Tuesday was an ordinary but dreary day. The slush had turned to rain around ten the night before. Now all the frozen patches had melted overnight.
Perhaps Tuesday seemed normal because it was totally overshadowed by Wednesday, which was the day that Clancy got the phone call. The phone call. I think of it like that because few other phone calls ever mattered the way that one did. It was one etched in our memories.
We were standing in the back room. I’d finished a cup of coffee and was rinsing out my mug. Clancy waited beside me, as she intended to wash out her tea cup. When the phone rang, she pulled it out of the back pocket of her slacks.
She was holding the phone to her ear when the color drained from her face and her eyes fluttered as if they might roll back in her head. Despite her carefully applied red lipstick, her lips turned pale. When she wobbled, swaying on her feet, I shoved a chair under her butt. I couldn’t hear the other side of the conversation, but the change in her expression and posture told me her phone call was bad news. Really bad. My first thought was of her kids. One or both of them. There is no misery in life more devastating than the loss of a child, so it made perfect sense that my mind would immediately conjure up gruesome imaginings. Once Clancy was seated, I raced to the refrigerator and grabbed a plastic bottle of water. After unscrewing the cap, I offered it to her.
All this and it wasn’t even nine a.m. Our doors wouldn’t even open for another full hour. Clancy being Clancy, she’d arrived early. But the bad news had still managed to find her.
This drama had to be a first for Time in a Bottle. Usually earth-shaking life events start after the customers show up. The odd timing alone added a pinch of the unexpected.
“Uh-huh,” Clancy said to the voice on the phone, but it was really more of a moan than a confirmation. She swigged the water I’d handed her. “Yes, I understand. But you do realize that I’m his ex. Ex-wife. Not his current spouse. He remarried, um, two weeks ago.”
My turn to wobble and nearly fall down. Trust Clancy to keep a big deal like that secret. She could be so closed in, so private, and so aloof…often to her detriment. Such isolation, emotionally, kept her from getting the support she needed. In this case, I’d been wondering why she was prickly. Gee whiz, had it really only started two weeks ago. Felt like an eternity.
Now I knew. If she’d told me, I would have…
Would have done what?
I’d like to think I’d have been nicer to Clancy, but honest to Pete, I’m typically Mrs. Nice Guy, unless there’s a specific reason for me to get my dander up. Perhaps I’d have been more solicitous, asking her what I could do or encouraging her to share. Truth to tell, none of those strategies would have worked with Clancy. When she gets a bee in her bonnet, as my Nana used to say, she’s as sting-happy as an entire angry hive, and talking her down is nearly impossible.
Recovering from the shock I’d been given, I listened in on her call as best I could. “He is where? Are you s-s-sure it’s Lawrence? How do you know?”
She went quiet. I held my breath. Lawrence was her husband’s—her ex-husband’s—name.
She continued, “Look, I don’t care if he had his wallet on him. You and I both know the death examiner wouldn’t accept that as proper identification. It might not be Lawrence Whitehead in that hospital bed. You’ve got a lot of nerve calling and upsetting me like this.”
She added, “How bad is it?”
“Oh…no…” she gasped.
I wish I’d heard the details. All I could do was imagine.
Clancy continued, “Have you talked to Bambi? No, I don’t mean the Disney character. Bambi is Lawrence’s new—current—wife. Has she seen him?”
I waited for an answer. Watching Clancy told me she got one. “Bambi said what? Oh, for heaven’s sake. She’s not up to a hospital visit? He’s her husband, her problem, not mine!”
Clancy babbled, “That jerk. That creep. I should have known something like this would happen! And the nerve of her! You say she’s too upset to handle this! Baloney. Tell her to pull up her big girl thong and get her surgically inflated backside over to the hospital.”
Another pause. She set the water bottle on my worktable. I pulled my chair closer to hers so I could reach over and move the bottle away from the edge.
“That’s a lot of cow poop …excuse me? I’m his medical surrogate? What? You have to be kidding! He never changed from me to her?”
Her head dropped into the hand that wasn’t holding her phone. Her fingers tore at her face. “Yes, yes, I understand. Legal issues. Got it. All right. I’ll be there. Let me collect…”
She stopped once more. “Of course I plan to drive myself. What were you expecting, a broom ride?”
“I’ll take you,” I volunteered.
“Not on your life,” she snapped at me. The person on the other end of the line must have misunderstood. Clancy had the presence of mind to straighten him or her out tout suite. “I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to my friend. Remember that word: friend. Lawrence doesn’t have any. And I’m not some fainting female. I’m perfectly fine driving myself to the hospital. But here’s the point—I shouldn’t have to. Lawrence Whitehead is not my problem. Period. I can refuse being the medical surrogate, can’t I?”
She listened and then said, “I signed it that long ago? Doesn’t it automatically become invalid? No? Doesn’t it need to be renewed annually? It doesn’t? Well, I think a divorce invalidates it. Why wouldn’t it? We’re estranged in every other way!”
Clancy quickly shot to her feet. She began a one person march through the back room. She’d moved from shocked to snarky, and her voice was dripping with sarcasm. “Speaking of facts, let’s go over them, shall we? Bambi, the current Mrs. Whitehead, wasn’t too fragile when she set her cap for Lawrence, who was my husband at the time. She wasn’t too fragile when she insisted he bribe my children so they’d book an expensive cruise and leave me all alone over the holidays, two years in a row. She wasn’t too fragile to hold parties and introduce herself to all his business associates as his new wife. And she certainly wasn’t feeling fragile when she got pregnant, accidentally on purpose, so that their union was sanctified—and I use that word with vast reservations—by a child. Poor thing.”
Even when furious, Clancy spoke like the former high school English teacher she was. That vocabulary of hers was a thing of beauty.
I dared to ask a question. I shouldn’t have, because I was interrupting her train of thought. But I did. I held up one finger and wondered, “By poor thing, I’m guessing you mean the child?”
Clancy froze mid-stride, whirling in front of me and pinning me down with her gaze. “Of course I do!” she shrieked at me. “I wouldn’t waste my time feeling sorry for Dumb-Doe.”
“Dumb-Doe?” I repeated.
“Rhymes with Dumbo. My private nickname for Bambi.”
“Right.” I nodded, thinking the moniker made perfect sense. Who names a child Bambi? Okay, who besides Walt Disney? Hmmm? Nobody I know. No one with a lick of sense.
To be continued…To pre-order your copy of Law, Fully, Dead go to https://bit.ly/LFullyD