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I I I
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The worst had come and gone, and Franklin was alone. Two weeks he’d stayed in the hospital, going home only for the occasional shower – and subsequent marathon of drinking where he woke on the couch with a terrible headache, wishing to a God he didn’t believe in that he was someone else with an entirely different set of problems.
Then his mother had died, as every doctor had predicted she would, with her withered hand in his, her morphine drip cranked so high she barely knew who he was.
“Promises,” she’d whispered, in a surprising moment of cognizance. “There are so many promises we never keep. I promised I’d see him again, before the end.” Who she’d promised to see, Franklin did not know. But that was two days earlier, and she’d been barely able to mouth Franklin’s name, let alone form complete sentences, in the time that remained.
His mother had died as he sat in silence. A shiver trembled through her; a shiver that started in her body and traveled down her arm and up into Franklin’s, trapping itself somewhere in his spine where it vibrated and hummed, slowly sucking the warmth from his body. She gasped, turned to look at him – her eyes unable to focus – and her hand gently squeezed his. Then she was still, her grip relaxed, and Franklin sat alone and cold in the dim hospital room, sensations and feelings creeping up on his conscious mind and quickly fleeing, leaving him empty and unsteady.
The worst had come and gone, yet the worse was yet to come. The great weight had not lifted from him, but it had shifted. A lifetime of illness had come to an end, but Franklin felt no relief – in fact, he felt very little at all. The numb detachment had not come all at once, but in pieces; over next few days, it seemed, he had been drifting away from himself, like a sandcastle under the slowly lapping tide. Bits and pieces fell away, undetected, until he realized one day there was nothing left.
He thought he should miss his mother, he was sure he should worry for his children, he was certain there was a terrible, overwhelming sense of grief he should be wallowing in, but nothing came.
The funeral arrangement had been made – Franklin politely aloof throughout the process. Phone calls had been made, checks had been written. Franklin McGaffy would bury his mother in two days, but in the meantime he felt nothing at all. On his answering machine, messages were left asking about work; he should take all the time he needed, they said, but did he know when he’d be back? There were a few messages of consolation, of which he ignored. Franklin allowed himself few close friends, but many acquaintances, but the voices on the machine sounded foreign and insincere. He sat in silence, soaking in the Gin and Vodka and whatever else was handy, half-heartedly wondering if there was something else he should be feeling. The phone began to ring, and so he unplugged it, preferring the absence of sound to any more pity or consolation.
His mother, though, she had been a social woman and, in a past life, an actress of some notoriety. The wake he did not look forward to, but it was impending and he was vaguely aware of the headache that would become. A small army would descend on his home in the morning: the catering and the church group and the funeral staff – Franklin was more than happy to delegate the entire event to other people. If he could, he would have skipped the whole ordeal. A six-pack and a drive to the country sounded like a much more appealing use of his time. Instead, he expected a day of unwanted socializing; his house would full of producers long since put to pasture, actors no one had ever heard of.
He had tried calling his sister the day before, but she was no longer interested. Beverly had a new family, and new responsibilities, and the death of a parent she hadn’t spoken to in nearly a decade was not a concern. The conversation was brief and mildly uncomfortable; Beverly seemed tolerant and patient and wholly unattached.
“Promises,” she had said.
Franklin was tired, and a little drunk, but mostly he was restless. The answering machine was quickly filling up with messages for him to ignore; his apartment was bleak and uninviting. Plus, he was hungry, and the cupboards were more than bare, they were dusty and abandoned.
Franklin stood up, capped the gin he’d been nursing, and walked to the pub.