At Close of Day

At Close of Day

by Joseph Bentz


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At Close of Day follows the intricate unraveling-and ultimate restoration-of a modern family after their aging father lets slip a secret he has held close for more than fifty years. Reeling from the implications of their father's confession, Hugh Morris's grown children face the trauma of rewriting their family's history, and their future, now that the secret has come to light.

About the Author:
Joseph Bentz is a professor at Azusa Pacific University with degrees in English and a Doctorate in American Literature. This author of three novels and numerous articles has received much critical acclaim. He and his family live in Laverne, California.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780764222092
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Publication date: 04/28/2003
Pages: 382
Product dimensions: 5.49(w) x 8.36(h) x 1.06(d)

Read an Excerpt

JACKIE: The Way I See It

The problem began two nights ago, in the aftermath of Dad’s latest stroke, when he got all talky and confused. I wasn’t there when he let slip some “confessions” that have thrown the whole family into an uproar. My sister Pam says it’s just the irrational chatter of a sick old man and we shouldn’t pay any attention to him, but I don’t agree. I think we should get to the bottom of it right away. Pam begged me not to bring it up with Dad right now. She said she doesn’t think he’s aware of what he said, and if we confront him about it in one of his clearheaded periods, the shock of it could “send him over the edge,” meaning kill him.

I don’t agree with that, either, but I’ll tell you what. If I did try to squeeze the truth out of him, and then he died even a few weeks after that, I’d get the blame. The way this family operates, I’d never live it down. I’d always be known as the one who killed Dad.

Of course, Mom could have ended this whole thing right away if she had simply insisted that Dad was lying or hallucinating. He has certainly said enough other things that were easy to pass off. Dad had his stroke five days ago, and on the first night I came to visit him in the hospital, he looked up at me and said, “I’m tired. I been laying tile all night.”

“Laying tile?” I asked. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

He rolled his eyes and let out this huge sigh like I was the crazy one. “Don’t you know what tile is, for heaven’s sake?”

“Of course I know what tile is.”

“Floor tile.”

“I know what floor tile is, Dad, and any other kind of tile you could mention, but you haven’t laid tile for years. You had a stroke. You’re in the hospital. Don’t you remember?”

“Oh,” he said, and he leaned back against the pillow, his face all cloudy with confusion. He looked away from me, embarrassed, and mumbled, “Feels like I been working all night. That’s why I can hardly keep awake this morning.”

“It’s not even morning, Dad. It’s seven at night.”

“Night?” he whispered in that raspy voice, lifting up his head and squinting at me as if to see if I was toying with him.

“Do you even know who I am?”

“Of course,” he shot back, offended.


“My daughter,” he growled.

“Which one?”

“Juh ... Carol ... I mean ... Pam. What are you—?”

“You were on the right track the first time. Jackie.”

“I know who you are.”

Now, every time I visit, I make him tell me who I am, which bugs him no end. I also test him with other questions, like what day it is or what year it is. Last night he retaliated by pelting me with questions the minute I walked into the room. He really loved it. You could see him perk up the minute he saw me. “Who’s the president?” he yelled so loud they could hear him all the way down the hall. “What month is it? What planet are we on? What’s the square root of seven hundred? When was the last time you had a bowel movement?”

Even though he was doing it to annoy me, I just laughed and yelled my own questions right back at him. It was fun for us, to tell you the truth, but the ones who got annoyed were Mom and my sisters. They don’t like him yelling like that. I guess they think it might throw him into another stroke or something. But I think what really bothered them was the embarrassment of other people hearing us. Mom hasn’t talked above a whisper the whole time Dad’s been in the hospital, like she thinks we’re in a funeral home or a library or something.

When Dad and I played our little question game, Mom waved her arms back and forth to try to quiet us, but we ignored her. Then my sister Pam stepped in to take Mom’s side. Pam doesn’t usually like to mess with me directly, so she turned to Dad instead and said, “Settle down, Dad. The doctor said you’re not supposed to get all riled.”

“He’s not allowed to talk?” I asked.

“Bellowing down the hall is not talking,” Pam snipped.

Mom said, “Don’t you know there’s sick people in this hospital? You don’t have to create a ruckus.”

That should tell you something about my family. Talking out loud equates to “creating a ruckus.”

My other sister, Carolyn, was there, but she didn’t want to get involved. Carolyn operates in one of two modes: hysteria or passivity, and last night she was hunkered down next to Dad’s bed like she was just about to crawl underneath it. She was so embarrassed by our little bit of fun that you would have thought I had pranced down the hall naked, singing the national anthem.

I love Carolyn, and I think she’s well-meaning, but I have to say that, in my honest opinion, she is turning into a muddled mess of a person. I’ve been noticing lately that she’s even started to walk different, a little stoop-shouldered, like her body’s begging the world not to notice her or not to pile any more burdens on her back. She’s only forty-three, but that stoop makes her look even older than me. I’m forty-five, the oldest in the family, but I honestly don’t think I look it. It’s my weight that ruins me. If I could drop twenty-five or thirty pounds, and if I could find a hair stylist anywhere on this earth capable of taming my frazzly mop, I would look pretty good.

Not that I’m heavier than Carolyn. I’d say she’s got ten or twenty pounds on me. Plus, pardon me for saying so, but I honestly think I carry my weight a little better than she does. I stand up straight and don’t look ashamed to have a few extra pounds.

Carolyn, on the other hand, looks like she’s searching for a hole in the ground to crawl into, and she acts that way, too. Her apartment is a perfect example of her rabbit-hole existence. It’s the darkest home I’ve ever seen. She never opens her drapes unless somebody asks her to. She has a balcony but never uses it. She likes to burrow into her big old couch and, with only one faint light bulb burning, lose herself in the weirdest combination of reading material I ever saw—tabloids like Star and the National Enquirer, magazines like People and Vanity Fair, self-help books, religious devotionals, mystery novels, even the Bible. All those books and magazines are scattered out across the room like a library that’s been hit by a tornado.

I’m not trying to criticize her. She’s had it tougher than most of us, especially after she divorced her jerk of a husband who was having an affair. She’s trying to raise Brandon by herself, and I give her credit for that. I know Carolyn resents me a little bit because she thinks Dad likes me better than her, but the problem is she has just never known how to deal with him. He senses she’s weak (she practically wears a sign on her chest that says so), so he feels free to take out his frustration on her, especially now that he’s sick. I don’t even know if he realizes he’s doing it half the time. She won’t fight back. She just scrunches down and waits for his little verbal thunderstorms to pass. If she takes any action at all, it’s to flee from the room and cry.

That’s why I know that whenever it comes time to make any decisions about Dad’s future, Carolyn won’t be any help at all. I’ll have to take the lead. Carolyn acts like Dad’s strokes are nothing more than a little touch of the flu that he’ll get over after a few days of rest. She’ll never be able to confront the fact that he might die or he might never be well enough to live at home again.

I’m not even sure that Pam will be strong enough to sit down with Mom and Dad and make them face the facts. Even though she’s a few years younger than Carolyn and I, there was a time when we would have looked to her to decide what to do. If these strokes had happened five years ago, Pam would already have planned what the next step would be, and she’d probably have the house up for sale and an apartment picked out for them and all the rest of it. She lived with Mom and Dad until she was almost thirty, and they’re a lot more likely to listen to her than to any of the rest of us. Even after she moved out and got married, she still kept running over there all the time once their health started declining and they got so needy.

But now she can’t do it. She’s got a three-year-old and a one-year-old and a husband and a house and a part-time job. With all that on her mind, she’s gone a little soft when it comes to Mom and Dad. Now she’s more likely to go along with Carolyn’s more passive approach to them. When I asked Pam what she thought Dad should do once they released him from the hospital, she said, “I guess they’ll send him to the rehab center.”

“But that’s only for a few weeks,” I pointed out. “What then?”

“I guess he’ll go home.”

“Pam, he can’t walk,” I said. “He can barely stand up. How’s he going to live at home? How would he even get from the bedroom to the bathroom?”

“He could use a walker.”

“Even though he can’t walk? You expect him to not only cross the rooms but also maneuver a walker up and down those steps?”

Mom and Dad have a very old house, and to get from their bedroom to the bathroom, he’d have to go up one step into this narrow hallway, then down a step into the living room, then up another big step by the upstairs landing, and then a step down in front of the bathroom. Impossible for him right now.

“Well,” said Pam with a big old tired sigh, “Mom will have to help him.”

“She can barely walk, either!” Mom is very weak. Every time she totters across the room, I’m just sure she’s going to tip over headfirst onto the floor. There’s no way she can manage Dad. He’ll crush her!

“Well,” Pam drawled again, “we’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it.”

I wanted to scream, “The bridge is just a few feet away! It’s swaying in the wind! It’s cracking! It’s going to collapse!” But it’s pointless to push Pam when she gets that way.

I’d give anything if I could have been there the night Dad started blabbing. The way Pam tells it, she and Carolyn and Mom were in the room, and Dad had been pretty sick. The first night he was in the hospital, we were afraid he wouldn’t even live through the night. But on this particular evening, it was close to eight o’clock, and Dad happened to ask them when he could go home. There was nothing unusual in that. Almost from the time the ambulance dropped him off at the hospital, when he was barely able to move or talk, he was griping about being ready to go home. Pam says she told him he wouldn’t be going home for a long time, maybe a couple months.

That got him all agitated. He yelled, “I can’t stay in the hospital for two months! I can’t afford it! The insurance will run out and I’ll be paying off this bill for the rest of my life. I won’t go bankrupt just so you can keep me locked up in here.”

That’s how he talks. As if the stroke was our idea. As if we like spending every night of our lives visiting him at the hospital and listening to him bellow.

So Pam explained that he won’t be in the hospital that whole time, but that when he’s released he’ll have to go to a rehab unit and stay there till he’s able to walk again, till they can see if he’s strong enough to live on his own.

Well, that “if he’s strong enough to live on his own” sent him off on another tirade against poor Pam. If they tried to put him in one of those rehab places, he vowed he’d walk right out of it and send Pam the bill. He’d been through that before and would rather die than spend another month in there. On and on he went, the same old stuff we’ve heard many times before. Pam just let him talk, knowing that, by the time he got well enough to go to rehab, he wouldn’t even be able to remember that this conversation had taken place.

Then he got real quiet, and she figured he was worn out from his little tantrum and was going to give everybody a rest. A few minutes later, she walked up to him to straighten his pillow, which had almost fallen off the bed while he was yelling. As soon as she leaned over to help him, he muttered, “I’m not going.”

“Let’s talk about it later,” Pam told him. “Just rest.”

Then he leaned back into the pillow and smiled, which is pretty unusual in itself. Then he said it. “I’ll call my other family to come and get me.”

“What other family?” asked Pam, at first thinking he was talking about me or one of his nieces or nephews.

“Never mind,” he said, still wearing that sneaky little smirk.

“Do you really think Jackie—or who else, Sandy? Billy?—is going to go against the doctor’s orders and take you home when you can’t even walk yet?”

“I can too walk,” he said.

“Dad, you haven’t taken a step since you got here.”

“But I don’t mean Jackie or any of them. I know they’re in cahoots with you.”

“Who then?”

He didn’t answer for a few seconds. He gets like that sometimes now. You’ll be talking to him and suddenly he’ll fade out in the middle of a conversation. Then real quiet, like he was talking to himself, he said, “I have a son in California. He’s a businessman in Los Angeles. He’ll take me out of this place.”

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