room, away from the eeriness of a dead body, which somehow makes feel guilty, like his death is my fault. I wander a little throughout the house until I reach a study, and I sit down at a desk, looking around. I find three objects of little note: a baseball card, a letter from the electric company, and an old phone. I decide to leave the room, that I’ve done enough snooping, and to let it be.
Fifty-five minutes later, there is a knock on the door. Other than the occasional Mormon missionary, it is one of the first knocks I’ve heard since I’ve been taking care of Mr. Weathers, which is to say in almost six months. I walk down a long hallway and reach the door, which on the other side has a large brass knocker shaped like a lion, warning trick-or-treaters, mailmen, and passersby that this is not a house to be messed with.
On the other side of the threshold stands a woman whose hair reflects sunlight off of its golden tendrils. I see her turn her head to the right, showing off a small scar on her cheek.
“Hello.” she says.
“Hi, are you Annie?”
“Yes. Can I see him?”
I gesture for her to follow me and shut the door behind her. I lead her down the long hallway and turn right into the room that I have spent much of the past six months in. I lead her to the hospital bed, drawing back the sheet from his face and showing him to her.
Her reaction is not what I expect. It’s understated; if I blink I will miss it, but I don’t, and I see a tear roll down her cheek, catching in the scar. Then I see her quickly wipe it away, and gesture for me to pull the sheet back up, which I do.
“Is there anything else I could help you with? Would you like some tea, or something?” I ask.
“No, but there is one thing I’d like to see, if that’s okay.”
“Yes of course, where is it?”
“I don’t know, but my guess is that it’s in the study.” She walks down the hallway, turning into the room with the desk that I’d sat in earlier. She takes the same seat, opens the drawers, and finally pulls out a light pink box. She looks up at me, smiling, and opens it. A sweet melody plays when she opens the lid, and she digs around a little inside, finding a necklace, a Raggedy Ann doll more ragged than it’s intended to be, and a note.
“This is my entire childhood, in a box. Well, it’s everything that I wish to remember. When I got you to come take care of him he told me that when he died there was a gift for me that I’d left when we ran away. My mother always said that he wasn’t sorry, no matter how much I protested. I found a way to forgive him though, after my mother died. Enough to meet him, and hear his side of the story, but not enough to care for him and have a funeral for him and love him. Thank you for taking care of him. I hope that he found peace in talking to you.”
Ten minutes later the people from the morgue come, take the body and leave. I pack up my few belongings and go to work the next day to be reassigned.
A family named Marks needs a nurse to care for their father who’s just had surgery. I figure this job will be easier, go home, and read the entire journal of Mrs. Weathers. All the while wondering if she ever regretted the first time she met Richard, that first day in the ice cream shop.
Elizabeth McCord, Age 13, Grade 8, Hunter College High School, Silver Key