After Mom got herself killed, Miriam was the first to receive the call. She called me four times on her way to St. Paul’s. I was only three blocks away at Scotiabank Theatre with Joseph and Elaine but my phone was turned off. It was for Harry Potter. The twins had on their Hogwarts garbs, wands and all; I wore a sharpie lightning on my forehead, Elaine’s clumsy handiwork.
After the movie ended, after I checked my messages, we walked over to the hospital. Miriam met us outside and took over the kids. She told me she’d viewed the body and filled out the Notification of Death form but held off from signing it. She wanted me to do it. She took the kids to the cafeteria. I found my way down to the morgue.
Mom was lying on a gurney. The nurse pulled down the sheet so I could see her face. She looked quite dead. Eyes shut and lips sealed. For once she didn’t smell like alcohol or burnt plastic. I don’t know why that made me so mad but it did. I told the nurse to cover her up again.
The nurse handed me the NOD form. “This isn’t exactly legal,” he said, “but as long as you can verify the information your sister wrote down there shouldn’t be a problem.” Miriam had put down my name and address and phone number for everything. She’d even ticked the box that indicated I was Mom’s Executor. I signed my consent.
Afterwards, Miriam, the twins, and I walked over to their apartment in West End. Joseph was still mourning Dumbledore’s death with childish exuberance but Elaine had caught onto our unusual quietude. She asked me why we were at the hospital. I looked at Miriam. She gave me a shrug. So I told her, “Grandma passed away today.”
“Oh.” Elaine looked at her mom. Miriam nodded.
“Like Dumbledore?” Joseph chimed in. “Trevor says he’s only sort of dead!”
“Shut up,” Elaine told Joseph. Then she started crying. I picked her up and she clung onto me, sobbing bitterly into the side of my neck. I carried her the rest of the way with Joseph trailing behind; he kept apologizing without really knowing what for.
After we put the kids to bed Miriam and I went into the kitchen. She made coffee. It was paper thin and scalding hot but we sipped at it anyway.
“What do we do now?”
“I’ll call a funeral home in the morning,” she said. “You—you go take care of her things.”
Then we just sat there for a while, looking down at the matching IKEA mugs and not saying anything.
I got up. “I better get to work.”
Miriam walked me to the door. “Thanks for taking the kids out today,” she said. She gave me a little hug.
“They’re good kids,” I told her. “You’re doing a good job.”
Mom had been a junkie most of her life and it showed in her apartment. It showed in the sink full of dirty dishes and fungal blossoms; it showed in the expired perishables rotting in the fridge; it showed in the soiled toilet and newspaper scraps overflowing the bathroom; and it showed, next to the yellowed bare mattress, in the instruments of her addiction.
It took me a few hours to clean out the place. I didn’t find anything worth keeping except a photo of us all dressed up for Halloween. It was stuck on the kitchen counter, under an empty beer bottle long stripped of its label. I peeled it off as best as I could. I was Jack-o’-lantern and Miriam was some kind of fairy; behind us was a life-size mirror in which Mom stood like a succubus or cat-woman, all leather and cleavage. We were sitting on a couch looking vaguely bored. Mom on the other hand looked quite happy. I flipped the photo. It said, een ’97. 48 days cl. I put it in my wallet.
Just as I was about to haul out the last bags of trash, Miriam called and asked if I needed any help. I told her I was almost finished. She invited me over for dinner. I said I would.
Mom’s next-door neighbour was a bedraggled woman with a meth mouth. She was waiting for me in the hallway. “You’re Sheila’s, yeah?”
“So she’s dead then, is she?”
I didn’t answer. She tsk’d.
“****. I called the ambulance, you know.”
“I’m just cleaning out her things.”
I tried to brush past her but she didn’t budge.
“I have something for you, hold on a sec.”
She slipped inside then came back out after a minute or two. She was holding a shopping bag from Whole Foods.
“I didn’t touch it, I swear. I thought about it, but I didn’t.”
I took it from her hand and looked inside: five DVDs; all of the Harry Potter movies so far; no doubt purchased or traded or otherwise acquired in thrift shops. An ear of a card stuck out from between two of the volumes. I fished it out. On the cover were two little kids, a boy and a girl, flying an antique aircraft the likes of which would have roamed the skies of Europe during the First World War; Santa sat on one of the wings, dropping presents from his huge red sack. Inside it read, To Elaine and Joseph, Merry Christmas, Love, Granma.
“Thank you,” I said to the meth head, and left before she could say anything else.
The dinner at Miriam’s was spaghetti with meat sauce and beet salad on the side. Everything was business as usual. Joseph was eager to finish the meal and return to SpongeBob Squarepants; Elaine was being peckish with the veggies. Her eyes were still puffy from the night before and when I teased her about them she kicked me under the table. I took some of the beets from her plate while Miriam wasn’t looking to redeem myself.
After the meal, Miriam sent the kids out of the kitchen with a bowl of ice cream each. She told me about the funeral arrangements she’d made. I said I would help with the cost and told her about what Mom had left for the twins.
“Let me see.”
“They’re in the car. But I have the card, here.”
I couldn’t make out her expression as she read it. I was sure that she didn’t know what she was feeling herself. She read the words over and over and over.
“What do you want to do?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t know how I feel about this.” She handed it back to me. “You hold onto it. Until I figure it out.”
“Was there anything else?”
I shook my head.
I kissed the kids good night and left. It was raining. I hurried to my car. Once inside, I took out the photo and stared at the frayed message on its back. 48 days; one thousand one hundred and fifty two hours; almost seventy thousand minutes; more than four million seconds. Just shy of seven weeks.
I ripped the photo in half. Then I put together the torn halves and ripped them again, and again, until only a handful of fine photographic dust remained in my hands. I rolled down the window and thrust out my hands. The rain and the wind licked them clean.