Their first intimation of serious trouble was when Dave and Barb named the baby Death.
"Well, of course we had hoped you'd carry on your father's name," Beatrice said on the line.
"O Mom, he'll still be a Dante and all that," Barb said, then giggled. "Sorry. They gave me some shots. I'm still kind of floating around up here."
"Peach jello," Dave said.
"You said you felt as though you were suspended in a vat of warm peach jello."
"I did?" More giggles.
"Everybody's okay then?" Mr. Dante asked.
"Peachy," Barb said, and dropped the phone.
"We're all fine, Dad," Dave said. "All three of us."
"Have you seen her?" a fifth voice asked. "Has she been there? Why won't you tell me?"
"We were just going to have a nice cup of hot chocolate and go on up to bed," Beatrice said. "I wanted to wait up for news from you but Daddy said no."
"Getting in much golf, Dad?"
"Any day the sun doesn't belly up, Dave. Went out this morning with a lung doctor, young guy, new in town. First hole, his beeper goes off and he's gone maybe twenty minutes then comes back and says, God, I hope she makes it. A couple of holes later it's squealing again. Gotta get over to the hospital, he says when he comes back that time. Sorry."
"You just don't know how much I love her," the fifth voice said. "If you did, you wouldn't be doing this."
"We had a new caddy. Terrible child — from the college. Kept quoting Marx to me. Great shoulders, awful manners."
"Barb wanted me to ask if you've been making your regular check-ups, Dad."
"Every month, like clockwork."
"And taking your medicines?"
"Haven't missed a dose."
"Haven't felt better since I can remember."
There was a pause. Far back in the wires they could hear music. In Minnesota a moth flew against a window again and again. In Texas a gravel truck started up a long incline.
"You're sure nothing's wrong, Dave?" Mr. Dante said after a while.
"Nothing. Everything's fine . . . great. Mom still on the line?"
"She's gone up to bed."
"Well, Barb did want me to ask you something. She was wondering if it would be okay for her to come home for a while, Dad. Just a visit, of course."
"She's always welcome at home, Dave, both of you know that. But her home should be there now."
"And it is."
"I see." Birds had taken over the newspaper box below the mailbox on its post beside the road; he wondered how long ago that had happened. "You two are having problems."
"Minor stuff, Dad. You know how it is sometimes. It'll pass. But do you think we could keep Mother out of all this? She worries enough as it is. Barb just needs some time alone. Some time away."
"What about the baby? You have to think about the baby now."
"He'll be staying with me . . . It's okay, dad, really. I've taken courses and everything. Death and I'll do great together."
"I can't live without her. I really can't," the fifth voice said.
"What I keep thinking about is the courage it takes, Dad."
"To visit her family?"
"No . . . Things don't stay simple very long, do they?"
"They never are, Dave. But you tell Barb to come on whenever she wants to. And if she does, then you two take good care of yourselves and each other until she gets back. We love you all, Mother and I."
"I know you do, Dad. We all love you. We always will."
"And you call me anytime, Dave. Anything I can do, you let me know."
"I'll be talking to you."
"Do you hear someone?" the fifth voice said. "Is there someone else on this line?"
Mr.Dante hung up the phone and stood for a moment in a wedge of moonlight before going upstairs. In bed his wife turned to him and nestled.
"How's Death?" she asked.
"He's fine," Mr. Dante said.
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