Marcus Weems was the sixth-richest man in the state of Alabama, but he lost his wife to cancer like everybody else. Of course he brought the full leverage of his affluence to bear on her condition—Sloan Kettering, Johns Hopkins, MD Anderson, names of hospitals like the board of directors for some conglomerate of suffering—but the diagnosis had come too late, all the treatments and the clinical trials for naught, and Suzette Weems died at home with her family at her bedside, the day’s last light outside her windows reflected on Mobile Bay.
In addition to her devoted husband, Suzette Weems was survived by two daughters: Meredith, twenty-nine, wife of Harris Stokes, mother of infant James and Chairperson of the Mobile County Chapter of the American Red Cross; and Emily, twenty-one, Dean’s list student in Economics and treasurer of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority at the University of Alabama. They were capable and well-adjusted girls, achingly dear to Marcus. After the funeral, Emily requested incompletes in her fall classes and resumed permanent occupancy of her room, perfuming the house with the lavender and praline bouquet of her shampoo. At least three nights a week, with infant James in tow, Meredith abandoned her husband to sleep over as well, regularly enough that she stocked the empty bureau of her youth with diapers and onesies and nursing bras. Marcus thought he understood. They believed that their presence would provide a bulwark against his loss. They loved him, and he loved them back and he was willing to humor them for a while. Together, they strolled the Point Clear boardwalk, gulls wheeling, infant James strapped to one of them by a contraption that put Marcus in mind of a papoose. They played backgammon in the evenings, and Marcus let them win, as he had when they were children. The holidays passed in a haze of dirty dishes and wads of wrapping paper and strained good cheer. Marcus was sixty-eight years old. He’d started late on marriage, fatherhood. He’d wanted to be certain that he was prepared to do it right. And he had. Just look at his magnificent daughters. But now, at night, when everyone was asleep, he found himself creeping from room to room in the dark, picking up letter openers and coffee table books and putting them down again like he’d forgotten what they were for.