“We were staying at Hotel Texas when President Kennedy died. Not ‘Jack’ or ‘Kennedy’; he was our president. Your father had to work around the clock after the shooting so I was left alone in that place.”
Jennifer had heard all this before. “Mom, you should rest.”
“No, let me talk.”
It was the first time in a week Margaret Smith wasn’t drowsy under a heavy blanket of meds. Her daughter had been by her bedside constantly. The doctors said it wouldn’t be long.
“Save your energy.” She put a hand on her mother’s, careful not to press the tape holding the IVs in place.
“There’s something I want you to know about that night.” Margaret put her other hand over Jennifer’s. “You’re grown up. It’s time for some girl talk.” She smiled, her eyebrows raised.
“Okay.” Jennifer couldn’t imagine what her mother had to add to the stories she’d heard her whole life. Her father Henry’s position in the Kennedy administration was a fact of pride in their family.
“Henry wasn’t supposed to be working at all after the parade. That’s why I’d come to Dallas with him. I hoped some time away from Washington might prove to speed your entry into our lives.” Margaret giggled and Jennifer wondered if the drugs should be adjusted. Perhaps all that was left was unconsciousness or this new giddiness. At least the pain was under control.
Margaret continued, “Oh, that day was awful. I cried and cried alone in our room. Nothing to do, nowhere to go. Finally I fell asleep in my all my clothes and when I woke up, it was dark. A note had been slipped under the door—a message from your father—telling me not to worry, to stay put, and to eat. You know how he was, ‘Eat! Maggie eat!’ How could he think about food?
“The sun had set but it was early. Dinner time. Henry was right, I should try to eat. I dialed room service for some cottage cheese. Then I ran a bath, and that’s when I started crying again. The grief was so strange: every drop of water from every faucet in the country was flowing under the same sadness.
“When the bellman came I didn’t answer right away. I couldn’t stop crying. The more I tried, the harder I sobbed. Poor man thought I was in danger. ‘Ma’am! Ma’am!’ Finally my fear of drawing attention forced me to open the door.
“I was a mess and he knew it. He asked me if I was okay. I lied, ‘Yes,’ but my crying started again, and I collapsed into him. I remember feeling his arms stiffen, like he might push me away, but then there was a shift and he held me. We stood embracing for a long while. Only then did I calm down. Once I did, I knelt and unzipped his trousers. He stayed for hours. We didn’t speak. After that lie, when I told him, ‘Yes,’ we never spoke again.”
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