The morning you died was ordinary enough. Oliver muddled tennis and violin, we were half way to school when he said Mom, I need my violin. Mom. An affectation from too much American TV, my girlfriends and I had noticed the same habit in all of our kids lately, the way they rolled their r’s and whined out our names. I made a mental note to further limit TV, and turned back for home with a sigh.
My Dad suggested that Ollie might regress for at time while he processed the news of the baby. 9 years old, an only child for nearly a decade. It would only be natural if the thought of a baby unsettled him a little. And true, there had been instances in these first weeks since we told him. Losing his lunch so that I had to take time out from the office to drop off a hastily-purchased sandwich, or like today, mixing up his after-school classes after months of being on a clock-work schedule. Two nights ago he had even wet the bed. I found some odd comfort in this – my beautiful boy, still my baby, quiet and simmering under the surface. Just like his Dad. Another mental note – draw him out a little on how he is feeling, Anna, when you get the chance.
I left Oliver in the car when I ran inside for his violin. The phone was flashing, I noticed the red flicker of the machine on the kitchen bench as I dashed past. It would have to wait, I was already going to be stuck on the bridge for far too long. It wasn’t until I had seen Oliver safely through the gates (only seven minutes late today) that I reached for my phone in my bag and saw the nine missed calls, with three corresponding messages. Something fell in my stomach right there as I sat at the lights. It’s hard to say when we became attuned to what it might mean. The multiple calls in a row, and messages left one immediately after the other. When we’re so used to being contactable, so used to being found that we never expect to be chased down in this way. Unless. Unless we haven’t called back when we are needed. When something has gone wrong, and we are not where we are supposed to be.
It’s 9.11. Always a funny time to catch in the blink of your phone. Seared in collective memory, the number gives me pause and then I hit the little handset sign. All nine calls from your brother Joe. A flick to the voice mail screen – it’s Joe again, every time. I am certain in this moment that I cannot listen, that the world will alter when I hear Joe’s voice and whatever he has to say. How do we know such things, such precipice moments? When do we become aware of the moment just before? Thirty seconds ago my life was about getting Oliver to school as close to on time as I could manage, was about my mental grocery list, and a niggling feeling that I’d forgotten to pay the cleaner. Now I am holding my phone away from me as if it is some kind of bomb, the seconds ticking over until it whirs in my hand, makes me jump at the sudden flashing. Joe again, and this time I pick up.
Hi there Readers … body, remember started as Maggie Valentine’s story, the story of a young woman whose married lover dies suddenly, and how she has to grieve her loss in secret (if a tree falls in the forest and no-one is there to hear it and all that). I realised as I was writing her story that the other side of the coin would be just as interesting – what would happen if it was your husband that died, if you secretly knew he was having an affair … what would your forest look like? I am now half-way through Anna’s story, the wife I introduced here in the piece, Seven. The above excerpt is Anna’s experience of the day Ben/Mack dies; you can read Maggie’s version here. Same script, different cast …
Thanks as ever for reading!!