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There are phone calls to be made, and things to organize, and there’s a two year old running around getting into anything and everything she can, and her husband hasn’t come out of their bedroom in oh, about an hour now, since the phone rang and her brother-in-law said,
“Jimmy, Dad’s dead,” and then hung up, and God, sometimes she hated Jim’s insensitive, selfish brothers. Jim called his mother, panicked, hoping, somehow, that this was just a sick, inappropriate joke being played by his brothers. And even though Pam knew, just knew, it wasn’t, she couldn’t help but hope along with him.
When Jim finally got a hold of his mother, her breath was ragged, and he knew then too.
It was a heart attack, and it was fast, and Jim flexed his hands into fists and released them, giving Pam a kiss on the temple and picking up Cece as she darted past, hugging her tightly for a minute until she squirmed and said,
“Da, down,” in that way that she does that Jim claims is because she just too important and busy and doesn’t have time to form full sentences, and Pam knows is because she’s two and just getting the hang of this talking thing.
And then Jim turned and went into their bedroom, his parents’ old bedroom, Jesus, his dad’s old bedroom, and Pam can’t help but think it would be worse to be in there than out here, even though the room looks nothing like it did when Jim’s parents lived here.
Pam doesn’t know what to do then, she feels like certainly she should be doing something but she’s never dealt with anything like this before and she’s at a total loss as to what to do. Instead she wrangles Cece into the bathtub, ignoring cries of,
“No Mama, no bath! Play time!” But she hadn’t given Cece a bath last night. It was a beautiful night, and the three of them went for ice cream and played a game of mini golf and let Cece run around the park until she was so tired that she fell asleep as soon as they got into the car. She and Jim had gleefully put her to bed, earlier than normal, thank God they were starting to cut out the naps, and made out on the couch like a couple of teenagers.
When Cece finally stopped crying long enough for Pam to rinse the shampoo out of her hair and get the last traces of ice cream from her face and hands, she dried her off and put her in a respectable outfit, figuring that at some point Jim would come out of the bedroom and then they would have to go somewhere or do something.
Pam sighed, exhausted already, and knowing it was only eleven in the morning made her even more exhausted, because on top of everything else, she had taken a pregnancy test three days before and oh, yeah, she was pregnant. She hadn’t told Jim yet, unsure of how to break the news, and especially now when his dad was dead.
And there was that too, because she loved her father-in-law. He was Jim, only older, and she already missed his crooked, wide smile when he was teasing her or Jim, or the way that he swung Cece up into the air and kissed each cheek twice, and sang Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecelia” in a low voice in a way that somehow never got old.
She put on “Jack’s Big Music Show” for Cece, and she hated that she was allowing the television to be the babysitter, but damned if it wasn’t effective, and soon Cece was bouncing in front of the television show to the music, clutching her favorite ragged stuffed monkey in her hands. A gift from Jim’s dad, and Pam has to stop for a second because the grief hits her like a wave, and she can’t imagine what Jim is going through right now.
She checks on Cece once more before going to her bedroom and laying her hand on the cool wood for a moment before easing it open and calling Jim’s name softly. He glances up from where he’s sitting on the edge of the bed, a baseball clutched in his hands the same way that his daughter tightly held onto her stuffed animal, and looks up at her with his eyes swollen and red and he opens his mouth to say something, but closes it again and just shrugs, and she sits on the bed next to him and places a hand over the clutched baseball and rests her head on his shoulder.
She’s not sure what to say, so she doesn’t say anything. But presses a kiss to his chin and then stands and presses another kiss to the crown of his head before resting her cheek there for a minute. She wants to stay there with him, but who knows what her two-year-old is doing down in the living room. She pauses at the doorway and leans up against the frame.
“We’re here, if you need anything,” she says finally.
Cece is, thankfully, where Pam left her, singing and dancing in circles, and Pam thinks about how Cece won’t remember her grandfather, and how this new baby won’t get to meet him, and she begins to cry, sinking to the couch, her hand pressed to her mouth.
Cece looks stricken, unable to handle her mother’s tears, and she presses her chubby little hands to Pam’s face, frowning.
“Mama, stop,” Cece demands, and Pam does, because this is something constructive she can do.
Jim appears in the doorway a few minutes later, his eyes still red, but he looks better, less lost, and he tells her that the family is coming over so they can work out the details.
His brother Pete is first to arrive, with his wife Beth and their daughter Vanessa. Vanessa is nine and loves Cece, and Pam is incredibly relieved when Vanessa sits down with Cece in her room to color and play.
“Thank God for your daughter,” Pam tells Beth, who takes Pam’s hand and gives it a squeeze. Tom’s family is next, and the kids go up to play with Cece and Vanessa while the adults exchange hugs and when Larissa and Jim’s mother arrive, Pam orders pizza and Tom runs to the beer distributor and Jim puts on a movie for the kids on in his and Pam’s room, and when he checks on them an hour later, he finds them asleep except for Vanessa who smiles at him and says,
“I’ll keep an eye on them, Uncle Jim,” and he’s really goddamned proud of her, and he knows his father would be too, and the grief is so strong that it fills him up and pushes everything else out.
The adults end up around the dining room table, drinking beer and telling stories about Jim’s dad.
Stories like, “Remember when Pete was arrested and Dad punched a hole in the wall?” and,
“Remember that awful trip to the beach when Dad got stung by the jellyfish?” And they’re all laughing, and they’re all a little drunk, except for Pam, who is sipping on water, and gets caught out by her mother-in-law who is quiet all night, laughing at some stories, but not offering up any of her own. Pam can understand. She can understand wanting to lock up the good memories and the bad ones, afraid that saying them out loud will help them fade faster, instead locking them up so that they stay untouched, unfiltered, just yours.
When Pam stands to take a dish to the kitchen, her mother-in-law follows.
“How far along are you?” She asks, and Pam is caught off guard.
“How did you…” She trails off. “I haven’t told Jim yet, I don’t…I just found out a couple of days ago.”
“He’s going to be over the moon, and his dad would…” her breath catches and she reaches out and takes Pam’s hand. Pam stands still, unsure of what to say.
“I’m sorry,” Pam says after a long moment.
“Tell Jim soon, okay? I hate to see him so sad.” And Pam nods, and her mother-in-law disappears back into the dining room and Pam glances in and Jim is telling a story, his eyes glassy, and she slips back into her seat and Jim kisses her temple for the second time that day and takes her hand.
“Thanks,” he says, and she’s about to ask what for, when presses another kiss to her lips, and says, “you know what for.”
Clearly, this is not a super happy story.
Author's Chapter Notes:
I'm not sure where this came from. I just felt like writing, and somehow this is what came out. The title is by the song by Death Cab for Cutie. It's one of my all time favorites.
bashert is the author of 37 other stories.
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