by J-Mag Guthrie
“Look out, Jamie!” my sister shouted, too late for me to avoid slipping on a patch of ice. I managed to keep my balance, but just barely.
“I hate him!” I shouted. No one heard me except Leanne and Beth.
Leanne made a face. “You always say that but whatcha gonna do about it, huh?”
Beth kept walking, but turned her face back to holler, “Who cares!” She sped up, probably so as not to overhear us.
This part of the conversation was old and worn, like Beth’s hand-me-down snow-boots. It was early January and the weather channel said the temperature was 23° Fahrenheit. But here we were, walking home from Dad’s apartment because he was too damned drunk to take us and too cheap to pay for a cab. Twelve blocks. The first four were through the downtown business district, well-shoveled and well-lit. As we got further away from his apartment and closer to our house, there was more snow and fewer street lights.
I started. “We could poison his coffee. I hear that if you have a hangover that everything tastes awful and you wouldn’t notice.”
“If you’re going to poison him, put it in his booze; he drinks more of that.” Leanne had a point.
“Maybe when he passes out we could light a cigarette and drop it on the couch cushion and start a fire,” I thought about that for a bit. “Except it might kill other people too like that old blind lady, Mrs. Painter.”
“I have the perfect idea… “
* * *
Fast-forward ten years. I now had two young daughters. It was mid-December and my father called, drunk as always, and sang us Christmas carols. He rambled about this and that and ended the call by promising to send a check to make our Christmas merrier.
We spent Christmas day at my mother-in-law’s house with my husband’s brothers and sisters and their families. It was the sort of holiday that people envy. There was plenty to eat and no one spoiled it by drinking too much or picking a fight.
A week later it was New Year’s. Since our two local papers had consolidated, the joint version carried both Dear Abby and Ann Landers. For the new year, they both had the same advice: Tell the people in your lives that you love and value them because you may not always have them around. After I put the kids to bed, I called my mother-in-law and thanked her again for the lovely Christmas.
I had scarcely put down the receiver when the phone rang again. It was my father. He said that he’d sent a check but the post office had returned it. Sure. I verified my address and the spelling of my “married name” because apparently he couldn’t remember if “Clarke” had an ‘e’ at the end.
I thought about my conversation with my mother-in-law and decided now was the time to step up and be the bigger person. So I took a deep breath and just before I said goodbye, I told my father I loved him. He got all choked up, said he loved me too and wished me goodnight.
The following morning, while I was changing the baby’s diaper, the phone rang. It was Beth. She told me that our father had been found dead in his apartment, of an apparent heart attack. Beth said she was going to handle the arrangements for the funeral, and she would let me know more as there was more to know. I didn’t tell her I’d spoken with him the previous night.
* * *
Leanne’s plan was simple. “Tell Dad you love him and he’ll die of a heart attack.”
J-Mag Guthrie writes mostly poetry with occasional forays into short fiction. Her work has appeared in “Spitball: The Literary Baseball Magazine” and “Poetize.” She is co-winner of the 2016 WritingForums.com Grand Invitational Poetry Challenge. She lives in southeast Texas, USA with her husband, two adult children (of five), and a cat.