The phone rings and Rachel sees it’s her sister calling. Again. Hadn’t she just spoken to her 30 minutes ago? What is it this time? Doesn’t Margaret have anything better to do than to bother her? Doesn’t Margaret know how busy Rachel is?
Rachel barely has time to say hello before her sister’s voice booms over the line. “He called me on the phone and said, ‘I’m not sure if we’re coming up this weekend. We might have something to do.’ He also asked if I’d cashed the check he sent. After that, he hung up. But I gotta tell you. I never invited him up. I never cashed his check, either.”
Rachel doesn’t need to ask who the “he” at the start of her sister’s sentence refers to. She is talking about their Dad. He’s been over to see Margaret more times than anyone could count in the last year and at this point, Margaret almost leaves the door unlocked. But how fair is that to her husband and children? With Grandma and Grandpa at their place so often, Rachel knows that Margaret feels like she spends less time with the kids. And Paul? When was the last time Margaret and Paul had a date night? The last one they’d planned, they’d had to postpone because—yep, her parents had come into town for lunch and then stayed until the next morning.
The constant contact had started after Dad realized what a pickle he was in: trying to serve as caregiver to a woman who denied she was sick. And now that the disease had taken hold of Mom’s bones and she couldn’t fight him about a diagnosis, she fought him about everything else. Hence, his need for escape from the confines of his own house and his own life.
Both Rachel and Margaret understand where he is coming from and hope that they never find themselves in the same situation, but neither one thinks it is fair to consistently knock on the door when up until that point, their parents had never bothered to visit.
Rachel sighs and moves into the family room, where she can speak to Margaret in peace, away from the prying eyes and ears of her three girls. She knows what choice words might fly out of her mouth, and no one needs to hear them, especially the littles.
“I didn’t cash his check, either, but I asked Jay to do it. The paper is probably sitting in his wallet, somewhere. More importantly, what the hell did you tell Dad?”
“That we wouldn’t be home. And that’s the truth. We have plans. I don’t mind having those two here every so often, but if he’s just here for a meal . . .”
“You know that’s it. He’s fishing for an invitation because he doesn’t want to have to do it all this weekend. I think he should just have the balls to ask outright, but . . . you’ve done enough. It’s my turn. I’ll invite them over.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. It’s fine. The kids are out of school. We can have fun.” Rachel wracks her brain for what’s happening around the Lansing area that weekend. She’ll have to pull up an online listing and peruse it, but there must be someplace they can go, preferably for free. Not that she doesn’t want to spend money on her folks, but she knows how much energy her mother will have—not much—and she doesn’t feel like paying through the nose for 15 minutes of fun.
“Well all right! Have at it, sis,” Margaret says on the other end of the line. “They’re all yours!”
They arrive in the afternoon, after what seems to be a relatively uneventful journey. They place their bags in the bedroom upstairs, then come down to say hello to everyone. Mom is quiet and Dad looks relieved. Rachel isn’t quite sure why they look the way they do but she gets them some water and ushers them to the family room, where the ceiling fan creates a cool breeze.
“Need anything else?” Rachel asks her parents.
“Just the television. Can we watch it?” her mom asks.
Rachel looks at her Dad, who nods his head gently. Dad had mentioned that Mom was spending a lot of time in front of the TV. Rachel pushes the button on the remote and the television flickers to life. Mom’s face and shoulders relax as she sits back against the couch.
Rachel can’t watch. Television has never been her thing, and Hallmark movies annoy her. The writing, the casting, the plot—all so contrived. She understands why her mom likes the movies: they’re as much an escape for her as going to see the kids are for Dad. But how long will they sit there, mesmerized by the screen?
She moves into the kitchen, pulls out the makings for dinner, and begins to chop up the vegetables for a salad. The noise from the television filters into the kitchen and Rachel listens for anything other than dialogue from the scripted movie. Are Mom and Dad having a discussion? Is this what they do all day at home? How can she avoid having that as her future?
Her heart aches for them both and Rachel shakes her head, unable to understand how she can help them. For the next hour, she concentrates on dinner—the entree, the spices, the baking bread, even setting the table—so she doesn’t have to think about the lack of vitality sitting in the lounge chairs in the family room.
By the time Jay comes home from work they’re still sitting there, working on their second movie. Rachel has tried to engage in conversation, but stopped after the first attempt. After dinner, they move back to the spots they’d vacated 30 minutes before. She watches as her dad rests his head against the back of the recliner, his face worn and tired, while her mom’s face breaks into a smile at the antics of the little girl on the screen.
“What can I get you?” Rachel asks.
“Nothing. I’m good, honey,” her mom replies and looks to her dad, a hopefulness evident in her eyes.
Dad nods his head. “Looks like we’re good.” He crosses his arms over his chest, forces a wan smile, and looks once again at the television.
Rachel doesn’t believe him, but she leaves them to watch their program in silence.