The Blessings

The Blessings by Elise Juska Read Free Book Online

Book: The Blessings by Elise Juska Read Free Book Online
Authors: Elise Juska
dashboard. The next day, his knuckles are bruised.
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    Lauren no longer hides in spare bedrooms at family parties; she couldn’t if she tried. If she had no clear role in John’s family before, she does now: liaison, informant, nurse, repository for everyone’s questions and concerns. Her life is public now, available, turned inside out. The phone rings off the hook. How can I help? What can I do? They are a family that responds by doing. What do you need? Lauren bats away their offers, politely, because what she needs is for them to leave her be. What she needs is for the chemo to be over, for their lives to go back to normal. What she needs is for her husband to get better, which he does—but only briefly, a clean scan, a spasm of unfair hope, before the illness takes a swift turn for the worse.
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    Metastasized. Another word that sticks.
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    The family stops asking permission. Help just appears. Casseroles in the freezer. Margie’s boys, to cut the lawn. When John is recovering from chemo, someone might show up to take Elena to the mall or to the roller rink, the movies. Lauren wishes they would leave her alone. We were fine before , she thinks, smiling furiously . Just leave her here! Leave us be! She is so worried about their little girl. If anyone is going to explain to Elena what’s going on, it should be her mother. It should be her father—it should be her mother and her father. God knows what a sensitive child like Meghan might say. Recently, Elena has had a defiant streak about her. Maybe it’s her age. Maybe it’s a response to the tumult, the constant visitors, the time spent with her older cousins, the disruptions to her usual routine—all the things she quietly absorbs with those big violet eyes.
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    Lauren feels ungrateful. She should be glad for the help from John’s family, even if it makes her feel inadequate. Other times, gratitude overwhelms her, and she takes comfort in their constancy, in the reliability of small things.
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    She devotes herself to doing: monitoring medication, cleaning the bathroom, the kitchen, disinfecting the tub, taking care of the children, who need diapers changed and baths drawn and bottles made. She is beginning to understand the comfort in it. How these small tasks keep you busy, focused, make you feel not entirely helpless. Keep your mind from thinking unbearable thoughts. How can I help? What do you need?
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    When his wedding band falls off, John sets it on the dresser beside an army of pill bottles, hand sanitizers, anti-itch creams. Lauren remembers how he proposed, down on one knee— Will you do me the honor? He’d bought her a dozen roses, asked her father first— I promised him I’d take good care of you , he told her. It had all been just how she’d imagined it would be.
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    She talks occasionally to friends from high school. How are you doing, Lauren? They pause, the silence stretching on the line. With everything? They don’t mention cancer; maybe they think you’re not supposed to. They have no experience with a thing like this. Lauren was the first of them to get married, and they helped her plan the wedding, gushing over the dresses and bouquets. Now they’re all catching up to her. Having their first babies, buying their first houses, modest twins with postage-stamp backyards. When Lauren and John moved into their house in Chestnut Hill, the girls had come to see it, awed by the size of it, envious of her new adult life.
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    John goes in to work, half days. Twice a week, or once. A gesture. Then nothing. He shaves off what’s left of his hair. He wears a knit Eagles hat every day. He’s grown so thin—Lauren is startled by the contrast, her thigh next to his. The thermostat is cranked to seventy-five. Max scrambles around in just a diaper, hair damp and curling. Outside, it is early April, and when Lauren drags the trash to

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