Ray never talked to his kids on the phone before this so he doesn’t really want to start now. They can call all they want, every day if they want to, twice a day, obviously only calling because he’s sick, but that doesn’t mean he wants to talk to them. He lets his wife answer the incessant ringing and say the same things to each of them; laugh, lie a little, cry of course. They get more out of that anyway. Hang up with a full report to pass on to the spouse, the grandkids, each other, the in-laws and the therapist and the mailman.
It’s true that every once in a while they insist on hearing him speak, if only to know their mother isn’t propping his corpse up in the living room for the Mets games and Judge Judy. Doubting Thomases and their pitiable grief. He’s right here, eating his oatmeal every morning, reading the sports section, limping around the house, Jesus. So he humors them sometimes, tells them a joke. Not one of his classics. A new one, just for the occasion. “I guess I can’t buy any green bananas,” he says, stifling a cough, putting on the bravado. He’s lost his hair but he hasn’t lost his humor, hasn’t lost his mind. His kids aren’t so sure, and they never laugh, don’t even seem to get it until they hang up, call their mother back later, whisper fiercely. He pretends not to hear. Shouts the Wheel of Fortune answers at the TV, beats all the suckers in their Sunday best, Pat and Vanna would be amazed. After she gets off the phone, his wife comes to sit beside him, not chastise him like usual, if only she would, but no. She sits with him, requisite inches separating them on the couch, takes his hand across the abyss, holds him for a moment more.
Sionnain Buckley is a writer and visual artist based in Boston. Her work has appeared or is slated to appear in Autostraddle, Wigleaf, Strange Horizons, Winter Tangerine, and others. She serves as a prose editor for 3Elements Review. When she isn’t making up strange stories, she is consuming queer media and popcorn in equal measure.
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Image (modified): Petr Kratochvl Public Domain