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Thoughts following the unexpected death of an old friend
Jennifer L O'callaghan
AUTHOR'S E-MAIL ADDRESS
|AUTHOR'S OTHER TITLES (5)
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Not Necessarily Cancer (Short Stories) A young woman's reaction to her abnormal Pap smear. [1,920 words] [Literary Fiction]
Packed With Peanuts (Short Stories) This is a flash fiction piece I wrote for a writing class about an attempted late night snack. [731 words]
Jennifer L O'callaghan
I woke up this morning, and you were still gone.
But you came charging into my office unannounced the other day ... I swear it was the other day.
You plopped in a chair and told me your roommate had stapled carpeting to the walls to make her cats happy. You chattered away for at least twenty minutes, oblivious to my startled expression and the stack of papers spilling out of my in-box.
As usual, I listened with detached patience and wished you would realize I was too busy for you.
Instead, you told me about the poetry reading you were giving at that coffeehouse near your apartment. I promised I would come.
The secretary came in a few times, glancing at your lip ring before she dropped files or messages on my desk. I thought she might rescue me by reminding me of a fictional appointment or telling me there was an urgent call on line two.
She didn’t, of course. I saw you grin when she shrank away from your tattooed hand.
“We’re old friends,” I told her.
I wanted you to go away.
Go away go away go away.
I was just too busy to listen, to laugh, to talk about nothing.
Did you notice how often I looked at my watch? I thought I had been subtle, although part of me surely wanted you to see. Is that why you rose as abruptly as you came and hugged me goodbye so tightly? Before you left, I promised we would get together for sushi soon.
Later, the secretary asked me who you were. I told her only that we had been friends for a long time, but were growing apart.
And then it was Sunday. I had been dusting in the den when the phone rang. I balanced a stack of books on one hip as I picked up the receiver.
I listened to the voice on the other end without hearing at first. Then a knot seized my chest and the books crashed to the floor.
“But … We were supposed to go for sushi,” I choked.
The closed casket didn’t help much. I kept waiting for you to pop out from behind one of those floral arrangements that gave the room the heady smell of lilies and roses. “Surprise! Just a joke! Had you going there, didn’t I?”
Maybe if I had seen you in there it would have been easier. Instead, I watched all our friends and some people I did not know get up and talk about how much they loved you and how special you were.
I wondered if they buried you in your lip ring.
One woman had a guitar with her. I don’t know why. Where did you find these people? Through tears, she announced it was time for everyone to join her in singing your favorite song.
She started to play “Streets of London” and I wanted to get up and shout “No! You’ve got it wrong! That’s not her favorite!” Instead, I kept control of my unexpected rage and repeated the words to “Corner of the Sky” in my head. That was your favorite song, or so you had often told me on long car trips together when our lives were not so different.
Did you somehow always know this would happen? I could hear you singing just slightly off-key, “Maybe some misty morn you’ll waken to find me gone.”
You were always off-key.
Then your sister got up and said she could imagine you hand in hand with God, skipping along the streets of heaven, laughing and calling out, “Guys, I can’t wait until you get here. Wait until you see this!”
And I wondered who the hell she was talking about. I had never seen you skip anywhere.
We talked about death once, remember? I said I thought we just disappeared, like the flame of a candle being snuffed.
You told me that idea depressed you. You said you didn’t really believe in heaven or hell, but you wanted to be able to haunt people.
More people got up to talk about you, and they all made you sound like a perfect creation of patience and love and kindness. I could feel a bubble of nausea sloshing around in my stomach. You were kind and good, but to reduce your life to those few repeated words seemed so incomplete, so unfair to everything else that you were, every contradiction.
You were a vegetarian who ate bacon. And you were not patient.
You were angry and uncompromising and klutzy and self-righteous and big-hearted.
You were a million different facets and faces and I was suddenly furious with you for letting this happen.
And then I was standing, sobbing in front of all the piercings and day-glo heads around me.
“We went camping once ... A bunch of us,” I said to no one in particular, “and I was the first one up in the cabin. I went into the bathroom to pee, and there was a dead squirrel in the toilet. He must have gotten in through a hole in the roof, slipped in the toilet and drowned. I didn’t know what to do, so I crawled back into my sleeping bag and waited for someone else to get up.”
The funeral director appeared at my side, tugging at my arm.
“And Jamie ... Jamie got up next, all grumpy and groggy, and didn’t see the squirrel in the toilet. And when she realized she had peed on a dead squirrel, she woke everyone up, and I had to tell her I knew it was there all along.”
The woman with guitar looked at me like I had a dead squirrel on my head, and I swear I heard you laugh.
“And she was mad at first, but then she helped me bury it in the woods. The dead, pee-soaked squirrel. That’s the kind of friend she was. The kind that forgives you for letting her pee on a dead squirrel.”
I sank back into my chair, and the funeral director harumphed and fidgeted toward the podium.
I don’t know how long I sat there, or if anyone else spoke. When I got up to leave, everyone else was already gone.
How could you do this to me?
The newspaper said there were no batteries in your smoke alarm. I had seen you take them out a hundred times, to stop the alarm from screaming while your latest concoction belched and gurgled on the stove. Why did you forget to put them back in this time?
It is true I told my co-workers that we were growing apart and heading toward completely different lives. But who ever said you could leave? Some days I still wait for you to come swaggering into my office, smelling of hemp lotion and sunshine and Camel cigarettes. I still cannot accept that you are gone.
And when I wake up tomorrow, you will still be gone.
|READER'S REVIEWS (4)
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"That was a great story but I felt a little disappointed when you didn't tell how she died. Maybe that keeps suspense and doesn'r bring the sadness that didn't need to be in the story. I figured you wanted to keep the same mode of the narator being angry instead of sad. I'd really like to know what your intentional death was among this girl. You can make something up, I just need to hear something for closure." -- Maria Tomsha, Peru, Illinois, USA.
"Jen, I enjoyed the title and this essay. Again, I must say that your descriptions are brilliantly. This was a good passage about your feelings and how you felt about the loss of Jamie. I was with you all the way. I urge you to consult "Writers Markets 1999" or "Short Story Writers 1999" and start submitting your works. Please do it now and don't delay, because you surely have formidable talent." -- Amanda Castro-Socci, Washington, DC.
"I really enjoyed this essay. The way that it was written made me feel like I was there and I knew Jamie. I would have liked to know how she died. The way you described your feelings was amazing! It really makes you stop and think of what is important to you and how valuable life really is. " -- Angie Jacobsen, Normal , IL, United States of America.
"I thought this essay was very powerful. It kept my interest the whole way through, and that is a lot to say because usually I hate to read and it is very hard for me to keep my attention. One thing that kinda bothered me though was that they didn't mention how she died. I know that is beside the point, but I was really curious as to what may of taken her life. " -- Jennifer, Normal, Illinois, United States.
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© 1999 Jennifer L O'callaghan
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