• The Death Of Cliff Huxtable / Chapter 11: Clair

    PREVIOUS: Chapter 10: Eunice Chantilly                             NEXT: Chapter 12: Cliff

    The house is quiet.

    Clair is sitting in the bedroom, on the edge of the bed, alone. She has never known a life in this house without her husband. Hearing herself bid countless guest “good night” echoes in her mind but she is restless and will not sleep tonight.

    The house is quiet.
    And Clair…is alone.

         “Good morning, my love” greets Cliff.
         “Good morning, Heathclifford” groans Clair. “It’s Saturday. You’re sure you don’t want to sleep a little bit later than…” Clair looks over at the clock on her side of the bed, “…than 5:45am?”
         “No ma’am. I’m up! I don’t have to go anywhere today and I want to enjoy the whole entire day.”
         “Ok…this is my point exactly. You have the whole entire day away from patients…away from the hospital…away from your students…away from the kids…away from the grandkids…”
         “I know…and that has to change.”

    Clair listens to Cliff and realizes he isn’t simply rising early from his sleep.
         “That last conversation with Russell got to you, huh?”
         “Clair…technology has taken over and we don’t see our kids anymore.”
         “We see them.”
         “That Skip…”
         “Whatever…doesn’t count. And I know it’s Skype. I was checking to make sure you’re up to speed on the hipness.”
         “Yes…because you are so with it, huh Cliff. Ok. What’s going on?”

    Clair sits up, rubbing her sleepy eyes and waking up to give Cliff her full attention.
         “Clair. We should go and visit with each of our children and visit with them. If they won’t come to us. We go to them.”
         “That’s it? That’s all you’ve got?”
         “Would you like something else?”
         “At six in the morning…”
         “Five forty-five.”
         “At five forty-five in the morning, I’m having an epiphany and all you can say is ‘OK’?”
         “And what is your epiphany? That we must go see our children and grandchildren?”
    Chuckles Cliff.
         “That is not an epiphany, Cliff. That is Saturday. If you want to visit the children…let’s visit the children. But also let me say, the children need to come around here more often. And let the record show…”
         “Oh Lawd…here we go with the record…it’s always time to show the record…”
         “We do visit them more often than the reverse. We’ve made our rounds. These people are younger and more spry than us…”
         “Speak for yourself, fair lady. I am plenty spry.”
    Cliff slides closer to Clair and throws his arms across her body to draw her closer to his. Attempting to seduce Clair, “Let me show you how spry I am.”
         “Cliff, I am not spending my Saturday in the emergency room again because you’ve got spry on your mind.”
         “It not just on my mind,”
    Cliff lifts the sheet to suggest his “spry” has sprung!
    Clair looks at Cliff’s ‘spring’ with a furrowed brow,
         “Put that away before you hurt yourself. Wait…did you take a blue pill this morning while I was asleep?”
         “A doctor never discuss if he self-medicates.”
         “And a judge knows how to cast a sentence of probation for the disobedient and wretched."
         “You wouldn’t dare,”
    taunts Cliff.
         “Let…the re-cord…show…”
         “Touché. Now kiss me woman.”

    Clair opens her arms and embraces her husband as he rests into her bosom. The closeness of Clair is all Cliff really wants. It’s all he ever wanted: to be close to her. Clair holds her husband, stroking his white hair, and humming him back to sleep.

    Her care is what he needs of her right now.

    The house is quiet...except the faint sound of the television in the living room.
    Clair calls from the kitchen. There is no answer. Clair brings in a bag of groceries and places them on the counter. 
         “Cliff...I’m back with the crabs.” 
    Clair goes back out the back door to retrieve one last bag of groceries. She reenters the kitchen and calls for Cliff again. 
         “Ok Cliff. I hear the television so I know you’re in the next room. Come in here and help me with this crabs.” 
    Still no answer. It isn’t like Cliff to ignore Clair. Trying not to worry, Clair jokes, 
         “No crabs for you tonight, buddy. I’ve called you three times…”

    Clair walks through the kitchen door into the living room. 
    She sees the television on but no one in the living room watching it. Thinking Cliff must be in the bathroom, Clair calls up to him,    
         “Cliff, I’m back with the crabs for tonight. Are you upstairs?” 
    Still no answer.

    Clair crosses the room towards the stairs and finds Cliff laying on the floor. “Cliff!” Clair rushes to her husband’s side. 
         “Cliff! Can you hear me?! Cliff!!” 
    Clair rolls Cliff to his back, takes off her jacket to prop his head up. Cliff’s eyes are open and his is able to look at Clair. He whispers,
    Clair hops up and grabs the phone off the desk near the door. She calls 911, 
         “Yes. Dr. Cliff Huxtable at 10 Stigwood has had another attack. Please send an ambulance and come to the front of the house this time...and hurry. Ok. Thank you.”
    Clair returns to Cliff.
    Cliff whispers again.
         “Yes...I hear you. Don’t try to speak. Save your energy. The ambulance is on the way.”
         “Clair...Don’t let them keep me this time. Let me come home. I’m tired. I don’t want to stay there. Don’t let them keep me.”
         “Stop trying to be your own doctor. Let’s get you to Dr. Burns first. You need to stay calm and stay relaxed.”
         “Clair...promise me. I want to come home.”
    Clair reassures Cliff she will take care of him and all will be as he wants it., but first they will go to the hospital.

    The ambulance arrives and the medics enter the front door with urgency and familiarity. They have done this before...for Dr. Huxtable. As the medics get Cliff on the gurney, he makes Clair promise once more that he will be able to come home. Clair promises Cliff his wish.  Her promise is what Cliff needs of Clair right now.

    The house is quiet...except the occasional bursts of laughter coming from her bedroom.

    Eunice Chantilly and Cliff are visiting and Clair is biting back every ounce of vinegar she has building up. All Clair wants to do right now is walk into her bedroom and kick that low down, no count heffa out of her house. But no. Today, for her husband, she will be the bigger woman and demonstrate grace and God while Eunice Chantilly is sitting...in her bedroom...with her husband...in her house...wearing that tacky wooden barrette. Clair sits stone still for a moment and says to her herself in a whisper, 
         “She is wearing that barrette. Did Cliff buy her that barrette? He better not have bought Eunice Chantilly that barrette! Let me find out he bought her...no...stop Clair. Stop it now. That is your husband. You trust him. Even if you don’t trust Eunice Chantilly the length of an inch worm...you trust him. Yes. Yes I do. I trust my husband...MY husband. Ummm hmmm…”
    Another burst of laughter seeps through the cracks of her bedroom walls, followed by an “Oh Bucky…” in Eunice’s voice. Clair wants to bust that whole entire door down! She loud whispers, again to herself, 
         “Oh Bucky?! What she in there doin’, talkin’ about ‘Oh Bucky?’ What’s Bucky in there doin’?! No...pull it together, Clair. You are a rational woman. You are Mrs. Heathcliff Huxtable. Have been for 50 years and Eunice Chantilly has nothing...no...thing...except that tacky barrette.”

    The walls can not hold the growing amusement Eunice Chantilly is experiencing in the Huxtable bedroom, “Oh my goodness Bucky. You are too much. You need to stop.” Clair is fuming. She jumps up from her chair,
         “Yes Bucky. You need to stop. She’s got but one more ‘Oh Bucky before I…”
         “Bucky...now, that ain’t the way I remember it…”

    All Clair want to know is what are they in the room reminiscing over? Are they remembering the time when they fell in love? Are they remembering the church trips when she would see Cliff and Eunice Chantilly sitting with each on the bus? Are they remembering the time Cliff promised to take Eunice to her senior prom but missed it because he was sitting by the lake with me? A sadness washes over Clair as she remembers the look on Eunice Chantilly’s face when she came over the hill, in her prom dress, calling for Bucky, only to find him kissing her by the lake. Clair won the man, through some persuasion and some theft...Cliff was hers. Clair sits back down in her chair. For the next hour, she listens as old friends remember and laugh. Through grace and God, Clair found the peace in herself to allow the only woman she worried could ever take Cliff away, spend an intimate afternoon with her husband...in her bedroom.

    Bucky is saying goodbye to his first love, and her grace is what Cliff needs of Clair right now.

    The house is quiet...until the phone rings for the hundredth time today. Clair suppose to be planning the funeral but sitting on the edge of the bed, staring into the opposite wall seems to be all she has the strength to do. The funeral is set for next week and in that time, there is a lot to accomplish. She will select what Cliff will wear. She will arrange the order of events for the funeral. She will host the repast. She will handle it all and all be handled in the typical, elegant, Clair Huxtable way.

    She is in full control and her resolve to see the entire family through the funeral is what Cliff needs of Clair right now.

    The house is quiet...finally...again.
    The funeral was smooth and well executed…as far as funerals can be good. The choir sang all Cliff’s favorite hymns. The Reverend Al Sharpton spoke a few words as did fellow Dr. Ben Carson, both of whom respected Cliff as a man of the community, a man of service, a man of medicine and a man of God. Cliff honored his relationships with important people in the city but he favored his family above all else and while most marveled at his connections with the great and famous, his wife was his best friend and his greatest ally. Cliff had a champion in Clair.

    The repast was flawless. There was a balance of grief and joy, of tears of sorrow and from laughter. Cliff’s children, all but Denise, indulged the visitors with tales of better times with Dr. Huxtable and inquiries on their lives. Constant questions like “How are you holding up?” and “You making it ok?” and “You’ll let me know if I can do anything for you, right?” began to irritate Clair. 'I’m not fragile. I’m not on the brink of falling apart.' Clair exuded confidence and strength the entire evening and never once let a crack in her heart’s armor or her cool demeanor show. But why? Who was THAT for? Why not fall apart and allow someone else to catch her or pick up the pieces?

    The last two weeks have been long for Clair, caring for her husband as he laid, dying in their bed. He wanted to be home his final days, receiving family, friends, and Eunice Chantilly in his final moments. The exhaustion of portraying the dutiful and strong wife has taken a toll on Mrs. Huxtable.

        “Well...” Clair whispers to herself. “Heathclifford...you made it to the finish. You made it…”
    Clair can no longer hold back the tears. She can no longer manage the strong facade or the cool demeanor. Clair grieves,
         “CLIFF!!! Oh my darling darling love…”
    Clair cries and falls to her knees as there is no one left for her. No one stayed because no one thought Clair was vulnerable. No one stayed for Clair because Clair is always strength and fortitude personified. The only one to ever catch Clair when her knees and strength gave out is no longer home. Clair’s spirit breaks in the floor of her bedroom as the life of her husband no longer resides there. Clair cries the lament of a million broken hearts and abandoned loves. The keening relentless...the moans from a depth of sorrow Clair had never known in her life exhausts her and helps her sleep, in her clothes in middle of her bedroom floor. 

    The morning sun pours through her bedroom window, kissing Clair’s soft face, just as Cliff had nearly every morning for fifty years. A slight smile creeps upon Clair’s face as she mistakes the rising sun for the warmth of Cliff’s love. Rolling over expecting to greet her husband with a comforting ‘good morning’, Clair’s arm hits the bed frame at the foot of the bed. She slept there all night. Still in her clothes from the previous day, Clair sits up and leans against the bed’s foot board. She speaks to her husband,
         “Cliff. Thank you. You love...loved...me and I thank you. You gave me five beautiful souls and our children gave me a new life every time I gave life to them. You did that with me. You did that for me. You brought so many lives into this world but no soul was touch in a more profound way than the way you touched me. Thank you.”

    The house is quiet. Clair close her eyes and feels the sunlight kiss her face. She sings We Belong Together, a song she use to sing with with her father. Today, she sings it for Cliff. As she sings, Clair gets up from the floor and removes yesterday’s clothes...yesterday’s sorrow. She puts on her robe and sits on the edge of her bed.

    The house is quiet.
    And Clair…is alone.
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