“How do you think?”
I sigh, lie back on the bed. “I don’t know. The same?” and then, after a minute, “Don’t cry,” I’m saying. “Please. Please don’t cry.”
“It’s all so useless. I still see Dr. Scott every day and there’s the therapy and he keeps saying, ‘It’s coming along, it’s coming along,’ and I keep asking, ‘What’s coming along, what is coming along?’ and then … ” My mother stops, out of breath.
“Does he still have you on the Demerol?”
“Yes.” She sighs. “I’m still on the Demerol.”
“Well, this is … good.”
My mother’s voice breaks again. “I don’t know if I can take this anymore. My skin, it’s all … my skin …”
“… is yellow. It’s all yellow.”
I light a cigarette.
“Please.” I close my eyes. “Everything is all right.”
“Where are Graham and Susan?”
“They’re at … school,” I say, trying not to sound too doubtful.
“I would have liked to talk to them,” she says. “I miss them sometimes, you know.”
I put the cigarette out. “Yes. Well. They … miss you too, you know. Yes …”
Trying to make a conversation, I ask, “So, what have you been doing with yourself?”
“I just got back from the clinic and I’m in the process of cleaning out the attic and I found those photographs we took that Christmas in New York. The ones I’ve been looking for. When you were twelve. When we stayed at the Carlyle.”
For the past two weeks now my mother always seems to be cleaning out the attic and finding the same photographs from that Christmas in New York. I remember the Christmas vaguely. The hours that passed as she chose a dress for me on the day before Christmas, then brushing my hair in long, light strokes. A Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall and the candy cane I ate during the show, which resembled a thin, scared-looking Santa Claus. There was the night my father got drunk at the Plaza and the fight between my parents in the taxi on the way back to the Carlyle and later that night I could hear them arguing, the predictable sound of glass breaking in the room next to mine. A Christmas dinner at La Grenouille, where my father tried to kiss my mother and she turned away. But the thing I remember most, the thing I remember with a clarity that makes me cringe, is that there were no photographs taken on that trip.
“How’s William?” my mother asks when she gets no reply from me about the pictures.
“What?” I ask, startled, slipping back into the conversation.
“William. Your husband,” and then, with an edge, “My son-in-law. William.”
“He’s fine. Fine. He’s fine.” The actress at the table next to ours last night in Spago kissed the surfer on the mouth as he scraped caviar off a pizza, and when I got up to leave she smiled at me. My mother, her skin yellow, her body thin and frail from lack of food, is dying in a large, empty house that overlooks a bay in San Francisco. The poolboy has set traps smudged with peanut butter around the edges of the pool. Randomness, surrender.
Nothing is said for close to two minutes. I keep count and I can hear a clock ticking and the maid humming to herself while cleaning the windows in Susan’s room down the hall, and I light another cigarette and hope that my mother will hang up soon. My mother finally clears her throat and says something.
“My hair is falling out.”
I have to hang up.
The psychiatrist I see, Dr. Nova, is young and tan and drives a Peugeot and wears Giorgio Armani suits and has a house in Malibu and often complains about the service at Trumps. His practice lies off Wilshire and it’s in a large white stucco complex across from Neiman Marcus and on the days I see him I usually park my car at Neiman Marcus and wander around the store until I buy something and then walk across the street. Today, high in his office on the tenth floor, Dr. Nova is telling me that at a party out in the Colony last night someone “tried to drown.” I ask him if it was one of his patients. Dr. Nova says it was the wife of a rock star whose single has been number two on the Billboard charts for the past three weeks. He begins to tell me who else was at the party, when I have to interrupt him.
“I need the Librium refilled.”
He lights a thin Italian cigarette and asks, “Why?”
“Don’t ask me why.” I yawn. “Just do it.”