“Sonia!” Uncle Paul is calling from the head of the stairs.
Behind Uncle Paul, Molly can see Uncle Hal, his face flushed from exertion and from too much scotch before breakfast. Between the two uncles, draped in a bed sheet, is Grandma Claire. Molly can see her large feet under Uncle Paul’s arms. She’s wearing a pair of striped wool socks that Molly knitted for her last fall.
“Uncle Paul, what are you doing??” Molly squeals. “You’ll drop her!”
“Sonia! We’re going to put Mother in your bed.”
“You most certainly are not!”
“Don’t be squeamish, Sonia,” says Uncle Hal with a laugh. “You’re supposed to be the hard-case around here.” He has his elbows locked under Grandma Claire’s armpits; her wrists dangle and wave.
“Just put her somewhere else,” Sonia snaps. “Put her in the Urchin’s room.”
“No can do,” says Paul. He turns awkwardly under his burden and takes the top step so he can see into the room below.
“Careful, dude,” says Hal.
“Uncle Paul, be careful!” Molly shouts.
Georgia, still on the phone, waves an urgent shushing hand in Molly’s face. “No, no, she’s sharp as a tack,” she says to Jackie Taylor. “Yes . . . Yes, Joanne was just here, and said she’s never seen her sharper.”
“Sonia, it has to be your room,” whispers Paul fiercely. “Molly’s is right here at the top where Jackie might see.”
“Well, exactly,” said Aunt Georgia. “If she wants to rewrite things . . . right, it’s her money. People do change their minds. Not for us to pass judgment. . . . Exactly. A woman’s prerogative.”
Uncle Hal is breathing hard. “You’re pulling me,” he groans. “Let’s get her to Sonia’s room and argue about it later.”
“Out of the question.” Sonia crosses her arms.
“Sonia, I’m the oldest, and I’m going to decide this,” declares Paul. “If you don’t like it—ow! My knee is giving out.”
Uncle Hal giggles in spite of himself. “Your mama, she’s a substantial woman,” he jokes.
“No seriously,” moans Paul. “My trick knee. I can’t put any weight on it.”
“How big is she?” Hal asks the room. “Anyone? Anyone?”
“She’s not going in my bed,” declares Sonia.
“She’s so big, we gotta make two trips!” This is an old joke, but Hal enjoys it immensely. Uncle Paul, teetering on the second step, does not see the humor.
“Uncle Paul, watch out!”
“Anyway, Jackie,” says Aunt Georgia. “I know this is an incredible imposition, and I surely wouldn’t ask if things weren’t, you know, day-to-day.” She lightly uses the sob again.
“Shut up and pull me!” says Paul.
“I’ve got the heavy end, Einstein. You’re gonna have to push.”
“Oh great! Now the sheet is slipping.”
The sheet billows and slides. It gathers around Paul’s neck like a barber shawl. “Rhinehart! A little help here.”
“So Mother is just asking, Jackie, if you could stop by on your way to work. Would that be a terrible burden? . . . Oh, you are such a dear.”
Paul’s knee is useless. He slips down another step, and he’s clinging to his mother’s ankles now for support instead of to hold her up. Grandma Claire’s long body sags between Uncle Hal and Uncle Paul, with her elbows and ankles in the air. On her face is a very puzzled look.
“It should only take a minute, Jackie. She has it all written out for you. Yes. . . . And this will bring her so much peace of mind, dear.”
Rhinehart appears at the top of the stairs. He doesn’t look amused, but Uncle Hal is giggling like a schoolboy. Holding the weight of both Paul and Grandma Claire, Hal skids slowly along the hardwood and sits down suddenly on the top step. Grandma Claire lands in his lap, with her striped socks pushing down into Uncle Paul’s face. The three of them are wedged at the top of the stairs like movers just about to lose a piano.
“I think I hurt my back just then,” says Uncle Hal, giggling through the tears that are streaming down his face.
“Yes, that’s right. Oh, Mother will be eternally grateful to you, Jackie. Just eternally grateful. Okay then. See you shortly, dear.”
From above, Rhinehart takes hold of Hal’s shirt collar. He twists it hard in his knobby fist and begins to pull. From below, Molly jams her shoulder under Paul’s rump to push. Hal makes a laughing gurgle as Rhinehart drags him back from the edge of doom. The piano begins to rise again.
Georgia hangs up the phone. “There,” she declares, “I thought that went rather well.”