I was shaking like crazy as I drove in Suzie's bug -- partly because her heater wasn't working, but mostly because I knew this was going to be the worst experience of my life.
I pulled up outside Old Fire Fists' house. It looked all right. I had been expecting something a little darker and creepier, but the grey sky gave the house an ominous glow. If you looked at it just right, anyway.
I rang the bell and waited for Egor to come slithering and drooling out to me. A pleasant-looking middle-aged woman, the nurse, I assumed, answered the door.
"I'm Richard Adams. Suzie's brother. She's sick today..." I stammered, still not totally sure the nurse wouldn't transform into a hideous creature of the night.
She opened the door and I stepped inside.
There weren't any cobwebs, or pictures of dead Counts on the walls. It was a nice, quaint little place. It smelled neat, too - like cedar and spices. "This is all a trick, an illusion..." I muttered as the nurse led me down a hall. "She's gonna lead me to the witch's lair and then she'll pounce on me and tear me from limb to limb."
"Feona," the nurse whispered as we reached the old bat's bedroom. "There's someone here to see you."
"Suzie?" a frail voice whispered.
I stepped into the dark room. "Uh...Suzie's sick today. It's me, Richard, Mrs. um...Mrs. Fitzenwahler."
"Oh. You." She flicked on a lamp by her bedside. "Poor Suzie's sick?" she whispered.
She seemed so frail and tiny and helpless lying in the bed. Suddenly, it was awful hard to imagine her as a mean old witch, and I felt really guilty.
"You didn't have to come. I know you don't like me," she sighed.
"I..." I stammered. I really felt awful now.
"You can go home. I'll be fine. Trudy's here in case I need anything. Go home."
Part of me, or probably most of me, wanted to take her up on her offer. But I just couldn't. "I'd like to stay a little while, if it's all right with you, Mrs. Fitzenwahler."
She smiled a little. "Oh, well, all right. Pull up a chair then, Richard."
For a while we just sat there and she stared at me. "You were a good student," she sighed. "I remember. But you didn't like me much. You still don't."
"I...that's not true, I..."
"It's all right. A lot of my kids don't think very fondly of me. I guess I...well...I just had such high expectations for you all. I knew you could do so much more if you'd just focus yourselves. Generally, you all turned out pretty well," she sighed and pointed over to a shelf besides us. "Could you hand me those albums, please. I'd like to look at my kids."
"I didn't know you had children," I said softly as I placed the pile of albums on the bed beside her.
She smiled. "No, my husband Walter and I never had children. But I have my kids."
She opened up one of the albums, and flipped some pages. "Here we go." She pushed the album over for me to see.
"Hey, that's my class!" I laughed.
"Yes. There were a lot of good students that year. Turn the pages."
There was a whole stack of newspaper clippings sandwiched between the next two pages. I unfolded one. "Oh, Jimmy Anderson...I remember him."
"Oh, yes, Jimmy," she smiled. "That must be when he got that award after he graduated from the University of California. Yes, I remember."
I glanced through the clippings. They were all about her students. There was even one about me when I was named director of Barkin's museum. While I looked through the articles she leafed through a different album.
"These are all I have. It used to be enough for me. Now? Well, I can't do things the way I used to. And now this accident. I've had a full life. Now I'm just an old lady, ready to die."
"Huh?" I gasped, looking up.
"Don't look so shocked, young man. We all die. I don't really have anything to live for anymore. I'll be 80 in a few months. Walter has been gone for twenty-three years and all I have are my memories of him and you kids. I remember you all, but no one remembers me. Well, those that do just remember a crusty old slave driver. Am I wrong?"
I felt terrible. "We don't think that way!" I assured her. "And don't talk about dying... you're still young yet."
My grandparents are in their mid-80s -- you met them...they do plenty of things. They're on a trip around the world, right now."
She sighed. "There's not much I have to look forward to anymore. This will probably never heal completely, at my age. I can't take care of myself anymore."
"Is there anyone you can stay with?"
She sighed again. "The only relative I have is my sister's daughter and her family. She's offered plenty of times, but I don't want to live in Arizona. I like it here. This is my house. I've lived her for forty-two years. And besides, I don't want to be a burden on anyone."
"I hear the weather in Arizona is supposed to be good for your health...and maybe they would enjoy having you there."
"Hmm...well...I've looked at these pictures enough for today. Would you like to play some cards?"
It wasn't that bad at all. As we played, she'd tell me little stories about her "kid's" accomplishments. It was actually a pleasant day and I was almost sad to leave.
"Suzie probably won't be well enough to come tomorrow, but I'll stop by for a bit," I offered when it was time to go.
"I'd like that, Richard," she smiled.