Weekend Wind Down – The Phone Call

When the old man shuffled off this mortal coil his only surviving daughter was volunteered (by her tribe of heedless and unruly brothers) to inform the mother whose existence Pa had refused to acknowledge since a particularly acrimonious divorce some thirty years before. Prudence sighed, then picked up the mantle of duty.
Mother had taken the generous financial settlement that made Pa a free agent – a status he took full advantage of – and returned to her own people across the Atlantic in Scotland. And there she had remained—at first in her family’s draughty castle, but latterly in a home for bewildered elderlies of aristocratic descent. At least, Prudence thought, she regularly spoke to Mother, so a call shouldn’t endanger the old lady’s parlous mental state
She shooed her brothers out of the room.
“If I’m doing this I’m doing it without boos and catcalls.”
“What does it matter, she’s deaf anyway.”
“Precisely. Which means I’m going to have enough trouble making her understand without you lot helping.”
They went, laughingly playing pushy shovey in the doorway. But at last they were gone and the door was shut behind them.
Prudence dialled, and, after the usual small fuss of arrangement, spoke to the upright old lady whose gradual descent into dementia was more of a sorrow than the death of her blustering ex-husband.
“It’s not your usual day to call.”
“No. But I have some distressing news.”
“You have what?”
“Bad news.”
“Bad knees? That’s from crawling around after your bastard of a father.”
“No Mother. Not knees. News.”
The silence was dragging a bit before the old lady spoke again. Her voice sounding thinner and more strained.
“News? Bad news?”
“Yes. I have to tell you that Father died last night.”
“Your father lied? But he always lies…”
“Not lied. Died.”
“Took a bride? Isn’t he a bit old for that kind of foolishness?”
“Not a bride neither. He died.”
“What did he cry about.”
“He didn’t cry. He stopped breathing and died.”
“Whyever did he stop breathing? He’ll die if he keeps on doing that.”
“He did die.”
“Why did he do that? What made him think he had fish to fry?”
“Mother. Please try to listen. Last night Father died.”
A sharp intake of breath made Prudence think she had got through. But…
“What did he pry into? Your business or the boys?”
“Mother. Can you not understand me? Father is dead.”
“Your father has changed his name to Fred?”
“No. He has died. He is deceased. If you weren’t a divorcee you’d be a widow.”
This time the silence was heavier and more doom laden. While Prudence fought for balance she heard the sound of soft feet on the institutional linoleum and the gentle voice of one of the nurses.
“Your daughter is telling you that her father is dead.”
“Oh dear. But he was a monster. Pru can you hear me? I’m sorry I misunderstood and thank you for telling me. Although I can’t bring myself to much care.”
“No. I don’t expect you to care.”
“What about you? Do you care?”
“Not much. I don’t think anyone cares much.”
Mother’s chuckle sounded like dry leaves rustling in the wind. “I don’t think he understood caring. I can’t say I have any sympathy.” She sobered. “Do make sure he’s cremated, dear. We wouldn’t want him coming back to haunt us.”
Prudence pushed down the desire to scream, or giggle at the inconsequentiality of her mother’s reaction.
“I’ll make sure of that,” she said evenly.
After a little more small talk Prudence judged it time to ring off as Mother was sounding increasingly tired and frail.
As they signed off, Mother gave vent to her dry leaf chuckle once more.
“I just had the most diverting thought.”
“What’s that?”
“I outlived the old bastard. How he will have hated that. I think I can die happy now, knowing how badly he wanted me to pass first.”

Jane Jago

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