It Begins with an Ending
February 4th, 2002 was unusually cold, even for the time of year. I remember a light dusting of snow covering the road to work but the sky was clear. I wore an extra sweater under my jacket and even though I seemed to walk quicker than usual, I was still cold when I reached the office. I was troubled that day on my usually tranquil walk. Mom, who usually never spoke during breakfast, as she preferred to start work at the office, mentioned something about feeling unwell and that she might stay home. My fork paused halfway to my mouth and the echo of soft egg bits dripping to my plate thundered in my ears. I didn’t know what to say and so I said nothing.
“Don’t worry,” mom said, noticing my hesitation, “I’ll phone the doctor. Please make sure Henry finalizes the Anderson account today.”
Please make sure Henry finalizes the Anderson account today. I hear her voice over and over inside my head. Please make sure Henry finalizes the Anderson account today.
Mom was the type of person who would go to work on her deathbed. Grandma was that way too, as was her mother. At the time, I was praised for having the same work ethic. My grandmother often said “Accountancy waits for no illness.” My grandmother never really retired. When her illness kept her bed-ridden, I would bring her books to review and figures to calculate. She kept an adding machine on a table beside her bed. The day mom spoke at breakfast was an interruption to a routine that had existed long before I was born.
The first half of the day went smoothly. I let Henry know what was going on as soon as I walked in the door. He was tending to the coffee pot, as he saw it as part of his duties and he always happened to arrive at the office first. Mom used to make the long walk with me but stopped shortly after my 30th birthday. It was winter and she complained that the long time spent in the cold was making it so she had trouble with adding machines. Even when computers became common place, she preferred to do her figuring the old-fashioned way. She usually arrived as soon as the coffee was finished brewing.
Henry looked up from his work and furrowed his bushy brow. “Not feeling well, you say? Are you sure?”
“I know what I heard, Henry,” I replied sternly as I sat at the break room table. Henry poured two cups of coffee.
“So, the Anderson account.” Henry began and we started work for the day. The job was finished just in time for lunch. I walked across the street to the pizza place and ordered my usual slice of pepperoni pizza and a large iced tea. I walked back across the street and as I opened the office door, I noticed an ambulance rolling by slowly, going towards the hospital. In the rare event of an emergency, the ambulance always traveled in that direction with it’s lights on. Why weren’t the lights on? Why was it going so slow?
It was 12:31 when the phone rang. No one called between the hours of noon and 1 P.M. Even though it wasn’t officially posted, it was considered courtesy not to call during lunch hour. We talked about work during lunch hour but it was our prerogative.
“Maywether Tax and Bookkeeping,” Henry concealed his annoyance expertly. I silently sipped my iced tea.
“Are you sure? When you arrived? I don’t know if I should be the one to...well what do you expect me to say?”
After mumbling something else I couldn’t hear, Henry slowly hung up the phone. I could hear him polish his glasses slowly. “Juliet, could you come in here please?”
I didn’t know what to do. I stared down at my half eaten pizza, straw dangling from my mouth. I felt the blood drain from my face. I may have blacked out. I didn’t know what Henry was about to say but the very fact that something in my ordered universe was different filled me with a terror that I had never experienced before.
After a few minutes, Henry sighed and walked with his barely noticeable limp back into the break room. He pulled out a chair across from mine and sat, the chair creaking under his large frame.
“It...it’s your mother, Juliet. She’s taken ill. They took her to the hospital but there isn’t anything they can do...”
“How?” I asked flatly.
“I don’t know. They wont say. They want you to go to the hospital right away.”
“I can’t right now. It isn’t closing time.” At this point it was just quarter til one.
“I can tend to things here. You tend to your mother.”
I stood up and left the office with the intention of going to the hospital. I was going to go to my mother, comfort her, figure out what happened. Maybe I could do something to help, but my head was full of numbers. I couldn’t focus on anything else. I wasn’t a doctor, not even close.
I walked in the opposite direction of the hospital and eventually ended up at home. I calmly unlocked the door and stepped into the cold abyss. I didn’t turn on any lights as I slowly walked upstairs. I somewhat remember falling down on to my bed with my shoes on and staring at the ceiling. I felt a sense of sinking numbness that I couldn’t quite quantify. At some point after sunset, the phone started to ring. Eventually I managed to tune it out.
I don’t know how many days passed before Henry showed up. He didn’t bother to knock, he never did. “Juliet!” he called from downstairs. No matter the circumstances, he never would have come up uninvited.
I shambled to the stairs, staring past Henry to the blinding sunrise. I must have looked like shit. Henry seemed visibly shaken.
“Juliet you realize it’s been three days. The hospital and I have been ringing you off the hook!”
“What took you so long?” I mumbled.
“Your mother said you needed time. Too much time, I’m afraid. She’s dead, Juliet.”
I may have muttered a curse word. I may have made some sort of grunting noise. All I can recall is that I wandered to the bathroom and grabbed a handful of my mom’s Oxycontin. She always had it around although I never quite knew why. I always figured it helped her with her job because it helped me with mine. I had been taking pills off the top of her prescription since I was 17. Accountancy was stressful, especially to one so young. I swallowed the pills with water from the sink and wandered back to my bed. I laid there for what seemed hours, waiting for the nightmare to simply cease to exist.