I’d just been saying to my wife, “Getting hold of Mom is so hard.”
“Why?” She was peering over her glasses, typing on her computer. She’s always doing that – or reading or bathing (much time is spent in the bathtub reading) – so I’m not bothered by bothering her.
“She doesn’t text, or answer emails. I don’t think she checks her email every day or even every other day. She says she’s going to call back, but she doesn’t. She leaves a number but she doesn’t answer it. It doesn’t even go to her email.” I shook my head, dismayed by the recitation. Mom lives a continent away. Visiting her is a challenge. It’s rural on both ends. Rural meaning, no airports within an hour. Rural, meaning the flights to the nearest airport means travel days that begin and end in darkness on either end.
I’d just been saying/thinking these things when the phone rang. Suspicious of telemarketers – they’re focused on car warranties right now (meanwhile, I’m receiving solicitations about being cremated or getting my hearing tested in the mail) – I checked the number. “Mom’s number,” I said, answering the phone.
Hello was exchanged and I began my opening remarks. “How are you? I’ve been calling since you last called but I don’t get any answer.”
“Your father is dead.”
“Really?” Suspicions reared up. “You told me that three times before.”
“Twice. The other time was him.”
“No, he told you that he committed suicide.”
“It was a note.”
“Still, you called me and told me Dad was dead.”
“I thought he was.”
“That he’d killed himself.”
“I thought he had.”
I left the office to wander the house, a nervous habit I had when talking with Mom. “Even though there wasn’t a body.”
“I thought he was being thoughtful and had gone off and killed himself in the woods. He’s really dead this time.”
“Is there a body this time?”
“I think I need third-party verification.”
“Your sister is here.”
“Yes, she came up to see us. She and the boys drove up. The got here last Thursday. She’s staying in the spare room. Her boys are staying with Jean. I think Jean got the better deal.”
“Do you want to talk to her? She’ll tell you that your Dad is dead.”
I stopped at the living room back window. A blue jay was screeching in the back yard. Our black cat watched from atop a sunny knoll. “No, I don’t trust Debby any more than you.”
I changed hands and thought. “What about my other sisters?”
“They’re not here.”
“Have you told them?”
“Yes. Jean is at work. She’s coming over when she gets off, after she picks up the boys. The boys are going to school from home. Rooming.”
“That’s what I said.”
“Is anyone there with them?”
“Yes, of course, Dibo.”
“Is he sober?”
“He says he is. Jean doesn’t have any alcohol in the house any longer. Dibo drank it all. She won’t let him buy more.”
“Where there’s a credit card, there’s a way.” I was quoting Mom from her previous calls.
“She took his credit cards away from him.”
“What about Jan?”
“I don’t think Dibo is drinking any more. He quit smoking, too, except for medical marijuana. He lost a lot of weight but now he’s gained most of it back.”
“Did you tell Jan?”
Mom hesitated. “No, I didn’t tell Jan.”
“She has other things that she’s dealing with.”
“Well, she got into an argument over a parking space. Apparently, some words were exchanged. Anyway, some people filmed it with their phones. Now they’re calling her Karen and she’s in jail for assault with a shopping cart.”
I sighed, trying to think of a response. I heard water running on the other end. Talking followed. “What’s going on?”
The talking continued. So did the water sounds. “Mom? Hello, Mom? It’s me, your son. You’re on the phone. Hello?”
Changing hands, I walked the house, listening and thinking.
Mom finally said, “Your father’s up. I need to make him dinner. I’ll call you later, okay? I love you, bye.”
She hung up before I replied. Pressing the phone’s off button, I walked back into the office where my wife continued typing.
“Was that your Mom?”
“How is everything?”
“Dad is still alive. Debby is visiting, Dibo is straight, and Jan is in jail.”
“Same as last time.”
“Yep.” I sat in my office chair and swiveled it to the front window. A heavy sigh rolled up out of my chest. “Some day she’ll accept that Dad divorced her and the others don’t exist.” I always said that. It never happened. I just went along with it all.
“Phone calls will be a lot shorter.”
I stared out the front window, wistfully watching a man and woman walking a dog. They seemed so normal. But so did Mom. “Yes, they will.”