Marian Brooks | Lakshmy Mathur
Joanne’s husband, Steven, always makes the morning brew in the shiny new Tassimo coffee maker. Today he has the flu. Even with a degree in English Literature, Joanne cannot decipher the instructions for what’s to be done with all of these little pods. They seem unnatural, alien almost.
She tries to drag Steve out of bed, flu and all. Joanne has to have to have her espresso. He’s too sick to even look at his wife but he gets out of bed anyway. Steve sets the chrome miracle in motion. He swallows his vitamins, grabs his own cup and moans his way back down the hall.
Joanne wraps her fingers around her steamy mug, melting into its warmth. It’s January outside. She watches CNN and reads the local newspaper, simultaneously. Joanne can multi-task to a certain degree. What she reads now grabs her attention. It seems that she died yesterday in an automobile accident while crossing Route 73.
She rushes to the mirror in the den. She’s not in it. She runs back to Steve. He won’t wake up. Joanne’s cell phone is not in working order. The land line, the land line, She’ll try that. No dial tone. “Maybe I’m in an asylum. Maybe I’m dreaming. Maybe I’m sick with a fever, delusional.
“One thing I’m NOT, is dead! There was no white light, no welcome party, no euphoria, no God. She didn’t see any pitchforks, demons or hellfire either as promised for those skeptics out there. If I am, in fact, a ghost, I’m a hybrid spirit unlike any other I’ve read about or seen on TV, full of inconsistencies. No surprise there.”
Barefoot, she darts next door to the Kendall’s wearing only her flannel pajamas. No one’s at home. Here comes a green SUV packed with kids. Joanne jumps in front of it waving her arms. It passes right through her. “Am I simply to accept this predicament? Even the Philadelphia Inquirer makes mistakes sometimes.”
She sprints back to the house and inventories her clothing and jewelry — all there, even the two-carat diamond ring. Her keys, wallet and coffee cup are where she left them. Fat tabby cat, Zoe, is under the bed where she usually hangs out with the dust bunnies until she wants food. Aloof, as always, she pretends she can’t see Joanne. Her tail fans out a little but there is no hissing.
The only thing missing, it seems, is Joanne.
She sits down and tries to breathe slowly but her heart is galloping. Her coffee’s cold.
The obits are in section D of the newspaper. She runs her fingers through her hair as she searches. And there it is along with a very unflattering picture!
She inhales, hand on her heart, and reads:
“GARNER, Joanne, 58, Philadelphia, died suddenly on December 12, 2012 in an auto accident. She was the daughter of the late June and Tim Saunders of Elmira, New York. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a BA in English Literature and earned an advanced degree in Counseling from Villanova University. Joanne exhibited regularly at the prestigious Philadelphia Flower Show and was a docent at the Elmwood Zoo. She loved to dance. Joanne is survived by her husband of thirty-five years, Steven, three children, two grandchildren and her brother, Ken Saunders. She was an avid reader, loved to weave a tall tale and delighted in sharing her short stories with her grandchildren. In lieu of flowers and in her memory, please scatter random acts of kindness wherever you go. (Nice touch).
“Services will be held at 1 PM on December 14, 2012 at the Laurel Funeral Home, 2201 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA.”
She exhales and taps her heel nervously. “I hope there’s a wild card nearby, an inspired contingency plan of some sort.”
Steven is still not moving. She tries his cell. Shit! It’s dead too.
In a rational moment Joanne decides what she must do next. She’s going to the funeral home to see if she’s there. “But I can’t go in my pajamas.” She slips into her closet to change her clothes. Then she realizes that it doesn’t matter what she wears or how her hair looks. Apparently, no one is going to see her, including her.
Joanne can’t fly. She’s tried that already and tripped. So, Joanne boards the #125 bus without paying, of course. It takes her within a block of where she wants to go. “I suppose there are some advantages to this madness.”
The doors to the entrance of the funeral parlor are not locked. She’s surprised. “I don’t suppose there are many body snatchers in real life. Although with today’s demands for hearts, eyes, kidneys, who knows?” She passes the office and enters a velvety room full of caskets. No one’s in them. They’re floor models, like cars in a showroom. They range in price from $1,000 for a plain pine box to $10,000 or more for some eight gauge stainless steel number in various colors. She wonders if they come in red or with stripes. Some caskets are discounted, some are on sale, some, customized for pets. Others are eco-friendly. The place smells like lemon furniture polish. She laughs a little hysterically for the first time since yesterday when she spots one coffin with The Last Supper painted on the head panel.
“Well, I’m not in here. That’s for sure.”
She notices several red Exit signs and smiles. “How fitting.” Joanne concludes that there must be a stairwell leading down to some chilled, subterranean holding area.
Joanne feels a tapping on her wrist. Her sixteen-year-old granddaughter, Liz, is sitting next to her. She’s not much of a snuggler but today she leans on Joanne’s shoulder, holds onto her arm and whispers, “Grand mom, I think this is a good place to stop.” She seems frightened. Joanne powers down her computer and kisses the top of Liz’s head. We’ll write the next chapter together tomorrow.