UNITED STATES—”I didn’t want to tell you over the phone, but the social worker laid down an ultimatum: they can’t have her here if she doesn’t show progress in therapy. They were ready to kick her out three days ago, but they gave an extension. It’s a godsend you came. We being together can make a big difference.”

“If she doesn’t progress, it makes a huge difference for her to be here. Medicare is going to stop paying.”

“Then what?”

“It’s on our dime.”

The brother and sister were deep in conversation, too deep to look outside the diner and realize that a purple rim was starting to outline the faraway tops of the hills. Day was beginning at last to deprive the night its reign.

“She’s doing better. She is rallying. She’s doing a little more every day. With you around, Karen, maybe it’ll bring her over the hump,” says Davy. “She always listened to you more than me.”

“I always thought she listened to you more.”

“She really wants only one thing: to be in her bed and comfortable. The minute she’s sitting up she moans, ‘Get me back to my bed… My back is killing me… Oh, god.’ Having to hear that is murder. Look at this picture of her on the exercise machine.

“She looks OK.”

“Well, the whole atmosphere was heinous. Every thing the therapist suggested was a fight. No. No. No. ‘I don’t want to play with Silly Putty, that’s silly. GET ME BACK TO MY BED, NOW.’ I’m a nervous wreck, Karen. These last days pushing her, pushing her. If nobody was here to push her, we wouldn’t have made it this far,” says Davy.

“Well, I’m here, Davy. That’s why I’m here, coach and tormentor. But there’s also hope. Hope keeps me here.”

“No wonder it’s the last thing out of Pandora’s box. After all the plagues and pestilence, hope is the last straggler,” Karen says. “Maybe mom heals at a different rate.”

“I think maybe hope is at the bottom of Pandora’s box because it’s the most hellish quimera in the box.”

“I won’t ask what that means, Davy, but I’ll assume you’re used the word correctly.”

“Hope is killing me.”

“Davy. Davy. You’re not responsible. It’s not your fault. We respected her word. Honor thy mother. We honored her and this helpless now: she’s the author. ”

“I wish there was a pill to make her agreeable. A pill to say yes and smile. I never knew anybody in my life who said no to so many things. Like garlic and avocado.”

“It’s like they were some new-fangled California thing and they just didn’t belong in her world. To bring an artichoke to our table was like sacrilege. She did this a long time ago, built her world with the tortoise shell of NOOO. ‘That’s your favorite word,” said the therapist.’ Mom is the toughest patient she’s ever had. Other patients hate her.”

“Hate is strong word.”

“OK, maybe they despise her,” says Davy. “There is kind of a payback when she grates on other people’s nerves. And we get validation that our own childhood wasn’t a figment of our imagination. Of course, there’s lots worst childhoods: kids get raped, addict parents forget them locked in hot cars, make them stand outside supermarkets and sell ‘World’s Best’ chocolates.”

“You known what you are Davy?”

“What beside the Jewish gentile actor-writer-master of stand-up?”

“You are the connoisseur of consolation prizes.”

“I don’t know if should be flattered or take that a par of Mom’s most negative best. Like when you’d talk about your dreams, and she’d cut them down.”

“There it is! You are in denial about the damage, but just that held us back, me even moreso, because I stayed at home and didn’t go straight to college. I didn’t have a fresh start like you.”

“‘Just take me to my bed, take me to my bed,’ mom was telling the therapist today. The therapist said, ‘Remember the train that could?’ By the way, I really do have to complement you on how you let me finish my sentences. It’s such a joy after being all these days with more. Waiter, more coffee please?”

“I think I could use some more, myself, to calm down,” Karen says.

“Anyway, remember when we were kids and Mom put us on her lap and read Little Golden books. She had one about the little train. The one she read from was ‘The Little Train that Couldn’t.”

“Some coffee for me, too,” she says to the waiter. “Oh, I just got that, Davy. The Little Train that Couldn’t. That’s pretty good, Davy. I almost laughed.”

To be continued…

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)