3rd Place – August 2020

The Rising Cost of Dying

By

Robert Taylor

           Ten-year-old Trisha is sleeping peacefully when she is awakened by voices coming from another part of the house, more than likely the dining room, which is the closest to her bedroom. After listening for a few moments, she recognizes her mother’s voice, and only her mother’s voice. It had been loud enough to awaken her but too faint to understand the words. She lies there listening to the familiar voice, and suddenly it dawns on her, there is no other voice, her mother is talking to herself. Or perhaps not, maybe she’s talking on the phone.
            Trisha isn’t sure how long she had slept, so she doesn’t know what time it is, but it must be late, because she had been dreaming about working in the garden with her mother, and the dream seemed to have gone on for hours. She tries to listen harder, to make out her mother’s words, but to no avail. Her curiosity getting the best of her, she rises from her bed, tiptoes over to the door, and very quietly opens it a crack. She sees her mother, sitting at the table, with the cordless phone up to her ear. From this spot she can hear her mother’s words very clearly.
            “I don’t know what we’re going to do, Elsie, I just don’t know.”
            Elsie. Now Trisha knows who’s on the other end of the line. Her Aunt Elsie, her mother’s sister. She also detects a sadness in her mother’s voice, as if she is about to cry.
            “We have no burial insurance, and since Fred hasn’t been able to work, we’ve gone through all of our savings. I don’t know how long he has left, but it can’t be long. It breaks my heart to see him in his condition, so skinny, and pale, his eyes sunken with black underneath. Trisha wants me to take her to see him but I hate for her to see her father in that condition, but I also hate seeing the hurt on her face when she asks me if I’ll take her to visit, and I always say maybe some other time. I know I need to take her. She will never forgive me if she doesn’t get to see him before he dies. And another thing I dread is telling Trisha her father is dying. It’s going to break her heart and she will be angry with me for not telling her sooner. She’ll carry that resentment towards me for the rest of her life. But anyway, I don’t know what will happen when he passes, and there’s no money to bury him, not even enough to give him a cremation.”
            Trish, too upset to listen any further, tiptoes back over and crawls into bed. She knew her dad was sick, but she had no idea he was going to die. Pulling the sheet and comforter up over her head, she cries herself back to sleep.
***
            “Mom,” Trisha says to her mother, who is sitting at the bathroom counter, applying lipstick and make-up. “Do I have to go to church today? My best friend, Katy, invited me and some of our friends to spend the day with her and swim in her pool. Both of her parents will be there, and her aunt and uncle, who live with them, so there will be plenty adult supervision. Please? I can go to church next Sunday.”
            “I guess it wouldn’t hurt for you to miss church once. But I’ll need to call Katy’s parents and hear it from them if it’s okay for you to spend the day.”
            “Thanks Mom! I have her number in my room. I’ll get it for you.”
            “Oh, and you listen to me. I know about you and your friends fooling around in Hillside Edition. Those people are snobs and goody two shoes who look down their noses. They think they’re better than us. They consider us white trash. I want you to promise me you won’t be going over there.”
            “All we do is look at the mansions. Some are as big as castles.”
            “That’s beside the point, you stay away from there and I mean it.”
***
            Trisha walks up to Katy’s porch and rings the doorbell. The door is opened almost immediately by Katy’s mother. “Good morning, Trisha. Come on in, Katy has just sat down for breakfast and you’re welcome to join her. Are you hungry?”
            “No Ma’am, I already had breakfast. But I have somewhere else to go, and I’ll be back in a little while. It’s too early to swim yet, anyways. I was wondering if I could leave my satchel here while I’m gone. It has my swimsuit in it and some sketches I drew that I want to show Katy. If she wants to look at the sketches before I get back that’s okay with me”
            “Well of course, that’s no problem. If you don’t mind me asking, where will be going by yourself this Sunday morning?”
            “I‘m going back home, I forget something important” She takes the satchel from Trisha, says we’ll see you in a little while, and closes the door.
            Trisha walks to the end of the block, turns right and walks another block, then turns on a street that dead-ends into a large cast iron gate with a Hillside Edition sign attached. Trisha is relieved to see that the gate is standing partly open. She was afraid it would be locked and she’d have to climb over. She enters the gate, and is thoroughly in awe, as usual, as she stares at the huge mansions, most of them with large fancy cars parked in the drives.
            Trisha walks up the long front stone walk of the huge, red brick house with tall white pillars. Stepping onto the porch, she rings the doorbell, and patiently waits. She is amazed by the fact that the porch appears to be bigger that her living room, kitchen and dining room put together. She extracts a slip of paper out of the pocket of her denim shorts. On the paper she has written what she knows she couldn’t say without it being written down. She’d forget the words or, being as shy as she is around strangers, she would start crying and be terribly embarrassed. The door opens and an elderly woman stands before her, clad in a burgundy robe that reaches to an inch from the floor.
            “Why, hello, young lady. What can I do for you this morning?”
            Trisha lowers her eyes to the slip of paper and begins reading. “Dear sir, or Ma’am. My dad is dying, and Mom has no money to bury him, or to give him a cremation, whatever that is. I’m taking up a collection for his funeral and burial. Everybody says people living in this edition are rich. Any amount you can give me will be appreciated. I promise I won’t spend any of it on myself. Yours truly, Trisha Morgan.”
            The woman stares at Trisha with a look of amazement.  “Oh, you poor little girl. Did your mother send you over here to do this?”
            No, Ma’am, she didn’t. Please, don’t tell her I came here. She would be real mad.”
            “Just a moment, young lady, I’ll be right back.”
***
            As Trisha makes her way up Katy’s walk, she takes the wad of bills out of her pocket and counts them for the third time. After going to six houses, she has collected one hundred and twenty dollars in cash, and a check for fifty. She doesn’t know how much a
burial costs, or a cremation, but she’s pretty sure it would be a lot more than she has, but she’s hopes her mom will appreciate what she collected.
***
            Trisha is sitting on the sofa, watching television, when her mother enters the room and sits down beside her.
            “Trisha, this envelop came in the mail today, do you know anything about it?”
            She hands the envelop to Trisha, and the first thing she notices is the return address; Hillside Edition Neighborhood Association. She looks inside, finding it empty.
            There’s nothing in it, Mom. Am I in trouble?”
            Her mother hands her the contents. A note that says, “We learned of your plight and we all got together and decided to help. Hope this will ease the burden. We are all praying for you and your family. Along with the note is a cashier’s check for ten thousand dollars.
            “Wiping a tear from her cheek, she addresses her daughter, who is sitting beside her with a look of astonishment. “Is that where you got the hundred and something dollars, after I told you not to go there?”
            “Okay, Mom, I admit it. You can punish me if you want. But I guess all those rich people aren’t so snobbish and looking at us like we’re white trash after all, huh?”

 

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