(In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Weaving the Threads.”)
Sister Bernadette sighed. She had stepped in for another substitute in a sixth-period 11th grade class and was not convinced this kind of math had even existed when she was in school.
When the bell rang at 3:00 she did not think it quite rated a prayer of thanks, but gratefully glanced upwards at the clock on the classroom’s far wall.
Young men in ties and navy jackets shuffled out past it, some jangling car keys as they positioned themselves to bound down to the parking lot.
Sister Bernadette would not have thought anything of it had she noticed Jay wink at a classmate as he gave two quick pats over his heart, inclining his head towards the inside pocket of a winter coat he’d pulled on over his blazer.
Betsy picked up the landline on the fourth ring, though she hesitated when she recognized the number. Maybe it wasn’t Susan. Maybe it was Jay calling for Brian . . . but why would he call the home number? She sighed.
“Hello . . . Yeah, hi, Susan . . . Wait, slow down. What’s the matter?”
“It was in his drawer, in his room.”
“In a baggie, it’s a snack sized baggie, but still, and there’s this little box of white papers. Oh my God, I think it’s marijuana.” Susan stretched out and whispered the last word, no doubt looking from side to side for police on her end of the line.
Betsy tried to turn a sharp snort of laughter into a cough. Her children were enrolled in the same schools as Susan’s, but she did not share Susan’s level of faith in the transformative or inoculative powers of a private Catholic school education.
“Sit, Susan, sit.” She used a tone appropriate to a recalcitrant puppy and paused while trying to subdue her laughter into a reasonable approximation of hiccups.
“Oh my God, is he going to get arrested? Do I have to bring it to the police?”
Betsy’s tone turned serious. “Of course, you handle your son, but I think there’s a way you may be able to turn this into a good deed.”
The hospice director sat at the edge of a chair upholstered in a burlap navy so stiff it may as well have been plastic.
“We’ve tried every pain receptor but the cannabinoid.”
“We’ve tried that, too.” The patient’s sister volunteered.
The widow had packed up the old house. More than twenty years’ belongings had drifted away in fits. A yard sale. Six truckloads departed by way of charitable organizations selected for their willingness to haul away bags of clothing, kitchen ware, books, and games. Finally, three runs with a twenty-six foot rented truck to donate furniture which no longer would be needed once she and the children moved to a much smaller house.
The family still had five members, but the lacuna was vast.
In the final chaos of moving, friends and neighbors had shown up to help pack. Sports equipment from the barn was thrown into boxes. One son picked out a fraction of camping equipment to keep from a vast array: tents, cooking gear, plastic bags filled with Boy Scout gear from the years when his father had been a troop leader.
Carpentry tools were left behind. She sold the truck her husband had parked on the barn’s brick floor every night, pausing, headlights on, while a song finished playing.
It was one of many reasons she couldn’t stay there. As long as she was in that house she would find herself waiting for the bright headlights, listening for the sound of the notes fading out, the truck door opening and closing, the dogs’ quick clicking trek across the kitchen floor to wait for him as he opened the back door.
But she took her husband’s bicycle and skis, his gym bag, a box with miscellany from near the back door, including the neon yellow reflective jacket he used when he ran with the beagles at night. She packed them up although her sons were not as tall as her husband had been, and had gear of their own.
She thunked the barn door shut for the last time.
Two years in the new house and she still hadn’t fully unpacked. In some ways this was expedient: she had moved four children in and out of college dorms, found some of their plastic bins seemingly unexamined and untouched at the end of the school year when she drove them back home in the mom van.
It was spring break and she and her son resolved to get out notwithstanding the ice. Sidewalks were still impassable from snow that had hardened into crystalline gray, gigantic glittering mineral formations like those they’d seen in amethyst and scarlet in natural history museums when the kids were little.
She grabbed a water bottle from one of those untouched bins still piled in the hallway and unscrewed the top to fill it before their hike.
It wasn’t empty. She shook out a baggie and a tiny box, roughly the size of a flattened-out matchbox and filled with sheets of white paper as thin as onion skin. Even at its small size, the baggie wasn’t close to full. Desiccated and clumped, with no odor left: a brown, leafy, vegetable-type material, as her cop friends would have described it.
She flashed back to what her sister-in-law had said in her husband’s hospital room before he came home: “We’ve tried that, too.”
And she lifted the water bottle to her lips and closed her eyes and knew her husband had last held it, nearly four years earlier, and she saw again the look in his eyes when he came upstairs after she thought she had heard the barn door open and shut in the cold night air, a mixture of pain and resignation and peace.