div align="justify">FOR MUCH OF THE PAST few days, I haven't been able to get this memory out of my head. It goes something like this:
“Do you think he knew?” Mama is sitting at the kitchen about to take her insulin. Her question leaps out of nowhere. Still, I understand it.
Tamara, the young lady who used to live next door, is preparing the kitchen floor for a deep cleanse. She calls her Ma’am. She has generously offered Mama her services for years and refuses the folded-up bills Mama tries to slide in her hand. I won’t let her refuse today. She’s already cleaned the living room, dining room, and moved furniture and knickknacks to the basement to make room for the guests that will flood the house after Daddy’s funeral on Thursday.
Right now, I wish Tamara would leave the floor alone. I’m sure Daddy, too weak for regular ones, shuffled across the worn linoleum with tiny stutter steps just a few weeks ago. Likely he wore his black leather slippers, but no matter. If I were Rok, my sister’s fluffy little dog, I’d sniff around the floor right now seeking the scent of Daddy wherever it might linger. Which is perhaps why Rok is cuddled up on Daddy’s chair in the back bedroom right now.
“Yes. I can’t imagine he had no idea,” I finally answer Mama. “Even if he didn’t know exactly what was going on, he had to sense something was going on. He was in pain for quite a while if I look back on it.”
“Tamara said he told her boyfriend.” Mama shoots the insulin into her left shoulder.
I look at Tamara, my face a big, bold question mark.
“My boyfriend started to get all this good liquor.” Sweeping the last bit of dust onto the pan, she answers, her tone matter-of-fact. “Hennessey, Courvousier, you know, the good stuff. I said, ‘Where are you getting all this from?’ He said, ‘Mr. Hickman gave it to me. Says he can’t drink anymore because he’s got cancer.’” So matter-of-fact, her words cut through my navel.
“When was this?” I finally give voice to my surprise. No. Shock.
“About a year and a half ago before we moved.”
So that’s why.
That’s why his doctor hadn’t ordered more tests in the two painful episodes that took Daddy to the emergency room over the past six months. That’s why he joined a men’s prayer group down at the church last summer. That’s why for the last six months or more he called every weekend, sometimes three times, sometimes four, unable to remember that he’d called already. Just to talk. To tell me that he loved me. To ask about Job. The animals. To tell me that he loved us both. The animals, too. That I’d always be his baby.
I ought to have known.
That’s why, through tears, he shrieked, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry...” so many times when I first talked to him after the diagnosis became family property that I couldn’t stop the rain falling from my eyes.
Oh, how I wish I had known.
“If I had known,” Mama says, disposing her paraphernalia in a plastic container, “I woulda been in a mental institution.”
Daddy knew to keep his secret, like most of his pain, to himself.