Writer’s Corner: ‘Two Calls, One Life’ part one
The Writer’s Corner features poetry, essays, short stories, satire and various fiction and non-fiction from SCAD Atlanta students. To submit your own work for the Writer’s Corner, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two Calls, One Life by Allison Hambrick
It was two months after Dr. King died when Mona got the call. She and Jay were enjoying a home-cooked dinner of collards, meatloaf and corn made from Mama Ethel’s recipe. Time together was rare; Mona worked nine to five, while Jay worked swing shift.
Jay was saying grace when the shrill rattling of the dial phone interrupted his amen. Mona looked at the phone and back at her husband. A call at this time of night was not normal for a Tuesday. Hesitating, Mona folded her napkin and sat it on the table.
“Hello,” Mona singsonged.
“Mama? Is that you?”
“Mona, you’ve got to get down here.”
“Whitesburg Hospital. It’s Eddie.”
“I’ll be there, Mama. I love you.”
“Please just get here soon.”
Mona put the phone on the hook and rested her hands on the kitchen counter. She knew from her mother’s voice that she’d been crying. Mama Ethel never ended a conversation with one of her children without telling them she loved them.
“Jay, get my keys.”
“Can’t it wait until after dinner?” Jay questioned, his mouth overflowing with meatloaf.
Mona turned to face her husband, with tears in her dark eyes. One look at her and Jay knew he wouldn’t be finishing his plate that night. With a soldier’s gait, he retrieved her keys. Mona suspected that he was going to insist on driving, but she wouldn’t let him.
Driving forced her to be alert. It forced her to keep her eyes from blurring, to focus on the road and not her mind. Controlling the steering wheel forced her shaking hands to steady. Jay’s car was newer and shinier, but Mona still preferred her old red pickup.
Years ago, she was driving that same old pickup when she happened upon a man stuck at the base of a hill. His shiny coupe wasn’t built for the unpaved roads of Whitesburg. Instead of embarrassing the man, Mona slowed her truck to a near stop and gently nudged the car over the hill. The man pulled over, approaching the driver’s side window. Short with a crew cut, a round belly and a winning smile, she knew the minute she saw that boy that he’d be hers.
She looked over at the man in her passenger seat. He was a bit more wrinkled and a bit less round, but his smile was just as winsome. His blue eyes searched hers for an explanation.
“What’s wrong, brown eyes?” he spoke, breaking down the thick silence.
“Mama said something happened to Eddie,” Mona said, holding back the flood overwhelming her tear ducts. Her knuckles went white as she gripped the steering wheel like her life depended on it. Jay remained silent for some time, deciding to turn on the radio. The deep baritone of Johnny Cash filled the cab of the truck. Jay started humming, scatting, making any noise other than singing to calm his nerves. Any other day, Mona would have complained.
“I fell into a burning ring of fire. I went down, down, down, and the flames went higher,” she found herself singing, “And it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire.”
Jay stiffened at his wife’s off-key soprano. It wasn’t that he didn’t like to hear her sing, it was that in a decade of marriage the only time she ever sang was sitting in a church pew.
After crunching gravel beneath her tires for over an hour, Mona parked in front of Whitesburg Hospital. It was a newer building, constructed of concrete and outfitted with the finest obsolete equipment from Grady. Jay was the first to exit the car and circled around to open the door for her. Still staring at the sign, Mona didn’t budge.
“Come on, Mona. It’s going to be okay.” Jay attempted to reassure her, not knowing the true cause of her hesitation.
Mona had been to Whitesburg Hospital twice before. The most recent time was only six years prior, when Mama Ethel had Mona’s youngest sister, Kathy. Mona didn’t like to think about the time when she was a patient.
“He’s not here,” Jay stated, having recognized the distant look in her eyes.
Mona nodded and hopped out of the car, taking his hand and not letting go. Crossing through the threshold of the emergency room, she felt a familiar phantom pain in her lower abdomen. Mona cast the memory out of her head when she was met with a lobby of familiar faces.
Little Kathy sat fast asleep in the corner clutching a homemade doll, while Mona’s father, Selma, was collapsed into a chair, his head resting in his hands. This was a common pose for Selma, being a father of six. Mona released Jay and started toward her father, when she was pulled into a tight embrace. When she was freed, she was met with a thick pair of wire-rimmed glasses.
“Roger? What’s going on?”
“Eddie took Sharon out for a walk on the creek bed, and he slipped.”
“Can I see him?” Mona asked, not waiting for an answer from her brother before walking towards the hallway.
“I’m not sure that’s the best idea. Mama’s in there now and-”
“And what? I want to see him,” Mona persisted.
“Mona, Eddie’s not the boy you remember anymore. He wouldn’t want you to see him like this. He already told Daddy to keep Kathy out.”
“Kathy is 6 years old, Roger. I am a grown ass woman. Not that you’d remember, but I changed your diapers and Eddie’s. Now let me see my brother,” Mona said, her hand grasping the collar of his shirt pulling him so close her breath fogged his glasses.
“That’s not my decision.” Roger stated, brushing Mona off.
“Then whose is it?” Mona asked.
Roger nodded over to where Selma sat, now with Jay resting a comforting hand on his shoulder. Mona envied how Jay always seemed to know what to say to people in these situations — she felt like she always made things worse. Taking a deep breath, she stepped toward her father.
“Hey, Daddy,” Mona managed, trying to keep her voice steady.
Selma met her eyes with his, the same brown as her own. He was only in his early 50s, but in that moment, Mona saw an old man. As if flipping a switch, Selma’s face brightened.
“Well, if it isn’t my big, beautiful doll,” he said with a small crack at the end. He rose to meet his daughter. Mona reckoned her father must be the only person in the world who was taller than her. Selma enveloped her in a hug, bringing back memories of resting in his arms bloodied and broken. Mona tightened their embrace and allowed herself to relax. Mona knew that sometimes you just need your father. Selma was the first to break the contact.
“Our boy’s not doing so good,” he sniffed.
“So I hear. I want to see him Daddy.”
Selma let out a sigh and fell back into his chair.
“Mr. Jennings, what would be the harm?” Jay interjected, “You know she’ll find a way in regardless of what you say.”
“That you’re right about,” Selma added with a forced chuckle, “I suppose you can, Mona, but be mindful of Mama. He’s in 116.”
Mona kissed the top of his head, smirking at Roger as she turned towards the hallway. Even in the face of tragedy, getting one over on your sibling is satisfying.
“Mona, wait!” Jay shouted, sprinting to meet her, “You’re not going in alone.”
Mama Ethel, a stout woman with salt-and-pepper hair, paced the floor of the sterile, white hospital room, occasionally tossing a glance towards the bed. When Mona and Jay entered, she drew Jay into a tight grip. Mona sidestepped around her mother, her heart in the pit of her stomach.
There he was. Mona staggered back against the wall. Eddie rested on the bed, his limbs unmoving, with a purple perforation around his neck. The back of his skull sloped unnaturally.
His kind, teary eyes stared toward the ceiling. If she didn’t know better, Mona would think he was already gone.