Flannel: Short Story Part 2 of 4

I answered the phone and could tell something horrible had happened. My mom had a steady voice, calm, and monotone like. She said, “Mary. Your father passed away sometime last night. I found him in his chair this mornin. The lord has taken him home.”

Words failed me, as a shrill wave of panic gushed through my insides. I hadn’t had time to tell him, he would have protected me from this awful secret I hold. My mother will never accept the situation I find myself in. My Mother’s unwelcome news feels fake, like she was telling me a lie on purpose to get under my skin. My father and I were always close, he is my best friend, whereas my mother and I mixed together like oil and water. It always amazed me that I could be born from her body, yet be so completely different both inside and out.

I hesitated on the phone with her, she interrupted, as my heart emptied silently, “Mary? Did you hear me girl? He’s dead. Your father is dead.”

“I heard you, Mama. I’ll pack my things and get down there by this evenin.” I hung up my phone, missing the receiver the first time with a loud clank. The telephone cord tangled around my hand and arm as I fumbled, struggling to grasp it, I let out a slew of curses before I finally hung up the phone. As soon as the lifeline between my mother and I ended, I felt myself fall, hard. The wooden floor didn’t hurt when my knees struck it, however. My hands came out in front and I folded into a fetal position, and cried hard, with only myself to comfort.

I began packing my bags and prepared to be gone for a few days by overwatering the plants and overfeeding the cat. Quickly leaving a phone message for my neighbor to look out for things, including the cat, I walked out of my apartment. Closing the door felt final and surreal. I was going to have to face a lot of things in just a few hours, my fight or flight was trying to decide which answer to go with. I bit back tears and took a sharp breath in; time to get moving. It would be a 4-hour drive from Northern Atlanta down to the country where my parents were. During this time, I told myself, I would come up with a plan and stick to it.

It still being winter the sun began to set around 5pm. The stupid sun reminded me that no matter what happened during the day, another day would come. A new day that my father would never know. The sun wasn’t supposed to rise without him here to see another day. Tears roll freely now, with nothing audible to accompany them, just wet streams down my plump face. Today I would be forced to see my mother and my brother. At least my brother would be there to ease things along. The decision to tell my family what I had been hiding for the last four months was stuck in my throat.

Three and a half hours later I managed to stuff my face with Twinkies and Ding Dongs, dulling the pain just enough to convince my hands and feet to keep driving. Arriving at my parents’ house felt foreign. Instantly the feeling of love and safety of my childhood home vanished. It was as if my father packed them in his bag and took them up to heaven with him. I couldn’t help but to feel angry about his betrayal.

Once inside my mother was stiff, but open to an embrace. We spent an hour or so talking about what Daddy would have wanted and what would happen to Mama since she didn’t own the house. My brother insisted she come stay with him, which was a relief. However, Mama told us she would go with her sister, not far from here, she was also a widow and they could look after each other.

The next few days blurred together, like a robot on a pre-programmed course. I shook hands with family and friends, embraced many I never met, wiped lipstick off my face several times from all the cheek kissing. The room smelled of laborers, casserole dishes, and old lady perfume. My stomach was churning; I just wanted to be alone in his house.

When we were finally alone and packing up the house, I came across old mementos that sent my heart spilling out of my eyes again. My mom caught me in one of these moments. She put down a box she had been carrying and sat down on the bed next to me, rubbing my shoulder, I experienced an act of kindness so rare for her.

“Now I know we don’t always see eye to eye, but Mary, he loved you so much. We both do – or did,” Mama waved her hands in front of her face, unsure of her words. “I knew he would want you to have a few of his things. I also, hope that you and I remain close, even though he won’t be around me no more.”

With that my mom handed me the box, on top was a red flannelled shirt, not hardly worn. I looked at the shirt and felt puzzled. She saw that I struggled for the connection.

“I hope it’s okay, that was one of his new shirts,” she let out a soft chuckle. “He thought he was pretty spiffy in that red one. He wore it more than the others. This is the shirt he passed in. Oh! I did warsh it,” she explained.

“Mama. Thank you. If this is the last thing that he breathed life into than I’ll hold it close to my heart forever,” I said with all sincerity. My mind shouted out me, TELL HER NOW!! But I couldn’t. The secret was too painful. Sitting there holding my dad’s shirt, I held it up to my nose and breathed it in. I could still make out the tobacco, even after it was washed. I also knew what I had to do, and the thought of it flooded my chest with a burst of tears. My mother held me and let me heave sobs into her neck. This is the only time she has ever comforted me, which solidified what I needed to do.

 

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