We Call on Spring: A Short Story

by Belinda McKeon ’10SOA Published Spring 2013
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“It’s probably going to take a long time, you know,” Michael says. “That’s what the doctor told you, isn’t it?”

Illustration by Vivienne FlesherIt can be a long old road: those were the doctor’s words. A long auld road, actually. The doctor grew up in my mother’s part of the country, and he seemed, yesterday morning, to need to gift her with occasional reminders of this fact by tripping, at intervals, from his golf-club grandiloquence — at the present moment, Mrs. Cahill, the matter we must most urgently consider is this — into the kind of colloquialism that might have had him at the mart, leaning onto a mucky railing, muttering about animals. Take it handy — that was another of his counsels, and my mother nodded, the way you’d nod if you were at work, in the boss’s office, and he’d just called you in to say your hours are being cut, but it’s nothing to do with your performance, and we value you, and we need you, we’re just doing this to you, and it can’t be helped.

“I don’t like that doctor,” I say to Michael again, and he leans in closer to me, and puts his lips to my shoulder. We are back in Dublin now, in our house, the house we bought — sing it — at exactly the worst moment, five years ago, but that doesn’t matter because — second chorus — we bought it as a home, not as an investment. We bought it to live in, not to sell on. That is the line, and no further questions are allowed. Neither are terms like in it for the long haul, which we used a lot at the beginning; yes, maybe this is why I took such issue with the doctor’s words, but really, a long auld road? The news that her mind has already started to take a nail scissors to its own seams, that this has been going on behind our backs for maybe, already, three years, and then, a long auld road?

“Fucker,” I say to Michael, and he nods, and also — and I don’t let on that I have noticed this — burps slightly, and quickly turns it into a cough. We had Indian for dinner this evening, picked up from Namaste down the road, because a day like this does nothing if not take you off the hook for cooking. The debris is glaring back at us from the coffee table now — a day like this also allows you to eat your dinner on the couch — and I know he wants to have the poppadums I didn’t finish, I know he is partly looking at them, partly thinking about them, while trying very hard only to look at and think about me, but I just don’t have the energy to shove them over to his side of the table. I could use my foot, even; just a slow slide of the plate. But no. The whole strain and rottenness of the day has come down to bear on those poppadums, on the matter of those poppadums, and they will not be moved. I will crush them with my heel, get the greasy yellow bits of them caught up in my sock, before I will move them, or share them, or do anything with them which resembles easiness and normalcy. None of this is normal. The poppadums will remain uneaten on that plate.

Required, now, are the details which made today so trying, and so particular; they are as follows. My mother has, for a while, suspected that something is not right. I visit my parents once a month, sometimes more often, driving down there from Dublin on a Friday evening or a Saturday morning, and so you would think that I might also have suspected that something has not been right, but I have a talent for denial in the face of the unpalatable — this does not relate to the poppadums, ordinarily I love poppadums — and, given that I have inherited this talent from my mother, this morning’s visit to the doctor’s surgery was an interesting one for us both. She, of course, was further along the road, the auld, etc., of realization than was I; she had asked me to be with her when she got the results, so obviously she had already made the initial visit and the follow-up visit without telling anyone, as is her thing. Topics, for example, discussed by my mother and me during our phone call of October 5, the night after the initial visit: Downton Abbey; the length of time you can drive a car with an out-of-date NCT disk; the question of whether we are by now too late into the camel-coat trend for it to make sense to buy a decent one; and a murder that was in all the papers that week. Awful. Now that I think of it, my mother mentioned something about that murder which was news to me, and which I was impressed at her knowing, given that I thought I had devoured everything about the case that was to be found online; did she just make that up, I wonder now? Is that part of it? Embroidering already unbelievable things with still more grotesquery, still more incongruity? But no; she must have heard it somewhere, from some of the girls — the girls! — at work. They gossip; they bring rumors and discoveries to one another’s desks like buttered scones. When will that be taken from her? When will she no longer be able, listening to a story, to widen her eyes and shake her head and store it up for the next time I phone?

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