provenance: unknown

A Husband's Colloquium

When my wife died I wasn't sure what to do. Rightfully so, she’d probably feel the same if roles reversed. Death is where all share a common ground, so I’ve heard. She died so suddenly and without warning. But, since when do we get fair warning? Isn’t that the catch? Sinatra sang a phrase, “That’s Life.” Alanis had rain. I wonder if Murphy’s Law could apply. Forest had it best when he said, “shit happens.” We had one child. I’d gotten a new job, all was going well. At the rate I was going I’d run the office and people’d brown-nose me! I’d deem myself, Office Pope.

Kim worked mothers’hours at the bank. She had experience in fieldwork but pencil-pushed for a living. She enjoyed fieldwork but was paid better and could work around her mother’s hours behind a desk. She was always handy with tools. Hand her something electronic, she could take it apart and put it back together fully functional. She was a female Tim Taylor (just better looking). She died on a hot and humid day walking to her car from the bank. The banks’ parking lot was always full. Her only alternative was the parking-garage a mile away. She didn't mind the walks. She used to say, "it's good exercise. I don't get to do it often anyway.” She’d give her Betty Boop and say, “A girl needs to maintain her figure, you know."

It must have been a’hundred in the shade. The forecasters said to avoid prolonged periods of sun. Yeah, right! Kim walked along a sidewalk in what must’ve felt like the Sahara desert. Rooted to her shoes chasing from behind was the only shade available. To add to it, walking through rush hour was impossible . . . in heels.

She also was carrying a box of files for her home office. She had paperwork and ran out of time at the office. The heat became so intense she became light-headed. Apparently she skipped lunch and had little to drink all day. When entangled in work nothing stopped her. She was the nicest woman you’d ever met, but slow her down at work and she became Dr. Jekyll. She left early everyday to be home for Emily. Taking work home was unavoidable so I understood why she’d get upset. Light-headed, she passed out from dehydration hit the concrete and broke her nose. Peggy, a friend of ours, was walking to her car when she found Kim. Blood spread under her face on the sidewalk discolored from the heat.

She was already gone when the ambulance arrived. She died on the Summer solstice, her neck near blisters, her skirt scolded from the sun. Her legs burned where there was no protection. The autopsy report gave a full summary of what happened. A copy had been forwarded to me upon request. I don’t know why, I just wanted it. As much as my curiosity peeked, I couldn’t bring myself to read it though. I went through strange phases blaming myself, the doctors, even Kim. She was too busy with work to properly care for herself. I eventually realized fate was to blame. Carrying a box of files she must have noticed the heat too late. She was oblivious to the world when in her mode.

Scenarios unraveled once the initial shock dissipated. Why didn’t passersby stop? People in their cars would’ve seen! Someone could’ve resuscitated her till the ambulance arrived. I hated the city, the people, the world, life. I'm glad for most of what I've got but, when bad shit happens I wonder what kind of world we live in. I don't want Emily to lose her innocence. I don’t want her to suffer! I can only imagine how life will be in twenty years. Historians say we’re living in the age of Humanitarianism. I’m no Rousseau, but I’d say Humanitarianism’s dead.

Emily was quiet those couple days before the funeral. She watched a lot of television. I know I should have kept a closer watch but . . . things worked out. I tinkered around the house with jobs I’d meant to get to for so long. Couldn’t have been a better time for’em than now. Arranging the funeral was easy. Kim and I had already picked our plots and how the ceremony’d be set up. It was weird. You hear about celebrities picking plots, for publicity, but doing it yourself . . . I’ll be honest, I’m glad we did. The way I carry on so casually seems careless. It’s just easier now. I’ve realized how fragile life is and how death can rob you. I’ve realized how damn scared I am for Emily. Emily was quiet and withdrawn in the days following the incident. She knew her mother was gone but I never knew how well she understood. Kim had spent a lot of quality time with her . . . I expected a struggle.

Emily needed me but, I needed her more. She was my stability. She’s like Kim . . . in most ways. She’s stubborn like me, though. I know she’ll always be around. Emily’s one of those girls you love to be friends with. She’s easy to warm up to. That’s why I watch her closely. Too many horn-ball’s out there.

She’s become a beautiful woman. She’ll make a great wife and mother. I see Kim in her everyday. Of course, she’ll always have my eyes. I know she has a good head on her shoulders. She’s taken all our good traits and few bad ones (I could be biased). I can still remember how she cried after hearing the news. Some nights I’d console her until she slept then go back to an empty bed. I still scoot over to Kim’s side of the bed when I get cold. Old habits . . . pass . . . hard. I wake up some mornings reaching over to see Kim’s curved body. Her hip and shoulder look like dunes on smooth dry sand under the covers. I even thought I heard her voice in the distance one night. Then, there was nothing.

Everyone was understanding and gave me space. I’m not one to talk about my problems so I knew counseling conversation would come. I thought there was a rule against bringing that up. That was the last thing Emily and I (wanted) needed. I saw family members I hadn’t seen in years. I had many calls and people stopping to give condolences. Flowers, pictures, cards you name it, we got it.

The following morning I awoke from a troubling dream I couldn’t understand and never remember. It recurs but evaporates as quick as it was there. Putting it aside the funeral was held that morning and everyone there was there. Family, friends, and co-workers had all shown. I sat in front with Emily withdrawn hollow and emotionally debilitated. At times I could only sit and stare. No words. It goes with the territory, I guess. I watched over Emily. She was young and this was her first funeral which wasn’t easy.

We had an open casket. I wanted to see Kim once more and it was good for Emily too. The mortician did a good job. You can’t expect perfection. For one thing, he’s a man, however feminine he may have been. But, what can I say? They knew it was important that we see her. The burns were mild. An acquaintance of mine specialized in reconstructive surgery and offered fixing the bone structure in her face.

“Most of my patients aren’t . . .”

“If you think you can do it, be my guest. Just be careful! She’s a picky broad.” He smiled but said nothing. It wasn’t in his place. I was lightening the mood, he knew.

Looking down at her, I thought of our lives our moments, good and bad. It’s important to remember the struggles you got through and held together. Not that I wanted an award of achievement . . . Last we spoke, we kissed goodbye said our, I love you’s, and were out the door. Typical American family, huh? ‘Off to work, see you tonight, honey.’ I went my way . . . and she went hers.

Before the casket closed Emily arose. I swallowed hard as our daughter went to her mother’s side one last time. I gently lifted her to see. She touched Kim’s hand. She shook from the repressed emotional wails of grief and mourning. Seems she’s inherited a little more from me than anticipated.

“Don’t worry Daddy,” she said hitching softly, “you’ll see her again.” I hugged her tightly, “I know, honey,” was all I could manage. A single tear rolled down my cheek. Emily buried her face in my shoulder and wept. I could tell she was hoping she would wake up from this nightmare. That we’d see her again was what she held onto. At the site words were spoken, I dropped a rose onto the casket, turned and sat motionless. I heard little. My world was mute.

After the funeral, life fell back into a semi-order. It was very different. For a while the house was quiet. Emily and I spoke only when spoken to. I moved on (sort of) in my way and let Emily deal with it in hers. Can’t say it was best, but I figured, she’s better off not having me step in.

One night, several weeks later, I fell asleep in front of the television. Not much had changed. You could say things were worse. Emily was asleep hours ago. I got up drowsy and drunk. In between moving from recliner to bed it was all a blur. Suddenly asleep again I dreamt I was in bed and cold. I rolled over to put my arm around Kim. I realized, there’s that old habit again. Then a floorboard creaked. A hand lay on mine. I opened my eyes, to Kim’s. My heart stopped, my eyes closed. I opened them again and nothing. I looked around the room. Nothing. The bathroom light was on and the door hung at an inch crack. Did I leave the light on? The light looked different. I’m still drunk . . .

The door opened and out came Kim illuminated in light. I sat up wide-eyed as she walked to her vanity. “That mortician has no chance in drag. Just look at his make-up job,” she said from the mirror. I couldn’t speak, only stare. “Well, you’re no help,” she said sarcastically. “You should send a thank you card to Dr. Matthews. It was a bad break and . . .” she must’ve read my expression as exasperation. “Well, what’d you expect? You’re falling behind in responsibilities, honey. I have to set you straight!” I tried speaking but only flapped my gums.

“Oh, I suppose it’s easier believing this is all a dream. Well, dear,” she said walking to the bed sitting next to me. “You’re killing yourself. I’m concerned.” Her cold pale hand fell on mine. “Now, honey. Don’t take this wrong but, don’t be a boob! Emily needs you” she said sternly. “I love you . . . Now, lay down.” Soft cold hands lay me to the pillow. I brought my hand up to brace her head for a kiss and clumsily smacked my face. I shook off the semi-conscious sleep. Startled, sweaty, tears lining my face I scoped the room, but she was gone (Isn’t it ironic?). I knew it had to be real. I’ve never been delusional . . . I’d also never lost a wife before. I believe the recurring dreams are somehow connected with Kim’s apparition.

Since then, I’ve thought about the dream and what Emily said. As days before the funeral, I wondered how well she understood death. I’ve never asked if she’d known anything I hadn’t (Isn’t it ironic?). Mothers and daughters have special bonds only women can share, I guess.

Copyright ©2003 Kurt Echols


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