We went to my parents’ home after seeing my mother, and I gave Jacob box upon box of my dad’s things. It was strange. All of this was in service of a goal I had come up with on my own, a goal I believed in, but it was still strange. By the time this was all complete, Jacob would know my dad better than me., my parents better than me. But it was worth it. I had seen the sadness in my mother’s face, heard the pain and the desperation in her voice. The monetary cost of hiring Jacob, the emotional cost to my dignity and my family’s secrets was all worth it just to see my mom happy one last time.
Jacob started looking over everything then and there. He sat down at the dining room table, the same dining room table I had grown up eating at, and he pored over my family’s history. “How long?” I finally asked.
“To create the character–” Jacob stopped mid-sentence, looked me in the eyes. He cleared his throat. “To capture the basic essence of your dad, a few days. To flesh it out enough that you could pose me a question and I could answer it as that char— as your dad, a few days more.” He paused, stared off into space as if thinking. “To do a good enough job acting that I could convince your mom… well, that all depends.”
“On how scrambled her brains are, for starters.”
I took a slow, deep breath. “You want to try rephrasing that?”
Jacob crossed his arms and frowned. “Well, fuck, man! It’s true! You’re asking me to convince a woman I’m her dead husband. If she had all her faculties, this wouldn’t work at all.”
I snort in disgust, gesture with my hand for us to move on. “Fine, fine. Whatever. What else?”
“I don’t know. Could be a few days, could be a few weeks.” He went silent for a few moments, idly flipping through the journal open before him. “I could test it on her, I suppose.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, she doesn’t remember things from day to day, right? So once I’m confident I’ve got the part down, I could try this every day, no?”
I thought of my mom lying in bed, the look of confusion on her face. Or worse than that, a look of horror. What if she became agitated? How could that end? And to subject her to that again, day after day after day? “No. No, that isn’t acceptable. I want this done once, and I want it done perfectly.”
Jacob shrugged. “Suit yourself. I’m going to have to test my material on you, then.” He glanced down at the books on the table, back up at me. “I can take these, right?”
Jacob nodded, began putting the journals and albums back into the boxes they’d been in. “I’ll let you know once I have a better sense of how long this will all take. Of course, if things change and I start to run out of time—“
I cut Jacob off with a wave of my hand. “My mom’s not going anywhere.”
“Well, right, but if things change—“
“My mom. Is not. Going anywhere.”
Jacob stared at me for a moment in silence. He frowned, his mouth arched in annoyance, but his expression slowly changed. Sadness filled his eyes. Pity.
I looked away.
“Of course she isn’t,” I heard him say. “Of course.”
* * *
The next few days passed by uneventfully. I went into work, sat at my desk, went home, tried to distract my mind until I fell asleep, and repeated the process again and again. I began to question what I was doing. Jacob’s words rang true, the ones about testing his act on my mother again and again. Why was I even bothering with this? Even if he could imitate my father perfectly, even if it made my mother happy, it would all be lost in a day or two at the most.
Time and again I considered calling Jacob and canceling the entire affair, but he would always call me first with some new question or some new insight. “What was your dad’s favorite meal? Did you know your dad almost served in the army but was rejected because of his asthma? Did you know your dad and your mom broke up three times before they finally got together permanently? Did your dad date any other women when he and your mom were separated?”
Every round of questioning brought a fresh wave of confidence in my decision. It moved me to see Jacob approaching this task with such sincerity and passion, and I knew that I would see my mom happy one last time before the inevitable. It would be a memory I could hold onto.
A week passed. Another. Jacob called again, and this time he said something I was completely unprepared for, something that wasn’t even a question.
“I want to move into your parents’ house.”