By the time the doctor arrived, Phin had stopped rambling and we had managed to get him onto his bed. After a brief examination, the doctor walked out with us, speaking quietly.
“Given his age, there is not a great deal to be done. I suspect a stroke, or larger bleed on the brain. No telling how long he might last. It could be one day, or a year, depending. I can arrange for him to be moved into a care facility, a good clinic I know”. I shook my head. “I don’t think so. He will stay here with us, and die here when his time comes. Perhaps you could arrange for some home nurses to come in and help? We will need them on a permanent basis, night and day”.
Assuring us that he would get that sorted out by nightfall, the doctor shook our hands and left. I helped Mrs Mallory get Phin out of his clothes and into bed, and could see how upset she was, though she held it in.
The nurses were reliable and kind. Older women used to caring for people like Phin, they would chat to him in a conversational tone as they tended to him, even though he never replied, and rarely even opened his eyes. They were compassionate, and made him comfortable.
After six weeks of that, with the weather improving day by day, I took Ann Mallory into Wichita to give her a break by looking around the shops. I had to arrange a literary agent anyway, and I went to see Brad James after sending my telegrams to New York. He apologised for not coming out to see Phin, but I told him there was no point. I also checked with him about local funeral homes to supply a good coffin eventually, and asked him to recommend a company to dig the grave in the space next to Susan. He said he would also check with the authorities that Phin could actually be buried on the homestead. But I told him to forget that, as it was going to happen whatever anyone said.
Ann looked refreshed when I met her outside the department store. She had bought some new summer clothes, as well as stockings and new shoes. She had also made an appointment with a good hairdresser for the following week. We drove home in bright sunshine, with her telling me what she planned to cook for us that evening.
The nurse called Nancy was waiting outside when we got back, smoking a cigarette in front of the porch. As soon as I saw her face, I knew. So did Ann Mallory, who gasped “Oh, my” and began to cry.
He had slipped away quietly not long after we left for town. Nancy had telephoned the doctor, and he was going to come out after his visits to do the formal necessities.
I felt strangely calm, and not at all upset. Phin had led an amazing life, lived to a considerable age, and ended up rich and comfortable. Whether or not he had been happy in later life was debatable, but he had certainly made the best of his situation. And close to the end, he had reconnected with the only family he had left.
He was buried next to his beloved Susan, close to his good friends, and the daddy he admired so much. I painted some stones white to outline the grave, just like the rest. Then I had a carpenter in Wichita make a wooden marker with his name and dates on it. As they set it in place, I thought that it would be nice for me to be buried alongside them. But who would be around to do that? And who would I leave everything to?
Not for the first time in my life, I wished I had married and had children.
The book became my child. Here it is, if you are reading it. Not only the story of the Fullers, but my story too, right up to date.
I was surprised how long it took to arrange. Phin died in fifty-four, and now it is the late summer of fifty-seven, and the publisher has just announced a release date. They asked me what sort of cover I wanted, so I used the Leica to take some photos of the house, and sent them the one I liked best. It will be called The Homestead, as you know if you have bought it. My agent threw me, when he asked what pen name I wanted. I hadn’t thought to use one, but an idea came to me immediately, using my father’s first name, and Phin’s last.
That combination seemed very appropriate.