When Ling first met him, she recognized him right away from the photo in his son's room. Unlike poor Mrs. Tipton, Mr. Tipton looked the same as in Mike's photo. When Ling opened the door to him, she said, "Oh! Mike's father! He will be so happy to see you."
"Go to market. Back soon. I'm Ling Tan."
When she heard Mrs. Tipton's car in the driveway, Ling went out to help carry the groceries. "Mr. Tipton here with Mike," she said. Ling put away the groceries while Mrs. Tipton went back to Mike's room.
Shortly thereafter Mr. Tipton came out to the kitchen. He looked very angry. "Mike tells me you're praying for him."
Ling felt herself accused, and ducked her head. "Yes," she admitted.
"Well, naturally you're free to pray day and night, but I'd appreciate your not talking to Mike about it. Or about miracles. We've spent two years choking on hope around here; hope is ancient history. I appreciate your intentions, but the last thing we need is a latecomer peddling miracles."
Mr. Tipton had spoken quickly and softly, and though Ling had certainly gotten the sense of what he'd said, she'd missed some of the words. What, for instance, did "peddling" mean? Looking down at the floor, she said, "Just try to keep up boy's spirits."
Every morning, when she brought in Mike's breakfast and pills, she opened his drapes and delivered her line: "Look, Mikey! God make another beautiful day just for you. He expect you to look at it."
His line was "Close the damn drapes. It's too bright."
"Too bright for moles, maybe," Ling always responded. "You not mole. You boy."
One morning when Ling opened the drapes she saw Mike's mother kneeling in the garden. "Look, Mikey, Mother planting new flowers for you to see out window. Wave at her." Mike rolled his eyes, but he waved. His mother was kneeling in the dirt, transferring pansies from flats into a flower bed around the deodar tree in the side yard. Surprised, she smiled and waved back.
"Your mother best gardener I know," Ling observed. "She love her plants. They feel it and grow big for her."
"She loves me, too, but this is as big as I'm getting."
"You plenty big already," Ling said. "Bigger than me."
"What is this?" Mike asked when Ling lifted the lid from a bowl on his breakfast tray.
"I don't like oatmeal."
"Oatmeal good for you. You eat, then maybe I bring something you like."
"Whose bright idea is this?"
"My idea. I read in magazine when we at Doctor Mackenzie's office, oatmeal cleanse the blood."
"Jesus, Ling, get a clue."
"Won't hurt you to eat little bowl of oatmeal," Ling said.
Because Mrs. Tipton took pills and slept soundly, one of Ling's jobs was to listen for Mike during the night. If he needed her, he knocked on their shared wall. After helping him to the bathroom, or getting him something to drink or a pill or—on a bad night—a shot, or rubbing his foot when he had a cramp, Ling kept him company until he was able to sleep again. One night, curled up like a cat at the foot of Mike's bed, Ling asked, "You want to watch TV? Maybe M*A*S*H on." It usually was.