Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

Sulphur Springs, TX, August 25, 2011

The air conditioner ticks. It's one in the morning, heatwave-still, when Rosemary Gilmer Brady rolls over and says, "You can't just not talk to him."

Her husband humphs. She's been married to Jim for forty-three years. That's forty-two years and six months too long for him to pretend he's still sleeping.

"Jim," she says, and he gives up, turns over. His eyes catch the light from the streetlamp outside their bedroom window. His hair's sticking out; what used to be ashy blond turned the grey of a sky before the sun comes up long years ago. She reaches out to smooth it down. He jerks away.

"Oh, now don't go and be mad at me," she blurts.

He sighs. "I'm not, Rose." His shoulders are still stiff. All that rage still clogged up inside him, leaking into everything: a dirty dish, mail left on the coffee table, a car pulling ahead in traffic on the freeway this afternoon. Bitterness eating at everything.

She reaches over, touches that shoulder; eases it down from its hunch. This time he lets her. But he looks away.

"Rose, I don't want to talk about this."

"You're not sleeping."

"Yes, I was."

"You didn't sleep last night either."

His mouth quirks down. "This isn't one of your women's shows." Where talking can solve everything, she fills in. Where everyone always has to do it one way and that's the touchy-feely way.

Where the problem isn't real.

She pauses a second, looks him in the eye. "No, it certainly is not."

Rosemary Gilmer Brady's no master at putting one over on her husband either; nor does she really want to be. He gets the point.

"So you're all right with this," he says. His voice is thin and flat; he props himself up on his elbow, rustling the thin cotton sheet down. Pushing himself upward to defend.

"No," she says, and closes her eyes. She's got her own anger--that her son lied to her for--good Lord, years. Decades. Laughing behind their backs; the roommate really a lover, the protests about not being ready to settle down, about dangerous jobs, about long hours all a smoke screen, delivered casual as you please. All that glib lying to his own mother.

And then the gutted knowing: that her son felt like he had to lie to her. To her. Because if he didn't, she wouldn't love him anymore.

That in some ways, he was right.

She opens her eyes, and Jim is watching her, wary and weary. Untrusting. Not sure which way she's about to jump.

"But you still need to talk to him," she finishes.

"I don't"--he says carefully, measured and controlled--"have anything to say."

"Well, we've got to find something," she snaps, "because we've only got one son."

And now he sits up straight and his eyes aren't just streetlamp-bright, and the anger in his shoulders streams straight down into two awkward clenched fists. "Why do I have to?" he says, voice spiraling. "Why's it me? I didn't do anything, I didn't change, but I have to bite my tongue, I have to go to him--"

"Jim--" she says.

"It hurts," he shouts, and catches his breath, and no matter what Jim Brady's forebears thought about showing your emotions, even in front of your own wife, there's no taking that back. There's no reeling it in. His cheeks go red. He bows his head, loosens his hands. "I'm allowed to hurt."

"Yeah," she says soft. It hurts.

You want things for your children: safety and comfort and a happy marriage and family to grow old with, all the things that mean the most; all the things you've treasured like a lump, tiny and precious, lodged between your heart and your skin. And knowing he'll never get to hold his own child in his arms, never bury his nose in that faint hair and breathe in deep, never feel the explosion of those first tiny steps--

Never even know what he's missing--

It hurts so bad, and there's no way to say it; no right way to shed one tear because if you do, you're rejecting your child. You're trying to change who he is. You're a bigot and a coward.

I understand, is what she wants to say, calm and reasoned. It hurts, but he didn't do this to hurt us. We held him in our arms and dreamed all those big dreams and buried our noses in his little breaths of hair and were lost forever. He is our son.

"I'm never gonna have grandchildren," spills out instead, cracked and sobbing, and Jim lunges out, folds her in his arms, rocks and rocks soothing like a fussy night and a lullaby.

"Oh Rose, my Rose," he whispers, voice roughened and hoarse, as she cries the sheets wet in the dark. "It'll be all right, baby, I promise. I'll make it right," he says.

Rose and Jim Brady have been married for forty-three years. She can hear his thoughts and the space between his words.

I can't talk to him. Not now. But I'll try.