“OK,” I said. “We’ll see what we can do… Now would you like some lunch? I made kibbeh.”
“I brought you some kibbeh, you said you wanted some.”
“No. Food is the last thing on my mind!” He shook his head vigorously. “I refused breakfast.”
“Yes, we heard you did. OK, J., would you like some lunch?”
“Sure,” he said, and I went out to the kitchen. The caregiver stared at me through the pass-through.
“Are you a psychologist or something?” she asked.
“No, not at all,” I said, turning on the stove. “Why?”
“Because you seem to know how to talk to him.”
“I’ve had some experience with this sort of thing,” I said, “but really I just know him very well. We’ll get it sorted out, don’t worry. Would you like some lunch? It’s a special Lebanese dish.”
She came into the kitchen, cautiously, and looked at the pan I had uncovered with its rather odd contents of browned beef, scored into lozenge-shaped pieces. “OK,” she said. “It smells delicious! I’ll try some.”
I fixed three plates of warm kibbeh, rice pilaf, and yogurt, gave her one, and took the other two into the bedroom. I offered it again to my father-in-law, who was lying flat in the bed; he waved me off. I put the plate on the table and went back out to get some water. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a hand reach up from the bed toward my husband’s plate, take a chunk of kibbeh, and retreat. “Hey!” I heard my husband say. When I reached the bedroom door my father-in-law had the entire piece of kibbeh in his mouth, his eyes shut tight, and my husband was staring at him in amazement.
My father-in-law’s eyes opened and he looked up at me. “This is good!” he said.
“I’m glad!” I said, standing with my hand on my hips. “I put lots of salt and onions in it, just for you.” I handed the other plate to my husband. “Would you like some more?”
“No, this is just fine.”
J. and I looked at each other; we were getting to the point where nothing surprised us. We all finished our lunch, the caregiver pronounced the food delicious, and we assured her that we’d straighten out the medications and call the doctor. My father-in-law got up and went to the bathroom, and then headed for the living room where he sat in a chair while J. went to the nursing station and I read him a letter from his brother and sister-in-law in Florida.
“Don’t waste your time on me,” he said when I finished, after reacting with pleasure to his younger brother’s unique voice and humor coming across in print. He reached over and patted my hand – an unusual affectionate gesture. “Go home and work while you’re still young.”
“I’m not wasting my time,” I said, but knowing that he meant, “I’m tired now, time for you to go away.” His head leaned against the side of the chair and his eyes were shut. “OK,” I said. “When J. gets back we’ll go home and let you sleep.”
His eyes fluttered open once more. “You know that story about the children? I have no basis for it, none at all. I was just going along with the nurse. I think she made it up.”
“OK,” I said, shooting a look at the caregiver over my shoulder; she smiled and shrugged. The bouquet of forsythia was glowing behind her. “Get some rest,” I said, touching his arm, and stood up to leave.