"She's okay at the moment, but she's putting on a brave face. I know she's worried as hell, and, of course, I'm worried about her, too. Her health isn't much better than mine. That's something else you and I will have to discuss when you're down here next."
"Of course, of course," I said, the implications of his words starting to ignite in my mind. K's fragile condition could deteriorate rapidly from the stress of Jolly's illness and eventual death.
Then another worry hit me: "What about Anne and Mary? Have you told them about your diagnosis yet?"
"Yes, I've talked with both your sisters."
"How are they taking it?"
"Well," he sighed again, "pretty much true to form—you know how they are. Annie is wound up beyond all reason." He chuckled sadly. "I had to spend almost an hour calming her down and reassuring her that I wasn't already in extremis. Mary was shocked and flustered at first, but put on a good show of acting calm, even though it's obvious she's frightened." He paused and then said pointedly, "You know that both your sisters are going to need your help with what's ahead."
"I know," I said. Both Anne and Mary had had deeply troubled relationships with Jolly and K over the years, and I'd fallen into the role of sometime caretaker. Relative calm seemed to prevail with them at the moment, but Jolly obviously anticipated that would change. At the very least, I knew that Jolly's illness would be extremely difficult for them to cope with.
He continued, "Annie said she's coming to L.A. immediately—to 'help'—which your mother and I are not exactly looking forward to. It'll probably be the other way around, for the most part. And Mary said she'd try to come see me more often, but that damn husband of hers makes it difficult."
"Yeah," I said, "I know."
"What about you?" he asked. "Will your schedule allow you to come down here for a visit? I know you're busy lawyering and helping folks."
"Don't worry," I said, "I'll make arrangements. I'll clear some things off my calendar and come down there as soon as I can."
"No rush," he said. "I'm really not feeling too bad. And I'm not going anywhere. Not yet, anyway."
I could tell by his tone that he was trying to joke about his impending demise, so I chuckled appreciatively and said, "Right." He chuckled too, glad I'd gotten it.
Then I said, "Keep me posted, all right? And if there's anything I can do to help out down there, just let me know."
"Okay, Son," he said. "I'll keep you apprised."
"Okay, Dad. Talk to you soon."
"So long," he said, and hung up.
I stood there staring at the phone, still stunned, until the smell of scorched soup demanded my attention. As I cleaned up the stove, I replayed the phone call over and over in my mind. It didn't make any sense. He sounded healthy, and he was only seventy-four—maybe his doctors had made a mistake and would catch it any day now. But even as I thought that, I knew it was a typical denial reaction. There hadn't been any mistake. The cancer was there. Jolly was dying.