2 Replies to “5.31.2014 Journal Prompt”

  1. At the end of the phone a woman’s voice and she’s saying he’s gone now and she’s sorry and she’ll be in touch when she knows more. Then the line is suddenly dead and there’s nothing. Just for a moment there’s nothing.

    Then the sound of children playing. Somewhere. I can hear them laughing and all their words pouring out in a rush and no space between them so it is like one long word or music. And the sun is in the room where I am, bright and turning flecked dust into flecked gold. And the air is warm in the light and out of the light it is cool.

    And at the other end of the line there is a stubborn silence that I am still listening to. I say her name, the name of my father’s second wife. I say her name like it is a question and she might still be there, somewhere in the silence, and saying her name might make her speak again. But all there is is silence.

    I hang up the phone and I don’t know what to do then. It is not unexpected the news that my father’s second wife has given me. He’s been sick for some time and the last that I saw him he was laid in a hospital bed, samller than I remember him, and he couldn’t speak above a whisper and there were tubes inserted into a hole in his throat so he could breathe. He knew. It was in his eyes and he was a little frightened and a little resigned.

    I told him I loved him and I kissed his cheek, an uncommon intimacy at the last, and I said I’d be back to check on him and I said I loved him again. He nodded, and though he couldn’t speak his lips made the shape of words.

    Now he’s gone. That’s what she said. And she’s sorry, and I try to give some small sound to the words my father gave shape to at the last. I try and fail. He nodded and said something and said nothing. Nothing to my ‘I love you, dad.’ I think there ought to have been something, but there was nothing.

    I take a breath and I hold it in my cheeks before letting it out slow and blown. Then I close the window against the noise of children playing and the room is still and quiet and I strain again to hear my father’s last breathless words. Maybe he said ‘I love you, son,’ or ‘see you tomorrow.’ Or maybe he said something inconsequential like ‘bring me biscuits next time instead of fruit.’

    I wonder if my mother, his first wife knows. Someone should tell her. I take a second breath and a third. Then I pick up the phone and dial through to my mother without having rehearsed what I will say. She answers and her voice is bright and she knows it is me even though I don’t speak right away. She say she is glad that I have called and I am all the excuse she needed to leave the garden where she was working. And she prattles on about the grass needing cut and she’s been pruning the cotoneaster and watering the hanging baskets.

    For a moment I don’t think I can give her the news. I tell her the kids are ok and so’s Ellie, and yes, it is sunny where I am, too. And no, I haven’t heard from my sister. Then I say I have something important to tell her. There’s that silence at the end of the line again, same as before, and I think she knows then, and I hold it for as long as I dare. Then, ‘It’s dad,’ I say and then she does know and says she’s sorry like it is only my loss and not hers, too.

  2. One day she was there and the next she wasn’t. And they arranged to have her laid out so those who felt the loss could see. I’d never seen anyone dead before and I wasn’t sure. We talked about it and about taking the kids. John said it might help them to understand and it might help him to understand, too. Afterall, it was his mother.

    We dressed up smart and we explained to Lucy and Kevin. We said we were going to see their gran and it would be like seeing her asleep only it was further off than sleep. We said how her heart had just stopped beating and she couldn’t help it and she was gone now. Then we drove to the place where she was or was not.

    The room was still and quiet and the air was cool and smelled a little too heavily of flowers. She was lying in a dark wood box and her hair all pretty and her make-up all fixed. I kept waiting for her to sit up or take a breath. John was explaining again how dying is like sleeping but never waking up, not ever. There was a catch in his voice.

    The walls of the room were painted a lemon yellow and there was no window. And flowers that were not real were arranged in glass vases around the room and a small posey was held in my mother-in-law’s hands. Elsie was wearing her favourite dress, the pink flower print dress. It was a little tight, but then it always was. Her shoes were polished to a glassy shine and her tights were perfectly smooth and not crumpled and creased at the knee as they should be.

    ‘If she’s gone, then where has she gone, and why is she lying in a box if she’s not really here?’ said Lucy.

    There was a fly in the room and it landed on Elsie’s cheek. I expected her to let go of the flowers and her hand to brush it away. I expected the skin of her cheek to twitch and her eyes to flicker. Nothing happened. I wanted to reach out my own hand to brush the fly off, but I wasn’t sure if that was the right thing to do.

    Afterwards, we walked in the gardens of the mortuary and John was explaining how she was still with us in some sense, that she was inside of us and a part of us. I don’t really think the kids understood. The sun was hot and prickly on the back of my neck and Lucy kept looking up at me as if I might have something to add to make her father’s words a little easier. I smiled and said it would be ok and I squeezed her hand and she squeezed back.

    I couldn’t ever get the fly out of my thoughts or the perfect smoothness of her tights. It’s been years now and the kids are all grown and John is still explaining how his mother is gone, only now he’s explaining it to his old dad because he keeps forgetting. And I hear John sometimes, saying how she was taken from us and how we buried her in the ground and there’s a stone in the churchyard to mark where she lies. But I don’t think his old dad understands because I hear him ask when she’s coming back.

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