I knocked my mitt and ball off the nightstand groping for the phone.
"Hullo?" I mumbled into the receiver.
"Jack? This is your Uncle Darwin." A heavy pause hung on the line. "I?m sorry to wake you. I?m not in the country."
A call in the dark hours of the night is never a good thing. When the person on the other end is your uncle that hasn?t spoken to your father since before you were born, it can only be disastrous.
My uncle was calling to let me know that he was sending over a Mormon bishop, a friend of my aunt’s, to talk with me. He said I shouldn?t worry about letting a stranger in. My uncle left a cell number for me to call if I needed anything. I was fumbling in the drawer for a pencil when Evelyn, the widow from up the street, hobbled into my room.
She was in her eighties and had a bad hip. My parents had asked her to stay with me when they went out of town. My sister Jane had wanted to stay with a girlfriend, which would have left me alone. I?m not sure why they thought I needed someone. Maybe they asked Evelyn because she?d raised six boys of her own and was kind of lonely now. My parents knew better than anyone that I could take care of myself. If anything happened, I?d be rescuing Evelyn.
She didn?t cook anything but milk-toast with honey and she couldn?t get around well enough to keep the house up, but, at least, she could still drive her old Pontiac in an emergency. I think she liked my company.
The doorbell rang while I was explaining the call. Bishop Larsen was a tall, slightly graying man in a dark suit and a white shirt. He knew Evelyn already and shook her hand with a warm smile. I showed him into the living room and he asked us both to sit down.
In the course of a fifteen-minute conversation, my whole life warped. My dad was in a coma in Switzerland, my mother didn?t make it through the accident -- they never found her -- and my sister and I would be taking a train in the morning to live in Utah with our dad’s brother.
I was stunned.
I managed to gather my wits about me enough to ask what my dad’s chances were.
The bishop looked grave for a moment, as if debating what to say. "Not good. He’s still unconscious, but your uncle is doing everything he can."
I sat for a moment with my head in my hands. I choked back a sob, but my eyes still watered. Bishop Larsen’s voice went on -- something about prayer and hope and God. I didn?t register any of the thoughts, but the flow of them was somehow comforting.
Evelyn put her arm around my shoulders. Neither of them disturbed the silence for a while.
Bishop Larsen laid a hand on my head. "Your uncle mentioned your sister was staying with a friend. Would you like me to pick her up and help you tell her?"
I looked up at him blankly for a moment until my sense of responsibility for Jane capped off the flow of my grief.
"No. I have to. I?m the one that should tell her."
My parents would want me to be the one to give this news to Jane rather than a stranger. Not tonight, though. It might be the last good night’s sleep she got for a while. She and my mom were close, as tight as my dad and I. No, I wouldn?t tell her about our parents until morning.
The man looked doubtful, but finally agreed with a nod. He would pick us up and drive us to the train station tomorrow afternoon. Evelyn had his number if we needed him.
He left with a reluctant backward glance.
"Would you like some milk-toast with honey, Jack?" Evelyn asked. I think she wanted to do something to comfort me; there was nothing anyone could do.
I shook my head. "I?m going back to bed."
I sat on the edge of my bed, gazing out through the darkness of the window, unable to grasp the reality of the conversation I had just had. It wasn?t until I saw my father’s mitt lying at my feet that the pain shot from my chest into my throat. An accident -- a car accident! How could this happen? To my dad? He’s invincible. And to Mom? I couldn?t picture her gone. She was in all my thoughts and memories.
It was then that I knew. The pain in my chest ignited into anger. It must have been them. They had finally caught up with my parents. Dad had been worried from the start of the trip. That’s why he told me about Jane -- that I might have to look out for her, protect her.
In the morning, I would have to tell my sister about Mom and Dad, but I would avoid telling her about the others as long as I could. The less she knew, the better. As far as I was concerned, I hoped she would never discover the truth. If she was ever going to know, she?d have to find out for herself. This was one story I would never tell, not unless I had to.