Weekend Reading, Conclusion: Phase 2 (Part 3)
Mrs. Foxe left. Mom turned from the door, wrapped me and Neddy in her arms, held us for a long, long time. No one said anything. We were all wiped out from emotion. After a while, Mom said, “Let’s get some sleep.” She went into her bedroom. Neddy and I went into ours. I sank down on my bed. Neddy walked over to his and punched his pillow, real hard.
“Huh?” I said.
He turned, came closer, spoke in a low, angry voice, his face all red. “She’s a fake.”
“Mrs. Foxe?” I said. “What the hell are you – “
Neddy reached into his pocket and took out the razor. He held it on the palm of his hand. I actually had to touch it to make sure it was real.
“You took it off the table?” I said. “I don’t understand.”
“She took it off the table,” Neddy said. “Remember when she got Mom to sit back down?”
“She scooped up the razor at the same time, without even looking, real smooth, and dropped it in the pocket of that coat of hers.”
“Oh my God. Are you sure?”
“’Course I’m sure,” said Neddy. “I took it out the next second, while her back was turned. And you know what else?”
“The way it moved on the table, spinning around and all that?”
“Oh yeah. She had a magnet or something between her knees, under the table. I peeked. She didn’t see me – her eyes were on Mom the whole time.”
I felt sick. “What about the flame?”
“She has this real sneaky way of blowing out through her nose,” Neddy said.
“So none of it was real?”
Neddy shook his head. He looked like he was about to start crying, and Neddy wasn’t a crier.
“But I felt him there,” I said. I wasn’t a crier either, but I was crying now. Then I got angry, real angry, and the crying stopped. I wiped my face on my sleeve, pulled myself together. “This is bad,” I said.
“What are we going to do?” said Neddy. “Tell Mom?”
I thought about that, picturing how Mom had hugged empty space and told Dad how she’d always loved him. Dropping the truth on her? No way. But Mrs. Foxe would be back, again and again, getting her hooks deeper and deeper into Mom, taking every cent we had.
“What happens when she discovers she doesn’t have the razor?” I said.
“She’ll just figure it fell out, getting into her car or something like that,” Neddy said. “A little thing like that won’t stop her.”
He was right. But how could we let this go on? Over on the desk, the green button on the computer we shared was blinking slowly in sleep mode. That reminded me of the four objects, one in particular. I went over to the computer and woke it up. I wasn’t a great computer person, but Neddy was.
“Got an idea,” I said.
Neddy came closer. “Using our Wi-Fi?” he said.
“Yeah,” I said. We were turning out to be a team. Neddy sat in front of the computer, started tapping away. He figured everything out real fast, was almost done when we heard a sound from the kitchen, maybe a chair scraping on the floor. I opened the bedroom door, went to look.
Mom was at the table, standing behind Dad’s empty chair. She wore a nightgown now, and her hair was kind of wild. The candles were burning again, the only light in the room. Mom was facing in my direction but she didn’t seem to see me.
She jumped, startled. “Lara? What are you doing up?”
“I couldn’t sleep.”
“Me either,” Mom said. She put a hand on Dad’s chair. “I’ve been kicking myself.”
“Why?” Had she figured out that Mrs. Foxe was a fraud, problem solved?
Far from it. “There was so much more I wanted to say to Dad,” Mom said. “And he never really got a chance to say anything.”
“What do you mean?”
“They speak sometimes, these … these souls. Mrs. Foxe has seen it happen. I’m going to call her first thing in the morning, get her to come back tomorrow night.” Mom bit her lip. “What if she’s booked?”
I heard our bedroom door open, glanced over, saw Neddy in the doorway. Things were moving faster than we’d anticipated, but why not? I raised my eyebrows. He gave a little nod.
“Mom?” I said. “Why don’t we try right now?”
“Oh, I don’t think Mrs. Foxe would come over now.”
“Without her, Mom.”
“Without Mrs. Foxe? That won’t work.”
“Why not?” I said. “We know how it goes.”
“It’s worth a try,” Neddy said, coming toward the table.
“Well … “ said Mom. “I guess it can’t hurt. Can it?”
I sat in my chair. Slowly Mom sat down in hers; there was still something trance-like about her movements.
“What object should we use?” I said.
“How about the laptop?” said Neddy, and before anyone could answer he took Dad’s laptop off the side table, opened it and laid it between the candles.
“Start us off, Mom,” I said.
“I’m not sure … “
“You know,” said Neddy. “Breathe together, hold hands and project a strong mental image.”
“Oh, right,” said Mom.
We breathed together, held hands, closed our eyes. Crazily enough, even though the fix was in and this time Neddy and I were the fixers, a hyper-clear image of Dad arose in my mind at once. He was out in the desert where the winds blew strong, back in the Tucson days, flying a box kite. Dad loved flying kites, built his own. I remembered this one very well, a strange-looking thing in the shape of a flying horse, but it had soared way way up there. Dad had this enchanted expression on his face, like a little kid.
“I have an image,” Mom said, so quietly I almost couldn’t hear. “What comes next?”
“Travelers,” Neddy said. “Three faithful travelers.”
“Three faithful travelers are trying to reach you,” Mom said. “Your wife and your beautiful children. If …”
“You can hear us, or see us,” Neddy said.
“Or sense us,” I said. “Please give a sign.”
We sat in silence, eyes closed. Time passed. I started to wonder whether Neddy had messed up somehow, snuck a glance at him. His eyes were closed. He looked calm, and more than that, a lot like Dad in the box-kite memory.
“Please, Rich,” Mom said. “There’s so much I want to say. I beg you.” She sounded desperate, unbearably so. And at that moment, Dad’s laptop made one of those beeps that signal a computer coming to life.
We all opened our eyes, gazed at the screen. It remained blank for a moment, and then a message popped up.
I just want to tell you that I am fine. There is no pain and I love you very much and will always be with you. But the best thing you can do for me now is to go on with your lives and be happy. That can only happen if you dont contact me anymore. We will be together soon enough.
Neddy had left out the apostrophe in don’t. Dad would never make a mistake like that. But Mom didn’t seem to notice. She gazed at the screen, tears streaming down her face, not making a sound. I felt bad.
After a while, her tears dried up. She turned to us. “Dad’s right,” she said.
“Yes,” we said.
“Can you print that for me, Neddy?”
Neddy rose, brought back the portable printer, printed the message. A few seconds later, the screen went blank. Mom kissed her fingers, touched the screen. Then she gave herself a little shake, almost like a dog, and blew out the candles. She didn’t seem so trancelike now.
Faint milky light came through the window. The first number 7 bus of the day rumbled by. The air in the kitchen wasn’t tingling anymore; we were back to a kind of normal.
Mom yawned, checked the time. “Oh my goodness,” she said. “I don’t want to see either of you till noon, at the earliest.”
“’Night.” She kissed us both and went to bed, taking the printout. We heard her sigh softly as she lay down, not an unhappy sigh, more like the kind of sigh when something is over. Almost at once, her breathing grew slow and rhythmic, the breathing of sleep. We closed her door.
Neddy and I went into our bedroom, closed our own door. I’d never been so tired in my life.
“Good job,” I said.
“You, too,” said Neddy. “Do you – “
Our computer beeped, all on its own. We went over to the desk. Words appeared on the screen, but not in the usual way, more like they were materializing.
Thanks, kids. Good advice – not just for your mom, but for you, too.
I turned to Neddy. “Did you do this?” But all those commas in the right places – no way.
Neddy shook his head, eyes wide. Very slowly, almost a pixel at a time, the message dematerialized from the screen, leaving it blank. The air tingled.
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