COCOON is fiction but is based on a true-life story of a modern day miracle. In the following passage from COCOON, Barth is realizing the gravity of Seana’s ailment. His love and commitment will be put to the supreme test because his bride’s psychosis takes her away from him. At the same time, he must bear a cloud of suspicion darkening any relationship with Seana’s strong-willed daughter, Zoe.
Back at home, Barth found Seana curled up in fetal position on the sofa, exactly where he’d left her. Her cell phone, lying on the coffee table near her, was loping away with its God Bless the USA melody. Seana stared blankly at the TV screen.
“Aren’t you going to answer your phone?” Barth asked, slightly annoyed. He knew she didn’t feel well but couldn’t understand this apathy.
Seana didn’t reply. He snatched up her phone, flipped it open and barked “Hello?”
A startled silence, then, “Barth, I’d like to speak to my mother.” Zoe’s request was cut in cedar.
“Of course.” Barth held the phone out to Seana, whose gaze never wavered from
The television screen. She shook her head.
A definite no.
“Ah, look, Zoe. Your mother’s not feeling well and–”
“I know she’s not.” As in I’m not stupid. “She wasn’t at church. Is she awake?” Zoe’s tone was definitely up there with royally ticked.
“Yes, she’s awake. But she doesn’t want to talk to anyone right now.” Barth knew it wasn’t setting well with his step daughter. Couldn’t blame her. He, too, was frustrated that Seana didn’t seem to be trying at all to function.
“Well, I’ll be right over. I want to know what’s going on with her.” The line went dead.
“Sure thing, Zoe,” Barth muttered to the dead phone, staring at it before clicking it shut.
“Have you had your shower?” he asked Seana, knowing full well she had not because she still wore her night gown and her hair was a mass of tangles.
“No.” The eyes remained fixed, unseeing, on the screen.
“Well, come on. I’ll help you,” he insisted, reaching to help her up.
Hands on hips, Barth sighed heavily, gauged his wife’s dug-in mien, then tried again. “Seana, you have to bathe.” He tugged at her until she finally let him help her onto her wobbly feet and to the shower.
There, he undressed her and guided her into the stall. He turned the faucet on warm and watched water cascade down her body. She made no move to lather up. Nothing. Just stood planted there like the danged sycamore tree outside their window.
Exasperated, Barth stripped off his own clothes and got in with her. He began to vigorously lather her all over with a nylon scrubby. She frowned at times as if in pain or aggravated and something about her pierced his heart. Vulnerability shimmered over her like an electrical current.
He paused in his ministrations and stared at her, looking into her eyes.
They were vacant. “Dear God, honey. What’s happened to you?” The words ended on a sob. He pulled her unresponsive body into his arms and held her as if she were fine crystal or a fragile egg, weeping as unrestrainedly as he’d ever done in his entire adult life.
When the sobs subsided, he gently dried her off and dressed her in sweats, simply because they were easier to manage. Then he combed the tangles from her chin length hair and silently thanked Joanie for the good cut and perm when the damp strands shaped up rather nicely. As soon as he finished, Seana turned from him and made her way back to the den where she curled up again on the sofa.
Barth shook his head, pulled on jeans and shirt and went to the kitchen to decide what to do for lunch. The doorbell pealed.
“Hi Zoe,” he said and stepped aside for a splendidly angry Zoe, who swept past him without a word of greeting and marched over to her mother.
“What do you mean, not taking my calls?” Zoe crossed her arms and peered down at her mother, waiting for an explanation. Silence stretched out and Zoe wilted before Barth’s eyes.
“Sit down, Zoe,” Barth said softly.
Zoe did, practically collapsing on the love seat across from Seana. “How long has she been like this?”
“A week. I thought it was temporary. But it’s continued so I’m going to take her to the doctor tomorrow for a thorough examination.” Barth sprawled in the easy chair, sure of coming turbulence.
But he didn’t bargain for Zoe’s next statement.
“I know about your first wife, Barth. I know about how she died.” Zoe’s eyes and voice accused and convicted Barth on the spot.
“Oh?” Barth struggled for composure amid the onslaught. The worst thing was happening…the thing he’d dreaded most. “Exactly what do you know?” Fortunately, his voice was steady but his heart flogged his ribs like a runaway bass drum.
“I know that she was murdered. And that you were arrested for it.”
Shock began to morph into anger. “Then you should know that I was released for lack of evidence.”
“Oh?” The lovely brow lifted. “How convenient for you.” Zoe’s sly smile did not reach her eyes. “But I also know that no one else has been arrested. The case is unsolved. Cold.”
“So you’re going to assume that I did it, even without proof?”
Zoe stood. “Look. I’m only interested in the safety of my mother. You’d have a lot to gain if something happened to her.” Anger crackled about her like static as she marched over to Barth’s chair, leaned over and in a deadly calm voice said, “I’m here to see that nothing happens to her. In fact, I’m going to ask that she get drug tests to see if you’re trying to poison her.”
Barth stood so abruptly that Zoe nearly lost her balance backing away. He narrowed his eyes and took a step forward before restraining himself. “Get out of my face, Zoe. I love your mother.” He gritted his teeth to stymie the tears burning behind his eyes. “That’s something you toss aside like garbage. And I plan to take care of her, whether you like it or not.”
Zoe’s eyes narrowed. “What have you done to her, Barth? A person doesn’t just change overnight. It’s not just coincidence that you’re the one who prepares all her food and who shoves all sorts of additives and supplements at her. And voila, she turns into this—zombie.”
Barth cut his eyes down at Seana, who seemed detached from their discourse. But he suspected that she could hear and discern some things. “We shouldn’t talk like this around her.”
Zoe cut a glance at her mother and her face gentled. “You’re right. It’s not her fault.”
A flicker of hope sparked in Barth–but Zoe pivoted and marched to collect her purse, then slammed out the front door. Without so much as a backward glance. Or a fare the well.
So much for Southern hospitality and charm.
He realized then that his legs were shaking and collapsed into the chair. Elbows on knees, he planted his face in hands.
He sat there for a long time, head spinning, emotions pummeled by Zoe’s words and accusations. Until he felt a cramp in his neck. Only then did he lift his head and roll his shoulders. His eyes locked with Seana’s. He felt a surge of guilt. How much did she actually hear and take in?
“Honey?” he ventured gently. “I love you.”
She blinked. Then looked away.
And he knew. Somehow, he felt it in his soul of souls. She was not there behind those lovely eyes.
She’s gone away inside herself.
Emily Sue Harvey is The Story Plant’s Author of the Month. This means we are offering sensational deals on all of her works. You can learn more at our website.