Book of Jo: When bad things happen to almost good people
Parts 18 & 19: Screaming and Xanax
September 21, 2016
Wednesday, 4:30 pm
The funeral director, a tiny gray-haired woman named Trisha, looks more like a bank teller than someone who deals with death every day. She is holding a clipboard and paging through a series of printouts with a quizzical look on her round face.
“I’m confused. Are you all here for Selena Goodman or for Jenna Goodman?” she asks.
“We’re here for both,” says Ashley. “Selena was our mother. Jenna was our sister.”
“I’m so sorry,” says Trisha. “That’s terrible. Car accident?”
“No,” I say. “Brain aneurysm. Both of them. Apparently, it can run in families.”
“So terrible. They we both so young,” she says.
Ashley, Brad and I say nothing. We are all fidgeting and anxious to get out of there. I think I can smell the formaldehyde from the embalming operation hidden in the back. Trisha scans our sad little group with professionally concerned eyes. Her eyes come to rest on the angry blister on my lip.
“You need to take care of yourself. Stress can really take a toll on the surviving loved ones. That’s a wicked looking cold sore,” she says.
“It’s probably just a pimple,” I say, and then stop, realizing how trivial the distinction is, that it doesn’t really matter if the annoying funeral director thinks I have herpes simplex one.
Trisha nods and hands us each a brochure for caskets, urns, and funeral services. The price lists seem absurd. I’d never thought of death as something I’d have to pay for.
“Would you like to get started by looking at some caskets?”she asks, pointing toward several large casket displays with flowery slogans like “Your Water-tight Resting Place” and “An Eco-Friendly Alternative for Eternal Peace.”
“God no,” snaps Ashley. “They were both cremated. They’re supposed to, um, be here already.”
Trisha frowns and squints at her print outs. She seems disappointed. I wonder if she’s working on commission. “Oh yes,” she says. “We do have their cremains. Would you like to look at some suitable urns?”
She points to the shelf behind her, which is lined with urns of all sizes, shapes and colors. We spend a full hour comparing urns, flailing through the hopeless paralysis of despair. Ashley begins to sniffle, Brad takes two large swigs from his flask, and I let the tears stream freely down my face.
After some gentle prompting from Trisha, we eventually decide on two tasteful silver containers. After we leave, Trisha will bring them into the back room, where someone will hopefully fill them with the correct ashes. As next of kin, my father will need to sign some papers before we pick them up, unless we establish power of attorney.
“And what kind of services do you want?” asks Trisha. Brad audibly sighs, and Ashley begins explaining my mother’s idiosyncratic religion of psychics and New Age philosophy.
I close my eyes and let Ashley’s words swirl around me. I’m drained, and my nausea has magically returned. Even worse, I have started cramping. I try to ignore it, but I can’t focus on anything else. It feels like a clenched fist, desperately trying to hold onto something.
Ashley asks for my credit card to cover the urns, which are shockingly expensive. The cramps intensify, and I barely notice when Ashley touches my shoulder and tells me that it’s time to leave. She has to nudge me again. When I stand, warm blood rushes down my leg. I am suddenly certain that my little bean — that clump of cells that had made my mother so happy — is dead.
September 21, 2016
Wednesday, 9:30 pm
“Are you sure we shouldn’t take you to the hospital?” asks Wolf.
“Yes, I’m fine,” I say, wiping away tears. “The gyno says there’s nothing they can do for such an early miscarriage. I’ll make an appointment tomorrow.”
I lay on the couch, while everyone hurries around to bring me food, drink, and comfort. They treat me like a glass doll, liable to break at any time. They don’t realize I’m already broken. Accursed. It keeps echoing in my mind. I think maybe my father is right.
Ashley brings me two Xanax from the bottle Jenna left me, plus 1,000 milligrams of ibuprofen. Wolf pours me a large glass of wine and urges me to drink it. I do what they say, and soon I’m feeling giddy and remote.
Brad and I are playing the world’s most pathetic game of Scrabble. I stare at the letters in my tray and see nothing but short, sorrowful words. SEED. RED. DEAD. I watch as Brad amuses himself by forming the longest possible words, regardless of their point value.
I am impossibly behind when I pick up three new letters. Now my tray reads C-C-U-R-S-E-D. I see an A on the board that brings me to the edge of hysteria. I consider playing the word to see it pinned to the board, robbed of its power. I knock the board over instead.
“Sorry!” I say. “It must be the Xanax and the wine. I’m feeling pretty loopy.”
“You should try to sleep,” says Wolf. “I’ll go make the bed. I just did a laundry.”
“I’ll help,” adds Berry.
Wolf goes upstairs and Berry follows. Ashley’s eyes are tracking them up with obvious concern. I shake my head, willing her to stop. I believe in Wolf as much as the Xanax flying through my veins.
“Where’s Lon?” I ask, hoping to get Ashley’s mind on something else.
“He’s downstairs with Dad,” she says. “Dad’s having a bad day, and we thought he might be more comfortable in his own apartment, with his own things.”
“Oh,” I say, drifting away. “That’s a good idea. Thank Lon for me.”
“He really is a good man,” says Ashley, smiling for the first time today.
I turn my gaze to the large-screen television that Wolf and I installed last year. I try to focus on the screen, but I can’t quite follow the story. People with guns are chasing other people with guns. Someone is shooting. BANG-BANG-BANG. Brad gets up and runs to the door. Oh. The BANGs were actually loud knocks.
I hear Lon’s tired voice calling to us. “Guys, I’m out here with your father.”
“Let me in! Where’s Jenna? I need Jenna!” My father’s voice is hoarse and reed thin.
“Ashley?” I ask. “Haven’t you told him? Doesn’t he know Jenna died last night?”
“No,” she says. “He was just too out of it. We were going to do it tonight.”
“Shit!” says Brad. “We’ve got to call his doctor.”
“Let us in,” says Lon. “He doesn’t want to go back to his apartment, and I can’t just leave him standing in the hallway.”
“Jo, why don’t you go upstairs,” says Ashley. “You know how he is right now.”
“Yes, I know,” I reply, slowly rising from the couch.
“And lock your door,” she says. “Just in case.”
I pass Wolf and Berry in the hallway. Their faces are blank. They definitely don’t look like two people caught up in the excitement of an illicit affair.
“What’s going on?” asks Wolf.
“Dad’s getting restless. He’s looking for Jenna,” I say.
Berry throws her arms around me and pulls me into a tight hug. “You should get some rest,” she says.
“Love you,” says Wolf, kissing me on the cheek and following Berry downstairs.
When I get to my room, I collapse onto the bed. I close my eyes and try to empty my mind. But I can still hear my father calling out for Jenna. His voice gets louder. And hoarser. Now he is screaming.
I don’t believe you.
Jenna isn’t dead.
Where is she?
Book of Jo is a homeless novella that is going to crash on Medium for a few months. I will release new parts on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, until the whole story has been posted. Enjoy!
Read Part 1.
Read Part 2.
Read Parts 3 & 4.
Read Parts 5 & 6.
Read Parts 7 & 8.
Read Parts 9 & 10.
Read Part 11.
Read Parts 12 & 13.
Read Parts 14 & 15.
Read Parts 16 & 17.
Read Parts 20 & 21.
Read Parts 22 & 23.
Read Parts 24 & 25.