by Brian Plante
Laura Connolly sadly watched her daughter Kerry counting out time by the big front door. Kerry was waiting for her daddy to come home from work, but Laura knew how impossible that was. She had talked to Kerry earlier about the accident, but the child just would not, or could not, believe death had struck home. No, daddy wouldn't be arriving at 6:25 as always, looking weary from a long day's work, but anxious as ever to see his little sweetheart. Little Kerry, on the other hand, wanted to see her daddy -- needed to see him one more time, and by God if there was a way, even the tiniest twinkle of hope, Laura had to indulge her. She held her head in her hands and said a silent prayer.
And then, without fanfare, Ralph Connolly quietly slipped through the door, looking a bit frazzled from a day at the office, but otherwise normal. He looked the way Kerry wanted to see him, not the way Laura had feared he might. The automobile accident hadn't yet taken a toll on this Ralph Connolly.
Kerry called to him, "Daddy!" but Ralph walked past her without noticing. She followed him through the foyer into the kitchen, calling out again, "Daddy?"
Ralph dropped his briefcase in the usual spot in the breakfast nook and then walked over to the refrigerator, where he opened the door and stood, inspecting the contents.
"Why doesn't Daddy answer?" Kerry asked, looking at her mother with pleading eyes.
Laura wondered if it was time to talk to the girl about Death again. Kerry was only four years old and oh so innocent. It was the talk that Laura didn't expect to have with Kerry until she was older, but the accident changed all that. Soon enough, if Laura explained it right, and often enough, Kerry would come to accept death and learn to cope with the situation.
While wondering what to do, Laura watched as Ralph finally made his selection at the refrigerator. Reaching in, he retrieved a half-empty bottle of Pepsi from the back. Looking around the room guiltily, he drank a couple of mouthfuls straight from the bottle before replacing it back in the refrigerator. Laura bit her knuckle and choked back a tear. She had been after him for months to lay off the soda pop because of his weight, and here he was sneaking slugs, unaware that he was being watched, as if nothing had changed.
"Daddy can't answer," Laura told Kerry. "Don't you remember about the car crash?"
Kerry looked back at her mother with a pained look and shook her head no. It was amazing, Laura thought, how children have the capacity for blocking out the really hurtful things and protecting their delicate psyches. Maybe it was just as well that Kerry didn't remember. If only it were that easy for adults.
While Ralph remained standing in front of the refrigerator, inspecting and reinspecting the contents, Kerry walked up behind him. His shirttail was hanging over the edge of his pants, so Kerry reached up to tug on it and get his attention. On the first few attempts, the little girl tried unsuccessfully to grab the shirt and tug, but the fabric slipped through her fingers as if it were not there. Next, she tried tapping him on the leg, but her little hand sank into her father's thigh up to the wrist with no effect.
"Mommy, I can't touch him either!" she wailed. "What's wrong with Daddy?"
Laura took a deep breath. "There was an accident, honey. We talked about this before. Try to remember." Kerry looked at her mother with misty, blank eyes. Laura continued, "Daddy isn't like us anymore. He can't see or hear us, and you can't touch him."
"Doesn't he still love us?"
"Oh yes. Very much. But it's like we live in different worlds now. We have to . . . we have to let Daddy go now."
Kerry's face showed real horror. Laura picked her up and hugged her tight.
"Will we ever be in the same world with Daddy again so we can talk to him?"
"Oh, I'm sure of it," Laura whispered in the girl's ear. "But not right now. One day we'll all be together again. You'll see."
The room was quiet as Ralph remained at the open refrigerator door and Laura hugged Kerry over in the breakfast nook.
The telephone rang.
Laura was closest to the phone. Hanging on to Kerry with one hand, she reached out absently for the receiver with the other. Her fingers passed through the handset once, twice, until she remembered.
Ralph came away from the refrigerator holding a stalk of celery and walked over to the telephone. He won't answer it, Laura knew. Ralph always screened calls first. It rang two more times while Ralph munched on the celery before the answering machine kicked in.
"This is Kerry Connolly," the machine played. "My mommy and daddy can't come to the phone right now, so please leave a message after the beep."
"Um . . . is this . . . Hello, Mr. Connolly. This is Sergeant Monroe over at the 44th precinct. We've been trying to reach you. It's very important. It's about --"
The sergeant's voice cut off as Ralph picked up the phone, put it to his ear and said, "Hello?"
This is it, Laura thought. The call. Someone should have gotten to him earlier about the accident, but the police obviously had trouble tracking him down at work. No wonder Ralph had come home on time looking his usual self.
"Come on, honey," Laura said to Kerry. "It's time for us to go now."
"Go? But . . . but we live here, Mommy."
"No, honey. There's a different place for us now."
Ralph hunched over as he listened to the phone. Laura was relieved that his back was turned and they couldn't see his face.
"It's time to go now," Laura said softly.
"Uh. Good-bye, Daddy," Kerry said with tears leaking from both eyes. "We'll miss you."
Laura noticed Ralph's shoulders trembling, and the telephone receiver dropped from his hand onto the floor. Holding Kerry tightly with both arms, they left the house and went on.
Copyright © 1996 Brian Plante, first appeared in Pirate Writings, issue #11, August 1996. Count=8033
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