Prompt Day #178: We already know what the “undead” are. But what are the “unalive”?
Not Gone But Forgotten
“Mom! Is Grandma ok? I mean, have you talked to her lately, has anyone from the home called you?” Jenna’s voice assaulted her mother’s ear.
“Uh, she’s fine as far as I know, Honey. I haven’t seen her in a few weeks, but no one’s called, why?” Her mother was chopping vegetables, Jenna could hear it. She could envision her mother standing in the kitchen with the cordless phone she insisted on using nestled between her shoulder and head as she spoke.
“Because I saw her today” Jenna said, feeling sheepish. “In the library. I mean it was her from those old black and white pictures she had in that one album, you know? She was just sitting there in one of the comfy chairs reading a book. When I walked in, I saw her immediately, she looked up and made eye contact with me, smiled and winked at me. Mom, it was her, I swear.” She was rambling, but she had herself worked up. As far as Jenna figured, it meant Grandma was dead and Jenna was seeing her ghost.
“Well, you know it wasn’t Hon, why are you so upset about it?” chop, chop, chop; not at all interested or concerned.
“Because if I am seeing her like that, it’s like a ghost or something and she’s gone, Mom. It’s a sign that Gram’s gone. I can’t handle it.” Jenna was choking back sobs now.
“Then why don’t you call the home? Talk to Sue, she’s your grandmother’s usual nurse. She’ll tell you how Grandma is doing. That should make you feel better“. Now, the sizzle of the veggies going into the wok. Stir Fry night.
“Mom, seriously, can’t you just call or better yet, go check on her. I can’t even think about her being gone, you know?” Jenna said. Her roommate came in just then and they had dinner plans. “Mom, I gotta go, but please, just go check on her?”
“Jenna, I will call tomorrow. I have to get dinner finished and then your dad and I have bridge club tonight.” Her mom was already hanging up as Jenna thanked her. Holly rolled her eyes. Jenna was always overly dramatic. Beverly Harkle, Holly’s mother was alive and physically healthy and living in a convalescent home. The woman suffered from the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease and had been in a state of catatonia for the last eighteen months. Holly had stopped visiting when it became clear her mother was not going to come out of it. It made her uncomfortable to sit there and stare at the shell of her mother. She stirred the vegetables with agitation.
“She’s always been a little spitfire” he mother’s voice said behind her. Holly dropped the spoon and spun around. Her mother, the version she remembered most clearly sat at the table with a cup of tea in her hand. “I don’t know why you let it bother you. I for one think it’s a good thing for her to be so imaginative.”
“Mother?” Holly whispered. “How did you get here?” she approached the specter hesitantly but with anticipation.
“Well, it isn’t likely you’ll be coming to see me, is it? Didn’t leave me much choice.” The woman, who looked every bit the solid human being sitting at her dining room table said.
“I’m sorry, mum, I just, well I can’t bear to see you like that.” Holly said, sputtering like a child caught in an act of disobedience.
“Humph.” Her mother responded and disappeared.
John, Jenna’s father and Holly’s husband arrived home just then to find Holly sitting at the table, head in her hands, sobbing. He ran to her.
“Holly, what’s wrong. Are you ok? Is Jenna Ok?”
“Yes, yes. It’s my mum” she mumbled through her hands
“Oh, God, Holly. I’m so sorry. When?” He sat beside her and rubbed her back. She looked up at him.
“No, I mean, I don’t think she’s gone. I mean, something strange is happening” she stumbled around her sentences, paused, took a deep breath and started again. “Jenna called me today. She said that she’d seen mum today in the library, a young version of her.”
“Oh Geez” John interrupted “Holly, you know how Jenna gets sometimes”
“And then, I saw her. She was sitting here, right here, where I am now. She was sitting here drinking her tea like she always did. She said Jenna was a spitfire and it was a good thing, and then said that she had to come here because it isn’t likely that I would visit her.”
“Honey. You know what I think? I think Jenna’s call got you upset and probably feeling a little guilty that it has been so long since you’ve visited your mother, then you imagined seeing her and her telling you exactly what you were feeling, you know? Just call Sue and ask how she is. I’m sure she is fine. Sue would have called you otherwise, right?”
“No, I haven’t. I will tomorrow. I’m just too upset to call tonight.” She said.
They got home late from Bridge Club and she slept late. She was therefore behind on all her household chores and had to put off the call to Sue. Jenna did not see her grandmother again that week and with her busy classes, she forgot to call to home to see what Sue had to say.
The days turned into weeks and the weeks into months and it wasn’t until the quarterly bill from the home came that Holly remembered and called.
“No changes. I’m sorry Mrs. Muldon, you know I would call you if anything were different.” Sue answered.
“Thank you, Sue. I’m going to try to come visit very soon.”
“I’m sure she’d like that very much. You know, I really believe she’s in there and I think a visit from you or your daughter would be good for her.”
“I’m sure.” Holly said and thanked her again before hanging up. She called Jenna and passed on the update. Jenna was relieved that her grandmother was at least still alive but was in the middle of finals week and couldn’t talk any longer.
The following week, however, Jenna ran into her grandmother again in the library where Beverly told her that she ought to consider teaching over medicine. “It’s going to Hell in a handbasket, Sweetie” she’d said “Don’t chain yourself to that life. Do something fun. Teach ceramics or art or how to critique science fiction movies of the fifties, you know the ones with all the buxom, half naked women screaming and passing out over giant bugs or piles of radioactive slime? You always loved those movies. Find your passion and learn how to use it.” The grandmother from Jenna’s childhood told her
Beverly also visited with her daughter, offering to play a round of canasta. “You know, I’m the one who taught you how to play all these card games in the first place, now you’re too busy with them to come see me.” She admonished her daughter. “Play a round with me”
“Mum, this is upsetting me. You aren’t really here, so you have to go. It’s messing with my head” Holly said and stayed out of the dining room for the rest of the day.
When John saw his mother in law sitting in the waiting room of his dentistry office, he attributed it to fatigued, but when he found her again in his office. She seemed to be waiting specifically for him and when he sat down at his desk and looked across directly at her, she smiled.
“John, surely you have better things to do than spend every minute you aren’t working attached to my daughter’s side?” He wrinkled his brow at her but said nothing, still insisting he wasn’t seeing what he was seeing. “What I’m saying is, perhaps you would encourage her to come see me now, while I am still here on this earth.”
“Beverly, it upsets Holly to see you in your current state. Perhaps if you put your energy into getting better instead of haunting me, Holly would want to visit you more often.” He hated to respond, felt ridiculous in fact, but felt it necessary non-the-less. He would not tell Holly about this of course. He went back to his charting and when he looked back up again, she was gone.
No one spoke of the visits, each thinking it best to keep it from the others. The call from Sue came the next week. Beverly had taken a turn for the worse and wasn’t expected to survive the night. John drove Holly and Jenna to the home as both were too hysterical to drive. The thought of losing their mother and grandmother was simply too much for them. The arrived in time to say their goodbyes and profess their immense love before she passed.
Both Jenna and Holly mourned for weeks, neither sure how they would go on. They spoke of all the wonderful times they’d had with the woman and took flowers to her grave twice a week. Jenna took a semester off to stay home with her mother where they often wondered about how they were able to see the “ghost” of Beverly before she passed away and yet now that she was dead, she didn’t come to them when they needed her most.