By P.W. Bridgman
* A technical chess term which refers to a checkmate brought about by a knight in circumstances where all avenues of escape for the mated king are blocked by the king’s own pieces.
Jon Campion, according to present habit, takes only the Saturday edition of the Globe and Mail. Finding, on doctor’s orders, that it is best for his knees and balance if he stands for a count of ninety before taking his first steps after rising, he is on the lookout for ways to spare himself avoidable exertions. With the daily subscription discontinued, only one hobbling journey to the blue box in the back lane behind his North Burnaby house needs now to be made each week: newspapers and flyers in one coloured bag, the remaining paper products in the other.
A 60-year-old prematurely curtailed in his physical powers by his arthritis and his grieving, Campion recalls the hesitation with which he embraced the rituals and dogma of good environmental practice. But, in this—as in so many things—Martine (13 years his junior) had induced him to take up responsible habits that did not come naturally to him or his generation. Though a lawyer, she had done so more by example than by admonition. Gone these two dark years, he holds her memory near by continuing on in ways that had seemed to him, at first, unnecessary and unnatural. They are her ways. Although composting the vegetable waste, using biodegradable laundry soap and not allowing water to run continuously from the tap while cleaning one’s teeth are all objectively sound and sensible practices (he knows that they are), it matters more to him now that they are her practices. His daily routines furnish him with a comforting reminder that, in small ways, she survives in his habits.
The rapid onset of Campion’s arthritis, at 59, had come as a surprise to his doctor. Martine’s wholly unanticipated death, a year earlier, had cast such a heavy burden upon him that Campion wondered whether the joints in his knees, hips and shoulders had simply become incapable of bearing its weight. The explanation offered was less metaphysical.
“I think that you must have been exposed to something viral, Jon,” the physician had said to him. “I don’t know that we’ll ever know. But some damage has been done. We will manage it with anti-inflammatories and analgesics, but you must understand that it won’t be perfect.”
Little in Campion’s life had been perfect and so he easily accepted the tempered bleakness of the diagnosis and the management plan, though mostly out of resignation. By contrast, life with Martine, while not perfect, had been as near to ideal as it had been possible for him ever to imagine. To have her taken—no, snatched—away, without reason or warning, had punctured the formerly well-stocked vessel in which he had carried his reserve of stoicism. He felt sure, in the early days of the aftermath, that that reserve had drained entirely away. Recurrent thoughts and chance encounters with objects—triggers for memory—would set loose unstoppable waves of despair that made it impossible for him to venture out. He found that the self-mastery and sang froid for which he had once prided himself was no match for the trauma of Martine’s pointless and unexpected death.
Before the funeral he had sent an e-mail to the university, declaring (not requesting) an indefinite leave from his teaching and research responsibilities. His colleagues on faculty immediately stepped in to assist with his classes. They delivered his undergraduate lectures and nursed his graduate students along in a care-taking kind of way. For even these kindnesses he was, at first, incapable of expressing his gratitude. It was an unbridled, doors-locked, blinds-shut, suffocating, head-banging kind of sorrow that had to be gotten through, the way (Campion imagined, afterward) an addict must have to suffer when withdrawing from a powerful drug.
Following the first six weeks, small changes began to show. Campion started to shave, wash himself and change his clothes again. He opened the blinds and windows. He called the departmental secretary and fixed a date, six weeks further on, for his return to regular duties at the university. He bundled up the untidy accumulation of pizza boxes, plastic Chinese food containers and wine bottles, for disposal. He swept up shards of broken glass and other debris—the remains of a cheap Oriental vase, a souvenir lamp from Paris, a brass toasting fork from Canterbury, bent in two—objects destroyed in blinding fits of dejection and the occasional, drunken stumble. Through the small crack of an opened door, he thanked his neighbour for collecting and storing the copies of the Globe and Mail that had been tossed onto the verandah early each Saturday morning as if nothing had happened. He paid the utility bills. He telephoned and e-mailed some of those whom he had turned away with harsh words uttered in a low voice through the mail slot.
Two years having now passed, Campion—oddly, to his own mind—feels a periodic and unbanishable yearning for the unruly drama of those first few weeks following Martine’s death. Then, it had been pure catharsis, a complete physical and mental surrender to an unknowably crippling shock and despair. His own actions, his protean flailings, had been almost as large, random, ungovernable and destructive as the event that had caused them. Now, by comparison, the deep, dull, ever-present ache of loss, yoked to the pedestrian imperative of “carrying on”, seems less worthy, less a monument to the monstrous turn of fate that had robbed him and the world of the sole, truly animating force in his life.
“Your depression has taken a chronic, low-grade form,” the physician tells him. “I can prescribe something for you, but time is your best ally. The point when medication would really have assisted was when you locked yourself up in the house, alone. Now, you have returned to work and to a semblance of your former life. Two years have passed. You have re-engaged, at least to a degree. That, and more time, will do more than any medication I can offer you.”
“‘Returned to a semblance of my former life’.” Campion fastens onto that phrase. He repeats it to himself, audibly.
“I know, I know,” the doctor replies. They both appreciate that he hasn’t and he can’t. The desk photograph of the physician’s wife and their twin daughters—standing in front of a Volvo in a snowy cluster of smiling faces, skis, ski poles, bright sun and blue sky—is an unbreachable rampart that divides his life from Campion’s, fully and absolutely.
“Might I return, briefly, to a little square of well-tilled soil?” Campion asks. A suggestion of impatience—no more than that—gathers in the folds around the physician’s kindly eyes and is quickly gone. He had been Martine’s doctor too.
“Of course. Martine’s aneurysm?”
“Yes. I know that it resulted from a weakness in an arterial wall in the brain.”
“You’ve told me that these things can generally not be diagnosed beforehand, and that there is nothing predictable about them.”
“And that stress could have been a factor. In the rupture that killed her, I mean.”
“I cannot rule it out. Any added pressure on the arterial walls increases the risk of a rupture event. But stress comes in a multitude of forms and situations, not all of them bad. Martine’s work was stressful without doubt, but the swimming and other exercises she did also, unquestionably, caused temporary increases in blood pressure and consequential stress on the arterial walls. Those activities produced obvious benefits for her. So the role that stress played in Martine’s health—in anyone’s health, for that matter—is complex.”
“But if she was being pushed too hard …”.
“That could have caused it. Practising law at her level was undoubtedly demanding and stressful. But bending over to tie her jogging shoe could cause it too. We will never know why it happened when it did.”
“It happened at the office after midnight. Doesn’t that tell us something?”
The physician paused. “Jon, it tells us something but that something isn’t definitive. And that’s where it has to be left.” A measured firmness had bled into his voice.
“Thank you for this. I know I’m tiresome on this topic.”
“You mustn’t be hesitant to bring it up again, as often as you feel the need. But I want you to remember, too, what I’ve said to you before about resentment. It’s corrosive. It will consume you from within if you allow it to.”
Campion receives this last, unsolicited advice with a perfunctory nod and smile.
Martine brooked little interference in her professional life, even from Campion. It was her preserve, an important source—a wellspring even—of her independence and ambition. The two had given themselves to one another, wholly, but a place had had to be made for Martine’s work in the law.
Campion felt no comparable need or urge to excel independently at what he self-deprecatingly classified as south coastal British Columbia’s second tier, “red brick” university. He had experienced more than modest success as a tenured scholar and he enjoyed an enviable reputation as an exacting but consummately fair university teacher. Yet, particularly after marrying Martine, he was not driven in the way that some of his colleagues—some, even, of his own vintage—seemed to be. He continued to teach and to write and to guide his graduate students carefully in the development of their research, all with skill and commitment. But the wonderment that then suffused his life had grown out of its late, abundant flowering.
There had been early disappointments in love. Thereafter, Campion had followed a plodding, unsentimental pathway for so long that he had held out no hope for quickening pulses or the sensation of having his throat catch at the sight or thought of a woman. In matters of the heart he was resigned to a self-acknowledged limp to the finish line.
A chance encounter at a colleague’s dinner party had changed all of that. It was Martine’s mind that first attracted him: her nimble intellect, the articulate way she expressed her thoughts. Then there was the unmistakable interest she showed, unaccountably, in him. Yet he was fearful. By his shy protestations, he set up small impediments. Martine showed little patience with them, pushing them out of the way, one by one. She insisted that they meet again. And again. Her interest had been piqued by his dry humour, his encyclopaedic knowledge of jazz, his confident, unembarrassed, indefensible and provocative declaration that not only Finnegans Wake but even Ulysses is unreadable nonsense. He grew quickly to love her edge, her fluency in three languages, her undiluted passion for music, for food, for dance, for the intellectual integrity of the law.
The difference in their years and in their life experience thrilled them both. All assumptions, on both sides, had to be revisited. Hammering hearts, not known before in this way to either of them, introduced a new and commanding cadence to quotidian life. Both readily and enthusiastically submitted to it.
With some misgivings, Campion supported and encouraged Martine’s professional ambitions, as she did his autumnal, academic ones. Though he resented the time that the demands of her practice sometimes claimed, and he winced figuratively when, on occasion, he saw the unattractive glint of gunmetal in her ambition, he shared vicariously in her enjoyment of the work and in her achievements.
Campion trod softly and chose his words carefully when Martine spoke of the challenges of working under a powerful partner at her firm called Beale. Accounts of Beale’s exploitative ways excited his outrage and anger, but he was generally loath to interfere or comment upon what Martine—sometimes not altogether convincingly—sought to dismiss with good humour as an unavoidable rite of passage.
Campion knew that Beale routinely placed unreasonable demands upon Martine and other associates and that he gave them little credit or recognition for what they produced at his command. Work well done was taken for granted; missteps and omissions drew withering scorn and humiliation. At bottom a pinched and shrunken salesman who, it happened, had also qualified for the Bar, Beale shrewdly attracted volumes of good legal work through his marketing and networking efforts. But he had to draw upon the intellectual wherewithal of others in order to get that work done. He recognised in Martine an intelligent, practical and committed associate with aspirations to join the partnership; thus he assailed her with complex, short-fuse assignments, knowing that they would be done well and on schedule. Preferring to keep the focus exclusively upon himself, Beale expected Martine (like the others in his stable) to perform her heroics in the firm library by candlelight. The next morning, apparently without conscience, he would deliver her work product as his own to grateful clients.
Campion was not uniformly successful in suppressing his anger and resentment at Beale’s exploitation of Martine and her colleagues. And it rankled when she reminded him that Beale had almost single-handedly spared the symphony orchestra from bankruptcy with an enormous donation. “Unredeeming noblesse oblige”, Campion would think to himself, with a small twinge of guilt.
Campion fell into the habit of referring to Beale as Ba’al—one of the seven princes of Hell worshipped by the Philistines. Martine required no explanation for the allusion and she generally let it pass without comment. But if Campion’s tongue was loosened by a second, Friday evening cocktail and he gave greater voice to his distress about the rank unfairness of it all, Martine signalled gently but clearly to him that he must rein himself in. She had no illusions about where the equities lay, nor did she make any apologies or excuses for Beale. But many who had gone before had endured the same and she was willing to walk the bed of coals that the successful ones had crossed in order to gain the prize of partnership and the independence and autonomy—including from Beale—that their experience had shown went with it.
In this way, Campion’s life with Martine bore only a single, unyielding blemish, one that both expected to be temporary at that. Thanks to Campion’s self-restraint—sometimes evidenced by his own bitten tongue—Beale (or Ba’al) seldom provoked open comment from him.
The sound of the ringing telephone fell harshly through Campion’s dream like a length of metal chain. Reaching across to the bedside table on Martine’s side, his first realisation was that she hadn’t come home. Blinking, fumbling for the light switch, he cursed Ba’al, remembering that she had said, apologetically, when she had called—just as the CBC late night news was beginning—that pro bono work for the symphony was going to require a second “all-nighter”.
“Is that Professor Campion?”
“Yes. Who is this? What time is it?”
“It’s Robert Falkland at the firm. It’s just a little after 7:30.”
The sleep fog lifts, as if by magic. Campion is instantly alert.
“What’s happened? Why are you calling me at this hour?”
“It’s Martine. There’s been a medical emergency.”
“Dear God, what?”
“You had better go down to St. Paul’s, immediately.”
“What’s happened to her?”
“I really can’t say. She collapsed and they’ve taken her there by ambulance.”
Slowly, upon persistent inquiry, Campion drew the details out. No one told him at first that Martine had already been dead for several hours when she was taken to the hospital.
Sharp at 6:30, Beale had arrived at the office, expecting to find a memorandum on his desk. It wasn’t. In a quiet fury he tried Martine’s local. It rang to voicemail. He walked down to her office. Not there.
Beale circulated an e-mail, marked “Urgent”, to the entire firm: “If you see MTG, have her come to my office immediately. GGB.”
As it happened it was Parmjit—one of the firm’s coffee ladies on her early morning rounds—who found Martine in a small conference room, her books and papers spread out. The cerebral aneurysm had been a massive one, causing her to lose consciousness immediately. She had slumped forward in her seat, her cheek coming to rest on the keyboard of her laptop, depressing its keys and filling her unfinished document with screen upon screen of endlessly repeating ampersands. The sight of Martine in this condition caused Parmjit to scream and faint. She collapsed in a noisy clatter of coffee cups and carafes, bringing in turn another early-rising associate running from his office.
Campion learned, too, that Beale had insisted that Falkland, the managing partner, make the call to him at home and that Falkland also follow the ambulance to St. Paul’s (“Clearly, this is a management issue”), even though it was plain when the 9-1-1 call was placed that Martine had been cold to the touch and lifeless for hours.
The next day a courier was dispatched to the house bearing an Oriental vase containing a tasteful arrangement of white and mauve lilies. The printed Hallmark condolences were supplemented by a note to Campion, ineptly inscribed in the childlike hand of the managing partner’s secretary, advising that “The thoughts of the Firm are with you in you’re Time of Loss”.
It is a quiet Saturday morning. Sunlight streams in through the shuttered windows of Campion’s kitchen. A familiar Gil Evans arrangement of Bilbao Song plays quietly from a radio tuned to NPR. The station beams its signal up from Oregon to Burnaby, unwittingly repatriating the extended, moody chords of a singular Canadian jazz artist. Campion has this recording, and most of his others, in vinyl. The broadcast bathes him in nostalgia.
Having finished his boiled egg and toast, he pours a second cup of coffee and retrieves the Globe and Mail from across the kitchen table. Following a pattern that he had developed while Martine was still living, Campion begins with the sports section. He turns quickly past the sports stories to the end pages where the obituaries are found. It is his habit to skim them all and read many end to end, even though the subjects are rarely known to him. “It is not ghoulish. Think of it as an extension of a lifetime’s interest in biography,” he had said to Martine once.
Scanning down the alphabetically arranged entries, he sees a name that catches his eye. There is no photograph to assist his memory but the name is familiar.
The woman had been 44. Campion reads about the husband, parents and siblings who survive her, her virtuoso oboe performances, her many loyal and distraught friends, and her burgeoning promise as a second-career lawyer. Her family has chosen not to obscure a terrible truth with frothy euphemisms. In unvarnished words the obituary discloses that she had taken her own life.
The penny drops. She had been one of Martine’s former associates at the firm, one of those in Beale’s stable of captive talent with whom Martine would sometimes commiserate.
“How did you get in?” Beale, startled, asks the question with affected calmness.
“The people from your cleaning service were very obliging.”
“I don’t think we’ve met.”
“Not until now.”
Campion motions awkwardly with the pistol, directing him to sit on the sofa opposite the desk. He leans back in Beale’s leather chair and returns the pistol to his lap. They study one another closely.
“I’m having some of your gin. Would you care to join me?”
“No,” Beale replies.
“I find it is helping me to relax. Are you sure?”
“Look. There is very little money on the premises. I have a few pieces of jewellery, some decent silverware, some electronics. If you want me to show you where they’re located, I will. You can just take them.”
“This is a beautiful study. Exquisite oak panelling.”
“Thank you,” Beale replies.
“And the view of Coal Harbour and Stanley Park is breathtaking.”
“I was lucky to get a unit on the northwest corner at a decent level while they were still affordable.” Beale finds the effort of feigning unconcern, making small talk—humouring the intruder as best he can—both exhausting and surreal.
“I have been examining your library. I think that a great deal can be learned about a man from his library,” Campion ventures. He then takes a long swallow of gin.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many Folio Society slip-cased editions in one place.”
“They are quite valuable. You are free to take them,” Beale says.
“You seem to be in a hurry to have me leave,” Campion replies, his tongue slightly thickened.
Beale ponders this remark for a few, long seconds. Then, “What is it that you want from me?”
“Well, to begin, why don’t you tell me why you have such a large collection of Folio Society slip-cased editions, yet none of them seem ever to have been opened until I entered this room two hours ago.”
“Ah, that’s easy.” He’s going to play with me, Beale thinks, the way a cat toys with an injured bird before making the kill. “I bought them on the advice of the designer who oversaw the fixturing of this study. He told me that they would create a certain atmosphere, and that they were a good investment in their own right.”
“So you haven’t read any of them, then.”
“No, I’m afraid not.”
“You must be a very busy man.”
“Yes, that’s true.”
“I suppose that big, flat screen TV is in working order?”
“Yes!” Beale says with renewed hopefulness. “It’s attached to the wall by only four screws. I could have those out in two minutes and Bob’s your uncle.” He reaches for the remote sitting on an end-table.
“Don’t touch that,” Campion barks, raising the pistol. In a frightened, reflexive movement, Beale pulls his hand quickly back.
“I haven’t come here for your flat screen TV or your designer library or your flatware or the handful of coins in the crystal bowl on your bedside table,” Campion says coldly.
“What do you want from me?”
“Is that what you do in this oak-panelled study? Watch television?”
“Mostly. Yes. It helps me to unwind at the end of a long, hard day.”
“It’s almost 7:30 by me.”
Beale consults his own watch. “That’s what I’ve got.”
“We’re at the end of a long hard day for you now, then, I suppose?”
“You could say that.”
“The day has barely started for some of those you’ve left behind at the office, though. Isn’t that true?”
“Who do you mean?”
“You did a fine thing for the Symphony Society but there’s blood on that money, Beale.”
“I just can’t follow you. Look. What do you want? Cash? We can drive to a bank machine and I’ll withdraw my daily limit. I think that’s $5,000. I’ll drop you off wherever you want. No questions asked.” Beale’s voice has begun to acquire an audible edge of desperation.
“What you’ve taken from me cannot be returned,” Campion says quietly.
“What do you mean? What do you say I’ve taken from you?”
“You have taken what you cannot return from others too.”
“Look, you’re going to have to stop speaking in riddles. I don’t understand what you want from me, what you’re trying to say to me.”
“What did you do to that young woman whose obituary I read in last weekend’s Globe and Mail?”
Beale paused for a moment, his eyes narrowing. “Who are you? Her father?”
“Answer the question. What did you do to her to drive her to suicide?”
“This is ridiculous. You don’t know what you’re talking about. I had nothing to do with her suicide.”
“The bodies are piling up around you, Beale. It’s going to have to stop.”
“Who are you, for God’s sake?”
“It doesn’t matter. What you’ve taken from me, you cannot return—just as you cannot return what you’ve taken from the family and friends of that young associate who hanged herself in her office at your firm last week.”
“I can’t be held responsible for that!”
“You suck the life out of them. To feed your own vanity and your lust for billings you exploit and humiliate and belittle them until they’re spent.”
Desperation has forced Beale’s voice up an octave. “Are you here out of vengeance? Have you come here to kill me, then, to settle some account?”
“I am struggling to decide,” Campion replies. “I am blameless, yet, thanks to you, I have lost my will to live. You, on the other hand, stink with guilt but yet you wish to continue living. I could smell the sulphur in the air the moment you entered the room.”
“You speak very dramatically, sir.”
“I speak with conviction.” Campion picks up the gun again—an unfamiliar object in his hand—and turns it slowly, examining it. “It’s a true conundrum. Who should take the bullet, Beale? The one who has already lost it all or the one who cannot comprehend the harm he has caused and will selfishly go on causing it?”
“I don’t mind telling you that I fear you greatly … and that I fear you have misjudged me.”
“I know enough to have the measure of you. Do you have no idea, no sense of the human destruction that lies in your wake?”
“There are things I could have done better.”
“I am, indirectly, already one of your casualties.”
“I wish you would tell me how that can be.”
“Your ignorance, your lack of insight, your lack of self-knowledge, they’re appalling.”
“Vengeance is a motive unworthy of a man who speaks as thoughtfully as you.”
“You seek to flatter but I hear only a man bent on self-preservation,” Campion says, sharply.
“Vengeance is beneath you,” Beale says, again.
“Turning the gun on myself is my only alternative to it. From where I sit, the arguments for doing that, and for killing you, appear to be evenly balanced. Should I use this gun to put myself out of a crippling misery that I just seem unable to shake? Is that what you would prefer?”
“You know I can’t answer that.”
“Who should take the bullet, Beale?” Campion’s voice is oddly calm.
“You must decide in a way that will not sully the memory of the one you say you have lost,” Beale replies.
“Say her name, Beale!”
“I think it must be Martine. I am terribly sorry.”
“You have spoken some fine words about not sullying the memory of one who is lost. They would carry more weight coming from a man with a conscience and without blood on his own hands.”
“Focus on the words and not the one who spoke them”, Beale says in reply, looking down.
“Whatever happens here tonight, it will not withstand moral scrutiny,” Campion observes, to no one in particular.
With that, the talking is ended.
At 7:59 p.m. a shot rings out, disturbing the tranquillity of Coal Harbour and more particularly that of the lone occupant of the suite neighbouring Beale’s where Mr. Chan, the merchant banker, lives. He had just sat himself down to dine, as is his present habit, at a fashionable, Continental hour. Blackberry off. Stereo on.
Before him is arrayed the freshly micro-waved poached salmon, asparagus and wild rice he had picked up at Jean-George’s on the way home from work.
The sound of what can only have come from a gun agitates and frightens him. After quickly double-checking the locks on the entrance and patio deck doors, Mr. Chan puts Hugh Fraser’s Bonehenge CD on pause and makes a 9-1-1 call.
Unsettled, he continues to pace nervously back and forth within his suite until he can hear the comforting echo of a siren unspooling as the first of the police cruisers to respond threads its way through light traffic, northward on Denman Street and across Georgia.
By his nature he preferred oblique lines to straight ones. When driving his father’s old Ford, he had chosen the curving, dirt roads—the ones which meandered—in preference to those which tied the prairie dustbowl towns of his youth, one to the other, with arrow-straight, hot ribbons of black asphalt.
And so too he lived his life, guided by indirection and marked by mannerly circumlocution.
Somehow he wedded Jeannie. There was no real proposal; just a ring and a card: “Jeannie, you might like this.” She did. And she loved the feel of his big, strong, farmer’s hands on her. She read nothing into the need to coax him to intimacy because, once bidden, his gentle but forceful ardour left no room for doubt.
He wondered aloud to their son Ben, in 1969, about the boy’s hair: “Do you think perhaps it’s grown a little long?” He wondered too, but inwardly, about what drugs he might find in Ben’s room if he looked (he didn’t). And he worried whether his dream—his dream that Ben would someday have a chance at the life and learning he had been denied by circumstance—might not survive the Sixties.
“Do you think perhaps you’d like to consider finishing your degree before taking a year off to travel to Europe?” he asked Ben, discursively, some years later. He spoke those words in the car while he and Jeannie were bringing Ben back to Morden from university: that is, when the boy’s third year was ended, and he was fed up to here with books and essays, and with having no money, and with having never left Manitoba, and with having had no time at all to find a girlfriend.
Ben understood the cautious message his father’s words carried. With reluctance he yielded to them, and in the end he was grateful that he had done so. Ben was grateful in the end because, having yielded before to that oblique caution—that is, by the time his father (as his best man) was asked to give him over to Caitlin—he had been able to earn a good degree, land a good job at the Wheat Pool and pay the down payment on a nice little place in Transcona.
And there were tickets to Venice hidden under Caitlin’s pillow, waiting for her in the honeymoon suite at the Fort Garry.
They were all grateful for many things in the end. Except the end.
His stoicism having been stolen away from him along with much of his body weight, the old man worked the morphine pump furiously with his thumb like a faulty ballpoint pen or a sticking telegraph key, but to no real effect.
Ben and Caitlin hadn’t told him their fresh news. But should they?
Once when the feeding tube had been withdrawn, but only briefly, he asked Jeannie whether she thought all of those cords needed to stay plugged in, and whether he should continue to be fed through a tube, and whether the DNR sign was still in place at the foot of the Stryker bed.
Jeannie understood him, as she had always understood him: by navigating through the indirection. She answered, while trying to still her heaving shoulders: “No, no and yes”.
And she saw grace in the peaceable calm that settled silently upon him, if only fleetingly when she gave him her answers. Witnessing that brought her to a peaceable calm. He had bidden her to act. It was a summons to another kind of intimacy. She understood it perfectly, and he knew perfectly that she understood it.
So, with reluctance but without doubt, Jeannie yielded and had a chat with the doctor. Then she used the payphone in the empty TV room at the end of the ward to place a call to Ben and asked him to come.
When Ben arrived with Jeannie at his bedside (the feeding tube now gone), the old man came quickly to his point, and told them for the first time that he loved them. Those sacramental words were startling for their directness but not for their content, which—like other essentials he had managed to convey to them across long years of artful circumlocution—they had always taken, not for granted but as granted.
Then, in the middle of the night he was lifted out of his pain. There came a short gasp (which awakened neither Jeannie nor Ben), and he left them: with nothing more said and with nothing left unsaid.