Danny Called – Grant Segall
I hung up the kitchen phone. Bert would need that coffee now. I checked his Buckeye Grandpa mug: cool enough. I checked him in his armchair: awake again and highlighting his journal. So I brought the mug on a saucer to his end table. “Here you go.”
“Mmmf.” He took a sip with the highlighter still in hand. “More positive trials for gene therapy. Marge’ll be glad to hear.”
I rolled up the desk chair and sat. “Afraid she’s long past that stage, remember?”
“Of course, Helen.” He flipped a page of the journal, which had helped him the past couple of years to monitor his sister’s oncologist. “But she’s not past wondering yet. Nor am I. We’re still scientists.”
“Dear.” I cupped his shoulder. “Danny called.”
Bert finally glanced my way. His eyes, once a piercing green, had grown cloudy and hard to read with my near-sighted ones. He’d spent a lifetime finding and spreading facts about geodynamics, academia, parenting, and more. Now I had a fact for him, a bitter one, but he’d wanted them all.
“From the hospital,” I continued. “While you were napping.”
“Wasn’t napping.” He squared his shoulders, slipping free from me. “Reading.”
I wished I could have spared him the news and gone straight to the hug to follow. “Anyway, about that call. About Marge.”
He smiled. “Our smartest sister.” It was an ancient epithet for an only sister, who’d held her own with four brothers and their families, doling out findings, recipes, and advice.
“Bert, try to follow.”
He sipped again. “Have I told you about her winning the bio fair?”
“And claiming that one of her rats was on the loose?”’
“She could always keep a straight face.” This time, I cupped his knee. “Anyway, Danny called, like I said.”
“Like you said.”
I took a breath. “I’m afraid they’ve turned off her ventilator.”
Of all things, he chuckled. “You know, one of the judges tried to take back the prize.”
He set the mug on the saucer off-center. It wobbled but settled. He bent over the journal and reinforced a mark. I rose and returned the coffee to the kitchen for safety. Then I glanced back. He looked down and thickened the mark again. I sank onto a stool and gave myself that hug. He’d finally rejected a fact, maybe to spare both of us his grief. Which meant rejecting me too, leaving me to grieve alone. I wished I could have followed him into the dark already. But would we have been lost together or apart?
Grant Segall is a national-prizewinning journalist and biographer for Oxford University Press.