AT THE OPEN GATE
“Julia! Over here,” yelled Dennis. Abby saw her mother emerge from the gloom.
“Oh! I’ve been so worried,” she cried, and ran into Abby’s arms. “What are you doing out here in the rain?” Julia wore a waterproof pancho and hat.
“Just a little drizzle,” said Dennis. They began walking back toward the shanty.
“I couldn’t find you!” Julia exclaimed, full of anxiety and longing.
“Everything’s okay,” Dennis reassured her. “I feel better than I’ve felt in months.”
“Mom, I’m so sorry I keep scaring you! But Dad’s right, we’re all together, back home.”
“I know,” Julia replied, calming down. “Ever since I saw you on TV News I knew things were going to work out. I could see you care…”
“I do, more than I can say.”
They stood in front of the shanty, all in shadow. No light shone from the windows. “Where’s Sonny?” Abby asked.
“I came up here with Junior,” returned Julia. “He needed Sonny at the Open Gate.”
“Chris left early too,” Dennis muttered. “Dinner doesn’t begin for at least an hour. What’s the rush?”
“People are nervous,” Julia replied. “It’s this business with the governor declaring a state of emergency for Rivergate County, and wanting to relocate all of us. Junior has a plan for this evening.”
They came out on the road and turned left. Abby heard her father breathing hard, and slowed down to walk with him. “I think I’ll stop at home for a while,” he said. “I’ll bring some rain gear.” He turned off on a small lane.
“Thanks Dad!” Abby yelled after him, feeling like he deserved far more gratitude than she was able to give. She caught up to her mother, who was really pushing the pace. They took a left up a wide road to a large wooden building with many windows beaming with light. The Open Gate was a six-sided building, all one story but with a very high ceiling. On the inside it was mostly one huge room, a hall full of circular tables and over a hundred chairs. About thirty people were milling around on one side, sitting at tables, talking, and setting up the evening’s activity.
“Let’s get a hot cider,” said Julia. Abby felt overwhelmed by the atmosphere and her memories, and couldn’t make conversation or remember a name. She followed Julia to an empty table, where they began sipping the delicious hot cider.
“So what happened to Dad?” Abby felt her heart beating too fast, but couldn’t take the time to relax. She knew she had to hurry. Her mother moved breathlessly from one thing to another. “He told you then?” asked Julia. “About the heart attack?”
“He just mentioned it, and said he’s much better.”
“It’s true he’s much better, but still not so good.”
“Oh, about two months ago I returned from work and he was back early, complaining that he’d strained his left arm working the wood chipper. I thought it would get better soon, but it only got worse. He kept saying he felt no pain, just this weird feeling. When he threw up I called an ambulance. They took an EKG and rushed him into the operating room and unclogged an artery and put a stent in. He was immediately much better, but couldn’t eat properly for days. The doctors warned me about the medications he has to take, the restrictions on his activity, no heavy work, no stress, blood pressure problems. They said part of his heart had been shut down for hours, and it would be a very difficult adjustment. It has been that. Very difficult.”
In the bright light of the Open Gate Abby saw that her mother had aged. Her reddish brown hair was turning gray, her neck had kind of sagged, her pale skin had lost hat pink blush on the cheeks, her eyes looked stressed out.
“Did he give you that thing, the mapstick?” asked Julia suddenly.
“Yes, we were speaking about it when you arrived.”
“Thank God! He’s been obsessing about it. Since he can’t work, he keeps getting it out and studying it, talking about what it might mean, blaming himself for God know what… He just goes on and on about it.”
Abby put her hand on her mother’s hand and held it. “It’s okay now Mom, I understand it. Let me deal with that.”
Her mother had tears on her cheeks and wiped them away.