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Consider this Case

From: The Missouri Review
Volume 37, Number 1, 2014
pp. 8-32 | 10.1353/mis.2014.0009

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Photo by Jürgen Schiller García

This is the one day each year they come to him, en-shrouded in blankets and footed rompers, matching sets of pink plaids and blue stars or T-shirts proudly declaring personal interests in trucks or ladybugs. Nowhere else do so many twins and triplets, all under the age of five, congregate en masse. Julian, stationed with a chair and a photographer, looks something like a wasting Santa Claus. He scoops them up—one in each arm if they are small enough—to smile for the camera. The babies rarely cry. They touch his thick eyebrows, his prominent nose. They have to be coaxed to look at the photographer.

The reunion is one of Julian’s favorite days each year. It is the only day he works in the sunlight, one of the few times he allows himself to relax. He spends half his life in the operating room. The lawn between the hospital and the parking garage has been set up with rental tables and a tent, and a food truck stationed in the entry drive serves burgers to the families. Older children, now four and five, race around the perimeter with blades of grass stuck to their sweaty faces, waving their sticky Popsicle fingers—exhibiting their dominion over this place, their right to be.

He first encountered these children as fetuses. The same jokes get told. From him: “I knew you when!” From the parents of the triplet toddlers: “Did you have to save all of them?”

After lunch, the photographer sets up for the annual group photo, positioning Julian in the center of the crowd. She perches high on an A-frame ladder, directing the dozens of children. More tables have to be cleared to fit everyone.

They are nearly in position, ready for the group wave, when the telephone in his pocket vibrates. It is his sister, Liv, calling from London; she never calls just to talk to him. Everyone in his family has this uncanny ability to call at the worst possible moment, usually to deliver bad news.

“It’s Father,” Liv whispers through the phone, as though their father hovers nearby. “It’s time. He can’t be in-de-pen-dent anymore.”

“Why are you whis-per-ing?” Julian mimics. “I can barely hear you.” All around him hips bob, pacifiers are offered. A few toddlers are chased down at the fringe.

“I can feel his anger from across the Atlantic,” she says.

The photographer gesticulates like a conductor. It is time to wave, time to smile.

He misses half of what his sister says, but he knows what she’s asking of him. He tells her to hold, smiles for the camera. Then he excuses himself and squeezes through to the edge of the lawn.

“He only has a couple of months,” his sister says. “It’s not like a permanent situation.”

“Life is not a permanent situation,” Julian says.

Liv is an actress, currently on the West End. Their mother is long dead. Their brother, Jay, is also dead, from an overdose that may or may not have been accidental. Their father is still at home in Virginia, which makes Julian, all the way in Los Angeles, his nearest relative. Julian offers to pay for residential care, but this is not what his sister has in mind.

“He needs to be in hospice,” Julian says.

“You could get a nurse to come to the house every day. And you have the space.”

“He’ll try to redecorate,” he says.

“So what?” she says. “The place could use a woman’s touch.”

At the airport, Julian parks the car and goes to wait inside, in the cordoned-off area where they allow it. He can’t remember the last time he has gone to the trouble to do this.

“They don’t let you come to the gate?” is the first thing his father says. “So much for welcomes.”

He is wearing a seersucker blazer and tan slacks and a tie with a print of tiny sailboats. His loafers look brand-new. His father looks around at the abundance of flesh...

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