Leo Crozier’s doctor at the medical center in Hanover was firm, perhaps too much so, when he told Dottie that she should consider putting Leo into a hospice. Too often, the doctor said, spouses fail to realize that the needs of a dying patient can’t be accommodated in the average home.
"Then there’s the emotional ups and downs of a patient with a terminal illness," the doctor said. "That’s why it can be helpful, at a time like this, for patients and families to have a bit of relief from each other other."
Dottie allowed the doctor to say as much as he did only because he had tried so hard to help Leo. But the mention of how families needed relief from the dying patient, that was more than Dottie could tolerate.
"I’m sorry," she said, "but Leo’s coming home with me. Where I come from we don’t think it’s any bother to care for someone who's dying."
The doctor then repeated what he had told Dottie earlier, that Leo would soon require round-the-clock care.
"I guess I didn't make myself clear," Dottie said. "I’m the one who’s going to look after my husband. I’ll get help if I need it, but only when that’s necessary. One other thing: I’m not afraid of emotional ups and downs."
Then, just in case the doctor had any doubt about the kind of care Leo would get, Dottie told him—speaking, as she often did, like a woman pressed for time—about her house, a house, she wanted him to know, that Leo himself had designed. It was a large house, almost 3000 square feet, she said, all of it built on one level. Leo’s bed would be in the living room, facing the floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out on Mount Washington, a sight, she was sure, that would do more to elevate his spirits than a blank wall in some hospice.
The doctor, in full retreat by then, conceded that Dottie’s house sounded as if it could indeed accommodate all of Leo’s needs. He had never meant to imply, he added, somewhat apologetically, that Dottie wasn’t capable of providing Leo with the care he would need.
The day Leo arrived home from the medical center and saw the hospital bed in the middle of his living room he was both grateful for what Dottie had done and too fatigued to say much about it. But he managed one comment when Dottie and her youngest brother, Norman, were helping him into bed.
"Rounding third," he said. Then, needing to catch his breath, he was unable to finish what he wanted to say.
Leo’s voice, in fact, had lost so much of its strength it was easy for both Norman and Dottie to pretend they hadn’t heard him. They were busy, too, helping to get him settled. When that was done, Leo, with some effort, boosted himself up so that he was resting on one elbow. The top half of his pajamas was open, revealing his bony chest, and he was breathing heavily, but this time he was able to make himself heard.
"Rounding third, I said, and heading for home."
Leo, light-skinned to begin with, was pale, almost chalky white, and his white hair, cropped short, made it difficult to tell where skin ended and hair began. As soon as he had his say, Leo came out with a small grin, much like some school boy pleased with himself for saying something slightly out of line.
Dottie was obviously in no hurry to reply to Leo, and Norman, deferring to his sister, also remained silent. But finally, Dottie, fearing that Leo might use up his limited energy in repeating himself, leaned over and ran her hand across his scalp, taking care to smooth down the wisps of hair on the back of his head.
"You're exhausted," she said, helping him to lie back on his pillow. "Why don’t you rest."
Dottie was not entirely wrong because Leo, once he was lying down again, closed his eyes. When he did, Dottie went over to the window with its view of Mount Washington and closed the floor-to-ceiling curtains. By the time, she had done that, and she and Norman tiptoed out of the room, Leo had drifted off to sleep.
Moments later, in her kitchen, Dottie stood by the window and took a deep breath. She then counted to ten before she breathed out slowly. The breathing exercise was a method Dottie used to help her avoid prolonged bouts of crying.
Before Leo became ill, Dottie often surprised people when she told them she was in her late sixties, mostly because she had retained her thin boyish figure and had hair that was more black than gray. But in the past year she had lost so much weight that her friends began to wonder if she, too, was ill. It didn’t help any that Dottie no longer took time to apply make-up or that she had taken to cutting her hair herself, simply combing it down straight on either side of her head and then chopping off any strands that extended beyond her jaw line.
Norman, standing near another window, was using his handkerchief to dab tears away from his eyes.
"Are you sure you can handle this by yourself?" he said to Dottie.
"I'm hardly by myself," Dottie said. "There's a visiting nurse who’ll come each morning. Then there’s the nurse I’ve hired from four to midnight. With the nurse here, I can rest in case he needs me during the night. I also have Midge Doherty, who lives down the road. She was a nurse before she had her kids."
"Just make sure you call if you need anything," Norman said.
"Don’t worry," she said, "whatever I have to do, I’ll do. That’s the easy part. Seeing how pale he is and the weight he's lost, that doesn't bother me either, not as much as it once did. It's the other stuff, the kind of thing he just came out with. Sometimes it seems as if he’s trying to see whether the rest of us are tough enough to deal with this."
Once more, Dottie drew in a deep breath. Then, because opening her mouth might subvert her breathing exercise, she simply nodded her head when Norman left.
In the first week Leo was home, the days went so smoothly that there was no need for Dottie to call on anyone for help. Leo sat up for an hour or so each morning, and Dottie was able, once Leo took his post-lunch nap, to drive into the village to pick up mail and run errands. Later, just before the 4-12 nurse arrived, Leo would make the circular walk that took him around the house. Once he even felt strong enough to try two circuits, but halfway through his second loop, Dottie had to help him back to his bed.
Both Norman and Dottie's other brother, Maurice, having received clearance from Dottie, came twice to visit Leo that first week. Each brother came separately, each brought their wives and each couple, at Dottie’s suggestion, limited their visits to 30 minutes. Dottie imposed similar limits on Norman when he and his two teen-age sons visited Leo on Sunday mornings.
Leo's only surviving close relative, other than an aunt who was in a nursing home, was his younger brother who lived in Los Angeles. Leo and his brother, ten years apart in age, had never been close, but the gap between them grew wider because Leo strongly disapproved of his brother’s proclivity for getting married and divorced about as often as he changed jobs. If it were up to him, Leo would have severed all fraternal ties, but prodded by Dottie, he continued to call his brother once or twice a month.
Dottie’s situation was somewhat similar to Leo’s in that she, too, had had a distant relationship with her one sibling, an older sister who left home at l8 to get married. Since her sister married a Navy man, she and Dottie rarely saw each other, until a few years back, when their mother was dying. Then, for reasons neither she nor her sister could explain, they became close friends and remained so even though her sister and her husband, once they retired, settled in California. Dottie’s own experience caused her to contact Leo’s brother right after Leo had been diagnosed and ask him if he would call Leo at least once a week.
"Leo may not always sound it," she said, "but talking to you means a lot to him."
Then, to make sure Leo’s brother went along with her request, Dottie sent the brother a check each month that more than reimbursed him for the calls.
Dottie also informed Larry Cutler, who had bought the machine shop Leo once owned, that he too could make half-hour visits. Knowing that many of the men who had worked for Leo wanted to see him, she told Larry he could bring one visitor each time he came. Larry Cutler dropped by twice that first week. On his initial visit he came with Ted Anson. The second time he brought Joe Beasley, and the time after that, Henry Coyle. Good old Larry, Dottie said to herself, so methodical that he's choosing Leo's visitors in alphabetical order.
Dottie was able to get a laugh out of Leo when she told him Larry’s method for selecting the employees he brought to visit Leon. She was not amused, however, when Leo, grinning, said, "I wonder if I’ll ever get to see Jackie Simpson or Mike Therrien."
The gist of Leo's conversations with his visitors was how much he appreciated all that Dottie was doing for him, particularly her conversion of the living room into what he called his "luxury suite." His only complaint, he said, was the weather. The first two weeks he had been home—it was the beginning of March—there had been too many days when cloudy weather and periods of light snow made it impossible for him to get a clear view of Mount Washington. Dottie did not tell anyone that Leo, since he had been home, had yet to ask for his bed to be raised so that he could look out the window, even on those days when the sky was clear and brilliantly blue.
Two weeks after Leo was home, on a day with heavy clouds and spitting snow, Dottie went to Leo’s basement office to see if a medical bill she had just received was one she had already paid. Everything seemed in order when she opened the file cabinet, but then she noticed that the blue folder, labeled Gun and Ammo, was out of place. That was the folder where Leo kept the key to his gun cabinet.
Dottie couldn’t understand why Leo, always so well organized, had misfiled the folder, and that led her, a moment later, to check the gun cabinet. As soon as she opened the cabinet she saw that Leo's .38 caliber pistol, the gun he used to wage war on pests that raided his garden, was missing. A moment later, she found a box containing the bullets for Leo’s gun. The plastic wrapping around the bullets had been torn away just enough so that one bullet had been taken from the neatly stacked top row.
Dottie immediately began searching for the gun in Leo’s office. She first emptied the drawers in Leo's desk and then carefully put every item back in its place. She next took the big pillow off the seat of Leo's easy chair and plunged her hand into the crack between the seat of the chair and its arms, thinking for some reason that the gun might be there. She spilled out the magazine rack near Leo's chair and after that, moved on to Leo's liquor cabinet, extracting the dozen or so bottles it contained. Finding the cabinet empty, she checked behind two shelves of books, most of them devoted to hunting and fishing and then went through the drawer in the small table near Leo's chair. In the drawer, all she found were some playing cards and gambling chips. The only other object in the room was a television set, which didn’t look to Dottie as if it could be the hiding place for a gun.
Before Dottie went back upstairs, she returned the Gun and Ammo folder to its proper place, but took the key to Leo's gun cabinet and hid it in her sewing kit. At 4 o'clock, as soon as Leo's nurse arrived, Dottie went into the kitchen and called Norman and Maurice to tell them about the missing gun.
Dottie's brothers differed in their reaction to her call. Norman, a home builder, offered right away to help Dottie search for the gun. He would drive out as soon as he finished work, he said. But Maurice, an attorney, warned Dottie about jumping to conclusions. Yes, a gun was missing, he said, but what did she think that meant?
"You know goddamn well what it means," she said. "But in case you have any doubts there’s this. I checked Leo’s ammunition. Exactly one bullet was taken from a full box. Now, why would someone put only one bullet in a .38 caliber pistol?"
Maurice, without further discussion, agreed to drive out with Norman to help look for Leo’s gun.
Dottie suggested to her brothers that they park at the Doherty's. Otherwise, Leo was likely to hear their cars when they arrived and wonder why they were there. She then called Midge Doherty, and swearing her to secrecy, told her why her brothers needed to park in the Doherty driveway.
At six o'clock Norman and Maurice called Dottie from the Dohertys to tell her they were walking over to her house. A few minutes later, she went out to the garage and opened the rear door to her brothers. She told Norman and Maurice to concentrate on the garage because that's where Leo had his work bench and tools.
Norman and Maurice, their breath visible in the cold, checked all the shelves and drawers and boxes that contained the screws, bolts and odds and ends Leo had accumulated over a lifetime of doing home repairs. They then emptied Leo’s tool cabinet, and after that, went through the tool box he kept on a shelf beneath his work table. Not finding the gun in any of those places, they began going through neatly-labeled boxes filled with old clothes, Christmas decorations and memorabilia dating all the way back to when Leo and Dottie were in high school. That search, too, failed to yield Leo’s gun.
Later, when Norman called Dottie from the Doherty’s, he assured her that the gun was not in the garage. Maurice, on an extension, was straight forward in the advice he gave Dottie. "From now on," he said, "don’t leave him alone."
That night Dottie left her own bed and began sleeping on the sofa in the den right off the living room. Leo complained, of course, telling her that her back would start acting up on her if she slept on the sofa. No, she said, it was more convenient for her to be close by in case he needed her during the night. Dottie mounted a similar argument the next day when Leo learned that Midge would be staying with him while Dottie went into the village.
"I don’t think I’ve reached the point where I need a baby sitter," Leo said,
"That may be so," she said, "but it doesn’t hurt to have help nearby in case you need it."
The next morning, after the visiting nurse had left, Dottie was sitting in the easy chair at the foot of Leo's bed. She was ready, with the Boston Globe in her lap, if Leo wanted her to read anything to him, but for the moment he was lying quietly, with his eyes closed. After five minutes or so, Dottie rose from her chair because she thought Leo had fallen asleep, but just as she was leaving the room, Leo stirred.
"You have no idea how much I hate this," he said, his voice sounding somewhat raspy. "The last thing I ever wanted was a lot of people running around, waiting on me hand and foot."
"Would you rather be in a position where you had nobody waiting on you?"
"No, but I wish that what’s going to happen happens. Then you and Norman and Maurice and everyone else wouldn’t have to go through any more of this rigmarole."
Dottie was about to repeat herself, but Leo closed his eyes, which was his way of saying he had no interest in continuing the exchange.
Since she hadn’t found the gun in Leo’s office, and her brothers hadn’t found it in the garage, Dottie took time, usually when Leo was napping or the 4-12 nurse was on duty, to search for the gun in the house itself. She methodically went through each room, checking drawers, closets, every shelf in every closet, every place, in short, where someone might possibly hide a pistol.
Dottie also made a point of following closely behind Leo when he took his daily walk through the house. One day, however, Dottie paused for a moment to do something in the kitchen, which gave Leo the chance to reach the front hall unescorted. That’s when he slid behind the half open door of the front hall closet and closed it behind himself.
Dottie, coming from the kitchen, had passed by the closet and gone into the dining room when she first realized that she had lost sight of Leo. She quickly turned and retraced her steps, but not finding him, she doubled back again and came into the front hall, darting right past the closet. Seconds later, having looked in both bedrooms, she hurried back into the kitchen, all the while calling Leo’s name. She then went halfway down the basement stairs to see if Leo might have gone to his office. Just as quickly, she returned and frantically made the circuit around the house again. This time, as she disappeared into the dining room, Leo stepped out from behind the closet door and continued his walk, which brought him face-to-face with Dottie as she came out of the kitchen.
"Looking for someone?" Leo said.
Leo was amused at his caper, but Dottie, only half-jokingly, hooked her arm around his waist and said, "If you try that again, I'm going to put a leash on you."
Dottie would tell herself that own efforts, combined with that of her brothers, meant that the gun, wherever it was hidden, was in a place Leo couldn’t possibly reach. Yet she would lie awake nights, wondering if her search had been thorough enough. That caused her the next day to return to places she had already searched, going through bureaus she had checked, emptying drawers she had previously emptied, running her hands between towels and bed sheets in the linen closet, even squirming between her washer and dryer to see if a gun was hidden behind either appliance.
Once, in the middle of the night, she jumped from her bed and hurried into Leo’s bathroom where she took the cover off the toilet tank. Much to her relief, she did not find—as she had imagined—a gun taped to the inside cover of the tank. Another night, on her hands and knees, she crawled beneath her dining room table to see if Leo might have taped the gun to the underside of the table.
She even called her brothers several times to ask if they could think of other places she might look for the gun. Both tried to convince her that the gun wasn’t in a place where Leo could easily reach it. Dottie seemed to agree, but she would never forgive herself, she told them, if anything happened that she could have prevented.
Maurice, increasingly impatient with Dottie, told her that it might be a good idea to ask Leo directly about the gun.
"Who knows?" he said. "He might have a very good explanation for why the gun isn’t where it’s supposed to be."
"But what if he doesn’t?" she said. "My view is that he hid the gun so it’s there if he decides to use it. But if I find it before he does, and I get rid of it, it doesn’t matter what he decides. But if he knows that I know, he might go ahead with his plan. In other words, I could force him into doing something he still hasn’t made up his mind about."
A few days after Dottie discovered that Leo’s gun was missing she visited Father Fahey, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes parish. Dottie thought it was her duty to warn Father Fahey beforehand of what Leo might do. Father Fahey, stooped by age and somewhat deaf, spoke quite loudly when he told Dottie that her task, never easy, had now become more difficult. You must see to it, he said—and here Father Fahey sounded as if he were issuing an edict—that your husband never finds himself in a position where he can act on an impulse that is understandable but wrong.
Father Fahey’s admonition was the first thing that went through Dottie’s mind that night, when she was awakened by a loud bang. She jumped from the sofa, and running into the living room, saw that Leo’s bed was empty. She literally climbed across the bed to arrive at Leo's bathroom, where she could see light shining from the bottom of the door. Her momentum caused her to open the bathroom door with such force that it banged against the wall. Leo, who was standing over the toilet bowl, reacted with a start. But then, turning his head towards her, he said. "The toilet seat. Just as I lifted it, it slipped and fell. Quite a bang, wasn't it?"
Dottie, with tears streaming down her face, threw herself at Leo, embracing him from the rear.
"Hey," he said. "Take it easy."
"Don't you ever do that again," she said.
"What? You don’t want me to lift the seat before I pee?"
Dottie had no answer for Leo. She could only tighten her grip on him and keep her head pressed against his back until she had calmed herself. The next day Dottie hired an additional nurse, one who would take care of Leo from midnight until eight the next morning.
The new nurse arrived just as Leo's condition began to worsen. He still sat up, but he no longer took his walk around the house. His appetite, almost nonexistent ever since he had come home, diminished still further, until he was barely taking in any food. Once that happened, Leo could no longer manage the walk to the bathroom. If Dottie and the nurses prodded him enough, he sipped on a milk-like dietary supplement, but one night, when the nurse was urging him to drink more, he refused.
"Why?" Leo asked her. "What's in it for me?"
The nurse explained to Leo the nutritional value of the drink, but when she finished, he said, "You still haven't answered my question."
Dottie, who was standing nearby, then made the mistake of repeating essentially what the nurse had said.
"And neither have you," he said, closing his eyes and turning his head away from both Dottie and the nurse.
Over the next three days, Leo refused all food. His doctor in Sherburne then gave the nurses permission to increase the morphine they were giving Leo for the terrible headaches he was having. Leo was sleeping more and more, but even when he was awake, whatever he said seemed a mixture of dreams and reality.
By now, Norman and Maurice and their wives and Midge Doherty and her husband dropped in more to check on Dottie—and to urge her to eat and get some rest—than to see Leo. Although nurses were tending to Leo sixteen hours a day, Dottie still felt a need to look into the living room and regularly check on him, even during the night. She would sometimes sit in the chair at the foot of Leo’s bed, trying to make out what Leo was mumbling about. She took great comfort in hearing Leo describe how much he enjoyed a hunting trip he and his father—dead some thirty years—had just taken.
The nurse who worked the overnight shift—acting on orders from Norman and Maurice—finally ordered Dottie not to enter the living room during the night.
"You're simply not getting enough rest," the nurse said. "And you’re never going to get the sleep you need if you insist on using that sofa."
Dottie knew the nurse was right, but she still felt as if she was abandoning Leo the night she returned to sleeping in her own bed.
Two days later, as the night nurse was leaving, she told Dottie that Leo would probably sleep for awhile because he had been so restless most of the night. Dottie was tempted, since the sun was shining so brightly, to open the curtains in the living room, but not wanting to disturb Leo, she stood by the window and peeked out at the snow melting away on her front lawn. She, too, hadn’t slept that well so she went to the easy chair, settled herself in and not long after that nodded off.
A half hour later, snapping her head up, Dottie sensed that the room, always quiet, was more silent than usual. From her chair she looked over and saw that Leo’s mouth was partly open and that his jaw was hanging slightly to one side. Instantly, she jumped from her chair and put her ear to Leo's chest. She was unable to detect a heartbeat, and when she grabbed his wrist, she couldn’t feel a pulse. She rushed to the phone to dial 911, but realized when she got there that it didn’t matter now how quickly an ambulance arrived.
She put the phone down and then went to the window and opened the curtains wide. Sunlight flooded the room as she returned to Leo’s bed and took his hand in hers. She was crying, but quietly, as she told herself that there was nothing wrong with the sense of relief she felt.
About l0 minutes went by before Dottie decided that it was time now for her to call an ambulance. First, though, she wiped Leo’s face with a damp cloth and closed his mouth and rearranged him so that his hands were folded across his stomach. She then put in a call to Midge.
Not long after they arrived, the ambulance attendants came to the dining room where Dottie was sitting with Midge and said that it was too late to take Leo to the hospital. One ambulance attendant then placed a call to Leo's doctor and reached him while he was driving from the hospital in Sherburne to his office. Within ten minutes the doctor arrived and formally certified Leo's death. Midge, at Dottie’s request, called the undertaker to tell him that Leo had died.
Dottie called Norman herself, and not long after that he and his wife and Maurice and his wife arrived. Father Fahey, also summoned by Dottie, arrived when her brothers and their wives did, but went immediately to the living room to anoint Leo. By then, Dottie’s sisters-in-law had prepared coffee and put out some muffins they had brought and Dottie was telling everyone how she had met with the undertaker two weeks ago to work out the arrangements of Leo’s funeral. All that remained to be done, she said, was for her to bring the undertaker the suit Leo would be buried in.
When the undertaker and his assistant arrived, Maurice and Norman helped them to take Leo’s body away. Father Fahey held Dottie’s hand and Norman’s wife had an arm around Dottie’s shoulders as they stood in the front hall, watching the undertaker’s men and Norman and Maurice carry Leo’s body out of the house.
Moments later, Midge and Father Flaherty left and Maurice and Norman and their wives began taking Leo’s bed apart and rearranging the living room. That gave Dottie time to call Leo’s brother and then Larry Cutler and finally her sister. During the call to her sister Dottie began to cry uncontrollably, but after she hung up and went into the bathroom to wash her face, she regained her composure.
In the early afternoon, with more embraces and tears, Dottie's brothers and their wives left. As they departed, Dottie promised Norman and his wife that she would come to their house for dinner. Alone again, she went to the bedroom closet to get Leo's burial suit. The moment she held the garment bag in her hand, she felt the weight pulling the suit to one side. In seconds, Dottie had zipped open the garment bag and reached into the left hand pocket of Leo’s suit jacket for the gun.
Once Dottie held the gun in her hand, her legs went weak. She hung the garment bag up again, and with the gun in her hand, went to her bed and sat there for a few moments. Her first impulse was to call Norman and Maurice and tell them that her theory was right. Leo, at some point—perhaps last fall, in her estimation—had put the gun in a place where he would be able to get his hands on it. But a moment later, before she ever moved towards the phone, Dottie changed her mind about calling Norman and Maurice. She had no right, she thought, to betray Leo's secret. Why let a moment of weakness on Leo’s part be one of the memories her brothers would have of him?
Dottie preferred to think of all those times, particularly before Leo’s last visit to the hospital, when he could have used the gun, but didn't. Even a few weeks before, when she drove into the village, Leo would have had no difficulty getting to the bedroom and the gun if he had really wanted to. That, she told herself, was proof enough that Leo never intended to use the gun on himself.
Checking her watch, Dottie saw that it was time to leave for the funeral home. As she did so, putting Leo's gun back into the pocket of his suit jacket, she came to a decision on where to get rid of the gun. Less than a mile from her house, the Black Diamond River ran through a camping area run by the state. That would be the ideal place, she decided, to throw the gun away, making sure she hid forever the secret she shared with Leo.
Dottie, anticipating snow on the road to the camping area, put on boots before she left her house. Much to her surprise, enough snow had melted so that she was able to drive a l00 feet or so on the road leading to the camping area. But to reach the riverbank she had make her way on foot through two mounds of snow.
The moment she got out of the car—and reached back into Leo’s suit jacket to get the gun—Dottie heard the roar of the river. In a dry spell during the summer, the Black Diamond River could seem more like a mountain stream, flowing between huge outcroppings of rocks. But now, swollen by the snow melt, the river was deep and wide and flowing so rapidly that it swept dead tree limbs, some of them quite large, downstream.
When Dottie reached the river bank, she looked over her shoulder and saw that she was still close enough to the highway so that someone might spot her. That caused her to move downstream another fifty feet or so, to a spot behind a thick grove of trees. There, she tossed the gun frisbee-like towards the river, but it hit the limb of one tree and then landed on the branches of a tree that hovered just a few feet above the water.
Dottie first tried to dislodge the gun by shaking the tree limb back and forth, but she had neither the proper leverage nor sufficient strength to free the gun. She then spotted a dead branch on the ground and tried to use that to poke the gun loose. That maneuver also failed since she couldn’t quite reach the gun.
Dottie, finding a new place to stand, tried again to shake the gun free. This time, the branch swayed back and forth enough so that the gun was loosened and fell. But at that very moment, Dottie, because she was leaning forward so far, lost her balance. Her fall into the river was so sudden that she barely uttered a cry before she slipped beneath the water and was swept away.
That night the fish and game warden found Dottie’s car on the road to the camp ground. Dottie’s footprints, clearly visible in the mounds of snow between her car and the riverbank, were proof to the warden—and to Norman and Maurice, once they arrived at the scene—of what Dottie had done. A week later, when the flow of the river abated somewhat, Dottie's body was found, less than a mile away.