Chapter 35: Mother
“Mother?” I hesitated, afraid of what she might tell me.
“Don’t. Please,” she begged, with a childlike look of fright.
“You know what this is.” I tapped my finger on an open page.
“No.” She groaned and hit her knees with clenched fists. “Yes. But I can’t. I don’t know how.”
Dad stared at Mom stone faced. Mom gazed at the roof. Tears rolled down her cheeks. No patter of rain broke the silence. The fire burned noiselessly, as if it too waited for her to speak.
“It’s all my fault. I’ve tried.” Her eyes locked on mine. “If I had listened to my mother, believed her, I could have -- Chet would still be alive,” she sobbed.
I understood at last what I had mistaken all these many months. The truth settled in my stomach. My heart ached for my mother. No. For Mom. Just beyond her grasp, she held the secret that would have saved the life of her eldest son. She never for one moment blamed me. No, that burden she reserved to herself.
“Mom, no one blames you. Please, I want to help. Between the two of us, maybe we can figure it out.”
“I’ll show you.” In a gesture so reminiscent of Nana, she cupped my cheek with her hand. She stood up and walked to Dad’s truck.
“What’s going on?” Theo whispered.
“Listen.” I proceeded to read from the book. “And woe to the man who obeys the kiss of the flesh, for his time is short and he shall be brought low at death’s door before redemption is at hand. Many are the brave warriors who chose the door over renewal. Too painful the path of the turtle’s breath seemed to them. Mix well the drink of deliverance, for at the door a minute (?) is as an hour (?) served at the table of the master of torment. Time, never a friend to those kissed by evil, is double so this day.”
“What’s with all the question marks?” Theo asked, looking over my shoulder.
“Some of the time references were impossible to translate with certainty,” Mom said returning from the truck. She carried Nana’s red box, full of what up to this moment I assumed were spices.
She placed the box on her lap. She untied the faded yellow bows and swung the lid onto her knees. I recognized newspaper clippings from Nana’s house.
“Here, take these. I should have given it to you long ago. Nana was right; you do see deeper than the rest of us.”
“What is this, a vaccine?” Theo asked.
“No, we think it’s an antidote,” Dad said.
I sighed. Of course, Dad would have known all of this. From him at least, Mom could not hide her anguish.
“Are you trying to tell me, all this time you possessed an antidote and never shared it with anyone?” Penri asked.
“No, it’s not like that,” Mom groaned.
“Cool your jets, Penri,” Dad growled. “We just figured it out in July and we did attempt to pass it along to the authorities. With predictable results. The last time we tried, we gave the book to our friend Melvin to take to the airport. We figured they might listen to a decorated veteran.”
My stomach clenched. That’s why Chet went to Melvin’s that day. He wanted to retrieve the book. That’s why Chet died.
“Mom, why can’t you mix the medicine?” I asked.
She sniffed and pointed to each bottle in the box. “Each ingredient gets measured by its own spoon or cup. It’s all straightforward, except this.” She pointed to a small jar of gray powder.
The container had a corresponding tiny stone cup with an oversized base nestled inside the lid. Nana’s special measuring cup, I recognized with a start. The pit in my stomach turned sour.
“What is it?” I asked.
I gasped. “You don’t mean?”
“Yes, the very poison Nana tried to buy.”
“What does the recipe call for?”
Mom sighed. “The wanting measure.”
“The wanting measure.” She paused. “And I have no idea what it is.”
I picked up the book and read the ingredients. Sure enough, at the bottom of the recipe it read, one wanting measure of Còn nhện long spider venom.
“Why would they use such an arcane unit of measure for something so important?” Theo asked.
“Who knows,” I said, sharing his frustration. “I’m sure to the initiated the wanting measure made complete sense. I also suspect the sisterhood had a much more helpful knowledge of what’s happened than their cryptic writings suggests.
“Mom, why the secrecy?”
She sighed. “It’s death. Read the book carefully and you will understand. First my mother, then Chet died because of this book. I was afraid. I didn’t want to lose anyone else.”
I closed the book and tossed it to the major. I put my arm around my mother and whispered, “You did the best you could.”