Stay Close

Page 13


“Told me what?”
Megan: “Let it go, Dave.”
Agnes just kept nodding at her son. “I’ve seen this game before. I told you.”
“Then who won?”
“I don’t want to spoil it for you.”
“It’s live, Mom. You don’t know.”
“Sure I do.”
“Then who won, huh? Tell me who won.”
“And spoil it?”
“You won’t spoil it. Just tell me who won.”
“You’ll see.”
“You never saw the game, Mom. It’s on live right now.”
“Sure I did. It was on yesterday.”
And on it went until Dave’s face turned purple and Megan stepped in and reminded him yet again that it was not Agnes’s fault. It was so hard to get that. We get cancer or heart attacks, but mental illnesses are almost by definition beyond our grasp.
Now, for the past month or so, Agnes had a new delusion—a man was breaking into her room and making threats. Dave again wanted to ignore it. “Let the phone ring,” he’d say with a tired groan. “We need to move her to more controlled care.”
But Megan just couldn’t. Not yet anyway.
Agnes, the doctors had warned her, was getting worse, almost ready for the “third floor” where they put their full-on Alzheimer’s patients. To the outside world, it seemed a cruel place, but Dave was now a believer. Since there was no hope for a cure, the workers on the “third floor” did their best to make the patients comfortable, using “validation therapy,” which basically meant, “if you believe it’s so, it is.” So if you believed, for example, that you were a twenty-two-year-old mother of a newborn baby, the caretakers let you feed and cuddle an “infant” (doll) and cooed at it like visiting relatives. Another woman believed that she was pregnant and so the nurses kept asking how far along she was, did she want a boy or a girl, stuff like that.
Megan looked into Agnes’s frightened face. Agnes had been so sharp just a few years back—funny and cutting and wonderfully ribald. One night, when the two women had enough to drink, Megan had even told her a little bit of the truth about her past. Not all of it. Just a hint that there was more to it than met the eye. Agnes had said, “I know, hon. We all got secrets.” They had never spoken about it again. By the time Megan wanted to raise it again, well, it was too late.
“I’m okay now,” Agnes said. “You can go.”
“I have a little time.”
“You have to get the kids off to school, don’t you?”
“They’re old enough to take care of themselves.”
“Are they?” She tilted her head. “Megan?”
“What do I do if he comes back tonight?”
Megan turned her attention back to the night-light. “Who turned that off?”
“He did.”
Megan wondered. Validation therapy. Why the hell not? Maybe it would offer a terrified woman some comfort. “I brought something that might help.” She reached into her purse and pulled out what looked like a digital alarm clock.
Agnes looked confused.
“It’s a spy camera,” Megan said. She had bought it at a spy store online. Sure, she could have just said that it was a spy camera—validation therapy was not about honesty—but why be deceitful when you don’t have to be? “So we can catch the bastard in the act.”
“Thank you,” Agnes said, tears—maybe of relief?—in her eyes. “Thank you so much, Megan.”
“It’s okay.”
Megan set it up so it faced the bed. The camera worked by timer and motion detector. Agnes’s calls always came in at three A.M. “What I’m going to do,” she started explaining, “is to set the timer so that the taping begins at nine P.M. and lasts until six in the morning, okay?”
“Your hands,” Agnes said.
“Excuse me?”
“They’re shaking.”
Megan looked down. She was right. Her fingers could barely find the buttons.
“When he comes for me,” Agnes said in a whisper, “my hands start to shake too.”
Megan moved back to the bedside and held her mother-in-law again.
“You too, right, Megan?”
“Me too what?”
“You’re scared. You’re shaking because you’re afraid of him too.”
Megan didn’t know how to reply.
“You’re in danger, aren’t you, Megan? Is he visiting you too?”
Megan started to say no, started to say something comforting about being fine, but she pulled up. She didn’t want to lie to Agnes. Why should Agnes think she was the only one who ever got scared?
“I… I don’t know,” Megan said.
“But you’re scared he’s come back to get you?”
Megan swallowed, thinking about Stewart Green, about how it all ended. “I guess I am.”
“You shouldn’t be.”
“I shouldn’t?”
Megan tried to nod. “Okay. Tell you what. I won’t be scared, if you won’t be.”
But Agnes frowned and waved the patronizing deal away. “It’s different.”
“You’re young,” Agnes said. “You’re strong. You’re tough. You’ve known adversity, haven’t you?”
“Like you.”
Agnes ignored that. “You’re not an old woman confined to a bed. You don’t have to lie helplessly in the dark, shivering, waiting for him to get you.”
Megan just looked at her, thinking, Wow, who’s working—and who’s receiving—the validation therapy now?
“Don’t wait in the dark,” Agnes said in an agitated whisper. “Don’t ever feel helpless. Please? For me? I don’t want that for you.”
“Okay, Agnes.”
Megan nodded. “I promise.”
And she meant it. Validation therapy or not, Agnes had spoken a universal truth: Feeling scared was bad, but feeling helpless was far worse. Megan had been toying with the idea of making a big move since Lorraine’s visit anyway. It might unearth the past, bring it back in a bad way, but as Agnes had pointed out, it was better than lying helplessly in the dark.
“Thank you, Agnes.”
The old woman’s eyes blinked, as though fighting back tears. “Are you leaving?”