After the 11:15 a.m. seizure, I stopped praying. I had started after the first one at 10:00 a.m. I’d prayed for a miraculous healing then, and ended my prayer precisely as I was taught as a child, “In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen,” which meant that whatever you asked for was surefire going to happen. So of course the seizure stopped and of course I said, “Thank you, Jesus,” with genuine gratitude in my heart, and I stroked Buddy’s fur until he fell asleep, until the next seizure at 10:20 a.m. I figured God must be counting each seizure stoppage as one miraculous healing, so I prayed for another miracle, and this went on until 10:55 a.m. By then I was tired and cold and getting very angry. I prayed again with impertinence. Each seizure had left me with worlds less faith, so I added a snide, “You know, Buddy could really use a miracle here, God,” and you know where that got me. I could feel God’s holy ears slamming shut. They made a wind that smoothed across Buddy and me, chilly and impersonal.
And it got me to thinking I never have had friends in high places. I was never able to schmooze to gain favor, and I always said that was because it felt so chintzy to me, like thin, cheap plastic, and it gave me the creeps whenever I tried to play that game. Part way into it, I’d always feel like what I’d end up winning wouldn’t be real, wouldn’t be like it is when I really earn something worthwhile, something I’ve worked hard and honorably for. But now I think the only reason I won’t schmooze is because of pride, not good pride, if there is such a thing, but bad pride, arrogance. So all my friends are just like me: broke and can’t do shit for anyone besides bake cookies and just be there. Lots of folks will tell you that’s all that matters, really matters. I say yeah, but it’d be nicer to have a mix of Haves and Have-nots for friends. But, like I said, I don’t feel right about collecting Haves. I wish it could be like drinking water for me, though, especially now.
My husband, Gene, dropped dead of a heart attack six months ago. And as if that weren’t enough, a week after after he was buried, things began going wrong with the house. First the bathtub began leaking and I didn’t know it until I saw water streaming down one wall in our remodeled basement one day. Then the furnace died right as winter was gearing up. Then the hot water heater busted and flooded the little guest room in the basement because the drain in the utility room was filled with sand I find out. I could go on. Anyway, now there’s a puddle of water under the kitchen sink. So money’s scarce and five thousand dollars-worth of property taxes are due on a place that’s falling apart, and that’s not all that’s falling apart.
My body feels constantly under attack from viruses and my head is like a junk drawer filled with an impossible jumble of thoughts of burdens and cares and fears and loss. I go to find one helpful thought in my junk drawer of a head and I run the fingers of my mind through it and I paw and pick and push through it and all the junk just fills back in on itself, just rolls over the tops and under the palms of my mind’s full hands. And I emerge with a thought I wasn’t looking for at all, and just thinking whatever thought it is makes me forget what thought I was looking for in the first place. Until later, when I might see something that reminds me, and then I go back to the junk drawer and it begins again, the pawing and pushing.
Seems I remember something in the Bible that says God doesn’t dole out to a person more than they can handle, but along with prayer, I now also don’t know about that. I really think the possibility of losing my dog, on top of everything else, might just push me over the edge. Buddy and I go way back, twelve years back, before Gene even. I would tell anyone straight up that I did not need my neighbor’s bratty daughter to ram into the side of him with her bicycle and cause seizures and intestinal problems and now the vet wants to operate on him judging from what he saw on the barium xray he did today. My neighbor was nice enough to offer to pay for it, but how am I going to pay for the emotional loss of Buddy if he loses against the bad odds of surgery?
And that’s when it hit me. Gene loved our house so much that he used practically every spare moment he had to work on improvements to it. But Gene could be a spiteful man, used to say things a little meaner than he had to if he disagreed with someone else’s point of view. He resented Buddy, used to tell me, “If you had any sense, you’d put into the house all the time and money you spend on that dog and we could have the nicest house on the block, but no!” I got to thinking it’d be just like Gene to go all sour grapes over dying and having to leave his precious house behind and “that damnable dog” still gets to live. And for more than just a moment, I allowed myself to think maybe he was haunting the house, tearing it down piece by piece, taking it with him in a way, and taking Buddy out while he’s in the process.
Although I have about as much faith in Gene’s capacity for mercifulness as I do in God’s, I had to try to get Gene to be reasonable, to stop. But how do you contact the dead? The only way I knew was via a Ouija board, like we used to do as kids, so I hurried down to Toys R Us and bought one. I invited my best friend, Pam, over and we set the thing up, lit every candle I had in the house, turned the lights out, put our fingertips lightly on the planchette and I asked the question, “Gene, honey, are you responsible for the problems with the house and with Buddy?” The candles flickered and then all blew in the same direction, like something was passing through, and then the planchette began to move. It landed on “Yes.” A chill riddled my spine and shuddered up and out the top of my head. I was covered with goose flesh and scared beyond belief, but I had to go on. I told Gene I loved him so much and missed him terribly, but I had to ask him, “Why would you do this to me? What purpose does it serve?”
The next moments were terrifying. The temperature in the room must have dropped to freezing and all the candles except for the two on our table were extinguished by a biting breeze. I looked at Pam as the planchette began to move. I could tell she wanted to stop this whole thing, wanted to run from this house, but I also saw love in her eyes, and sorrow, and like I said, all folks like us can do is be there for one another. That’s all we have. Somehow she stayed glued to her chair as Gene spelled out his message, “You are next to die,” and then the planchette jerked over to “Farewell.” We both withdrew our fingers from the planchette as if it were a hotplate, and the room seemed to heat rapidly to what felt like ninety degrees. Sweat was dripping down our faces.
I ran to the wall switch and turned on the lights. Pam told me I should get out of here immediately. She wanted me to leave with her, stay with her and Richard and the kids, but I couldn’t burden them like that, and what good would it do? How do you hide from a ghost? Gene would just follow me to Pam’s and bring bad on them. So we both agreed to stay in close contact and that I should write everything down as I’m doing now and file a copy somewhere, in the bank safety deposit box, or with the attorney’s office that assisted with Gene’s last will and Testament, or somewhere. And then at least folks would know what—
“Hi Hon, whatcha doing? What’s with the candles?”
I jumped out of my skin and snapped my journal shut. My pen went flying and I could hear its plastic-ness chattering on the hardwood floor behind me. “Oh, Gene, honey, I didn’t hear you come in!” I said, with a little too much effort to appear nonchalant, I’m afraid. The pen rolled to a stop and all was silent. “I was just writing the day’s events in my journal here.” I smiled, but my lips felt thin and wavering.
Gene squinted his eyes at me and then around the room and back to me. “Where’s Buddy?” he asked.
“At the vet,” I said. “How was your game? Did you guys win?” I tried to sound excited, genuinely interested.
Gene regarded me with suspicion. “We lost,” he said. “So why is Buddy at the vet at this late hour?”
“Well, I—” I shifted around in my chair, tried to buy time as I searched my junk drawer desperately for an answer.
Gene just waited, stared at me. I felt the heat, but I tried to calm my mind. I would calm my mind. I thought of sunny, windswept beaches, like my therapist had suggested during our last session. I remembered the sounds on the tapes he made for me when I got panicky: the waves rolling, the gulls lulling, and I was to visualize myself lying on a blanket on the beach, happy and peaceful as I listened to his voice on the tape instructing me in breathing deeply and holding my breath for as long as I could, three times, and on the third time I was to spiral down like a leaf from a tree in autumn.
Once I was sure that I could come off casual, I reached out and daintily took the stem of my wine glass and lifted my glass of Shiraz sexily to my lips. I looked at Gene, took a sip, and then said in a sultry voice, “Come here, Baby, and I’ll tell you all about it.”
Gene didn’t look pleased, wasn’t buying in. “Alright, Charmane,” he said. There was irritation and exhaustion mixing up his voice and I braced myself. “If that’s the way you want to play it,” he said. “I’ll sort out what’s up with Buddy myself. Now can you explain why you’re drinking wine with all the medications you’re on?”
I quickly pawed through the junk drawer, but it was too messy and I lost patience with it. I felt desperation rise within me and then rage rose up faster and higher in competition with it. I tried to thwart it. I thought in circles—sunny, sunny, beaches, windswept beaches, blankets, warm and windy, sunny, lovely—until I felt empowered. And when I did, I yelled out, so sure it was the right thing to yell, “Well, I have news for you, Gene! I’m not on meds! God says I don’t need all that crap, so I can drink all I wa—” Gene’s look stopped me cold. I became frightfully aware it wasn’t the right thing to say and I clasped my hands over my mouth as I watched Gene flip open his cell phone and dial the number to that godforsaken place.
Missalister’s “Sunny, lovely,” copyright © 2009, was spun off the Sunday Scribblings prompt “#185 – Junk” Click here for more on prompt #185 from other Sunday Scribblings participants.