Written by Mandi
Warning: Major Character Death. This is the last death of Sequence and is heralding “THE END” with the next update.
Holy crap, guys... Sequence is almost over... :C
“How you holdin up?” Jack asked, Junior now two weeks into an empty nest; the twins had gone off t’college at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
“Oh, it’s hard,” she sighed, soundin like she was holdin back tears. “I miss havin ‘em here, but it’s nice t’have more time with Kurt.”
“I’m sure,” he smiled. “We felt the same way when you went off. Jus’ lucky you were so close by that we could see ya on a moment’s notice.”
“Yeah,” a sputterin laugh t’hide the cryin.
“Aww, Darlin, don’t cry…”
“Tryin not to… jus’ so… so hard. Wasn’t expectin this day t’come so damned soon.”
“Hey, Junior?” A beep sounded on the line, signalin a call on the other line. “Can I call ya back in a few minutes? ‘Nother call.”
“Sure thing, bye, Uncle Jack.”
He clicked the line over. “Hello?”
Still nothin. Dammit, I disconnected ‘em… Hate this fuckin…
Silence on his end.
“Uh… hi, Alma.” He’d known her voice anywhere.
“Is Ennis there?” She seemed real direct, but somethin in her tone was horribly, horribly wrong.
“Uh, he’s out ridin his motorcycle, can I have him call ya back?”
“Oh…” She hadn’t started rantin an screamin. While that would ordinarily be a good start, the tone a her voice made icicles form in Jack’s throat. “I… Yeah, that’ll be good if he could call me back as soon as he can.”
“… Know it ain’t my place, but… Is somethin wrong?”
She became the second woman that day t’sob at him over the telephone.
“I got cancer.”
Alma had cancer.
He wasn’t sure why, but the thought made him sick… sick with guilt. He never remembered havin a kind thought ‘bout the woman, an now she had cancer… Knew he didn’t outright give it to her or wish it on her, but he felt responsible.
She didn’t say what kind, he thought quickly. Maybe it’s one a them kinds you can treat with chemotherapy or somethin.
He paced the livin room, checkin out the window a few times for Ennis, wonderin where the hell he’d gone off to when the mother a their child was waitin t’drop this horrible news on him.
Maybe it’s better he don’t come back right away, Jack thought. The longer I can keep him from hurtin over this, the better…
His mind quickly shifted t’Junior.
Oh, Jesus, how’s she gonna react when Alma tells her?! She’s already havin a hard enough time with the girls goin off t’school…
The front door yawned open, bringin in Ennis, helmet under his arm, smellin wild like the wind. He smiled warmly at Jack, who couldn’t return it; his face immediately creased with concern. Jack never remembered noticin the way the skin ‘round Ennis’ eyes pulled when he had that look. How did I never see them little lines on him before?
“I.. you gotta call Alma.”
“Ah, Jesus, what’s she want?”
“Ennis…” he said sadly. “Don’t be like that, she….” It ain’t my place t’tell him. “She really needs you right now. Jus’ call her. I’m gonna go get a cup a coffee, you want some?”
He shook his head, the little lines ‘round his eyes not fadin as he reached for the cordless telephone.
Jack leaned on the kitchen counter, tryin hard not t’listen in. He knew from the dead silence when she’d told him, an badly wanted t’go in there an hold his husband, but didn’t dare. Didn’t want him t’know he was listenin in. Weren’t his business, really..
But Ennis is my business. Maybe I shoulda prepared him… even if it was Alma’s right t’tell him herself, I shouldn’t let him get shocked that bad. No matter what, that woman is the mother a his child… she’ll always have a place in his life. I cain’t stand in the way a that.
He was so lost in thought that he dropped his coffee mug when Ennis spoke t’him, spillin lukewarm coffee down his leg.
“Alma’s got cancer,” he murmured, his eyes glazed an far away.
“I know,” Jack whispered. “She… she called earlier an she told me. I dunno why she told me, but…”
“It’s terminal,” Ennis sighed, foldin his arms.
Jack felt his soul sink. “Wh… what kinda cancer?”
“Pancreatic,” he repeated. He didn’t know much, but he knew that shit was some a the worst, an some a the fastest.
“She’s gonna invite Junior over tomorrow with her brother an sisters t’tell ‘em.”
Jack shook his head. “M’so sorry, Honey.”
“D’you… can I… can I do somethin? Anythin? If I can help, I wanna… what… what can I do?”
He jus’ shook his head. “I dunno yet.”
Junior came over the next day t’talk t’Ennis. Jack felt it weren’t his place t’sit in on the matter, so he took the motorcycle early that mornin an sped off towards wind blown, mind numbin nowhere.
“She says it’s gonna kill her,” Junior’s eyes were red, but despite it, was tryin t’hold strong for her father. Goddammit, you don’t gotta be strong for me… this here’s your momma, you have every right t’cry!
“Uh… well, we don’t know that…”
“She has four months to a year,” she continued as though her father had said nothin. “That’s what her doctors said.”
This time, Ennis really did say nothin, maybe outta respect, maybe ‘cause his tongue felt like lead in his mouth.
“She… she says she’s gonna plan out what she wants,” she took a deep breath. “For everythin… who gets what, what she wants at the funeral…”
“I know,” a tear leaked out of her absent eyes. “I… I can’t believe it.”
“Ain’t told Jackie an Annie yet,” she sighed. “I… I don’t know how.”
“Want me to?”
She squinted her eyes shut. “I do, but… but I know I gotta do this. I’m their momma, it’s my responsibility…” A sob tore outta her chest, her hands coverin her pale, tearstained face.
After a moment a uncertainty, Ennis reached out an touched his beloved daughter’s shoulder. “I’ll tell ‘em.”
Annie took it harder’n Jackie. She an Alma were close, her grandmother havin taught her t’sew an read her countless books when her sister would rather be outside diggin up worms an playin in the dirt with Grandpa Bill.
“I wanna come home,” Annie sobbed over the phone t’her grandfathers, each on a separate telephone.
“Darlin, you gotta be in school, get your education,” Jack urged. “Grandma ain’t goin anywhere for a while… jus’…” He sighed as Annie cried even harder.
“Grandma wouldn’t want you t’stop livin jus’ cause she’s sick,” Ennis continued. “We… She… Shit.”
“I know you want me t’feel better,” her voice quivered, “but I don’t feel right not bein there.”
“Sometimes,” Jack was bitin at the edge a his pinky nail, Ennis was half a mind t’tell him not to, but resisted. “Sometimes people wanna go in private… Y’know? Death is so personal an so… well, Annie, you know what I tell ya, it’s like goin Home…”
“I know it don’t sound good now, but she’ll… she’ll be Home.”
“She ain’t dyin tomorrow,” Ennis interjected, hopin that would somehow calm Annie down.
“Oh, no, she’s fine for right now…”
“Comfortable an all,” he continued.
“I’m gonna call Grandma, okay?” She sniffled, stiffenin her voice, tryin t’sound braver’n she really was.
Maybe it’d be better for her this from Alma herself, Ennis thought t’himself, an tried not t’feel like a failure for not fixin the world for his granddaughter.
“Are you gonna… I dunno… talk t’her?” Asked Jack one night at supper, a few days after the news had hit. They’d tried t’act normal, but there was a disquiet that fell over ‘em that neither could speak of. It was so big it closed their throats.
“Jesus, Ennis, everything!”
“I don’t wanna make this harder’n it’s gotta be,” he sighed. “She got enough t’do without me stickin my ass in the middle a it.”
“What if she wants closure?”
“Yeah, closure. T’be able t’say things t’you she had bottled up for all these years.”
“She said ‘em all, I’m sure.” Ennis grouched. “Called me every name in the book, pretty sure there ain’t nothin left t’say.”
“What if it ain’t ‘bout name callin an more ‘bout mendin fences?”
“What would she wanna mend fences with me for?”
“I dunno much ‘bout your life with her, but I know if I was her, I wouldn’t wanna leave this earth without fixin all my broken pieces.”
“So I’m a broken piece now?”
“Don’t be like this,” he sighed.
“How’s this -- if she wants t’talk, I’ll talk, but I ain’t goin in there an forcin myself on her.”
Alma didn’t call back for a few days, almost a whole week. Ennis couldn’t say he was real thrilled t’hear the phone ring, or that feelin he got knowin it was her on the other end a the line.
“Hi, Ennis,” she said sadly, in her usual misery way that was somehow even worse now… or maybe it was in his mind, but he didn’t think so.
“Hi, Alma,” he settled the phone on his shoulder. “Uh… how are ya feelin?”
“As good as can be expected, thanks.”
“I’m uh.. m’real sorry t’hear ‘bout the, uh… the cancer.” Is that what I’m supposed t’say? I am sorry an all, but… dammit, the hell d’you say t’a woman with this disease?
“Uh… what kind is it?”
“Pancreatic. Cain’t operate on it.”
His stomach dropped deeper’n he expected it to. “Christ, m’sorry.”
“Ennis, it’s… I’m comin t’terms with it, really.” She paused for an eternity. “Why didn’t you call back?”
“I…” Was scared to, was the real end a that sentence, but wasn’t the one that came out. “Didn’t wanna bother you… figured you had more important things t’do than talk t’me…”
“Did you ever think maybe I wanted t’talk to you? Maybe that was why I called in the first place?” Her voice was icy cold, an he couldn’t help but think he deserved it.
“I dunno what t’say.”
She got gentle. “It’s okay, Ennis, I don’t know what I oughta say, either.”
“Maybe we oughta mend our fences.” He didn’t dare tell her those were Jack’s words; last thing she needed was t’hear ‘bout him.
“I know I gotta forgive you,” she murmured. “An part a me did… but… I guess if I’m dyin, I may as well tell ya…” He winced at the ease she had usin them words. “There’s a part a me that never stopped lovin you.”
“Don’t tell me you love me, too, Ennis,” she half laughed, but it was forced an bitter. “I know ya don’t.”
“I do,” he protested, an found himself genuinely meanin it. “I do, in some way. Cain’t love ya like I should, but… Christ, I never meant t’do ya wrong like this.”
Another eternity a silence. “I know.” He almost didn’t hear the words.
“What happens now?”
“I don’t know,” she sighed. “I’m on all sorts a vitamins an stuff, but I ain’t doin that chemotherapy.”
“Why not?” He demanded, somewhat shocked.
“No sense,” she sighed, an he could tell she was ‘bout t’cry. “If God wants me, there ain’t nothin that’s gonna stand in His way. I ‘spose I just don’t see any reason in makin myself sick with them drugs when all it’s gonna do is prolong my misery.”
He couldn’t say nothin; his tongue was stuck t’the roof a his mouth like someone stuffed it full a peanut butter. Deep down, he knew she was right, but there was some part a him that wanted t’scream at her t’take the help, t’take any help that might keep her here longer, for the sake a Junior, for Annie, for Jackie… for himself, t’maybe give him time t’make up for all his fuck ups, t’repair the damage he’d done…
There’s no repairin what you done t’that woman… She’s lived with the repercussions a your choices all these years, what makes you think you’re gonna be able t’magically fix it all now?
“Oh,” was all he could say.
“I know what you’re thinkin,” she said softly. “I know you want me t’take the chemotherapy, an believe me, if it would give me any real worthwhile time, I would. It cures some folks, but it wouldn’t cure me. What I got is too far along an too extreme that all this would do is give me more time t’be sick, an I don’t want that.”
He was silent; didn’t have a goddamned thing he could say.
“It’s okay, Ennis,” Alma murmured. “This is how I want it. I don’t want more time. Whatever God’s gonna give me, that’ll be enough.”
Alma went into the hospital several weeks later with severe back pain from the cancer, or so Bill Munroe told him over the phone. She’d fallen in the kitchen ‘cause the pain was that bad an never really regained her balance an had t’get from her hospital room t’the adjoinin bathroom with a walker. Ennis went to visit her a few times at her request; it was very difficult t’see her like that, all loopy on them powerful pain killers, smilin at him with such a strange sorta adoration as if she weren’t aware they’d gone through a messy, complicated divorce.
Junior took it real hard. As tough as she tried t’be for her girls, seein her mother depletin took its toll on her.
“I hate seein her like this,” she said one afternoon while over at her parents’ house, restin her head in her hands. “She doesn’t know where she is half the time from the morphine drip they’re givin her, I’d rip it out myself if I thought she’d be okay without it.”
“Here now,” Jack poured her a shot a brandy, which she accepted without a word. “The docs are givin it to her ‘cause she’d be in too much pain without it. Don’t mean we gotta like it, but it’s better than her bein in unbearable pain.”
“I know.” Junior smiled. “She told me, an I’m not sure if she was high on morphine at the time or not, that her nurse was cute, that one, that… um, Jonathan, I think his name is. She said he has a cute rear end.” She laughed for the first time in what felt like months t’the boys. “Even stoned out of her mind, my mother won’t say ‘ass.’”
“She’s a good Christian woman through and through,” Ennis raised his glass an they all drank t’Alma’s inability t’curse.
It was late on a Saturday night that Alma had asked for Ennis’ company; they were watchin What About Bob? on DVD in her room. Bill brought in a DVD player for her an Junior purchased the DVD that her mother enjoyed so much.
“He’s such a funny man,” she sighed, pressin the button a her morphine pump.
“You not feelin good?”
“I’ll be fine in a minute,” she smiled, an reached out for Ennis’ hand; he gave it uncertainly. “Thanks for bein here.”
“Thanks for havin me.”
“It means a lot that you’re here.”
“Ain’t nothin,” he shook his head. “I wanted t’be here.”
She stroked his hand with her thumb, an he never in all his life remembered it lookin smaller than it did now; her skin was paper thin an ashy.
“I wanna talk t’Jack,” she said suddenly.
“I think your morphine kicked in.”
“I mean it,” Alma said firmly, blinkin hard. “I need t’talk t’him ‘fore I go, while I’m still.. while I still got my senses.”
“You…” You don’t mean that. You don’t need that. You don’t need t’see the man I nearly ruined your whole life over. There ain’t nothin he can say t’you t’heal what’s been hurt. Let be, let be. “Alma… please… don’t do this.”
“This ain’t ‘bout you, Ennis,” her face was serene, the tight lines ‘round her lips fadin with the morphine’s kiss in her veins. “I need t’talk t’him. For me.”
He sat dumb for a moment ‘til some other force in his body spoke for him.
Alma had requested t’see Jack alone, somethin neither Jack nor Ennis were really comfortable with. The followin Wednesday, Jack an Ennis piled into the truck an headed for the hospital, drivin mostly in reverent silence.
“I’ll wait outside the room for ya, in case she gets…”
“No,” he shook his head. “The woman’s dyin, we’re not disrespectin her wishes like that. If she wants a few moments alone with me, I think I owe her at least that.”
Ennis was tempted t’tell him he didn’t owe her anythin, but thought that might also be disrespectful, so withheld the statement.
Jack stood outside Alma’s room by himself for a few minutes, breathin heavy. He bought her a bouquet a flowers at the hospital gift shop an wondered momentarily if that had been a good idea; for the rest a his life afterward, the smell a daisies reminded him a standin outside a that room, waitin, waitin.
What if she starts screamin at me? Cursin me out? Damnin me t’hell? What if she makes a helluva scene an we get thrown out an Ennis can’t come back t’see her? What if I make all a this worse? Is this really what she wants? Can I still high tail it an run?
His feet acted without the say so a his mind, walkin into the overly sanitary smellin white room, There were several potted flower arrangements, much more extravagant than his, linin the windowsill an the TV was ramblin quietly. Alma was layin in her bed, hooked up t’some machines that clicked away, her eyes closed, face lookin so peaceful he hated t’disturb her, ‘specially ‘cause he knew that it was him she was gonna be wakin up to.
“Uh.. Alma? Alma, you awake?” He asked, steppin as close as he dared.
Her eyelids fluttered; she blinked a few times an opened her eyes fully. Alma stared at him in what looked like either disbelief or lack of recognition, an he wondered for a moment if she wasn’t high on pain killers an possibly didn’t know who he was or that she’d invited him here in the first place.
“You came,” she finally said, an he breathed a sigh of relief he wasn’t aware he was holdin.
“Uh…. Yeah, yeah, I did… How are you?”
“Fine,” she nodded slowly. “Thanks for coming.”
“Sure thing…” His sweaty palms made his grip on the flowers slip, an he held them in her direction with a careful reverence. “I brought you some flowers… seems like I ain’t the only one with the idea.”
“That’s very nice, thank you,” she took them from him an admired the slightly wiltin daisies. Alma nodded towards a chair in the corner. “Pull that up, sit here.”
He did as he was told, the chair makin a dull scrapin sound against the floor. Jack sat down with apprehension, waitin for what exactly, he didn’t know. The two were silent for a moment or two, then Alma smoothed her crocheted bedsheet with her withered hand.
“I know we ain’t got a good history, Mr. Twist,” she began.
“You can call me Jack,” he said quickly.
“Jack,” she said slowly, as if the word was unfamiliar. “There’s so much I wanted t’say t’you…. An now that you’re here, I can’t say a word a it.”
His brow furrowed. “Me neither… I can think of a few… startin with how sorry I am for how all this happened.”
She said nothin.
“I’m sorry ‘bout me an Ennis. I didn’t mean t’fall in love with him,” she looked as if the words had stung her, but kept her composure an continued t’listen. “If I coulda changed all a this… put things right… left you two well alone, I would a done jus’ that…”
“Why didn’t you?” Not anger, no… Hurt. Undeniable, irreparable hurt.
“Alma… All I can do is tell you I’m sorry for takin what was rightfully yours… An I am. I’m sorry for ruinin your marriage an everythin you shoulda had with that man, but I… I cain’t regret it. I’ll never regret it.”
Her expression was unreadable; it wasn’t anger, but some kind of harsh, terrible acceptance of a reality she’d been running from since the day she’d seen her husband kiss this very man before her on the front porch of her little apartment in Riverton, Wyomin.
“An I’ll forgive you….” She said slowly. “I know I hafta… it’s the right thing t’do. But if you don’t know anythin else, know that you took one a the best things that ever happened t’me. I’m forgivin ya ‘cause I hafta… Not ‘cause I want to.”
She sighed heavily. “You don’t gotta stay… but I had t’say that t’you, face t’face… I jus’ had to.”
“I understand,” said Jack, an rose t’leave.
“Please,” she said quietly, so much so that he almost didn’t hear her. “When I’m gone…” Her voice cracked. “Take care a Ennis...”
“I swear on everythin I hold dear, I’ll take care a that man.”
Her brow furrowed, an she leaned back into her pillows an stared out the window. “I know you will.”
Alma left the hospital t’die at home; said she didn’t wanna go in some impersonal hospital. Bill hired a live in nurse t’help take care of her in her final days.
Ennis came t’visit as much as he dared; didn’t wanna be in the way a the nurse, Bill or the visitin kids an grandkids. Annie an Jackie came home t’see their grandmother one last time. She told ‘em a long, ramblin story ‘bout the time she was in Mississippi -- Alma had never in her life left the state a Wyomin.
Alma went into a coma; Ennis sat by her bed an held her hand, talkin t’her jus’ the same ‘cause Jack told him that even if she looked like she wasn’t there, her spirit was an could hear everythin he was sayin. He wasn’t sure he believed it, but he did it for Jack.
Alma died on a Tuesday in September… the twelfth. Eleven o’clock at night. Bill called t’tell him the news. Ennis hung up, stood stoic for a moment, then pinched the bridge a his nose an cried.