|Woe & Wonderment
Author: MeredithGreeneWriter PM
Megan Tembler's had cancer as long as she can remember. When her parents die, her only living relative is her grandfather Ron, a curt retired Marine. Unable to continue medical treatments, Megan settles in to greet Death. But Ron steps out of his comfort zone to help, placing in her hands a reason to continue on: his '42 Martin guitar. Formerly Notes of Life.Rated: Fiction T - English - Family - Chapters: 14 - Words: 78,072 - Reviews: 49 - Favs: 11 - Follows: 13 - Updated: 03-20-13 - Published: 05-29-12 - id: 3027117
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"You have come by way of sorrow
You have come by way of tears
But you'll reach your destiny
Meant to find you all these years"
(Julie Miller - By Way of Sorrow)
"I've met thirty-seven doctors,"Megan told her grandfather quietly. "I only liked one of them."
Ron let out an amused snort at the wry statement. His granddaughter's solemn expression also made him smile; she looked as if she were about to face a court martial. They sat in a sunny pediatrician's waiting room, populated by two mothers with squirming toddlers and one very sullen seven-year old boy in an arm cast, sitting by his father. A television screen hung in the corner of the room, playing a Pixar animated film.
"I bet you remember all those doctor's names, too, don't ya?" Ron mused aloud. Megan squeezed her eyes shut, briefly and nodded.
"I honestly wish I could not," she returned. "Each label seems to represent months of my life."
"Lost months, or gained?"
"Both, it seems like."
Ron patted her shoulder. Turning her head a little, Megan gave him a half-smile.
"I can predict how this interview will go," she said, after a few moments. "Since you gave Dr. Lee permission to give this pediatrician access to my medical information, she will most likely refuse to give me treatment."
"I doubt that," Ron told her. His granddaughter shrugged.
"It's too great a liability for their office," Megan stated. "If I come down with the flu from this shot, I could very well die from it." Her grandfather took in a long breath before replying.
"You and I both know-more than just about anybody-how fragile life can be." He cleared his throat. "When you're number is up, it's up. No sense in worrying about it." Megan smiled a little.
"I'm not worried about death, but the doctor will be," she said. "One good look into my file and I expect her to politely wash her hands of me."
Ron didn't say what he was thinking but he suspected she'd be proven correct on this; that Dr. Lee was one of the most respected pediatric oncologists in the nation but Megan's case had stumped even her. Didn't seem right to deny a dying girl one, little flu shot... especially because of some perceived increase in "liability." Ron sat with his arms folded across his chest, brooding in silence.
Megan occupied herself by gazing at a magazine lying on the low, round table in front of her. Its cover pictured a white house sitting on a gray, stormy store with green hedges edging a narrow path to the ocean. The contrast of colors presented appealed to her: the crisp white of the clapboard siding, the dark green foliage of the hardy shrubs and the various grays of the stony shore and frothed-topped waves. Motion was captured in the shot... in the spray of the crashing water and the bending sway of the hedges' wiry branches.
A small hand reached up over the edge of the table, followed by another. Megan watched as a tousled head rose into view. The toddler's eyes met Megan's over the magazines. They stared at each other for a fleeting second before the little tyke popped up.
"Boo!" he called out, merrily. Megan smiled at him; she put up her hands to her face and made her eyes wide in feigned surprise. The toddler's laughter sounded like hiccuping bubbles to Megan. Somehow, the sound of it made her feel better. She covered her face with her hands and waited.
Ron watched his granddaughter's face from the corner of his eye, one corner of his mouth curled up. He watched the adorable little boy waddle over to her, using the edge of the table for support, and try to pry Megan's fingers off her face with stubby little fingers. He heard his granddaughter laugh, ever-so-softly.
"Boo!" she said, opening up her hands. The toddler gasped and sat back on the carpet with a soft thump. Ron began to reach forward, thinking the little guy had hurt himself but the boy threw back his curly head and laughed. He rolled backwards holding onto his toes, giggling as if he'd never stop.
"I'm sorry," the toddler's mother said, weaving her way around the table. "You're bothering these people, Tommy..."
"It's okay, ma'am," Megan told her with a smile. "He's just adorable." The woman returned her smile and picked up the wiggling boy. The toddler waved at Megan as his mother bore him across the room.
"You're pretty good at that," her grandfather remarked after a moment. "Watchin' kids, I mean." Megan turned her amused gaze to his face.
"It's a requirement," she told him. "The older cancer patients entertain the younger kids when they can. Apparently, it helps one keep their sanity... doing something unselfish." She smiled. "Besides, it's not hard to listen to such unfeigned laughter."
"Lifts your mood a bit," he agreed, clearing his throat. "Helps if they're cute as a button." Megan nodded; her eyes appraised her grandfather's expression. She wanted to ask if he'd enjoyed it when her father was that age, but refrained. "He was like that," Ron said, forestalling her. "Your dad, I mean." Megan's replying smile gave her grandfather courage to continue.
"Cute as a button?" she asked. Ron nodded.
"And then some. Didn't cry a whole lot neither, which was nice." He cleared his throat a little. "Walked before he was nine months old. Gave me a hell of scare one mornin'... came out and saw him sittin' on top of the bookshelf."
Megan's eyebrows rose as he spoke.
"That big one in the living room?"
"Yep. He was just sittin' up there happy as a clam, swinging his little feet over the edge."
"How did you get him down?"
"Calmly. Kept saying 'you stay right there' and he did. Little guy was smiling at me the whole time..."
Megan laughed under her breath. She could see the scene in her mind quite well. Her grandfather grunted. "You never feel quite so helpless than when your kid is in danger," he continued. "Makes you feel all your emotions at once, and then you're so happy they're OK that you can't get properly mad at 'em." He saw Megan's smile fade a little.
"That must be how my parents felt, all the time," she said. Ron had no reply to that. His granddaughter glanced up at his face. "Thank you for telling me about Daddy as a little boy," she told him, smiling again. "It felt good to hear it." Ron allowed himself a small grin.
"Anytime," he returned.
A doctor's assistant appeared at the half-open door by the receptionists desk, consulting her clipboard.
"Megan Tembler?" she called out, looking around the room. Ron lifted his hand and stood up from the chair. Megan followed him, feeling more than a small amount of unpleasant deja-vu. The young woman wore white scrubs with pink and purple dolphins printed all over them.
"Hi Megan," she said, pleasantly. "I'm Jenny. Can you step over here on the scale for me?" Megan nodded, going through the routine like she was in a dream. Weighed, measured, blood pressured and asked to wait. Her grandfather's body language and expression were the only things that stood out as different; he seemed downright uncomfortable.
"I can wait out in the lobby if you want," he said, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
"This isn't an exam," Megan told him. "Or they would have given me one of those paper shirts to wear." Ron shuddered a little. His granddaughter smiled. "You don't care for doctors?"
"Oh, doctors are fine," Ron responded. "It's what they ask you to agree to that I don't care for. The exams only get weirder the older you get."
Something in his tone made Megan laugh. Glancing at her face Ron let out a sigh and shuffled towards one of the two available chairs. He looked at the floor, walls and ceiling before nodding to himself.
"Clean in here," he mused aloud. "That's good to see."
"We try," came a pleasant voice, from the direction of the corridor. Looking towards the door Megan saw a slender woman in her fifties, one whom did not resemble a doctor at all. Her graying hair was bound in a single braid over one shoulder. No white coat graced her shoulders; she wore a long yellow sundress, with little white flowers embroidered around the waist. Her bright blue eyes surveyed both her guests with amusement. Ron looked at the newcomer with a mixture of uncertainty and distaste, as if he expected her to produce a tambourine and begin chanting.
"I'm Doctor Abbey," the woman continued, stepping into the room. "You must be the Megan, from the gigantic file on my desk."
Ron cleared his throat.
"You got it? Good. Doctor Lee told me she'd fax it to you." Doctor Abbey smiled at him, the corners of her eyes crinkling.
"We did get it. All two hundred and fifty-nine pages of it. Really... you'd think the oncologists of St. Anthony's would know how to send a PDF..." She stepped closer to Megan as she spoke. "I don't like having the word cancer in the way of things like this, so why don't I say it a bunch of times, and you say it, too. Then I can get along to treating you like a normal patient... what do you say?"
Megan looked at her from her seat on the examination table.
"Cancer," she returned, with just a hint of a smile. The doctor's eyes twinkled.
"Cancer," she said also. "Cancer, cancer, cancer. There... that's done with." She picked a pair of sterile gloves from a dispenser on the wall.
Ron grinned in spite of himself.
"Doc's got spunk," he thought, noting Megan's expression. She seemed comfortable with the doctor's unusual bedside manner.
"I'm sure you know what all these things are," Doctor Abbey said, waving at the various exam tools and tubes attached to the wall. "You've just had a physical within the last two months—from what I've read—so there's really no need, but I would just love to take a closer look at those eyes of yours. Do you mind?"
Megan shook her head. It felt refreshing to have someone ask, instead of staring or saying how "weird" her eye color was. After spending a minute or two studying the silver-gray irises of her newest patient, Doctor Abbey sat back on her stool with a sigh.
"Lovely," she said, smiling. "Just lovely. You are lucky to have elven eyes."
"Huh?" Ron asked.
"Oh, I'm sorry... you're her grandfather, right?"
"How nice to meet you. Abigail Abbey. And yes, I know that it's Abbie Abbey, but such is life."
At this, the woman wheeled around and consulted a clipboard on a small counter-top nearby. "You want to see if she can handle a flu shot?" she asked, looking at Ron.
"Well, I have a little problem with that," the doctor began.
"Liability," Megan said quietly. Doctor Abbey gave a little chuckle.
"No, nothing like that. Your bloodwork is what I'm interested in; I highly doubt your red cell count is as low as the last tests state. Your skin is too pink for that." She rolled the stool back over to the exam table and gave Megan's cheek a soft pat. "So, I'd like to take a little blood and scrutinize it a bit before we go injecting you with multiple live viruses."
Ron nodded to himself as the woman talked. She might not dress like a doctor but she sounded reasonable enough.
"I think that's a good idea," he said, carefully. "You up for that?" he asked Megan. His granddaughter shrugged.
"One more vial couldn't hurt," she answered. Doctor Abbey surprised her by chuckling.
"Oo, a wry sense of humor. I like that. How very BBC." As she spoke, the woman prepped Megan's arm and prepped the needle and empty vial with practiced swiftness. Ron looked away as the doctor found the vein, clearing his throat nervously. Needles he could handle, but—to him-blood belonged in the body, out of sight.
"There we go, all done," Doctor Abbey said, still smiling.
"Finished," Megan murmured without thinking.
"I heard that," the doctors told her, chuckling again. "And yes, you're. All finished."
"Good," Ron said, standing up. "Suppose your office will let us know the results in the next couple of days or so?"
"Should be tomorrow, at the latest," Doctor Abbey replied, writing on the vial's label. "I'll call myself." She looked over as Ron helped his granddaughter off the table. "You've probably heard this a million times, but if you feel woozy eat a sweet cookie, okay?"
"Not quit a million," Megan returned with a small smile. Doctor's Abbey beamed at her and then turned to Ron.
"Nice to meet you both," she said. "Can you find your way back to the waiting room?"
Ron nodded, picking up Megan's coat. The doctor's smile made him feel strangely uncomfortable, in a way he couldn't quite put his finger on. It wasn't a bad feeling, but it set him off kilter.
"Yeah, thanks. Nice to, erm, meet you too."
Doctor Abbey stepped back out of the room and watched the two amble down the corridor, towards reception. The girl's grandfather walked close to her, scanning the floor ahead for trip hazards, it looked like. Megan held her arm as she walked silently forward. The little girl's demeanor radiated a sort of depressed acceptance; it felt contagious. Letting out a sigh, the doctor turned a page on her clipboard and took a granola bar out of her pocket. Unwrapping the snack, she took a bite and knocked on the next examination room door.
"I HAVEN'T opened it yet," Megan said.
She stood in her bedroom looking at a big, sealed cardboard box. On its side, her own handwriting marked it as her parent's belongings. Ron stood in her doorway, looking a bit ill at ease. He did not come any further into the room.
"Only you know if you're ready to," he remarked at length. "If you want me to put it away in the garage for awhile, just say the word." Megan thought in silence for several seconds.
"I'm ready," she said, looking up at Ron. "And, I won't need any moral support." Her grandfather let out an amused snort.
"I'm that readable, huh?" he returned. Megan smiled at him. "Fine. I'll go make lunch."
"Do you want help?"
"No... go through your box. Maybe it'll be good for you."
"That's my theory..." Megan's voice drifted off as she knelt down by the box.
Ron beat a hasty retreat to the kitchen. His heart beat fast in his chest just looking at the words his granddaughter had written on the side in Colorado: Momma & Daddy. It was as if she'd put them into it. He was just glad she hadn't seen the box delivered to her old house a few hours before they'd left, delivered by the mortuary company. He'd left it unopened as well, squirreled away in a dark corner of his garage. Shaking his head, he began getting out lunch-meat and cheese.
"As long as it helps her," Ron thought, taking down a loaf of bread. His hands moved automatically as he prepared lunch, his thoughts elsewhere.
The clothes Megan piled on her bed. Though she remembered every time she'd chosen to bring along, she spent a few moments lingering over her father's sweater and her mother's gray silk dress. Their scent yet remained; it brought tears to Megan's eyes, but her heart didn't clench quite as painfully as before. She felt able to push away the sadness and focus on the fond memories the items invoked, instead.
The two wooden boxes most captured her curiosity. She'd never seen what was in them, nor had she wanted to know, before. Her father's contained two watches, a silver-embossed ebony pen-given to him by his university-and a silver money clip with his initials on it. Megan noticed that there were spaces for three watches, but one was missing. It occurred to her that he must have been wearing one the day of the accident. She wondered what had become of their clothes, those they'd been wearing that day. Her father's watch, her mother's wedding ring... had they been destroyed? She made a mental note to ask her grandfather, but thought better of it. His discomfort with the subject of her parent's death had not escaped her notice. She turned her attention back to her father's box.
A compartment below the padded jewelry display held several sealed envelopes. Opening these, Megan scanned the documents therein: the family's birth certificates, social security cards and her parent's marriage certificate.
"I get my organization from Daddy," Megan murmured to herself as she put the items back where she found them.
Her mother's box held only a little jewelry-a few necklaces and earrings-but Megan's eyes were drawn to a small package of photographs, tied with silk ribbon. Undoing the little bow, she looked through the pictures: one of the statue of liberty at Ellis Island, a shot of the Rocky Mountains from the rounded window of an airplane; a simply-decorated dorm room; her father as a lean college student and one of her mother—young and beautiful-kissing his cheek, her auburn hair falling over her shoulder in curls. The last two pictures were of their wedding day and of her as a little baby, cradled in her mother's arms. Her mother's smile seemed to light up the hospital room, cooing over the little bundle as if it were a precious thing.
A drop fell on the photograph's shiny surface. Megan put her hand to her face, surprised at the amount of moisture she found there. Drying her face, she realized that she didn't feel sad at all; the pictures were just so achingly beautiful, so full of happiness that the feeling transcended time and space, stealing into her fingers, flowing up through her arms to her very heart and mind. It felt as if the were both still here with her, living in the photographs.
"Maybe that's why she loved taking pictures," Megan thought. "To preserve moments of happiness for later use."
Other trinkets she found: little knitted baby booties, postcards from a few cities on the eastern coast of America and a tiny baby cap, but the cache space below held far more interesting items. Megan drew out a bundle of letters and another envelope of photographs. The pictures looked older than the others, mostly featuring landscapes of lonely shores and beach grasses, rocky coastlines, rolling hills covered in bright green grasses and lines of quaint beach cottages, all painted white with brown, gray or red roofs.
One picture, however, stood out as different: a woman was busy hanging up clothes on a line in the sunshine, a slender little girl next to her—perhaps five or six-handed up a wrung-out shirt from a wicker basket full of damp clothes. The black and white picture captured the movement of the breeze in the billowing sheets and clothes on the line, and the little girl's long curling hair flowing behind. The little girl wore a white pinafore and stood in the shorn grass with bare feet; the woman wore a pale dress with tiny flowers printed on it and a large apron. Megan studied the faces. The woman looked similar in face and form to Megan's mother but her face seemed different, more serious. She was turned away from the little girl, whose hopeful face was upturned as she held out the crumpled, damp shirt.
The picture induced a feeling of sadness to steal over Megan the more she looked at it. Turning it over, she saw handwriting in the corner: "Andreas, May 1978."
Andreas, she knew, was her mother's hometown on the Island of Man.
"A place I love, and yet always wanted to get away from," Fiona had told her, many times. "And that is why I snuck it into your name... because all your life, you'll feel in two minds about where you're from and who you're related to. Love wins out, though... eventually." The remembered words echoed in Megan's mind.
Of their own volition, her eyes sought out the bundle of letters, each accompanied by the original envelope. Looking through the dates on each handwritten page, Megan perceived that they began in the early nineties, when her mother was first attending college; they were sporadic, two or three a year at most. They were all from a woman Megan had never met, her maternal grandmother.
"Mairi McIssak," she read aloud, looking at one of the envelopes. She put the letters down. They seemed heavy all of the sudden, as if they were weighed down by memories unpleasant. A past not meant to be looked at.
Setting the box aside, Megan stood up. Leaving her room she made her way to the kitchen. Her grandfather stood by the counter, cutting a sandwich in two on a plate.
"Just in time," he said, studying his granddaughter's face from the corner of his eye. She seemed calm, but just a hint of redness could be seen in her eyes. He cleared his throat. "Tuna melt OK with you?"
Megan nodded as she climbed up to sit on a bar stool.
"Thank you," she returned. "I am quite hungry." Ron nodded.
"Glad to hear it," he said, sliding a small plate towards her. "I cut it in quarters... not that it makes a difference." Megan looked up at Ron's face. It occurred to her that he was trying very hard to sound casual. A slow smile spread over her mouth.
"It does makes it easier to eat."
"That it does. If it needs more salt, let me know."
Ron sat on a nearby stool in front of his own plate. They ate in comparative silence for some minutes. After a while, Megan glanced out the kitchen windows. The bright colors of the red and white cyclamen under the eucalyptus could be seen.
"The new plants seem to be surviving," she remarked, picking up the last quarter of her sandwich. Ron nodded.
"Yep," he replied. "Ground cover's doin' OK, too. Glad that nursery girl knew her stuff."
"Nora," Megan said, more to herself than anyone. "I liked her." Ron let out an amused breath.
"Yeah, she wasn't bad. Helpful an' all." He got up from the stool and walked around the counter to rinse his plate. Megan scooted her empty one towards him, finishing off the last of her crust.
"I like Doctor Abbey, too," she said, letting her thoughts run a comparison between the two women. Both seemed to harbor an easy cordiality about them, despite their difference in ages. Megan wondered if their shared demeanor was a result from living in the same town, or if they were somehow related.
"Didn't look much like a doctor, if you ask me." Ron's mumbled words interrupted his granddaughter's inward musings.
"Is that important to you?" Megan asked him, smiling a little. "Appearances?" Her grandfather snorted.
"No, but that was my first impression," he replied. "I live in California, but I ain't from here, you know. The whole laid back lifestyle takes a bit of getting' used to."
"Oh... so it is regional condition," Megan said. She smiled at the quizzical look her grandfather gave her over his shoulder. "I meant that Nora and Doctor Abbey both seem to have the same easy manner. I wondered if they were related, or if it was just living in this area."
"The latter I bet," her grandfather replied. "The doc had a different shaped face than the nursery girl. More heart-shaped, and her nose wasn't as sharp."
Megan sat listening in silence. Her grandfather's care in observing the lady doctor struck her as a bit outside the ordinary. The hint of an idea made itself present in her mind.
"The doctor did have pretty blue eyes," she ventured, wondering if her savvy guardian would take the bait.
"Yes, she did," Ron answered without thinking. "Kind of like cornflowers." The sound of soft chuckling made him dart a glance over at the counter. His granddaughter smiled at him, widely.
"You liked her, too," she told him. Ron snorted loudly.
"Don't you be putting ideas like those out," he said, turning back to the sink. "That's ridiculous."
"I wondered why your ears turned red when she was talking with you," Megan said, wondering how far she dared to pursue this line of reasoning. Her grandfather seemed downright uncomfortable, but in a different way than she'd seen in him before... almost embarrassed.
"They did not," her grandfather mumbled.
"They're doing it again," Megan observed, unable to stop smiling. A sharp snort was all the answer she got. She decided to change the subject.
"I found something, in Momma's box, that I wanted to ask your advice on."
Ron rinsed the last plate and turned back towards the counter. The serious change in his granddaughter's voice put all other thoughts from his mind, for the moment.
"Okay..." he began. "Shoot." Megan took in a long breath.
"I found letters, from her mother."
"Your mom's mom?"
"Yes. I haven't read them, but the envelopes are from the Isle of Man, from someone named Mairi McIssak. My mother's maiden name was McIssak. The handwriting looks like a woman wrote it, thus I assume it's from her mother. Momma once told me she was an only child."
As Ron listened he folded his arms over his chest, careful to keep his face neutral. A strange feeling of possessiveness came over him as he heard this other relative's name. A hundred scenarios played in his head; most of them involved Megan being taken away from him by well-meaning foreigners. He shook his head a little to dispel such images and cleared his throat.
"And, you need my advice on what, exactly?" he asked slowly. His granddaughter's uncertain expression bothered him a little.
"I don't know if this person is still alive," she told him. "Even if they are, I don't know if they've been told that Momma's dead." Ron felt himself relax as she spoke the last sentence.
"I see. Well, you could try writin' back to the address on the envelopes."
"I thought about that," his granddaughter replied. "Do you think it would be a good idea, or not?"
Ron weighed whether or not to insert his opinion into this matter. Part of him wanted nothing to do with this relative-by-marriage, but his one connection to them sat in front of him, earnestly seeking his input on the subject.
"I'd want to know, if it was me," he admitted. "Can't hurt to try, anyway." His words seemed to put his granddaughter at ease. Megan slid off the bar stool and took in a long breath.
"Thank you, for lunch,"said she. "When is the mail picked up out front?"
"Already come today. 'Bout 11am, give or take a half hour."
"Gives me more time to compile a note, then." Ron cleared his throat.
"Need help with it?" he asked, reluctantly. Megan smiled at him, her gray eyes taking on a spark of humor once more. The sight gave Ron just a bit of hope.
"No thank you," his granddaughter told him. "I can put my vast faculties to work in writing as well as music, you know." Ron grimaced at her and wiped his hands off with a dishtowel.
"Well since I've already cleaned up, you can be excused to write your letter. And don't forget to practice Ode To Joy a few hundred times..." Megan's answering chuckle could be heard from the hallway.
Her good humor faded as she re-entered her room. The open wooden box, their letters stacked within, reminded her of the serious task she'd just undertaken.
"How does one brings news of death gently?" she wondered. A trauma nurse and ER doctor had told her in blunt facts that her parents were killed; she'd seen drops of blood on the doctor's scrubs. Neither or them wanted to tell her, she could sense, but they felt obligated to let her know. Doctor Lee had held her, letting kind words pour over her until the sobs subsided. A mixture of the two methods struck Megan as a possible solution. The sadness of death, but also an offer of hope in establishing a connection with her only child's little girl.
The folded letters seemed to call out to her. Perhaps the prose therein would offer an insight into how to approach the writer with such sad news. The somber nature of the woman in the black an white photograph gave Megan misgivings, but she felt determined to go through with her small mission regardless. Sitting on her bed, Megan sorted through the letter until she found the oldest among them. Unfurling the three pages, she settled herself back to read.
Ron looked into the room an hour later. He saw Megan placidly gazing out the window from her seated position on the bed. All about her lap lay folded pieces of paper with writing on them. She looked over at his knock.
"You OK?" he asked.
"I am," his granddaughter replied. "I think you and my grandmother have a lot in common." The statement left Ron at a loss for words. Megan gave him a small smile. "I mean that-according to what I've read in her letters—she was angry at my mother for leaving her home and for marrying a foreigner."
Clearing his throat, Ron stepped into the room a bit more. The blunt way his granddaughter spoke the words seemed to hit him more than the sentence, itself. She sounded so matter-of-fact, as if she'd known all along he was angry with his son.
"That's... quite a mouthful," he said, at last. Megan's eyes met his, her amused look quickly melting into one of concern.
"I'm sorry," she began. "I shouldn't have said..."
"It's OK," Ron said, interrupting her apology. "It's not like it ain't true."
A small silence ensued. Megan bit her lip, wishing she'd kept her mouth shut. To her surprise, Ron leaned back against her bedroom wall, folded his arms over his chest and nodded for her to continue.
"The letters," she began, "start out with long, impassioned pleas for my mother to come back home. One letter mentions how her father passes away suddenly, but there is no funeral. Then the letters begin to get shorter, the words more wooden and then there's a few lines, curtly congratulating my mother on her upcoming wedding. That's the last one." Megan looked up at her grandfather; his expression looked unreadable, even to her. "I read these to get a better idea of how to write to my grandmother, but I didn't realize that her life mirrored my father's so much."
"Sounds like they had more in common than I knew," Ron said, at last. The words sounded forced, even to him. He cleared his throat. "I always suspected he'd married a foreigner out of some weird kind of rebellion." He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his jeans. "The more I get to know your mother, the more I see that they really loved each other. Just wish I was able to see it for myself, when they were still alive."
Megan felt tears rising into her eyes again as her grandfather spoke. She blinked and wiped her face on her sleeve.
"Aw, don't cry," Ron said, stepping closer to her. He knelt down by the bed. "Geez, I'm sayin' all the wrong stuff..."
"You're doing great," his granddaughter told him, quietly. "Really. This is hard for both of us to get through."
"Yeah, but I bet its good for us," Ron told her. "Like eatin' horseradish."
Megan allowed a small laugh to break through her lips.
"I hope not," she returned, smiling. "I'm glad I read these. At least I know how to write to her now." Her grandfather nodded, standing back up.
"Good. Need some paper?" Megan shook her head.
"I have some here, thank you."
"I gotta get back to my project, in the garage. You come get me, if you need anything, OK?"
"I will." With that, her grandfather left, closing the door behind him. Megan heard him clear his throat again as he quickly walked up the hallway towards the front o the house.
Getting off her bed, she opened the big cardboard box again. She searched around until she found the packet of her father's stationary, saved from his desk. Opening his box again, Megan took the special pen from its case. The sunlit reading nook around her window seemed the ideal place to write such a weighty letter. Climbing up into it she settled herself back and stared at the blank page of stationary before her. Her father's name and title on top made the hint of a smile hover over her mouth.
"Appropriate," she thought, feeling a sense of pride envelope her. At least the mystery relative would know her daughter had married someone with a stable income, if nothing else. Megan did not know what her mother had written back in reply to all these letters, but she assumed, from her mother's kind and patient nature, that they contained glowing sentences of her happiness. The pictures in her mother's box came to Megan's mind. Perhaps she could send some copies along with her letter, to convey what words could not.
Megan spent some moments mentally wrestling with the beginning endearment.
"Grandmother... or Mrs. McIssak?" she wondered, tapping the blank page with the pen. With a sigh, she began to write.
"Mairi McIssak," she wrote. "You've never met me. Indeed, I do not know if you even know I exist. My mother was Fiona Tembler. I say 'was' as she was killed in a car accident less than two month ago, near our home in Denver. I do not write this to bring you pain, but to inform you as I think a relative should be. My father, Michael, was also killed in the accident. A drunk driver didn't see their car at the intersection, or the so the police told me. He ran right into them, but also died at the scene. I was not with them at the time."
Here Megan paused, chewing her bottom lip a little. She'd written essays and papers before-for school-but this was unlike any piece of writing she'd ever attempted. She pondered how each word would be perceived by the intended recipient, but gave up. There was simply no way to predict such a thing.
"As we are distantly related, I will tell you a little about me. I was raised in a loving environment, by two people that cared for each other very much. My mother always struck me as happy and treated me kindly. She loved taking photographs; I have included some in this letter. My father was a professor of English Literature, but he wasn't arrogant in the least. He loved to takes walks and read in the backyard among mother's flowers, but he most enjoyed her company. They made each other laugh and they enjoyed ballroom dancing."
Megan paused again, wondering if she should even address the subject of her illness in this first communication. Eventually she reasoned it was best to get out all the bed news at once.
"I am nearly thirteen years of age. I have cancer and have had it since I was two, but it has not defeated me as of yet. My mother and father did not allow me to surrender to it. I live with my paternal grandfather now, Ronald Tembler, here in sunny California. He takes of me very well and I want for nothing. In writing you, I wanted not only to apprise you of my mother's death, but also to extend an invitation for you to write me back. If do not hear from you, I will not be insulted. However, should you chose to contact me back,I will gladly write to you. Feel free to call me if you chose to. My phone number is listed below.
Re-reading the letter, Megan thought it sounded awfully blunt-and depressing-but somehow she knew she should not write in any other way.
"Hopefully, she'll re-read it a few times," she murmured. "Then maybe she'll see past the terrible news, to the good intentions." She carefully wrote in her grandfather's home phone number at the bottom of the page, as well as their Oceanside address.
RON PICKED up the phone extension-in his shop-on its forth ring.
"Yeah?" he asked, cradling the receiver between his chin and shoulder.
"Mr. Tembler... this is Abigail Abbey." Ron sucked in a slow breath before answering.
"Okay," he ventured. "What's the bad news?" A low chuckle came over the other line.
"Sorry to disappoint you, but her red cell count is up."
"That's... is that good?"
"For her it is. Means she'd gained a bit of strength... and little weight, too, by our reckoning. Whatever you're doing to help her, keep doing it." Ron felt relief wash over him. He cleared his throat.
"So can she get her flu shot?" he asked. "Stomach flu goes around even in summer, you know."
"I'm aware of that, Mr. Tembler," the doctor's answered; she sounded amused. Ron's ears burned a little.
"Yeah, I guess you would be. Erm, thanks for callin'."
"I'll have Jenny, my assistant, call you with an appointment."
"My pleasure. Please tell Megan I said 'hello' and you both have a nice day."
"Yeah, uh... you, too."
Ron hung up the phone before any more pleasantry could be coerced from him. Passing a shined sheet of steel, Ron paused and leaned in, carefully inspecting his ears in the reflection.
"I don't see any red," he huffed, returning to his work bench. Tightening the handle of the vise he began carefully sanding the joints of a newly-soldered coil, muttering to himself.