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Phone calls


WE DON'T get them much any more. The phone calls for a dead husband and father are fewer and farther between now. The kids thought it was a real blast, though.

Usually, the calls were anonymous, strangers selling something or wanting a donation. By the time we got through with them, they never wanted to tell their names.

Sometimes I wished they didn't know ours.

"Is your father home?"

My youngest got a real charge out of answering: "Nope. He's dead."

The silence, my children all assured me, was especially long and impressive. Then would come the apologies. "Oh, my God, I'm sorry. I didn't know. I'm so sorry. Really sorry."

"Cracks me up," my little girl told me between hoots and hollers. "Honest, Mom. The guy talked like it was his fault that Dad died."

"Well, you've got to learn to be more diplomatic," I said.

"What's that mean?"

"Means you gotta ease into Dad being dead," my son answered with a snort.

"How do you do that? Dead is dead. There's nothing easy about it."

I laughed at them both. "I'll show you the next time there's a call. Just give me the phone and listen. After all, what if it's someone your father knew long ago, someone who's been out of touch, someone who was a close friend? You don't want to upset that person unnecessarily, do you?"

My children frowned thoughtfully. "OK, you show us, Mom," the little one said. "See if you have better luck. I say dead is dead."

It was the next evening during supper that another one of the calls came in. "Oh, Mother," my daughter said, trying hard to suppress her giggles. "It's somebody wanting to speak to Dad."

I cleared my throat dramatically. "Right. Now the three of you watch how it's done."

"Sure," my son said. "We'll take notes. Let's see, first you clear the throat."

I glared at him and took the phone. "Hello . . . No, my husband isn't here right now. May I help you?"

"Not really," said a disembodied voice. "When will your husband return?"

"Oh, he won't be back for quite some time."

"Like later on tonight maybe?" the voice persisted.

"Uh, no. Not tonight. I'd be glad to talk to you, though."

"How about tomorrow? Can I get in touch with him tomorrow?"

"No, not tomorrow either," I said to a chorus of laughter.

"Tell the guy that Daddy's dead," my younger daughter shouted.

"Yeah. Tell him, Mom. Tell him he died."

I cleared my throat again. "Well, actually he's going to be gone for quite a long time. Would you care to leave a message with me?"

"No, lady, I don't. I want to talk to your husband. What about next week?"

I sighed. I felt as though I had managed to paint myself into a corner. "Look, I'm sorry if I've misled you. You see, my husband died some months ago."

"No joke?" The voice was dubious.

"No joke."

"I mean, I heard what your kids were saying in the background. I just figured you were joking."

"I wish we were, but we're not. He really is dead."

"Oh, my God, I'm sorry. Very sorry. Really sorry."

So my daughter was right after all. There is no way to ease into death. Dead is dead.

It's not something that can be put off by being diplomatic.

Janet Brown writes from Aberdeen, S.D.

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