47 • Menagerie
Will set his phone on the dash and got out, without looking at Cameron. As he came around the front of the truck, he stuck his hands in his pockets, straightened his shoulders and smiled.
“They’re really cutting you loose, eh?” he said as he took the wheelchair from Myrna’s place behind and pushed Joe toward his pickup. Cameron stepped aside and held out a hand to Joe as he got up from the chair and climbed into the passenger seat. She laid a blanket over his lap and closed the door.
“Thank you, ” she said to Will, walking past him. She slid across the driver’s seat next to Joe.
“Can I get my chair back, Mr. Phillips?” Myrna stood in front of the entrance, arms crossed. Will wheeled the chair back up the easy slope of the sidewalk.
“Here you go. Thanks for taking care of him.”
“Tell him to stay away for a while now. We don’t like when people keep coming around.”
Will smiled from one side of his mouth. “I’ll tell him.”
He climbed into the cab next to Cameron, who was pushing buttons on the radio.
“Joe is telling me about some guy named Rebroff who sings or something. Says maybe Public Radio might be playing him.”
“Right at this moment? Because they only play Rebroff? Then that would be called the Rebroff Station. We don’t have one of those here.”
Cameron adjusted her jacket and managed to throw a hard elbow into Will’s side.
“Oh, gosh. I’m so sorry, ” she said, turning to scowl at him.
Will moved away, putting more space between him and Cameron. “No, no. My fault.” Pushing a button on the radio, he said, “Here, this is Public Radio. But I think it’ll just be news this time of day, no Russian opera.”
Cameron turned the radio off and they rode in silence to Joe’s house. When they pulled up, Archie ran up to the side of the truck. Midge, Joe’s neighbor, was just coming out the front door and called for him to come back.
“Oh, no. Joe, I totally forgot about Archie and the cats. I’m so sorry.”
“Not to worry. Midge stopped up to see me at the hospital and said she would check in on them and feed them. She and Archie are good friends.”
Will got out and jogged around to open Joe’s door. Joe was halfway out before he got there.
“Easy there, Joe, ” Cameron said with a hand on his back. “You’ve not been on your feet much the last few days.”
“Nonsense. Nothing like being home and petting one’s dog to bring a fellow back to good health.” He reached down to scratch Archie’s ears. “They should have brought him up to my room. Would have cut my stay in half and saved Medicare wads of money.”
Will laughed. “Might have, Joe. But if you’d cut your stay in half, you’d not have had a stay at all.”
Cameron closed the cab door as she got out. “I don’t mean to break up the party, Dog Lovers of America, ” she said. “But, umm. Pearl.”
“What’s that?” Joe looked up.
“Pearl, ” Cameron repeated. “She’ll never stand for bringing Archie into her house.”
“She’s right, Joe.” Will crouched to look Archie in the eye. “I’d forgotten the animals. I don’t think Pearl will go for a menagerie.”
“You don’t think she can be persuaded?” Joe smiled. “Archie can be quite charming.”
“I see that, ” Cameron said, putting her hands in her jacket pockets as Archie nuzzled at them. “But it might take some time. Do you think Midge could watch them a little longer?”
“She’s a good sort. We could see. I would hate to overstep Pearl’s hospitality.” Joe started toward the house. “Hello, neighbor, ” he called to Midge.
“Joe!” Midge waved from the doorway. “It’s so good to see you up and around.” Pulling her housecoat closed around her, she opened the door for Joe. “Did you pick up hitchhikers on the way home?”
“No, I’m the hitchhiker, I’m afraid. Midge, meet Will Phillips and Cameron Julian, my makeshift family until the doctors are convinced I can take care of myself again.”
“You kids moving in?” Midge asked, staying by the door with her hand on the knob.
“Oh, no. Your neighborhood is quite safe, Ma’am, ” Will chuckled. “Joe will be staying with me a few days until the doctor clears him to resume his wild bachelor living.”
“I see.” Midge shifted her weight onto one foot, eying Cameron. “You all live together?”
Cameron looked up, realizing Midge was addressing her. “No, no. Gosh, no. I’m along for the ride.” She waved her hands in front of her. “Promise. Just the ride.”
“Alright then.” Midge closed the door and walked into the dining room.
Cameron stood in the entry, where the kneeler still partially blocked the way into the dining room. Will leaned in next to her and whispered under his breath. “It’s okay. He’s happy here. But you might like to keep your hands in your pockets.”
“Emily seems a little less herself, Joe, ” Midge said. “Hasn’t come out of your room since you left. And I’m not sure that she’s eaten at all.”
“Oh?” Joe started toward his bedroom. “Not a thing?”
“Nope. I even tried setting a basket of baked goods out for her by the window. I know she likes sweet people-food. Not a bite.”
Joe slipped in and closed the bedroom door behind him.
“Umm, Midge, ” Will said, “I don’t suppose you could keep looking after Joe’s pets a little a few more days, until he can come home? I don’t think it will be much longer.”
“Well, I don’t mind it so much. Archie is a good companion. And Eliot is no trouble. But I’m afraid for Miss Emily. Don’t want her dying on my watch.”
“You don’t think she could be sneaking food somewhere and you just didn’t notice? I mean, you can’t really know which of them is eating what, right?”
Midge glared at Will. “You can know if you care to know. She’s not eating. Not leaving anything in the litter, either.”
“Well, I guess that’d be another way to know, ” Cameron said.
Will tapped on the bedroom door. “You doing okay in there, Joe?”
Joe didn’t answer. Will leaned his ear against the door and tapped again. “Joe?”
Cameron stepped over a pile of newspapers. “Is he okay? Maybe you should go in.”
“I don’t want to walk in on anything.”
“Walk in on anything?” Cameron asked. “We just brought a sick man home from the hospital and he’s alone in his room with a hyper-introverted cat. What are you going to walk in on?”
She nudged Will out of the way and opened the door. “Joe? Can we help you get your things?”
Will followed her into the room. “Joe?”
“This room. What in the world—” Cameron turned around in the immaculate room. The bed was made, a bright white duvet cover laid over it. An antique chair with wide-striped red and blue upholstery sat in the corner. Joe’s shirts and pants hung neatly in the closet, evenly space and organized by color. A row of old books sat between pewter bookends on the dresser next to a shallow dish full of loose change. A black and white photo of a couple in a thin gold frame rested on a crocheted doily, overseeing the room. The man was much younger, but from the eyes, clearly it was Joe. The woman, slight, with dark pin curls falling just above her shoulder, must have been Millie.
Joe was nowhere in sight. Cameron looked at Will, who walked to the window and pulled back the drapes.
“Where is he?” Cameron pushed the clothes inside, peering into the deep closet.
Will heard rustling under the bed and got down on all fours and lifted the bedskirt gingerly.
“Shhhh, ” Joe lay flat on his back and smiled, a gray cat tucked firmly under his arm. He gently stroked her fur. “She’s a little anxious over the commotion.”