Uncle Brewin’s nurse, a middle-aged, heavyset blonde woman named Paula, met Sam at the door.
Once inside, Sam hung her coat on a hook in the foyer and asked “How is he?”
“Pain got to be unbearable,” the older woman said, leading Sam into the family room. “He didn’t want to take the morphine before you got here but I had to insist.”
Sam’s heart sank. “Is he awake?”
“Yeah, but the medication has him… confused. He kept calling me ‘Alice.’”
Alice was Brewin’s old girlfriend. The two of them had spent nearly ten years together before they finally called it quits. Last Sam had heard, Alice was living with her sister in Portland.
“Where is he?” Sam asked. Paula motioned toward a short hallway and said “The library.”
A crackling fireplace blaze threw a shifting orange glow across the small, book-lined room. Two wing-back were sat facing the fire, backs to the door. Uncle Brewin was in the chair to the left, his robed arm in view. A clear tube ran from under the chair wing to an oxygen tank situated behind.
Aside from Brewin’s labored breathing, the room was silent. Sam walked slowly forward until she could see the side of his face. The firelight carved deep shadows into his sunken cheeks.
“Craig, is that you?” Brewin asked.
“Uncle B, it’s me, Sam,” she said, walking further up and taking a seat on the edge of the second chair.
There was a thick blanket laid over Brewin’s lap. Firelight reflected in his otherwise distant, disengaged eyes. “Have a seat, Craig. You got any smokes? Of course not, ya’ bastard, you always bum ’em off of me.”
Sam searched her memory, trying to remember anyone named Craig who was a friend of Brewin’s but she came up with nothing.
“Why the visit? You come to tell me again how we’re doing the right thing?” Brewin asked, then fell silent. For a long moment there was only the sound of undulating flames, popping wood and the old man’s strained breaths. Sam pulled out her phone, unlocked it and opened up her notepad. She wrote the name “Craig.”
“I know you struggle with it too… whether or not this is the right thing. What’s that?” Brewin waited for an answer, and in his detached reality, must have received it. “Exactly. We don’t know for certain it’ll work. Leaves us with nothing but hopes and prayers. This much I do know…” Brewin’s voice dropped, and there was a sudden edge to it that made Sam shiver in spite of the fire. “No little girl should have to carry something like that around with her. What she saw, what she went through… good God. Good God…”
Little girl? Was Brewin talking about her? Was this a conversation from years ago?
“What who went through, Uncle B? Me? What did I go through?” Sam asked. But it was no use: she was just an observer, gazing through a window into the past.
“This is it for me,” Brewin said. “When this is done, I’m done. I’ll see you tomorrow at Sutter.” Sam wrote “Sutter” in her phone. “God have mercy on our souls,” Brewin concluded.
The old man’s head dipped. His eyelids fell, making Sam wonder if he had fallen asleep. “Uncle B?” Sam leaned in, reached out to touch his knee…
“Alice!” Brewin yelled, nearly scaring Sam out of her seat. “Hey hon, grab me a beer would ya’? Oh and did you pick up my suit from the cleaners? I can’t be lookin’ like a bum for Sam’s high school graduation.” The old man’s eyes cast about for a moment, drifted to the fire and became lost. Sam’s heart went out to him… this man who had, for so long, been a constant presence in her life. It seemed like he had always been there, watching out for her.
But what had he been involved in when she was a little girl? Did it have something to do with Eclipse? What did he mean by what she “saw” and had “been through?” Her parents’ car accident?
“He needs his rest,” a female voice called. Sam turned to see Paula silhouetted in the doorway. Looking back at Brewin, Sam wondered what memories he was reliving now in his morphine-induced dementia. Finally she put her phone back in her pocket and squeezed Brewin’s knee before getting up and heading for the door.
Sam sat in her car in Brewin’s driveway, heater on, her mind abuzz. Once again, for every door she opened, more were revealed. At least there were things Brewin had said tonight that she could ask him about later. It felt like progress… or at least she told herself it did.
Everything’s going to be okay.
And… looking over at the box in her passenger seat she saw that there was still a bite of chocolate left. As she picked up the last chunk she noticed a folded piece of paper beneath it. Setting the chocolate aside, she took the paper, unfolded it, and turned on the dome light.
The handwriting was thin and shaky and had errors. It said: “I have facts. Can come to shop tomorow at 4? Dont tell Mama K please.”
The message was signed “Nina.”