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November 14, 2004

Chapter 7 ... in progress

Katelyn didn't know how much time had passed but suddenly she found Barbara, taking her hand out of her fathers and patting her arm gently' Katelyn looked up, bleary eyes, and noticed immediately the absence of sound. She sighed loudly, to make sure her hearing hadn't gone and heard herself so she knew that there was something else missing. She started when she realized that the machines were off. After living with the steady whoosh of the oxygen and the slow beep of the heart monitor as constant background noise, she had gotten used to their mechanical beating. Startled, she looked over toward her father, thinking the electricity must have gone out but she could see him in the dim light from across the room. No the electricity wasn't gone. Her father was. She looked back at Barbara, who said quietly, "I'm sorry." And all at once, like stepping under a waterfall, it washed over her, the reality of it.

She took a breath, then another, realizing that she wasn't feeling very different than she had earlier. She made an excuse to step outside, said she needed air, hoping Barbara would have had enough hospice experience to just accept that as a natural reaction. Grabbing her coat and slipping on her sandals, Katelyn stepped out into the shelter of the carport. It had gotten much colder and it was raining again. Katelyn took out her cigarettes and stared at the pack in her hand for just a moment before lighting one. I'll quit later. Right now I need this.

She took a few deep drags, letting the nicotine work its way into her system, realizing it had been quite a while since her last fix. How long? Katelyn hadn't looked at the clock and never wore a watch. Oh well, doesn't matter, I'll find out when I go inside. She shoved her hand into her pocket and found her phone. Ah, the time ... I must not be thinking straight. She flipped open her phone so the LED light would illuminate the screen. 2:18 am.

She was about to put her phone away when she realized she should call people, but who? Sydney would kill her if she woke her up in the middle of the night but she would also want to know what was happening. Katelyn decided that instead of calling her at home, she would call the office and leave a message. After 2 rings, she got her voicemail.

"You have reached the voicemail of ... Sydney Powers ... to leave a message, press one or wait for the beep. If your call is urgent, press O for Operator. To leave a numeric page, press 7 for further instructions. Thank you for calling the Washington Post.........................*beep*"

"Sydney, hi, this is Katelyn. I know it's after hours but I wanted to call you right away but I thought I better not call you at home because it's the middle of the night and I know you would be mad if I woke .... Okay, I sound like a blithering idiot." Katelyn pressed the pound key to stop recording.

"To send your message, press 1. To record a new message, press 2."

Katelyn pressed 2 and tried again.

"Hi Sydney, Katelyn here. Just wanted to leave you a message that my dad passed away tonight. I'm sure I have paperwork to do here but I'm hoping to be back by the end of the week. I'll call you in the morning to touch base and let you know more details. Thanks, Sydney. Bye"

"To send your message press 1..." Katelyn pressed one, satisfied that she sounded more in charge of her faculties. Ok, maybe she wasn't exactly in charge but at least she made sense and if she didn't send it now she would struggle with making the message right all night.

She tapped into her work voicemail, noting that she had a new message from Carl at National Geographic, wishing her well and telling her to call when she was ready to work again. Ah, he must have been talking to Sydney.

She hung up and checked her personal voicemail, just in case. A message from Bernie, checking in on her. The sound of his voice made Katelyn tear up but she knew it was too late to call and she would just cry if she did so she made a mental note to call him in the morning.

Another message, this one from Michael, short, perfunctory, just enough to appease her. "Sorry I missed you, worked late. I'll try to catch you tomorrow. My love to Dad." Katelyn cringed at this last bit of forced familiarity. Michael had never even met her father, never mind called him Dad. Katelyn decided that he would be one person she wouldn't mind waking up this late.

She dialed her home number and got 4 rings before the voicemail picked up. Her stomach knotted and she hung up without leaving a message. Fighting back the rising tide of dread that rose like bile in her throat, she checked the menu of her phone. Incoming calls. She scrolled down to his call that afternoon from the Alexandria exchange and pressed talk. After the third ring, someone fumbled with the phone and a female voice croaked a sleepy "Hello?" into the receiver.

"Hi, is Michael there?"

"Who the hell is this?" The female voice was waking up now and suspicious.

"I might ask you the same thing. Just let me talk to Michael. This is his boss." Katelyn lied, knowing she was less likely to get hung up on if this girl thought his income might be threatened.

Muffled conversation, expletives, and then Michael got on the phone, clearing his throat, trying to sound awake.

"Hello? Mike Sanders here. "

Katelyn tried to sound nonchalant. "Michael, hi, just wanted to return your call and let you know that my father just died."

She heard him take a breath, cover the receiver for a second, and then come back. "Katelyn, Jesus, I thought it was Sydney. Hey, I'm sorry to hear about your dad. How terrible for you." The awkward silence stretched out as they sat, waiting for each other to speak.

"Yeah, well, it's over so I guess I'll be coming home soon. When I get there, I want you gone."

"Now, Katie, you're distraught, you don't know what you're saying ... "

"No, Michael, oddly enough, I know exactly what I'm saying. I don't know who your little girlfriend is but maybe she will let you freeload off of her for a while. I'm done."

"Katie, listen, I don't know what you're talking about. What girlfriend?" She heard a muffled smack and an exclamation but it was obvious Michael was in full defense mode. She could hear him getting up, moving to another room so that she couldn't hear the owner of the phone swearing at him in the background. "I'm spending the night at Derek's. We were up late watching the game and he didn't want me to drive home after having a couple of beers."

"Michael, you asshole. I called you. This isn't Derek's number. What, you didn't think I knew Derek's phone number after working with him for 8 years?"

There was a pause on the other end of the line. She could almost hear the gears turning. Katelyn took a deep breath and plunged on.

"Listen, Michael, I know you think I'm an idiot and that you can get away with whatever you want to and not get caught but let me tell you that those days are over. With me at least. I just wanted to let you know that 'Dad' is dead. Goodnight."

With that she hung up the phone and shut it off. She knew he would try calling right back and she had had about enough of him for tonight. She stepped out from under the carport, into the rain, and just stood there for a minute, letting the drops sting her skin. A cold front must be moving through, she thought, realizing that there would probably be frost in the morning. She stepped further away from the house and walked out into the middle of the yard. The rain felt good, cold but good. The only light was a soft glow coming from the den and the kitchen and Katelyn carefully avoided these puddles of light so that she could blend into the shadows. She turned her face up toward the sky, letting the rain strike her face, letting the tears start.

She wasn't sure exactly why she was crying. She felt oddly unemotional about her father. As for Michael, well, it did feel good to blast him on the phone like that. She felt a void, though, black and yawning, opening up from deep inside. Her heart began fluttering and she felt that dread rising again. When she approached where this feeling was coming from, tried to see into the inky blackness, she felt an overwhelming ache in her shoulders and her chest, as thought her body was clamped in a huge vice. Holy shit, I'm having a heart attack, she thought, feeling a leaden heaviness weighting her arms and an unbidden panic began taking over her senses. She looked back at the house, wanting to go back, to call out, but she was unable to move, to speak. Her breath came in shuddering gasps and all she could do was stand there in the rain, clenching and unclenching her hands.

Katelyn was soaked to the bone when she noticed her heart was slowing, that she could move her arms again. She heard someone calling her name, from very far off, and she tried to answer but words wouldn't come out. The voice came closer, more insistent, but Katelyn had given up trying to answer at this point. She just stood in the middle of the yard, drenched, shaking, hoping the voice would find her.

Suddenly, a blanket of some sort was being pulled over her head and wrapped around her shoulders and, before she could fight it off, she was being pulled toward the house, toward the puddles of light, toward her father's corpse. She felt something snap in her then and her strength returned, her arms flailing, fighting first against her own inability to move, then against the blanket, then against Barbara, who was desperately trying to get Katelyn into the house. The last thing she remembered was a shattering of stars behind her eyes and the feel of grass against her cheek.

Some time later, Katelyn tried to open her eyes but it was too painful. Instead, she turned her face away from what she thought was the source of light, covering her face with her hands and squinting between her fingers.

She sat like that for a full minute before she realized she was in her own bed in her old bedroom. She was facing the wall, curled in the corner, and all she could see was purple and the curling corner of a news clipping from her high school paper.

She let her eyes focus for a few moments before trying to turn her head, a gargantuan effort for which she was rewarded with a wave of nausea and more floating stars, though this time they were black. I'm going to be sick, she thought, and had just a second to grab for the trash barrel that was under her nightstand before the contents of her stomach went into it. Good thing I always kept that there, she thought, and gave silent thanks to her old drinking days before she moved out. At the thought of alcohol, though, Katelyn's stomach gave several more flops and she decided she better just lay there, her head hanging over the edge of the bed, until the spinning stopped.

"Good, you're up," came Barbara's cheery voice from the doorway. Katelyn turned her head just enough to see that she was wearing her scrubs and carrying a tray of something that she was afraid she would have to eat. When she saw Katelyn's head over the trash barrel, Barbara put the tray down by the door and stepped out again.

Katelyn was just falling asleep in this odd position when she felt a warm washcloth on her forehead and an icy hand press on the back of her neck. Slowly, her head was being lifted back onto the pillow and Katelyn had no choice but to let her body follow it. She kept waiting for the black floaters to come back so she kept her eyes closed and quickly realized that this made her feel more disoriented and disembodied than before.

When she opened her eyes, she saw Barbara's face hovering over hers, her jaw a swollen and angry red. She was dabbing with concern over Katelyn's right eye and suddenly Katelyn felt it start to sting. "What the hell?" she asked and started raising her hand but Barbara grabbed for her wrist held it tightly. With a wry grin, she said "Oh no, girl, no more punching. I'm one of the good guys, remember?"

Katelyn stared at Barbara, her eyes traveling down to her jaw, as the realization of what she had said sank in. She had a vague recollection of fighting something, of swinging and connecting, but she had no idea how it could have been Barbara. She remembered it as thought it was a dream, in dark edged fragments that floated behind other thoughts, thoughts of a phone call, of the rain, of Bernie, of her father's hand. Oh God. "Barbara, what happened? The last thing I remember is walking in the yard last night." Katelyn began feeling the edge of panic creep back.

"I was hoping you could fill me in, Kate. When you didn't come back in last night, I went out looking for you and I found you standing out in the yard, soaked to the bone, shivering and bawling your eyes out. I tried to wrap a blanket around you and bring you inside but you started fighting back and clocked me with your elbow."

"Oh, Barb, I'm sorry, I thought the fighting had been a dream. Does it hurt?"

"Nah, I've been punched by bigger bullies than you." She joked, trying to make Katelyn feel better. Her friend was obviously scared and confused and needed to piece this together but there wasn't much more that Barbara knew than what she had already told her. Barbara finished cleaning the broken skin over Katelyn's eye. She is going to have a nice shiner, Barbara thought as she pulled out a bandage. "Why don't you tell me what you remember? Maybe if we talk through it, that'll help."

Katelyn began slowly, recounting her phone call to her boss, then to Michael. She felt absurdly calm about that but she could see Barbara's jaw clench as she told her about how he had tried to lie his way out of such an obvious screw up.

"I told him he was full of shit and that, when I got home, he better be gone."

Barbara laughed out loud then, "Good for you! That asshole doesn't deserve you. Hey, if he's not gone, you should unleash that elbow on him."

Katelyn began to laugh but winced at the sudden pounding in her head. She put her head back, pressing against the icepack Barbara had put on the back of her neck, and turned her face away. She didn't like the thought of meeting up with Michael again. This wasn't going to be pretty.

"What happened next, Kate?" Barbara gently reminded her.

"I remember closing my phone, shutting it off, and slipping it into my pocket. Then I stepped out into the rain, just wanting to get to someplace dark and I remember standing in the yard, feeling the rain stinging my face, and crying. Then I ..." Katelyn felt the vise around her chest begin to tighten, the familiar fluttering in her throat and looked at Barbara, frightened. "Barb, I think I'm having a heart attack." She gasped.

"Is this what you felt last night?"

"Yes," Katelyn whispered through clenched teeth. Barbara talked to Kate, telling her to breathe through her nose, to let it go, to let it wash over her, wash away. Her voice was low and soothing and Kate did what she was told, having to trust her. After a few minutes, Katelyn felt the tension receding, her voice returning. "What the hell was that if it wasn't a heart attack. My shoulders hurt so much."

"I think you're having an anxiety attack, Katelyn. I want to give you something to help you relax. It might also help with the pounding in your head. I have to apologize about that, that's my fault. I had to take you down pretty hard last night and you might have a slight concussion."

Barbara got up to get something off the tray and came back with a small paper cup and a glass of water. Katelyn reached up to take them from her and felt the room start to swim. After she downed the pills, she put her head back on the pillow and touched the bandage over her right eye, feeling how swollen the area was. "I deserved it, Barbara. Truthfully, all I remember is being scared and not being able to move, like in a dream when you are being chased and you find yourself in quicksand? I couldn't make my arms move or my legs and I couldn't cry out for help. It was like I was petrified, locked inside my body. When it finally began easing off, I felt something grab me again and, this time, I could fight back so I just reacted. I'm sorry again. I had no idea it was you, really."

"Katelyn let me tell you something. It's not unusual for someone going through a shock like you have to have this reaction. You've been under tremendous strain and, as far as I can see, you've held up pretty damn well. Your body is ... well, your body is telling you that you've had enough. You need to let someone take care of you for a day or two is all."

"So I'm not going crazy?"

"Crazy is relative, Katelyn. You just have to trust me in this. I've worked with families in hospice for 15 years now and I have to tell you this is not the first time I've had to wrestle a family member. This was the first time the family member was a friend though, so I didn't enjoy taking you down. Cut yourself a break. You've just gone through something that was incredibly emotional."

That was just it, thought Katelyn. I don't feel very emotional. When she realized now, in this moment, that her father was dead, she didn't feel ... anything. It was a fact, no more or less than the fact that it was sunny outside or the ice pack was cold.

Barbara got up again to get the tray from the dresser, bringing it over to put it on the nightstand. Katelyn was hungry but she opted to just nibble on a piece of toast. She needed to put something in her stomach. Barbara sat down again, looking at Katelyn. "I need to talk to you about some things."

Katelyn put down her toast. This was it. Details. Arrangements. Reality. Katelyn felt a flutter in her throat.

"I've already called the county coroner. They'll be here to pick up your father soon. If you would like to see him again before they take him, now's your chance."

Katelyn blanched. She had forgotten his body would still be here. Really, his dying seemed so very long ago that it wasn't even on her mind until Barbara brought it up. She looked away from her friend's expectant face. How can tell her she doesn't want to see him? What kind of a daughter will she seem like?

Barbara seemed to read her mind and put her hand on Katelyn's arm. "You don't have to see him, Kate. I just wanted to give you that option." The look on Katelyn's face was so grateful, Barbara knew the answer. "Ok, I'll take care of that. You should be resting anyway. Now, your father left detailed instructions for how things are to be handled. If you like, I can take care of that, too."

"Barb, that's not part of your job, is it?"

"Well, that was what I wanted to talk to you about. My job here is supposed to end today, once the coroner leaves. I don't think my job is done here, though. I'd like to stay on for a few more days, if that's okay with you, just to help you through this." When she saw Katelyn's hesitation, she smiled. "I'm going to, whether you want me to or not, Kate. You're not well, and I can't very well leave you alone after giving you a concussion, now can I?"

Katelyn was grateful for her friend's insistence. She had figured that she would have to handle the details for the next few days herself and, just yesterday, she was up for it. Today, though, it was as though her world had turned upside down. She could no longer trust her body to behave. What if she was driving and had a panic attack? Besides, the way she was feeling, Katelyn didn't know if she could even get out of bed today, never mind plan a funeral. And the farm ... what was she going to do with the farm? Her head began to swim again and Katelyn leaned back into the pillow, hoping it would stop before she got sick again.

Barbara busied herself, making sure Katelyn would be comfortable and have everything she needed, for a while anyway. She brought her messenger bag and reading materials over next to the bed so Katelyn could reach them easily. The laptop was already set up on the desk across the room so Barbara moved it to the top of the bookcase at the foot of the bed, hoping to get Katelyn to sit up, to sit near the window. She wanted to make it less attractive for Katelyn to just lie in bed and sleep, though she did need to do a little of that.

The last thing she brought for Katelyn was her cell phone. She had found it last night in the pocket of her soaking wet denim jacket. It had made a thump when Barbara dropped it on the floor and, after she had finished peeling off all of Katelyn's cold, wet clothes and replaced them with warm, dry pajamas, she had checked the pocket of the jacket to see what was there. Hoping it wasn't damaged by either the rain or the fall, she had turned on the phone, let it power up and almost jumped out of her skin when it rang. Luckily it was just voicemail notification. She would have hated to talk to Michael, especially now that she knew what he had done. She might have invited him to come down, to cheer her up. The last thing Katelyn needed now was to see that snake in the grass.

She noticed that Katelyn had drifted off to sleep so she put the phone on the nightstand next to her uneaten breakfast. There would be time for calls later. She heard truck crunching down the gravel road and looked out the window. The coroner's hearse was approaching and she needed to get downstairs and do her job.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Prosemonkey published on November 14, 2004 9:00 AM.

Chapter 6 ... in progress was the previous entry in this blog.

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