In which Jerry visits my parents and is offered a cigarette
"He will not let me smoke. He's very mean-spirited."
My father looked apologetically at Jerry. "It is the doctors..."
Eva interrupted. "It's too late to make a difference. It's what the doctors know but are afraid to say. They feed him false hopes. She pushed a cigarette past his lips. "Come, let us smoke. She handed Jerry a cigarette; he looked to my father to see what held do. Jerry respected my father, and though he loved Eva he felt honor-bound to maintain a respectful distance, bridged only by the poems which he wrote.
My father laid the cigarette down carefully. "Eva, please..."
"He doesn't smoke to spite me. He knows it calms my nerves. See?" She held out a shaky hand. She placed Jerry's fingers on her exposed throat. "Palpitations! He drives me to it. Such a martyr, he won't touch a cigarette! He feels so sorry for himself he won't do anything to make himself or anyone else happy." She snapped the cigarette in two, collapsed on the sofa sobbing, hitting her thighs rhythmically with her fists. Jerry wanted to console her but he stayed in his chair.
"You are dying, can't you see that?" she shrieked. "A condemned man is entitled to a cigarette." She laughed, turned to Jerry for support. "I mean, it's obvious. Why does no one say it?"
My sister had been standing on her stepstool behind my father's chair, brushing his thin hair which came out in clumps in her small hands and clogged the comb. "You shouldn't say that," she said in the even tone of a barber commenting on the weather.
My mother looked at my sister with contempt. My sister had been delivered by cesarean section. Soon after, our mother's belly swelled inexplicably. The doctors dismissed it as a hysterical pregnancy, not unheard of after a difficult laying in. Not until the sutures parted and excrement squeezed through the wound did the doctors realize the bowels had been pierced. My mother never forgave my sister for the trouble she had caused her.
"Listen to this ingrate! Three months I was in the hospital with her before she was born. All my teeth fell out so her greedy little bones could grow strong and now she tells me, her own mother who gave her life, how to behave." She spit out her dentures for emphasis and smiled wide-mouthed and wicked at my sister who hid behind the chair. "Look at them huddling together, conspiring. Don't they see I am sick?"