By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
The most consistent danger, though, was inside the Helena Street house. There were days like the one when Lois walked into the kitchen and found Allen puttering by the refrigerator. On the counter in front of him stood an open carton of milk and an open container of the pesticide Malathion. "I didn't put that there. Pat must have done that," Allen said quickly.
"That was the last time," Lois says simply, "either Pat or I ate anything from open containers in our refrigerator."
Some elemental struggle seemed to be taking place in Allen's mind; at times he still showed flashes of his old, resplendent charm, and then the fascination with traps would take over. Pat Gross was haunted by the fear that one day she would show up to work and find Lois dead. "I think [Allen] got where he thought she was trying to control him," Pat says, recalling how Lois kept the house locked and confiscated Allen's guns, keys and liquor. "I think he was trying to kill her."
She didn't want to believe it, but Lois finally began to think Pat was right. Allen's doctors were pressuring her to place him in a nursing home, but Lois had made a vow: she would keep Allen at home as long as she could stand it. She'd assumed, though, that sorrow or exhaustion would be her worst obstacles. But in 1986, they took an unforeseen form: blades.
Lois doesn't know precisely when Allen began keeping knives in his night table. But one night, rummaging for something else, she opened the drawer and discovered a butcher knife. "God, that was unnerving," she writes. Every night after that, Lois checked the table. There was always a new weapon. They appeared, one at a time, in an apparent rotation: switchblades, bowie knives, an ice pick, screwdrivers and single edged razor blades. Where Allen stored this arsenal when it wasn't in the drawer, Lois had no idea. Though filled with anxiety, she still climbed into their big four-poster night after night, still took part in their old custom of sharing two chocolate truffles before sleep.
Then one night Lois pulled out the drawer and saw Allen's two Indonesian head hunting knives. Inside her, something froze. A kind of paralysis gripped her. After seven years of following Allen wherever his illness would take him, she literally couldn't go further; she couldn't climb into that bed. Pacing and shaking, Lois called her son, who took a look at her face and sped her to the emergency room. She'd had an acute anxiety attack. Somehow, that event connected for the first time to what the doctors had been telling Lois for years now. Allen was psychotic. He had to leave the Helena Street home.
Though she knew she had to place Allen in a nursing home, Lois brooded darkly about his request that she find some way to kill him when this time came. The evidence she had recoiled from for seven years now seemed to bear down on her all at once. Shortly after she decided to send Allen away, Lois heard Pat Gross call from the bathroom. She had opened two cardboard boxes that Allen had been quietly shifting about the second floor for a year. Inside one box lay surgeon's gloves; inside the other were two glass syringes and vials containing atropine, paregoric and epinephrine. Were these the tools he had planned to use on his retarded son Andy?
In November 1987, Lois and her children drove Allen to a small nursing home. It offered her little relief. True, nurses now had to cope with the days Allen escaped and ran down the street, or the time he was caught with the nursing home's butcher knife and explained to the manager, "I might have to eliminate my children."
But although Allen had become mute, diabetic, and incontinent, Lois still thought she caught glimpses of his old self during her visits. And that was when she most wondered if she could fulfill the request he'd made when he had control of his faculties. Once, Lois went so far as to buy Allen a regular chocolate truffle, instead of the sugar-free truffle she ritually brought him so they could continue their old tradition of sharing candy. Maybe, she reasoned, the sugar would prompt a diabetic coma. But it was one step of her commitment she couldn't keep. She flushed the chocolates down the nursing home toilet. Allen died on his own on Bastille Day, 1992.
Today, much has changed outside the walls of the Helena Street house. A few years back, the Mexican family who played mariachi music moved away, and the city knocked down their house. Last month, Allen's old friend Henry Buck from the Indonesian oil field days supervised the demolition of Allen's junk building down the street. Now, Lois' house sits half surrounded by grassy fields.
Inside though, the three females who surrounded Allen during his lifetime have carried on. Iris, their black Lab, is back on her feet after a bout with heatstroke, a frail, inky wraith. Pat Gross still comes to Helena Street twice a week for cleaning. And Lois, immersed in memory, takes a creative writing course at Rice University and organizes manuscripts, addressed to potential agents, on her kitchen table. On one hand, she's ready to sell the house; on the other, she still finds it comfortable, with its warm colors, mementos and framed pictures of her and Allen. Picking one up, an acquaintance says to Lois, "It must be wonderful to be that much in love." Lois smiles, but says nothing. It may have almost cost her her life and her nerves, but as far as she's concerned, she kept the commitment that a great love requires.