Travel nurses are fresh horses in a long battle, the Cavalry coming to rescue of the outnumbered. In the midst of a bone-weary thirteen week contract, Tim Timmons was granted a rare personal day. His parents had traveled eight hours by car to see him. An unexpected surprise. His mother’s health is failing. Tim knows this more than anyone. She always shows him the most recent copies of her lab work and asks him to explain the results. Secretly his stomach twists into a loving knot. She’s falling apart with the usual things after so many miles, just like his old truck Sylvia, and the medical mechanics back home are doing their nonchalant best to keep her going for as long as possible. Mom is making her rounds while she is still able, mentioning her final days in a stoic manner and with the sweet assurance of a personal faith in God who gives life to all who believe.
Tom and Veree Timmons had recently celebrated fifty-five years of a happy marriage and Tim overachieved by putting the elderly pair in a bed and breakfast known for its amazing breakfasts, a friendly ghost, and a romantic history (a favorite stop of George Washington so many years ago). Earlier Tim had spoken with the inn keeper, a Chinaman named Joe, and requested that his mother not have to climb any stairs if at all possible. Joe kept his promise and put his parents in the basement: one cozy room with a fireplace and a large bathroom scooped out and hidden beneath a backyard slope with a private door for an entrance and only three tricky red brick steps to maneuver. Tim eyed the uneven path with worry as his wobbly mother made her way down into the room. Almost blind, short of breath, and still learning to walk with fake knee caps, she plopped down in a cushioned chair.
“It’s nice,” mom said.
“The toilet seat is cold,” dad said.
Hiding behind a genuine smile, Tim decided at that very moment to place them elsewhere the following night. The Country Inn or maybe a Hampton Inn. Something far above a Motel Sex or a Best Fester’n. Tim knew highway inns all too well. And this was to be their anniversary gift one month late.
The day before they arrived, the Indian man at Brown’s Motel was cleaning out an old storage room where medical aids were discovered. Handsome, charming, and shrewd, he rushed to Tim as soon as Sylvia coughed to a stop in front of Room 6. “Come, come,” he said. A worn-out Tim Timmons still in his scrubs stared at him through weary racoon eyes, sighed for effect, but followed obediently and mechanically to a musty garage on the other side of the parking lot. Two hospital-grade O2 concentrators, one small portable with a battery charger and a large plug-in, a cardboard box of nasal cannulas, and a brand new wheelchair. Tim immediately understood two things: 1. God, the universe, whatever, had provided these things for such a time as this; and 2. A.J. was going to sock it to him financially.
“Help me get rid of dese tings, my friend.”
“Yes, of course, I can help you donate them. I’ll put everything in the back of my truck.”
“Okay, so–what?– are you wanting to sell them?”
“To someone I trust.”
“How much are you asking?”
“Whatever you suggest, my friend.”
“For which ting?”
“For both machines? What about da wheel chair?”
Cornered and defeated, Tim got to it: “The fuck, A.J. How much do you want?”
“Five, my friend.”
“Well, shit. Right now, I don’t feel like very much like your friend but okay.”
A. J. spit in his hand and offered it to Tim.
“Hell no. I don’t do saliva.”
“When will you give to me da dough?”
A.J.’s outdated Americanisms amused Tim.
“I’ll pay up tomorrow.”
Tim knew knew he’d been suckered but didn’t give a bat’s shit because he was exhausted and what had been provided for his mother was gold. He’d pay any price for her comfort.
Veree Timmons refused the chair. “I can still walk, Timmy-Tim.” His mother shuffled short of breath down the main street of Historic Ellicott City. His father was happy in the moment, making jokes, a presence of joy. What a blessing, he said, that the three of them were together after such a long time. Stories were shared, having been refined and perfected by years of repetition, but some were new. Tim pondered every treasure, canning the fresh details in his heart as he prepared for an extra-cold winter. Sad rain would fall in the months to come. For now, he studied the faces of two people he loved with the pure love of God. Two lovable out-of-place West Virginians who pronounced almost everything wrong.
“Dad, Ellicott is pronounced like delicate, not apricot.”
Tim’s mother was dangerously hypoxic. He gently reminded her not to rush, no rush, please, we have all day, trying to understand her stubborn refusal of the chair.
Rose, a lovely skilled nurse from Lebanon, had selflessly taken his place on a very busy hospital schedule and made this important day possible. She texted him, “Family first, my friend.” So, in her honor, the three ate lunch at a Mediterranean café. His mom was thrilled. His dad was not.
Tim ate tabbouleh and lentil soup and chased it with a fruit and honey crepe and black coffee while his parents struggled with the menu. Dad mourned the loss of the American cheeseburger but settled with a grumbling resignation for a chicken kabob. Mom rejoiced in the discovery of falafel. Her smile, it became all about her smile, with one slightly crooked blind eye.
Tim’s normally very likeable father griped about the spicy food. He received a light kick under the table and a “knock it off” look. This was not his time. It was hers. Mom’s.
Tim Timmons had his own private issues. One of them being that he was privately obsessed with the silence of his phone, always hoping for signs of life from his blue-eyed girl, the one who had taught him the power of now. Of being in the present. Of not being too reminiscent of the past or too afraid of the future. “Just be present, be here, be in the now,” she would always say, “don’t miss a thing.” He hadn’t missed a thing but he sure as hell missed her.
Okay, pay attention, Tim told himself.
His sweet mother passed several unique Ellicott shops without so much as a glance. At the end of Main Street, she chose a Japanese gift shop. Tim helped her up steep granite stairs made uneven by the deadly flood of 2018. His good-looking father watched with faith in a son with strong arms and a stronger love.
The store was bare of items and people. The man behind the counter was cheerful and polite and said that if they had any questions to please feel free to ask. It was a comedy moment. There was almost nothing of which to ask.
Except for a few shelves of strange and exotic teas.
Tim joked with his father about the Japanese gift shop being one of the most useless store he’s ever entered and asked if Thomas Timmons would like a Japanese fan or a yo-yo while, at the same time, studying his mother across the room as she asked the American husband married to a Japanese girl to help her choose tea leaves best known for their healing powers. The man directed her to Green Tea Matcha.
A few years ago, Tim’s father had accidentally sliced off the end of his pinky finger. The ER was extra busy that bloody night and a pediatrician was chosen to reattach his finger but with no success. Now the finger resembles a stubbed out cigar and does a little dance every time he tries to use it because of the permanent nerve damage. When his dad reached for his wallet searching for dollars, his little finger started twitching violently. At that moment, Tim couldn’t have loved him more. He told his dad to put his wallet away and purchased everything his mother requested.
They crossed the street to the Baltimore and Ohio Ellicott City Station Museum for his father’s sake and his mother’s satisfaction. Tim took notice of her strange glee at seeing the man she loves, loving what he loves apart from her, as if preparing for something beyond her control. Intuitively, Tim knew that she knew, that she sensed the winds of change.
A V-pattern of geese honked overhead. Migrating south for the winter. Goodbye, darlings, goodbye. See you on the other side.
Completely disregarding a lifted mandate, an annoying bully of a young man behind the museum counter enforced the wearing of masks with a loud voice. Tim wanted to knee him in the balls.
Veree Timmons told the boy, “I have a condition and can barely breathe. This mask is smothering.”
The young man who couldn’t quite yet grow a mustache redeemed himself. “Ma’am, once you round that corner, I can’t see anything.”
Tim’s mom could care less about trains but has always delighted in her husband’s hobby. “Tim-boy, go with your father. I’ll stay downstairs.”
Thomas Timmons was already gone, an old man in a South Carolina ball cap, clip-clopping up a wooden stairwell. Tim tried to keep with his father’s eager pace as he echoed down a waxy hall, headed for a model train layout designed to the first thirteen miles of commercial track connecting Baltimore to Ellicott City. Out the back exit they went and onward to another building, down a sidewalk next to a real life railroad track still in use. A whistle. An actual train. Coal cars rumbling to a Baltimore yard with an eardrum piercing screech, shaking the ground, and exciting his father who said, “Hot dog!” with the joy of a little boy.
Into a large room with a layout that is eerily accurate. The sidewalks. The restaurants. The houses. The churches. The bridges. The Patapsco river. Tim felt like God looking down on the city. A helpless god. While his dad pointed out details otherwise unknown to one who isn’t a model railroader. Tim was impressed with his father’s knowledge. In the back of his mind, however, he pictured his mother downstairs all alone and worried for her.
The museum closed at 3 p.m.
Tim’s mom was sitting beneath a floppy sunhat and resembled a flower. She looked old and young at the same time, smiling, waiting for them, happy to see her husband and son come back to her. She said, “I love this place. Honey, will you walk to the car and drive it back to me? I’ve got nothing left.”
Tim strolled much faster with his father back to the parking lot. Along the way, he was comforted to hear a confession. “I’ve loved that woman ever since the moment I met her. We’ve been married for fifty-five years, Timmy-Tim-Tim, and it feels like days. I don’t know what I’ll ever do without her.”
Tim’s throat tightened. He said nothing because he felt everything. He wondered about himself, how he’d spent so many years catering to others but rarely to his aging parents. Tim Timmons always loved everyone in his life from a safe distance.
In the car, he listened patiently as his mom and dad bickered about Priceline versus veteran’s discounts and finding the best room for as cheap as possible. Tim intervened. “I’m paying. Just pick a place.”
“Tim Tim Cher-ee, you should get a veteran’s card like your father. Just tell ’em you served in the Navy, boy, and they’ll give one to you.” Tim respectfully pretended like this was news to him.
The Residence Inn and Suites in Columbia. Not a bad price compared to the potentially dangerous bed and breakfast of the night before. The three of them sipped coffee together. Tim’s parent’s told him of his need for God and of their gain. Tim told them of his need for the blue-eyed girl and of his loss.
After a two hour pleasant conversation that rushed and overflowed with parental optimism and encouragement like an Ellicott City flashflood, they drove back to Brown’s where Tim opened Room 6 and presented his mother with the wheelchair and the O2 concentrators. “When I take you to Colorado, you will need these things.” A snake dropped from the unfolded chair. The writhing, coiled serpent thumped heavily onto the floor, struck twice at Tim’s boots, and went serpentine at lightening speed up into a hideaway bed disguised as a couch.
Tim said, “Oh shit, shit, shit! Oh dammit!” while his parents screamed and pretended not to hear his vile words.
Carefully, carefully, Tim Timmons, tipped the couch.
He removed the cushions.
He unfolded the couch into a bed where the mattress stains of a thousand whore nights revealed themselves as well as a snake as black as Satan with a mouth as white as a the collar of a priest.
Tim kicked at the thing with his boots and encouraged the creature out of doors. He performed this action not smoothly or manly or bravely but with a skittish determination. Later his parents would describe his actions as brave.
“This has been a perfect day and a wonderful, exciting, adventurous night, Tim. We like being on the road with you.”
“Yes,” agreed Tim’s father. “We’re proud of our son.”
Tim bent down and kissed his mom. Her almost blind eyes smiled up at him. He hugged his dad and a familiar cologne brought back memories long forgotten. His parent’s little white Kia drove away. Their red tail lights disappeared into the night.
Tim returned to an empty room and locked the door behind him. No blue-eyed girl. No parents. No snake. Only a fleeting sense of happiness and a dusky feeling of loss. He opened a tiny refrigerator and retrieved a cold brown bottle of National Bohemian beer. He cracked it open with a pftt and toasted no one. He took a swig and said, “Yep,” as he turned out the lights.