I picked up my cell phone and called Matthew to let him know. How many people would have to be told? No tangible number popped into my head. Matthew answered, “It’s the Anne Archer. How did you get my number?”
He always said the same thing when he answered my calls, referring to the actress Anne Archer. My stock response: “Not the Anne Archer. Just an Anne Archer.”
“What? Your mother hate you? She gave you two first names. An Anne.” Also part of our ritual.
“Matthew, I have some very bad news. It’s about Lillian.”
“Uh oh,” he said to me.
“She passed on just a few moments ago. I was… still am with her.” I managed to say it without my voice cracking. “The doctor said it was heart failure.”
A long pause followed. Finally, Matt said, “Hard to believe. I thought the old dear was immortal.”
“As did we all.” My voice sounded tired.
“How is Chris doing?” Ever the older brother.
“He walked out of the hospital and went outside to smoke.”
“Stupid man. When did he start smoking, again?”
“About a half an hour ago.”
“At least Mom doesn’t know that. Anne, I am so sorry. I know Chris will make you take care of all the arrangements. Do you know what she wanted?” Matt asked me.
“She wants a wake. Not a funeral or a church service. She will be cremated. Nothing too complicated,” I said.
“How soon?” Matt asked.
“The wake can be just about anytime. We could do it today, if I could get enough people together. What about you? Will you be able to come to her wake? I can schedule it around you.”
I could almost see him shaking his head. “I’m not going to try it. The drive to Virginia is at least a couple of days. I can’t leave Barbara that long and there is no way she can make the trip. Also, you know I won’t fly.”
“How is she doing?” I asked. Anything to get my mind off of Lillian.
“Barb’s chemo is beating her up. She can’t eat or sleep or even concentrate long enough to watch a TV show. She has another month of this, then she will have to recover from the effects of the chemo. We are hoping she won’t have to do this again.”
“I am so sorry, Matt. Tell Barbara I love her. I will call you.”
“Righteo,” he said and then he disconnected the call.
I waited for Chris to return to the hospital room and after a half hour, I realized that likely wouldn’t happen. I walked to the nurses’ station and asked them what I should do next. The RN told me a counselor waited for me in a conference room across the corridor.
The woman in Conference Room F wore a mask of too much makeup, and her smile was thin and forced. She looked up from her tablet when I entered. “Mrs. Archer, I am Sunny Rivers. I am very sorry for your loss.” Sunny Rivers? Really? I refrained from making a joke she had probably heard about ten thousand times.
When I said nothing, she continued, “First, I would like to inform you that this hospital offers a complimentary grief counseling session, if you are interested. You can call me and I will set it up for you.” I took the proffered card that she slid across the table. She continued her rote speech that sounded hollow and rehearsed. “Are you aware of any arrangements Lillian Archer may have had?”
“Yes,” I said. “She wished to be cremated. She has a prepaid plan at the funeral home on Market Street.”
“Very good. We will arrange to have her remains transported later today. Is there anything I can do for you?” What a question. Her tone made it sound like she had no intention of actually doing anything beyond her basic job description. For more than one reason, I welcomed Chris’s absence as I pictured his temper tantrum when he saw the shallow female in the room. Chris worshiped his mother and could not honestly understand when someone else didn’t.
“No. There is nothing.”
Sunny Rivers stood from a white plastic chair that was one of six around a small table and hurried out of the room with a toss of her blond hair and a swish of her short skater skirt.
I returned to the nurses’ station and requested the RN inform Chris that I left if he should return. I didn’t try to call him or to text him. Maybe he acutely felt the loss of his mother, but that was no reason to leave me entirely on my own to handle it. Coward. Besides, I assumed he went to find comfort in the arms of his co-worker. Another tiny blond with short skater skirts.
“Maybe you’ll chain smoke yourself to death,” I muttered while I waited for the elevator. Finally, I left the oppressive building, found my car and climbed in.
The sun crept across the sky, a light breeze rustled leaves on the trees, cars came and went in the lot. Still, I hesitated to start my car. Nothing crossed my mind other than the sure knowledge that my life changed forever. And I suspected not for the better.
I glanced at my watch. Time passed without my noticing. Three hours since I sat in the room with Sunny Rivers. Lily would be home from school in an hour and I couldn’t chance Chris telling her about Lillian. I started my car and drove toward our house.
Thankfully, I didn’t see Chris’s car, so I could tell Lily, myself, knowing Chris generally made a mess of things.
The house looked exactly the same as when I left it earlier. My coffee mug sat on the kitchen counter, the magazine I threw at Chris that morning lay with wings spread open like a dead bird on my living room floor. Dirty breakfast dishes cluttered the sink and the dog’s food bowl stood empty. She looked up at me and her tail slowly flopped back and forth. “Snow, I didn’t mean to forget you,” I told the solid white German Spitz. Snow was only two years old and I loved her dearly. Her manners were impeccable and her disposition very sweet. As a bonus, she completely adored me.
I poured some dog crunchies into the ceramic bowl shaped like a Chinese take-out box and freshened her water. Oblivious to the human emotions around her, she crunched the food noisily.
“You’ve got it right, Snow. Just ignore everything except food and water. In the grand scheme of things, what else do we truly need?” I made another pot of coffee and waited in the kitchen while it brewed. Before the carafe filled completely, I poured coffee into my mug, sat at a bar stool and settled in to wait for Lily to come in from school.