I haven’t posted in a couple days, but I have still been writing. I am close to the goal. With two days to go, I have less than three thousand words left to write to hit the number. Here are two chapters in a single post. It’s a bit of a long read, but I hope you like it.
Day 28 – 47,149/50,000 words
The next morning, Marshall got up at seven. He had been exhausted when he got home, falling into bed fully clothed. Now, there was sand in his bed and on his clothes. He stripped the bed and himself, filling his laundry basket. Then he did his stretches and his balance exercised, before getting into the shower. He took a long shower, scrubbing every inch of his body and shampooing his hair twice. He checked his leg, where it had been cut with the rock in the surf the night before. The cut was long, about three inches, but not deep. It hurt slightly to the touch, but did not seem overly red or inflamed. After he got out of the shower, he spread a generous layer of bacitracin on it and covered it with a large adhesive bandage. Marshall put on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, gathered his quarters, and carried his laundry to the laundry room at the apartment complex. The laundry room was empty. He loaded his clothes into the wash and set the controls, and then he walked back to his apartment, grabbed his wallet, and made the walk down to Seaside Espress.
Rainman was sitting at a table inside the Seaside Espress. He waved at Marshall as he walked through the door, motioning for Marshall to join him. Marshall got in line, ordered an iced coffee and picked up a couple of bananas by the register. Once his coffee was ready, he sat down with Rainman.
“Hey buddy,” Rainman said, “It was good to hand out with you and your family the other night.
Marshall took a sip of his coffee and a bit of banana. “That was good,” Marshall said, surprised to find that he genuinely meant it. “I’m getting lunch with them today. We’re driving up to Deer Point for lunch and to hike around a little.”
Rainman nodded. “I get the occasional gig up there. It’s nice, but a little limited.”
“That’s fine with me,” Marshall said, “I’m meeting someone here this afternoon, so I’ll need to get back.” Marshall thought for a moment about Benton Noro’s offer. “Do you plan to have kids”” Marshall asked.
Rainman laughed. “Not that I think about, no. I’m a musician. I make just enough to keep me in my place, and sometimes it’s pretty close even then. If I had kids, I’d have to change all that, or else just be a lousy father. I’m not really interested in either of those things. I’m just happy being me. I live where I want. I have time to read and practice. I’d have to get tired of that, and I’m not anywhere close to tired of that.”
Marshall peeled his first banana and took a bite, following it up with a sip of his coffee. “I never really expected to have kids.” Marshall said. “I’ve never had a lot of luck with women, and even when I did, children weren’t on the table. But suddenly, it is a possibility. I’m having trouble wrapping my head around it.”
“Catrin,” Rainman asked with an odd expression on his face.
“No,” Marshall said. “It’s nothing like that. It would be hard to even explain.” It occurred to Marshall that he would have to tell Catrin if he followed through on the idea. It was also the sort of thing his family might object to. He added that to the list of issues he would have to deal with should he decide to move forward. “But let’s just say for the first time in a long time, I have reason to think about it.”
Rainman stared off into space for a long while. Marshall, who was prone to the same thing, waited patiently. He finished his first banana, and drank some more coffee. Finally, Rainman said, “If I were to be a father, this would be a nice play to raise a kid, I think. It feels pretty far removed from the rest of the world. I don’t know about you, but I think of that as a good thing.”
Marshall agreed. “That’s a large part of why I came here,” Marshall said, “This is a big enough place to have what I need, but it’s also relatively small and remote. From my apartment, I can get almost anywhere in town on foot in less than an hour.”
“You should get a bike,” Marshall said, “That will make things even easier.”
“Someday,” Marshall said, “I will trust myself enough to ride a bike again. That will be a good day.”
Marshall finished his second banana. “I’ve got to head back,” Marshall said. I need to flip my laundry and start getting ready for the hike.”
“I’ll walk back with you,” Rainman said, “I’ve got a wedding to work this afternoon. Weddings are my bread and butter.”
“Anybody interesting?” Marshall asked.
“Just a couple of boat people,” Rainman said, “They come to get married on the beach. The Hyatt is hosting, or I’d have tried to set up with a gig for the reception.”
“No problem,” Marshall said. It occurred to him that, now that his job had fallen through, he did actually have bar tending to fall back on. “Santa Creda provides.”
Rainman raised an eyebrow. “So far,” he said.
They walked back up the street that led to their apartment complex. Rainman headed upstairs to his apartment. Marshall went to the laundry room, arriving just as his load hit the final spin cycle. He waited, listening to the spinning sound pleasantly. He thought again about the idea of parenthood. It would be an odd arrangement, Marshall could see that. But his life had always been full of odd arrangements, and he could think of worse situations for a child to grow up in. He thought then about the possibility of having children with Catrin. It was too early in the relationship for any serious consideration, of course, but there was no obvious reason why they couldn’t get married and have children. People did it all the time, and with even bigger age gaps, but somehow Marshall couldn’t picture him and Catrin being a permanent situation. He couldn’t even picture Catrin staying in this town. He knew she stayed out of obligation to her parents. The same thing had kept in in Phoenix most of his life. He felt, however, like she was biding her time.
The laundry spun down, and he transferred his clothes to the dryer, then he headed back to his apartment. He sat on his couch, and tried to picture what it would be like. He tried to think of himself as a father, but he revised that a bit. He figured that, without custody, he would almost feel the same way he did with his sister’s kids. He would see them once in a while, and they would sometimes go out and do fun things, but when the day was over, they always went back to their real parents. Benton Noro would be their real parents. Victoria might also be there, but he had trouble deciding if Victoria was a permanent part of Benton Noro’s life. He had the feeling that, whether Benton was in a relationship or not, she would have made Marshall the same exact offer. He was a well-fit piece in the jigsaw puzzle that Benton Noro was assembling out of her life. He would be there at her convenience. She might rely on him to run errands for them, or to help them with school or something, but he would not be a partner in the enterprise, just a contractor, more or less.
On the surface, this sounded like a problem, but Marshall was actually well-suited to the task. He had no solid plans for the next twenty years. He currently led the sort of life where he could be available for such a thing. None of that was really a problem for him. Marshall also knew that his condition came with added risks. He lived with that every day. He had been lucky. His speech had been unaffected. His issues had more to do with equilibrium and concentration, along with sensory issues. His memory loss had been limited. In rehab, he had met much more severe cases. There was always the risk of strokes and other issues. He could be fine today and gone tomorrow. Any children he had with Benton Noro would be insulated from those risks. That was appealing.
Marshall set about cleaning his apartment. He had, until today, successfully kept his sister and her family from coming by, but his sister had insisted on picking him up today. He had added a couple paintings to the walls that he had picked up at a local gallery. The artist, Maria Lucca, had an affinity for beach scenes, which gave the apartment a relaxed feeling. He had also had the local Walgreens make a poster sized photo of Anne and her family, which Marshall had framed and hung in the kitchen. Marshall swept the floors, washed the few dishes in the sink, and wiped down the kitchen and bathroom. He wiped off the light panels and the coffee table. When he was done, he felt good about the results. He headed back to the laundry room, where he folded all of his laundry and folded his dry clothes and bed sheets. Then he headed back to his apartment, put away the laundry, got dressed for hiking, and made his bed. Then he felt like he was ready for visitors.
Catrin was the first to arrive. She was wearing an Emmerit University t-shirt, jeans, and hiking boots. She even had a backpack with water, snacks and an emergency blanket. Marshall admired the list, and added his own wind-up flashlight and radio to the mix. They sat on the couch, making out, until there was a knock at the door. Marshall opened it to find the entire clan outside her door. Anne, Charlie, Cassandra Caleb and Corrine all piled into the apartment. It was a somewhat tight squeeze, which Marshall was grateful for.
“This place it tiny!” Corrine exclaimed. “It’s smaller than mom and dad’s bedroom.”
Marshall thought about it for a moment and agreed. “You guys do have a pretty big bedroom” he said. Marshall gave them the grand tour, which amounted to opening the refrigerator and showing them the bathroom and closet. “That’s it,” he said, “That’s all there is to see.”
“I guess it has everything you need,” Marshall said.
“I don’t need too much,” Marshall said.
“Where’s the TV,” Caleb asked.
“No TV,” Marshall said, pointing at his own head. “Hurts my eyes.”
Everyone stood around in relative discomfort until Anne declared it time to leave. Then they climbed into the mini-van, cramming the three kids in the back, Marshall and Catrin in the center, and Anne and Charlie up front. Anne drove them up the mountain. They played some trivia games and generally chatted. The kids whined about being too close together.
“When do you start the new job?” Anne asked.
“That fell through,” Marshall said. He explained about the death of the sheriff, and the mayor’s decision.
“How do you feel about it?” Anne asked.
Marshall thought for a moment before he said anything. “I’m a little disappointed, but I was in no big rush to get back to work, so I’ll be fine. I feel bad for Terry though. He was really looking forward to getting some help over there. I’ve seen similar situations before, and I’ve seem companies float by for years with minimal resources, until suddenly they end up investing a fortune in a new solution. It will probably be the same there. In a few weeks they’ll have a new sheriff, and it will be his problem.
“You think they’ll come back to you.”
“Probably not,” said Marshall. “He’ll have his own ideas. The new guys always do.”
Deer Point was only thirty miles from Santa Creda, but because of the climb, the drive took about an hour. The town of Deer Point was small. The sign as you entered listed the population as 1112 and the elevation as 4580. It was at the base of the mountain’s highest peak, which topped out at 5200 feet. There was a gas station with a convenience store, where they stopped and bought some snacks, and then they hit the Deer Trail, which wound its way to about three quarters of the peak. After that, you had to be a rock climber to go any higher than that. The hike was about a mile, but involved a few steep steps and a couple of places where you needed to pull yourself up over some rocks.
Marshall intentionally took his time. He had no trouble with the trail physically. His ankle was fully recovered, and the cut on his leg was only a minor annoyance. He was primarily concerned about his balance, which could sometimes get flaky if over-exerted himself. The rest of the family walked ahead of him. Even Catrin eventually started moving ahead. Marshall encouraged them to. About halfway up, Marshall’s progress was steady though, and he felt good. The air was cool, and a slight breeze ruffled through his hair. Every once in a while, he would stop, turn around, and stare out at the valley below him. This is my life, he said quietly to himself, and then he turned back and continued up.
They waited for him at the top of the trail. From there, Marshall was able to look down and see the ocean off in the distance. The day was clear, and toward the horizon he could even see a couple of larger ships out on the water. Catrin put her arm around him and stood with him. The kids bickered behind them, impatient for lunch. Catrin tossed each of them a granola bar, which seemed to calm them down. Marshall paid little attention. He simply stood and stared out at the ocean,
After a few minutes, the kids started to talk about heading back down again. Everyone got together and started taking pictures on their phones of various members of the group. Catrin took several pictures of the family together. Anne took pictures of Marshall and Catrin. Cassandra took a picture of the two couples together. Once the achievement had been fully recorded, they started heading back down the mountain. As before, the rest of the party began to pull away from Marshall, who was even more careful about walking down than walking up. Getting down was always more tricky. Soon, Marshall found himself alone. As he was scrambling down a bolder, he got hit by a dizzy spell. He felt his balance start to shift and he felt lopsided. Marshall slowly lowered himself to a sitting position. He sat there for several minutes, doing his breathing exercises.
After several minutes, he felt his balance returning, he slowly stood back up. He tried to remember whether he was climbing down or climbing up. At first it wasn’t clear to him. He remembered taking the pictures though, but then he started questioning himself about whether he had gotten his picture taken or simply wanted to take a picture. He got out his phone, but there were no pictures form the climb on it. He tried to remember if he had taken any pictures and did not think he had. He was pretty sure it had been other people taking pictures of him. He stood there for another minute, unsure. He remembered then that he had an exercise for this. He just hadn’t had to use it for a while. He started saying known facts, out loud and to himself.
“My name is Marshall Lee Cooper. I was born on February 6th, 1973. I graduated from Chandler High School in 1991. My sister’s name is Anne. My first car was a 1973 Cadillac Sedan DeVille. I am right handed…” He continued this for three or four minutes, until he ran out of things he could think of off the top of his head. He then thought back about the climb, and he remembered standing with the family. He remembered Catrin’s arm around him. He assured himself that he had been climbing down, and also reminded himself that even if it were not true, climbing down was the safest course of action.
Marshall started to pick his way slowly down the trail again. After a couple of minutes, he saw Catrin heading toward him. “There you are,” she said, “We were starting to get worried.”
“Sorry,” he said, “I had to stop and rest.” he congratulated himself silently on having picked the right course of action. Catrin stuck with him for the rest of the hike. It went smoothly from there on out though. By the time they got to the bottom, the family had already gone into the Brass Lantern to each lunch. The two of them went into the restaurant and joint he family at the big table. The menu at the brass lantern was simple, with just a single page. Marshall got French fries, waving off his sister’s urging that he order something with protein. His stomach was still off from the dizzy spell, and he didn’t feel like trying to push his way through a hamburger, a steak, ribs, or fried fish, which seemed to be the primary options. The French fries were crispy, but soft on the inside, which Marshall liked. He was trying to teach himself to enjoy the textures of foods, since the flavors rarely had an impact on him.
Now that he was sitting here with his family, he could clearly remember being up on top of the mountain. He was somewhat irritated that he had let the thought slip out of his head. He had stopped doing memory exercises several months back. He told himself that he should start that back up again. There were methods for coping with confusion that he had gotten out of the habit of using, since those incidents had decreased dramatically over the past year. He was glad he had been able to remember at least one of them.
Marshall listened as the family argued over some point of recent pop culture that Marshall was unaware of. Marshall paid little attention to TV or movies anymore, and his musical tastes were still stuck in the 1990s. He considered subscribing to a magazine like Entertainment Weekly, just so he could talk about such things again, but it seemed like it would be a hollow victory to know about pop culture without getting any of the enjoyment out of it. Marshall was thankful that he could at least still read print without much problem. He had read more books in the past two years than in the previous ten combined.
Marshall was happy to listen to the family talk though. They were heading out again tomorrow, and he realized that he would miss them. He hoped that this trip would set them back on an even keel, where their relationship wouldn’t feel quite so one-sided. He smiled, and Anne took note of it. “What’s got you in a good mood?” she asked.
“Hard to say,” Marshall said, “But I guess I’m just happy to see everyone.”
“You know you can always come back,” Anne said.
Marshall shook his head. “I’ll be back for Christmas,” he said. “That’s really not too far away.”
His comment sparked a new conversation about the impending Christmas season, with the standard comments about how the stores start selling earlier every year. Catrin reached over and held his hand under the table. Marshall tried to take a mental snapshot of the moment. He wanted to remember everyone’s faces, the feeling of Catrin’s hand in his, the crunch of the French fries. He did his best to etch it into his memory, knowing the happy moments are the easiest ones to lose.
Anne dropped Catrin and Marshall off at his apartment. Once they were inside, Marshall sat down on the couch with Catrin and said, “There’s a conversation I need to have with you.” he said. “I’m considering doing something. Up until we started going out, it would have affected only me, but now I feel like you need to be a part of the decision.”
Catrin looked concerned, but she said, “OK”
“First, I need you to understand where I’m at. I know that you know about my accident, but I’ve never really discussed what happened.” Marshall told her where the basics of the accident, then went on.
“I woke up at the hospital, pretty confused and disoriented. The truck had hit the car pretty hard. My father was driving, and my mother was in the back seat on the driver’s side. My father died instantly. My mother, apparently, made it to the hospital, but didn’t make it through the first night and never regained consciousness. I was unconscious for more than a day, and the doctor’s weren’t sure if I would ever wake up. They told her to prepare for the worst. In this care, that meant a death, a persistent vegetative state, or severe brain damage.”
“Luckily, when I did wake up, I was better off than they thought. I could speak, although the other injuries made that a little hard. I could follow basic instructions. I could move my fingers and toes. At the time, those were all huge things.” Marshall paused for a moment.
“I don’t remember the first few days in the hospital very well, just like I don’t remember the accident. There were a lot of medications, and a couple surgeries. I just remember it as a series of disconnected things such as people coming and asking me questions, the ceiling of the hospital room. Things like that. Anyway, a lot of time passed and I started getting better. My sister handles most of bigger things, such as dealing with the insurance companies and such. The driver was clearly at fault, and for a while there were lawyers involved, both setting my claim and the payouts for my parent’s deaths, plus settling their estate. She also made sure my bills got paid I knew practicably nothing of this. Even once I was mostly all there again, they kept things from me. It was months before we really discussed the fact that my parents were dead. It was just something that seeped in around the edges. They say this is pretty common. People are reluctant to discuss things like that, and they also make assumptions about what you know, because they’ve been through it. They forget that you weren’t really there.” Marshall stopped. He thought for a moment.
Catrin held his hand and he started again. “What’s important now though, is that I am nearing the end of my recovery. What I mean is that I’m about as good as I’m going to get. The problems I have are probably permanent. What I have, is a greatly reduced sense of taste, a somewhat reduced sense of smell, frequent headaches, occasional dizzy spells and occasional confusion. That is what happened to me today up on the mountain. I got dizzy, and then I got confused. So I sat down and sorted things out. That’s the good news. Most of the time, I can recognize it when it happens, and I can deal with it. But, for reasons like that, I don’t drive and I’m probably not going to try riding a bicycle any time soon either.”
“On the flip side, I’m pretty lucky. I didn’t lose my skills or my intelligence. Trust me, they’ve tested this. I’ve taken three IQ tests since the accident, and I consistently score in the low 130s. The only thing that hampers me is that staring at screen for more than an hour or will trigger a headache. I also don’t have any major patches of amnesia, except around the accident. I can remember my third grade teacher. I know all the presidents. I can recognize the faces in my yearbook. What I don’t have is the level of concentration that I used to have. My mind wanders more now.”
“What I want you to understand is that the possibility always exists that things are going to get worse. I have an increased risk for just about every brain related issue you can think of: stroke, Alzheimer’s, dementia. Also, other things can just get worse. I haven’t had the mood swing issues that a lot of people have. If anything, I have less variety in my moods, but just because it hasn’t happened yet, doesn’t mean it won’t happen. There’s also no medicine really fixes these issues. They can deaden a few symptoms, but in most cases the treatment is worse than the problem.”
Catrin gave him a hug. Marshall smiled, but shook his head. “I’m mainly telling you this because an opportunity has come up, and I am giving it strong consideration. Benton Noro wants to have children. For obvious reasons, she cannot have them with her current partner. So she has made me an offer. Basically, I would donate the sperm for her to be artificially inseminated. I would also stay in town. Although I would not have custody of the children, they would know me as their father and I would be involved in their lives. If I agreed to this, I would be compensated in a few ways. This would make my future less variable.” Marshall left out the parts about numbers. He didn’t think it would be helpful.
Catrin withdrew a bit. She wrinkled her brow. “So, she’d be hiring you to be a father?”
Marshall thought about it for a moment. “Yes, that’s a pretty good description of the situation.”
“So you would be doing this to make your future easier?” She said, her voice rising.
“Not really, no.” Marshall said. “It would be helpful, but that isn’t why I would do it. I have money from my settlement, and from my inheritance. It is enough that, if I live simply, I can expect to live off of it for the rest of my life. But that’s for me, alone, living on very little because I need very little. It isn’t enough for me to raise a family on. More importantly, I could be gone tomorrow, or worse, incapacitate. That makes it hard for me to consider having kids in a traditional family. It would feel unfair.”
“But it isn’t unfair with Benton Noro?”
“For me it is the opportunity to have kids. I’d like kids. But in my condition, and at my age, I don’t entirely trust that I could always be there for them. Ideally, she wants her kids to have a father, and for me to be that father. That’s great, and I think I could fulfill that need. But if for some reason I can’t, she is fully capable of raising them on her own. She doesn’t need me financially or emotionally.”
“So what do you want from me? My blessing?”
Marshall shook his head. “What I wanted was to make sure you understood why I was thinking about doing it. I haven’t made up my mind yet, and you are free to tell me why I shouldn’t do it. I told you because you are important to me, and I wanted to talk to you about it.”
“OK,” Catrin was quiet for a long moment. “The first problem I see is that I don’t trust her. I don’t think she would hesitate to screw you over.”
Marshall nodded. “I’m not sure she’s untrustworthy,” Marshall said, “But even if you are right, what would be her incentive to screw me over? What exactly would she gain?”
Catrin paused. “At the moment, I can’t think of a thing, but this is a long term situation, so even five or ten years down the line, if her opinion about you changes, I don’t think she’d hesitate to ruin you if that was what she wanted.”
“You said that is the first problem. What is the second?”
“The second is about these kids. How are they going to feel when they inevitably find out that you basically were hired to be their father? That’s pretty messed up.”
“That is a concern,” Marshall said. “I mean, I think we would try to present that in the best possible way, but it certainly isn’t a conventional arrangement, however, I’m sure we would emphasize that it was done out of love.”
“Is it being done out of love?”
“I would like to hope so,” Marshall said, though he realized Benton’s approach to the idea seemed more based on having heirs than on the desired to love and raise a child.
Catrin though a little longer. “What if we had a baby?”
Marshall looked at her, “There would be nothing to stop me from having children with you, if we reached that point someday.”
“But would you?” Catrin said, “You just talked about your limitations. How would you feel about those?
“Truthfully,” Marshall said, “I would be nervous. All of my concerns are legitimate ones. How would I handle things if I couldn’t work, or if my symptoms got worse? How would you handle it? Those are things we would have to work through.”
“And theoretically, just theoretically, what if we did it now? What if instead of making a business deal with Benton Noro, you just married me and we tried to have kids like normal people. I’ll have my degree soon, and I could even work while you stayed home with our kids. You could be a house husband.”
Marshall smiled. “Theoretically, that sounds lovely. Practically, I think that neither of us is really ready for that, and I can’t imagine it going over very well with our families.”
“I’m not sure your family would be too thrilled with the current situation either.”
“Probably not,” Marshall agreed, “But I think they would be less concerned with me donating sperm than with me getting married. Not unconcerned, just less concerned.”
“That’s probably true,” Catrin said.
“So, if I did go through with this, what would you do?”
Catrin thought for a long moment. “I’d do my best to understand,” Catrin said, “But I can’t guarantee anything.”
“Fair enough,” Marshall said.