The clock behind the hotel counter says it’s almost 1:30 in the afternoon. The woman at the front desk smiles and nods knowingly when I tell her my name and why I’m here.
“Your last name is Martin?”
“Yes. I’m Jacob Martin. John Martin is my dad.”
She says she wasn’t working when the police checked Dad in, but the man who was working the night shift told her what was going on. It sounds like Dad spent most of the morning visiting with people at the front desk. I thank her for looking out for him. I’m glad they brought Dad here and didn’t have him sitting in a police station or waiting for me in jail somewhere. Or worse, like in a hospital. Or a morgue.
“Here are his car keys. The police told us not to give them back to him.” She shows a sincere and sympathetic smile. “He really is a very nice man,” she says as I put his keys in my pocket. “He’s just a little… confused.”
“That would be one word for it,” I mumble as cheerfully as I can after a ten-hour drive on three hours of sleep. I get out my wallet to pay for Dad’s room.
“You don’t have to pay. The police have a special fund for this kind of thing,” she says. She points across the lobby. “I believe he went over there to get some lunch. One of the maids is there with him to make sure he doesn’t wander off. Dad’s sitting in a booth in the hotel restaurant. A small woman in a dark blue dress that has to be a housekeeping uniform sits across the table from him. He’s eating a grilled cheese sandwich, which he loves, so he’s happy. The maid helps herself to Dad’s French fries. I’m guessing she’s about my age, maybe a little younger. Both of them are smiling and laughing as they eat and chat. Dad is glad to talk to anyone who will listen to him. She looks like someone who likes to listen, as she dips another French fry into the catsup on Dad’s plate. Someone who didn’t know would think they were a father and his adult daughter enjoying lunch together.
“Hi,” I say to her with a half-hearted wave. “I’m Jacob Martin.” Dad looks tired but happy. I’m trying to remember if I’ve ever seen stubble on his cheeks before today. I don’t think I have. I know I’ve never seen his hair this long. It’s almost touching his collar, an unthinkable length until just a few months ago. I finally understand where my curls come from. He practically disowned me when I was in college and wore my hair in a ponytail. He really hates my beard.
“Hey, Dad. How’s it going?”
“Going great! I’m having a nice chat with,” he leans forward to read her badge, “with Amelia here.”
The maid looks up at me. “He was telling me about when he went to Mars,” she says, with absolutely no hint of sarcasm or condescension. For a moment, I think she believes she’s actually met an astronaut.
Dad smiles at me. There’s no sense in arguing with him about these things.
“Dad, we’ve talked about this.” I sit down next to him. “The Mars missions are still classified,” I stage whisper. “You shouldn’t be talking about that.” I’ve started saying, “that’s still classified,” when I need a break from the Mars stories.
“Oh.” Dad laughs. “I guess I’d better stop, then. I forgot about that.” His eyes return to his lunch date. “Don’t tell anyone, OK?” Did he just wink at her? What was that?
Amelia smiles. “I promise.”
I mouth, “Thank you.” Amelia nods her head. She gets it.
Dad and I go to his room. Ever the efficient business traveler, he has three shirts and two pairs of pants hanging in the closet. Everything else is neatly folded in the dresser drawers. He isn’t visiting this room. He’s moving in.
“I suppose we should call your mother and tell her you’re here,” he says.
Ordinarily, I would remind him that Mom has been gone for over a month. That’s usually enough to move on. But it can get intense, like when he wants details about what happened to her and how she died. Sam says they have this conversation almost every day. I’ve had this same conversation, too, but it’s always been over the phone. It’s so much sadder to see him in person, grieving Mom’s death all over again.
There’s no need for him to relive all that again today. I try something different.
“Right,” I agree. “But before we do that, we should call Sam.”
“Right, but…” Dad stops talking. Something is happening. He looks at me again. His eyes are… different, like he’s suddenly aware of the world around him.
His voice is much softer, more reflective. “Kay’s gone, isn’t she?”
“Yes, Dad. She is. I’m sorry.”
I’m glad he remembers. I’m sad he remembers. I hate this disease.
I give Dad and my voice a chance to recover, then I call Sam. “I’m with Dad,” I say, smiling as best I can as I look at my father and remember my mother. “Yes, he’s fine,” I tell Sam in a voice loud enough for Dad to hear.
“Good to know,” Sam says. “What’s the plan?”
I explain my idea about leaving Beast here at the hotel and driving Dad home in his own car.
“You don’t have to do that. I can come get him and drive him back if you stay there.”
“There’s no reason for you to drive down here and then turn around and drive back.” I like the idea of being in a position to do something for Dad. “I’m already here.”
“OK, do that,” Sam says. “We can decide what to do for him and the rest of this when you get here.” I appreciate Sam saying, “what to do for him” instead of “what to do with him.” He’s our father, not something that needs to be discarded.
“I’m going to try to get a short nap before we get back on the road. We might spend the night here and leave in the morning.” I’m saying this mainly for Sam’s benefit, so he won’t worry about me driving all night. It’s not even 2:30 in the afternoon yet. If I go to sleep now, I could be on the road by seven or eight this evening and in Cincinnati about the same time Sam and Camilla are getting ready for work in the morning.
Sam is relieved. “Sounds like a plan. Let us know when you’re headed our way.”
Dad folds his shirts with military precision and places them neatly in his suitcase. I’m watching a ceremony of some kind, his own private ritual. I wish I knew what life event he’s commemorating.
“I heard what you said to Sam. I’m driving to Colorado.” He zips up the suitcase. “I want to go to your place.”