The Hard Thing
By Erica Orloff
My family calls me Speed Dial.
Someone in the family is pulled for a DUI at 2:00 a.m. and can’t walk the straight line, my number is the one they call from jail.
I am also Bail Money.
I’m the person my siblings call when they are arrested, or when they are considering doing something to get themselves arrested, like when their husbands leave them for the babysitter, when their wife shacks up with their son’s seventh-grade gym teacher. There are six siblings—split down the middle. Three boys, three girls, and that figure multiplies exponentially given my family’s propensity for fuck-ups of epic proportions. We’re now into second-generation fuck-ups. One of my nieces is pregnant. She’s sixteen, so I’m guessing we’re going into generation number three. We like our traditions.
Two a.m. is usually the DUI call. I rolled my eyes when I saw the county lock-up come up on caller I.D. Then I mentally calculated how much I had in my bank account to cover bail. Only this last call wasn’t a DUI. It was nine plain words.
“Your father has been arrested for murdering your mother.”
There are bail calls. And there are rock your world to its core bail calls.
It was days until I could see him—that’s how they processed him. When I finally was frisked and walked through metal detectors, squinting in the buzz of fluorescent lights, I saw how the orange jumpsuit swam on his 96-pound frame, casting him as some murderous scarecrow.
He didn’t apologize.
“I’ll be with her soon. I pray every night for that. I dream of it, and when I wake up, I’m just sad it hasn’t happened yet. Soon, though.”
And that much I knew. The pancreatic cancer had ravaged him.
“Love does the hard thing,” he sighed.
At first, she couldn’t count change. A math teacher who couldn’t count to 100 pennies. She got lost on the way to the supermarket that was a half mile from their house. Then she got lost in the supermarket by the frozen raviolis and started crying.
She forgot my siblings, one by one. Forgot their dramas (which was a good thing). Forgot the days of the week. She actually thought every day was Tuesday. She didn’t know the name of the president of the United States. Then she forgot she lived in the United States and told me she lived in Guam.
She forgot me, finally. Until he was the only one who could get through to her. He would hum her this song. “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” From when they were dating 55 years ago. And she would smile and become compliant.
Then she forgot the song. Even just to hum it.
And finally, he slipped away from her, too, like disappearing into a thick fog.
Then she forgot words. Sometimes, it was as if she rattled around in her own head searching for C-A-T when their Siamese moose of a cat sat on her lap. But those three little letters could not be found.
Then she could not remember how to swallow.
And that was when he decided.
He made sure the sleeping pills were the very last thing she ate, spooned gently into her mouth in a soupy applesauce, him massaging her throat to help her remember how to swallow, spooning it back on her tongue when she pressed it forward through her lips like an baby learning how to eat rice cereal. He laid her down. When she snored, he put a plastic bag over her face and held her hand. She never struggled. He said he thought it was sort of like when babies die of SIDS. She just went to sleep.
He’ll be dead before the trial.
He confessed to everything anyway. The D.A. was a female without compassion, eyes black as a crocodile’s.
“I’ve got one question for you. Did you ever stop to think that maybe what you did was wrong? Wasn’t the answer?”
He pondered. “Love hesitates.”
Then, looking up at the ceiling, he whispered, “But love does the hard thing.”