Heartsick at the change in his wife, Charles castigated himself on the long drive home. I trusted James Jones. His sanitarium is well-known for its amazing cures. I should have asked more questions, observed his methods. If God only brings my Ellen back, I’ll never do this to her again. Added to his regrets for Ellen, was the fact that he’d referred many patients to Dr. Jones over the years and never heard from them again. Families were loath to discuss the craziness of their family members, a subject best not mentioned. He’d even heard of one or two who had “killed themselves” and wondered about that now.
He tried initiating conversation with Ellen, only to receive one word, monosyllabic answers. He pointed out sights on the drive home but she’d only look and look away. He stopped for lunch at a little tea room they’d visited several times. Ellen showed no interest, so he ordered tea and chicken salad for her, one of her favorites. They took their tea on the terrace, as he was hoping she wouldn’t be disturbed. Baskets of flowers hung all around. He felt things were going well till a hummingbird whizzed by her ear. Ellen jumped up screamed and slapped at her ears, upsetting the tea table. She undoubtedly thought it was the buzz of the electroconvulsive charge she’d endured so many times. He led her to the car, weeping, once her hysterics subsided, and sobs soon gave way to snoring.
Charles was glad he’d sent the Charley and Ginny with their grandmother Geneva to visit with Cousin Jean at her farm. Cousin Jean was getting on in years and had been yearning to see the children. Josie had gone along to help so it wouldn’t be too much for the older two ladies. They’d packed clothes, books, and toys to last all summer should they need to extend their stay. Charles and Geneva agreed it would be best to see how Ellen fared before bringing the little ones back home. The boys, busy teenagers, were at home, going about their business as always, unlikely to concern Ellen much. She’d never been too much involved in their lives, anyway. Though Geneva was concerned about her daughter, of course, she felt the children shouldn’t be there until they were sure of her stability.
Cora was as shocked at the change in Ellen as Charles had been. Together, she and Charles got Ellen upstairs and dressed her in a gown and wrapper not worn since her pregnancy with Charley, and helped her to bed. Ellen looked around the familiar room and signed, “Home at last. Thanks be to God. I didn’t know if I’d ever get here.” Tears came to Charles’s eyes as she nodded off. Removing the hand mirror from her bedside table, he and Cora slid the dressing table out Ellen’s view, hoping to postpone the inevitable shock when she saw the change in herself. Lastly, they placed a bell on her bed stand, though she remained too foggy to use it for several days.
When they were back in the kitchen, well out of her hearing, Charles took Cora in his confidence. “Cora, I don’t want her taking phone calls or receiving guests. She’d be ashamed for anyone to see her the way she is. Don’t leave her alone for a minute. Let’s keep her on broth, fruit, salads, and juices for now. We’ve got to get some of that weight off her as quickly as we can. I’ll tell her she’s on a special diet because she’s been sick and that caused her to lose her hair. It’s dangerous that she’s gained so much in a few months. I’ll call Miss Jessie’s shop and get her to send some bigger things over to help her get by till then. Also, I’ll have to ask Miss Jessie about some help for her hair. She might be able to come up with a wig, some false hair, or something. She must know somebody. Ellen will be horrified to see herself so changed. Also, be careful not to bring up the children unless she asks. I don’t know how much she remembers. You can’t discuss this with anyone. If I hear a whisper, I’ll know where it came from. I will talk to the boys and ask Miss Geneva to keep the children at Cousins Jean’s a while longer.”
“Dr. Charles. You didn’t have to remind me to keep your troubles quiet. I ain’t gonna do anything to hurt this family. I been working for y’all since you married. Don’t you think I know which side my bread is buttered on? Ol’ Cora ain’t fool enough to mess up the best job she ever had.”
“I apologize for putting it to you that way, Cora. I guess I’m just so worried I am not thinking right. Thanks for standing by us. I should have said it sooner,” Charles replied.
“We all in this together,” Cora reassured him. “We all got to look out for them babies. They the ones.”
“That they are,” Charles agreed. “That they are!”