“For three days after death, hair and fingernails continue
to grow, but phone calls taper off.” — Johnny Carson
Something is inherently screwed up in my husband Babe’s psyche. A math whiz and consummate bridge player, he never makes mistakes balancing the checkbook. So why can’t he write a simple phone number on a Post-It note?
I arrive home from my high school reunion (not saying which one, so don’t ask). Babe is waiting for me with a chilled martini and a hug. I embrace them both with more passion than he has seen in a while.
I listen with feigned interest as he details every golf shot he took for the 72 hours I was away.
“... I took a divot on my first shot and it fouled me up big time. I bogeyed that hole and the next one, too. I was jinxed.”
“Uh huh. Those freaking divots!” I don’t know a divot from a diving board but I respond appropriately as if by rote while I unpack.
“Jack and I came in first at bridge. I bid and made two slams ...”
“Great.” Before he autopsies every card he played, I jump in. “Did I get any calls I need to return before this martini kicks in?”
I look up at his frozen face. Take off fifty pounds and a hundred years and Babe could pass for Rodin’s “The Thinker.”
“Yeah ... you got a call a little while ago.”
“And that would be?”
“Uh ... a woman.”
“Uhh ... it started with a ‘B.’ ”
“Think harder, Babe. Was it Barbara, Betsy or Brenda? I don’t know a Betty Boop.”
“Wait! It wasn’t a ‘B,’ it was a ‘J.’ Like Janet.”
“Maybe. Yeah, I guess so.”
Janice and I said goodbye earlier and promised to stay in touch. Why would she call so soon?
“Babe, what did Janice want?”
“Somebody’s missing or not missing or dead.”
I drop the suitcase and yell a stream of unprintable words. “Somebody died? Was it a wreck after our reunion?”
“Uh. I can’t remember.”
“For heaven’s sake, Babe. Janice said somebody died. You can’t remember who?”
“Now, you said her name was Janice. I said it might have been Janice. It could have been Janet or Jeanette.”
“I know one Janet and she lives two blocks away; I know one Jeanette and she lives in Atlanta. It had to be Janice. Think, Babe. Who died? When, and how?”
“She, Janet, Janice or whoever, said you listed her as address unknown and then somebody mentioned she might be dead, but Janice thinks she lives in Columbia and she’s Loony Toons.”
I’d created a class bio booklet to update contact info but some classmates had vanished since we took that Pomp and Circumstance group stroll.
“Loony Toons? But Janice said she was dead.”
“Janice isn’t dead. It’s the other one — the loony one.” He giggles. I think I’m caught in the middle of a “Who’s On First” skit with a Lou Costello look-alike.
“I fail to see the humor in this, Babe.”
“I just remembered she said the woman in question is a few peas short of a casserole. That’s pretty funny.”
“The woman in question. Her name?”
“I dunno. It started with an ‘L,” I think.”
“What’s up with you and the alphabet, Babe?”
My mind races down the L’s and stops when it gets to Lorenna. No surprise there. The cheese slid off her cracker in kindergarten.
“Was it Lorenna Gaskin?”
“Yeah! That’s it! Lorenna Gaskin.”
There it was, miraculously unveiled in alphabetical order.
He’s suddenly alert, happy to have contributed. He chuckles. “Janice said she was ...
“Yeah, I know. A few peas short of a casserole.”
He yuks a few more times.
“Babe, is Lorenna dead?”
“Ummm. I don’t think so. Naah. Just, you know … whackadoodle.”
I gulp what’s left of my martini, take Babe’s hand and lead him to the kitchen. Switching on the overhead light, I point to the wall telephone and the yellow Post-It pad just below it. I lift the large cup brimming with pens patiently waiting for a tender human touch.
I pick up a pen and bring it close to his line of vision.
“I never thought my mission in life was to teach you how to take a phone message with a pen and Post-It note. I was wrong. Now, watch closely because I’m only going to do this once.”