begun to roll back, registered something. Pulling him away from the wall, she tried to get him on all fours, the position he once confessed was easiest for him to breathe in. She had caught him that way once, on his hands and knees, his head hung low, and he had been so embarrassed that he vowed never to assume that position again, preferring, as he put it, to strangle like a man than become an animal. But when Anne pulled up on his belt and the seat of his pants,he seemed to understand and even tried to help by pushing up with his forearms. He managed one decent breath before the strength went out of his limbs and he drove forward, chin first, into the carpet.
“Help me!” Anne ordered her mother, who was watching from across the room, having backed away until she finally came up flush against the wall. Mrs. Grouse balked, but then did as she was told. For a terrible moment, once they had succeeded in getting him to his knees again, Anne was afraid her mother had been right, for her father appeared to stop breathing altogether and there was a dreadful rattle in his chest. Then he began to choke, expelling yellow bile from his lungs. But he also caught his first real breath, one that went all the way down, and he hung onto it like a drowning man. By the time the ambulance arrived, some of the icy blue had begun to drain from his cheeks. In the interim he had not objected to remaining on all fours, apparently grateful, at least for the moment, simply to be. Even as an animal.
“So,” Anne said, picking a particularly bright leaf off the skimmer, “I’m in the doghouse.”
Dan Wood, who had listened to the story somewhat abstractedly, began stuffing the soggy leaves into the bag with a large scoop. “I’d like to sympathize, but you’re old enough to know better than to disobey your mother. Just who did you think you were, saving your old man’s life after you’d been expressly forbidden to?”
“But I didn’t save his life, you see. The ambulance men get credit for that. What I get credit for is fracturing his jaw.”
There were still plenty of leaves to skim, but Anne suddenly collapsed into a deck chair, letting the skimmerbalance against one knee. “It’s funny,” she said. “When I was younger and things first started going wrong between my father and me, I had this daydream where I would rescue him from a burning house. I knew it was silly, but I indulged the fantasy all the time. He would be unconscious and I’d have to drag him out through the flames. Lord knows where Mother was when all this rescuing was going on.”
“Dead, according to Freud.”
“Oh, stop it.”
Dan ducked the swatch of leaves she threw at him.
“Anyhow, it turns out I got my wish. And do you know what I did when I saw him in the hospital the next morning? I apologized for fracturing his jaw.”
“And so you’re ticked off at your mother.”
Anne studied him, surprised by his tone, but he did not meet her eye. “What’s your point?”
“No point. I just wondered about Mather’s opinion of the whole episode.”
“He’s got a fractured jaw, remember?”
“Mmmm,” Dan said. “You should get one of those drawing boards they have for kids. The kind you write a message on and then pull up the plastic sheet and the whole thing disappears. T-H-A-N-K-S, then zip—clean slate.”
Anne glared at him until he apologized, then added, “Don’t go telling me things if you don’t want my goddamn opinion.”
She did regret telling him. She might’ve guessed what his reaction would be. “It’s another of my idle dreams that you two will like each other one day.”
They were talking directly to one another now, not looking away. “That’s like me dreaming about walking again.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“I don’t see why you and my father shouldn’t like each other. You’re a lot alike, when you think about it. For instance, you’re the two most bullheaded men I know.”
“Naturally,” she admitted. Her ex-husband. “Always excepting Dallas.”
“Well,” Dan smiled. “I don’t much appreciate being called bullheaded. And I don’t like your father. Never have liked him, never will like him. And there’s nothing you can do to change my mind.”
Anne couldn’t help grinning back at him, as always. They would be on the brink of a serious falling out when suddenly the danger would pass as if it had never
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