Chapter Three. Michael Returns.
Without preamble or the most cursory of greetings, Frank was screaming at his older brother, Fort Wayne to Philadelphia.
"Michael, how DARE YOU leave Mother like that? What the heck were you thinking?"
"Frank? Is that you? Where are you?" his brother replied, startled to hear his little brother screeching over the phone. Michael Burns was in a conference, and had been told by his secretary that it was a most urgent phone call. He figured it was the overseas office with news about the big merger he and his team had had in the works for weeks.
"I'm at the HOSPITAL with YOUR MOTHER, that's where!"
"WHAT? What's wrong with Momma?"
When the others in the big meeting heard the mention of Mrs. Burns, they turned away, occupying themselves in other ways so as not to appear to be eavesdropping. Michael turned away from them, looking out the big window that faced downtown Philadelphia.
He heard his brother take a deep shuddering breath.
"Well, since I'M a doctor and YOU'RE not, I'll put it in laymen's terms. Malnutrition. Bedsores. Dehydration. Lice. Urinary tract infection. You want the rest? MALNUTRITION, Michael! What were you FEEDING her, or NOT feeding her?"
Oh, God, Michael thought. He closed his eyes and took a shuddering breath himself.
"Frank," he answered as calmly as he could. "Frank, I TRIED. I tried my hardest. I tried to get her to eat and she'd pick at her food, and I found out she was hiding it when I wasn't looking. Two weeks it took before I could tell from the smell."
He looked nervously at the people in the room, who were studiously ignoring him. Or they appeared to be at least.
He whispered, "Look, Frank, I'm in an important meeting. Can I talk to you about this later? I'm expecting a really important phone call from our overseas office."
"Frank? Baby brother?"
Michael had to hold the phone away from his ear when his brother screeched, "GET YOUR ASS BACK TO INDIANA OR I SWEAR TO ALMIGHTY GOD I'LL COME UP THERE AND KICK IT BACK HERE FOR YOU!"
All Michael Burns could do after that declaration and fervent vow was stare at the now-silent phone in his hand, too stunned to move. Was that FRANK? he wondered. What in the heck did Korea DO to his brother, who'd never had the gumption to stand up to him before? EVER? Now threats of bodily harm?
Michael very carefully placed the receiver back in its cradle, and turned a shy glance at everyone. He hoped to God nobody had heard that, but he suspected they had. A few people had their heads down, trying to stifle grins. They knew how Mr. Michael Burns was.
He cleared his throat and stood, gathering his notes and placing them quickly into his attache. He hated to admit to himself, but Frank's voice and promise to come kick his ass had shaken him inside. Maybe his baby brother had finally grown up and was thinking about somebody else for a change?
"Um, yes, people. Family emergency. I must return to Indiana immediately. That was my younger brother, Dr. Burns."
It irked him to add the "doctor" to his little brother's name, but he figured it would impress everyone to know he had a doctor in his family.
The ones who'd been hiding grins turned serious when the doctor was mentioned. Oh, it really IS something after all!
Michael turned to them all before he left. "Please consult with Mr. Miller about the merger, when we get the call from overseas. I'll notify my secretary on how to contact me."
When Michael Burns stepped off the plane in Fort Wayne, his younger, but taller, brother punched him in the shoulder, hard.
"Ow, FRANK! What is WITH you? Screaming at me over the phone? HITTING me when I haven't seen you in what, seven years?"
Frank grabbed his brother by the arm and dragged him away from the crowd.
"You're lucky I didn't punch you in the face, Mikey! C'mon."
Michael followed behind Frank to the parking lot, not saying a word. He looked at his brother, who was just as thin as before, but lean, wiry. He rubbed his shoulder where the punch had landed, surprised at his brother's strength. What in the hell had happened in Korea to make him like this?
Frank remained silent until his brother finally spoke up.
"Where're we going?" he asked when he saw they weren't heading to their mother's house, the house they'd both grown up in.
"To the nursing home, that's where," Frank said curtly.
"Don't blaspheme," Frank admonished.
"Oh, shut up, Frank. You call me out of the blue, you screech at me while I was in an important meeting, you hit me in the arm and you tell me not to blaspheme. Jesus, you're a pip," Michael said, feeling more like himself in the big brother role once again.
Frank yanked the car to the side of the road and turned to face his brother. Michael actually recoiled, almost frightened by his brother's visage and fierce look.
Frank pointed to him, his finger shaking. "Okay, this is it, Mikey. We have it out, right here, right now. 'Cause you know what the Lord said. If any one of you has a problem with your brother, then resolve it. Granted, we aren't going to the altar, we're going to our MOTHER'S, who we're obligated to honor and obey. AND CARE FOR! Now you'd better explain, and make it good, how Mother got into that condition, or like I said, I swear by God I am going to KICK YOUR ASS!"
Michael could only lean against the far door, away from Frank's threatening hand, and stare. He took a breath and started explaining. He told Frank how Mrs. Burns had changed, almost overnight, and how he thought it was just a bug going around.
As the explanation continued, Frank calmed down somewhat, nodding his head. It was as he suspected: she'd had more bouts of lucidity, and Michael thought she was "getting better." When he found her up and fixing them breakfast, tending to her plants and kitties, fussing with the vacuum cleaner, he thought she was all right once more. And told her he should return to Philadelphia.
"She said, 'That's fine, Michael, I'll be all right. Frank will get his discharge papers any day now, and be here soon. You go on back to work.' And that was it. She'd been hiding the food I found during those phases when she seemed kind of out of it. I thought she'd stopped once I found it and scolded her about it. Really, Frank, I'll swear on your Bible if you've got it on you. I honestly thought she was okay."
Frank didn't answer, so Michael tried something he was sure would work.
"I'm not a doctor like you, Frank, I'm not trained to look for signs like that."
Frank nodded his head, for all the world appearing like a wizened sage. It was refreshing to hear his brother admit that FRANK knew something he did not.
"All right, Mikey, I guess I understand. You couldn't know. I was learning more about Alzheimer's when I was in the... discharge facility the Army sent me to for a short time. One of the docs there let me read up on it in his medical books. There have been a lot of new developments since I went to med school."
Frank stuck his hand out, and Michael took it, smiling.
"Have we mended our ways, then, as the Lord commanded?"
"Yes, sir, we have. Let's go visit Mother now. I told her you were coming, but I'm not entirely sure she'll remember."
"She's that bad?" Michael asked, turning to face the road again when Frank pulled back into traffic.
"She's that bad," Frank said quietly.