For the first time in three years I dialed her number. My mother answered the phone. I tried to speak, but my words, like a snagged fly, got stuck inside me.
"Hello," my mother repeated.
I freed my words. "It's, it's me."
"Randy! It's so good to—My mother cried. Her tears swelled my guilt and drowned my voice. A long silence. My mother asked if I still drove a limousine. I remembered how she’d always yearned for me to become a doctor. Knowing my answer would pain her, I admitted I still drove.
Another silence. I hoped she would ask if I still wrote. She didn't. So I told her I had published several fishing articles.
"Fishing? I didn't know you were that into it."
"During the last few years I've been."
"I'm glad you found something you like," she said sincerely, so sincerely I again hoped that she would apologize, finally.
She didn't. She asked to meet, but didn’t offer the apology I wanted to hear. I told her I wasn't ready to, but promised to call again.
"I've—I've missed you so," she said. I hung up, wondering if something was wrong with me because I couldn't forgive her. Like an opened dam, my questions let loose a rushing river of guilt inside me. Again, I tried to understand the violence of my childhood, and then the violence of war. No answers came, not once during the long, cold winter and the early spring.
I packed for my fishing trip to the Beaverkill. Eleanor, who worked for my mother’s employment agency, called. Her words iced all my feelings. I hung up, called the owner of the Roscoe Motel, apologized, and said I had to cancel my reservation. He said he understood and would refund my deposit.
An hour later, feeling I was in a trance, I walked down a white hospital hallway. At first the long hallway reminded me of a straight, narrow stream, but suddenly the hallway seemed like the opposite of a stream. It was colorless and lifeless, and made me feel boxed in. I looked straight ahead. Instead of seeing a beautiful, gurgling run or a long, slow pool, I saw an open doorway. On the other side, my mother sat on a bed. She wore a floppy beach hat. I walked into her room. She looked at me and smiled. "Do you like my hat?" she asked. “It’s not exactly Saks Fifth Avenue.”
“Yes, I like it.” I thought even without hair, she was still beautiful.
"Now I know why some men wear even bad toupees.” My mother laughed, momentarily. “I never thought I could get cancer, me, a woman who built her own business from the ground up. Are you sure you don't want the business?"
I thought of saying yes and making her happy, but then thought, It’s taken me so long to get published. Do I really want to give up writing? I said, "I'm sorry, but your business is not for me."
The doctor walked in. He was tall, probably in his late fifties. He wore a dark pinstripe suit and looked more like a banker than a doctor. He motioned me to follow him out of the room. I did. He told me cancer was unpredictable, but in his opinion, my mother had about three months to live.
Not believing him, I asked, "How could this be happening?"
"I wish I had an answer. Your mother is very proud of you. I once wished I had the courage to become a writer."
I thought it was ironic that my mother was always impressed by doctors, and now her doctor was impressed by writers.
"What do you write about?" he asked.
I expected him to laugh. He didn't.
"When I was a boy," he said, "I loved fishing with my father. But when I got older I resented that fishing seemed more important to him than I did, so I turned my back on fishing, until he got cancer. We fished together several times before he died. I'm so grateful we did."