Milk and Cookies

by Katherine Reback
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dan&kathjpg.jpgkatherine_reback.jpg“Ouch,” my husband groaned miserably as something metal jabbed him in the side.  “It’s like sleeping on a motorcycle.” It is 1:30 in the morning and we are still wide awake.   

You have to admit the intention was admirable:  Joan, my father’s girlfriend, had insisted they buy this pull-out couch specifically for us, specifically for visits like this one.

The week before, my father had been diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s.  When I got the call, a chill snaked through my bones, so powerful that for a moment I couldn’t breathe. “It could go slow,” I was told, “it could go fast, or it could stay the same for the rest of his life.  No one knows.”  I was not comforted.

“You know I’m losing my memory,” my father said over dinner the December night we arrived in Palm Beach.

I nodded.  It was hard to know what to say.  “How old are you now?” I asked him, “89 1/2?”

“No.  I’ll be 89 1/2 in February,” he responded, clear as a bell and sublimely accurate.

“89 1/2 in February,” I repeated.  “And in all those years, the only thing that’s ever been wrong with you is that occasionally your back goes out?”

“That would be about right,” said my father.

“I’m sorry you’re losing your memory, Dad.  But we would all kill to be you.” 

He beamed.  He nodded.  He knew he’d been damn lucky.

He seemed no different than when we saw him a few months earlier. Yes, he asked more than twice what time we had to be at their friends for cocktails, but really, I’m perfectly capable of walking into my kitchen and forgetting why I went there.  And when Sonny and I took him to see “Charlie Wilson’s War,” he leaned over and said, “Now this is a brilliantly directed movie.” And then, “I guess you can’t do better than Mike Nichols.” 

This was, as far as I was concerned, proof positive that his Doctor was dead wrong.  This man does not have Alzheimer’s.  This man has 89 1/2. 

front_bar_lg.jpgAt Spoto’s Oyster Bar that night, the waiter brought my Martini and set the reminder of it down in a second, shorter glass.  My father glanced at the little glass with longing.  Joan doesn’t let him drink.  He can have one glass of wine at dinner and that’s it.  She is engrossed in conversation with one of their friends, her head turned away from my father, so I slide the short glass over to him.  I feel it is the least I can do.  He takes a good sip, puts the glass down.  When her head is turned again, I give him a coast-is-clear nod.  He takes another sip.  

“You owe me,” I say, when the glass is empty.

“Not if you say that any louder,” he replies dryly.  I laugh.  It’s official:  something is wrong with his Doctor. There is nothing wrong with this man.

Night two and my husband tosses around on the pull-out like a buoy in a hurricane. “Forget waterboarding,” he suggests. “Just send a few of these sofa beds down to Guantanamo.  Believe me they’ll talk.” I laugh, too loudly.  Suddenly, light floods the hallway. A cupboard door opens and shuts. We must’ve awakened them.

I get up.  I walk toward the kitchen. I can see the back of my father’s head, his once dark, curly hair now white and wavy but as thick as it ever was.  He is sitting in his armchair in the darkened living room.

biscottichocolate.jpgHe has a glass of milk in one hand and in the other, a small plate on which is Joan’s chocolate Biscotti.  It is dark and thickly sliced with thin splinters of toasted almonds throughout.  It makes a loud crunch when he bites into it.  “Man, that woman can bake,” he says and closes his eyes, enraptured, as he chews.

“Do you always have milk and cookies in the middle of the night?”  

“That’s what you do when you can’t sleep,” he says.  And I flash back to the milk and Oreos he or my mother brought us for the same reason.

“Why can’t you sleep?” I ask him. He shrugs, taking a pull on the milk.

“Maybe it was the Martini,” I suggest.  

“What Martini?” he asks.  

“The one I snuck you tonight. In the restaurant.”  He looks confused.

“I didn’t have a Martini,” he says.  “I don’t drink anymore.”  He means this. Absolutely.

That cold snakes through my body again.  “Of course,” I say. “I forgot.”

He gets up, shuffles into the kitchen.

“What are you doing?” I ask, suddenly needing to know his every move.

“I’m going to rinse my glass, put my plate in the dishwasher and if the milk and cookies worked, hopefully go to sleep.  Good night, Katherine,” he says.

I watch him disappear into the bedroom, closing the door behind him.  

In the guest room, my husband’s arm dangles awkwardly over the side of the pull-out couch.  He is finally out cold.  I climb quietly into the bed.  I curl up next to him.  And hope for the best.

 

JOAN’S CHOCOLATE BISCOTTI

We call them Joan’s, but in fact they’re the recipe for Maida Heatter’s Bittersweet Chocolate Biscotti  from her “Brand New Book Of Great Cookies.”  Page 25.  And they’re unforgettable.   

Katherine Reback was born and raised in Connecticut.  She was a screenwriter, speechwriter and essayist.

 

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