Source: Pixabay

Book of Jo: Parts 34 & 35

Ghoulish and cheap

Start with Part 1. Or read a quick, spoiler-free synopsis.

September 25, 2016
Sunday, 3:35 pm

By the time the paramedics arrive, my father is indisputably dead. The ambulance takes him away as a matter of policy, but he hasn’t had a pulse for forty-five minutes. Ashley and I both wonder briefly if we should cancel our mother’s funeral.

“If we don’t cancel, people are going to think we’re ghoulish,” says Ashley. “And cheap.”

“I don’t care,” I say.

“Me neither.”

We decide to go ahead with our mother’s funeral and meet our father’s body at the hospital afterwards. We think he would have approved.

I stand in the behind the last row of seats, so I can be near a small metal gate leading directly to the street. Having a line of sight to an escape route always calms me. I’m listening to Jasmine talk about my mother’s colorful aura.

It hits me that my whole family, except for Ashley, is dead and gone. My father doesn’t need to tell me I’m accursed, anymore. It’s a given. I feel like the world is closing in, that it’s only a matter of time before Ashley and I are crushed by its weight. I take a long, deep breath and focus on the gate. I tell myself I can leave anytime I want to.

I turn my attention back to the makeshift stage, where Jasmine is speaking warmly of my mother’s open mind, and describing the transmigration of her soul to a new and wonderful land. There’s something familiar and uncomfortable about this setting. I look around, and remember the dream I had the night Brad died. My subconscious must have appropriated its precious benches and white gazebo.

Now Jasmine is talking about a serene afterlife that’s one part Christian heaven and one part native American spirit quest. I should be grateful that she’s such an engaging speaker. Instead, I’m uneasy. She’s as smooth and unruffled as a professional corporate trainer. Her tasteful hair, makeup and clothes all breathe money.

It makes me wonder how much my mother was paying her. She and Wolf were arguing about credit card charges just moments before she died. Clearly, my mother was spending more than she could afford on something. I should ask Wolf why he was helping her.

“You should divorce him and then ask him at the deposition, while he’s under oath,” says the voice.

But I don’t want to divorce Wolf. Not because I forgive him for cheating, but because I don’t think I can survive another loss. Berry may be grieving, but so am I. I’m glad that Berry decided to stay home today and sort through the last of Brad’s things.

I wish she’d have come,” says the voice. “You could have asked her if she’s fucking your husband. All this prissy agonizing is making me sleepy.”

I refuse to acknowledge the voice. I want to keep agonizing. It’s painful, but it also allows a small margin for hope.

I hear a soft giggle and turn to my right. Cedar’s date is reaching under her skirt. Cedar is blushing and wiggling. I debate for a moment and decide that stopping them will create an even bigger disruption. Besides, I don’t think anyone else has noticed. Jasmine is keeping everyone rapt with the tale of my father’s passing at his own wife’s funeral.

“They were two soul mates who loved each other so much that one followed the other out of the world,” she says.

September 25, 2016
Sunday, 5:15 pm

We’re standing in yet another small room at the hospital. I think it’s a supply closet. There’s a shelf lined with plastic storage cubes on the far wall. Nurses and orderlies rush in and out, carrying bags of saline solution and lengths of tubing.

Dr. Morris brought us here to talk about our father, but I can’t concentrate on what he’s saying. Instead, I watch two nurses maneuver a gurney through the door and park it against the wall. The man on the gurney is obviously dead. A sheet covers his entire body except for one naked, wizened leg. A red laminated tag hangs from the foot. I wonder if this is my father.

I blink and try to tune back in. “It’s actually very common for older people to die shortly after losing a spouse,” says Dr. Morris. “It’s tragic, but entirely normal.”

“Is that him?” I ask, pointing towards the body on the gurney.

“Oh!” Dr. Morris looks embarrassed. “No. It’s not. Sorry about that. We’re overcrowded right now.”

“Does that happen here a lot? Do the nurses just leave dead bodies lying around?” asks Ashley.

Ashley’s voice is more giddy than angry. I see a mental picture of dead bodies just lying around in offices, in restaurants, at home. I start to giggle.

“Of course not,” says Dr. Morris, still embarrassed. “Are you two OK?”

Ashley and I stare at Dr. Morris like glassy-eyed dolls with hysterical grins. Dead bodies just lying around. It’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. I look at Ashley and make a weird, ugly face, like I did when were kids trying to make each other laugh in church. We’re both giggling now.

“The hospital has, er, a very experienced grief counselor. Would you like her number?”

Ashley and I start laughing for real. Soon Ashley’s laughing so hard that she’s gasping for air. We’re both shaking and crying with hysterical hilarity. The doctor looks worried, and the sight of his thin brows knitting together like a hairless caterpillar makes me laugh even more. I double over to catch my breath.

“Now you tell us that you have a grief counselor?” says Ashley. She stops laughing for a moment, tears up, and then cracks up all over again.

I look over at the gurney. The doctor was wrong. It is my father, and he’s sitting up, staring at me. His face is a twisted carnival mask. The left side is droopy, like melting wax, and the right side is shiny and taut. His cheeks are white, and his face is red. His mouth is moving. He points at me and mouths “Accursed.”

I close my eyes and shake my head. This can’t be real. I open my eyes. My father is gone, and so is the gurney. I’m afraid and disoriented. I tell myself it’s stress. Stress and exhaustion.

“Or insanity,” whispers the voice. “Or a curse.”

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