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When the phone no longer rings

The Jacksons from the August 30, 2018 issue of the Manitoba Co-operator

How do I look?” Jennifer Jackson stood in the middle of her parents’ living room and did a slow pirouette for her mother Rose, who was standing in the doorway holding a hairbrush in one hand and a towel in the other.

“You look fine dear,” said Rose.

“Not too happy?” asked Jennifer. “I don’t want to look too happy.”

Rose paused to look at her daughter more closely. Jennifer was dressed in a black ankle-length skirt, simple black blouse, black shoes, with a wide black headband holding her long dark hair back and away from her face.

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cartoon image of a family seated at a table
cartoon image of a family seated at a table
cartoon image of a family seated at a table

“You look like you’re going to a funeral,” said Rose. “But a very stylish funeral.”

“Perfect,” said Jennifer. “That’s exactly what I was shooting for. I don’t look too happy though right?”

“I wouldn’t worry about that,” said Rose. “It’s not necessary to look miserable just because you’re at a funeral. You look appropriately sombre I think.”

“OK,” said Jennifer. “I’ll take your word for it. I don’t feel particularly sombre.” She paused. “Not that I know what sombre feels like, really.”

Rose laid the towel she was holding over the back of the chair nearest the doorway and ran the hairbrush through her hair. “How is Kendra holding up?” she asked.

Jennifer sat down on the couch across the room and leaned back against the well-worn cushions. “Mostly good,” said Jennifer. “But she is super sad. She and her grandma were so close. Every Saturday morning Kendra’s phone would ring and she’d say, ‘ah there’s Grandma again,’ as if she was exasperated, but then she would answer and they would talk for like, an hour. It is going to be really hard for her when the phone doesn’t ring next week.”

“And probably for a lot of weeks after that,” said Rose.

“I guess so,” said Jennifer. She looked at her mother. “How are Grant and Karen doing?” she asked.

“The same I think,” said Rose. “Grant is being his usual stoic Mennonite self, and Karen is a very strong woman. He can lean on her as much as he needs to.”

“Kendra was so glad she had a chance to say goodbye,” said Jennifer. “She said the last thing her grandma said to her was, ‘I like your hair. You should always wear it like that Kendra.’ The last word she heard her grandma say was her name.”

Rose smiled. “That’s pretty sweet,” she said. “But it might make it tough for Kendra next time she thinks of changing her hair. Speaking of hair,” she added gesturing with the brush, “I think I need a mirror for this.” She turned to leave the room and as she did Andrew walked in and sat down on the couch next to Jennifer.

“Hey kiddo,” he said.

Jennifer slid over and leaned against him, her head resting on his broad shoulder, her hand sliding into his. She was silent for a moment.

“You and Mom have to live forever,” she said.

“That’s the plan sweetheart,” said Andrew. He squeezed her hand in his. “Although you know how I am with plans,” he added.

“Yeah, I do know,” said Jennifer. “Just do your best.”

“When my father died,” said Andrew, “I thought I was going to break into so many pieces no one would ever be able to put me back together. But then I didn’t. I mean, I did not handle it well at all, but I so don’t care about that now. I did what I had to do to deal with it and to be able to just go on. It wasn’t pretty but it doesn’t have to be pretty. I was lucky. My dad taught me all the things I needed to know to go on without him.”

Jennifer took a deep breath. “That’s all fine and dandy for you,” she said, “but you and Mom still have to live forever, because I’ve never listened to anything you said so I would be completely lost without you.”

Andrew chuckled. “No worries,” he said. “You didn’t need to be listening. Human beings have a hidden brain compartment that secretly stores all the words their parents speak when they are within earshot, and the compartment has a little trap door that opens up and drops those words into the main brain at opportune and sometimes very inopportune times. You will see.”

Rose reappeared at that moment, coiffed and ready.

“We need to go,” she said. “Are you two ready?”

“Yes,” said Andrew.

“No,” said Jennifer, keeping hold of her father’s hand. Andrew stood up and gently pulled Jennifer to her feet.

“I was wondering about later,” said Rose. “Do we know what we’re going to do after the service?”

“Yes,” said Jennifer. “We are going to live forever.”

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