Carol. fiction by Julia Abelsohn

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CAROL

There’s no easy way to say this – I think I’m dead. I know I tend to be a pessimist – glass half empty or whatever – but I do believe that I’ve passed on to the other side. It’s because I’m having trouble moving my legs. I’m trying to move my left leg and then my right leg, but nothing doing – just not happening. Then again, maybe I’m just paralyzed – that’s seeing the glass half full, isn’t it? Perhaps I’m morphing into becoming an optimist. That would be a switch after my 50 plus years on the planet. They say that you come into the world with specific attributes, characteristics, things that make you uniquely you. There are theories about that, nature or nurture, but I’m firmly of the opinion that I came into this world like this.

I was always the last one to dip my toe into the water at the beach and the last one to get out of the water when Muzzy called us in for lunch. I wasn’t the smartest one in my class and not the prettiest, but I always got okay grades and had a couple of close friends that I could always count on. Of course, being the middle child had its challenges, like when my older brother George tried to stretch me with one of his buddies using a technique that I believe they call the modified rack, an instrument of medieval torture, now banned for obvious reasons. Or when my sister Cath could devour a double fudge sundae with Oreo cookie sprinkles on top without even thinking about the calories and never even got one zit afterwards. Sure, that hurt, but mostly my sibs and I get along pretty well.

And now I’m having trouble moving my left arm. It’s just pretty much lying there like a loaf of day-old bread on the shelf that nobody wants. Speaking of which, my bread-making skills have really taken off. I think my sourdough starter is strong now, and my Banneton bread-proofing baskets have given my loaves a very professional look. Of course, I’ve been monitoring how much bread I eat, that’s what that app is for, but I give a lot of the bread to Cath and the kids and of course, Muzzy when she was still eating. I love to cook and bake; that’s been my downfall and also my greatest joy. But unlike Cath, I just have to look at a piece of cake and to quote Joan Rivers: I don’t know whether to eat that cake or apply it directly to my hips.

***

My dearest childhood friend Carol died of an aneurism. She was there one minute, riding her bike in Park Slope, and the next, she was on the ground; her head must have hit the sidewalk, although it was her hip at the time that fractured.

She was in the best shape of her life; she’d lost 50 pounds but not on a crazy fad diet; slowly, meticulously, she shed her way into the life that she’d always longed for. The ‘skinny girls’ that she’d always envied, yea, she became one. She looked terrific, and yet to me, she was always amazing, no matter what the scales said.

I wake up in the morning and have this strong impulse to pick up the phone and call her. She was one of those rare people that you could be apart from for months, even years, and pick up the conversation as if you’d just had coffee together at Starbucks. I was missing her badly; hell, she was one of the good ones – the world doesn’t have so many of those to spare.

That got me wondering, was she missing me as much as I was missing her? What else might she be missing about being alive after leaving this earthly plane? And that got me thinking: What would I miss when I die?

What I’ll miss when I die is sitting on the veranda in the afternoon sun listening to the cicadas; the sound of the Mediterranean surf crashing against the rocks below; the sound of the engine revving on my scooter on a narrow mountain pass. I’ll miss the taste of cold beer on a hot, dusty day. I’ll miss inhaling the first cigarette with my morning coffee. I’ll miss the feeling of a hot shower on a cold morning.

When I die, I’ll miss shopping. God, Carol loved shopping. She loved walking the streets in New York and finding wonderful little shops like The Refinery that sold handmade bags and CB I Hate Perfume that made crazy custom perfumes. My favourite from the latter was Faggot, which smelled like wood charred in a campfire, but I think Carol was partial to Beach, which smelled like suntan lotion and reminded her of the ocean.

***

Now my right arm is acting kind of funny too, like I can’t move it at all, so it’s joined my other limbs in this permanent dormant state. I feel like a sack of potatoes lying here like this. I have an excellent recipe for potatoes au gratin with blue cheese, the really lovely cheese that I get at the Saturday market from that sweet couple from New Jersey. That recipe is super rich, and I don’t think I’d want to enter the number of calories into my app. What’s the point? It takes all of the enjoyment out of it, don’t you think? But I’ve been good at entering every single thing that passes my lips for over a year now. And, I’ve really been good going to those meetings that I thought would be a crock of shit. Being with a bunch of fatties stepping onto those scales and the whole room clapping or whatever, and if you don’t lose a pound or two, even more mortifying. I hate being the centre of attention. But actually, I found the meetings okay, better than okay, because I don’t feel like such a big fat loser. When the pounds started falling off I began to feel something that I have never felt before in my entire living memory – slim. Slim is not a word in my lexicon that I have ever applied in reference to myself. Not until now, of course. I love that I can go straight into a designer store and buy clothes right off the rack. I’ve never actually enjoyed shopping, but now I can fit into all kinds of cute things, and I actually tried on a pair of Stella McCartney pants in size 10 the other day, and they fit me like a glove. I’ve never spent that much on an article of clothing in my entire life, but it was worth it. I’m in the best shape of my life. So why the hell can’t I sit up and have a sip of water?

I don’t know how long I’ve been here, in this hospital, but I’m pretty sure it’s dark outside, and I haven’t been home all day. My babies must be getting worried; they know I’m always home shortly after dark. But not today – I don’t know when I’ll get home.

***

We didn’t hear the news in the ordinary way, of course, it’s just that we never got our dinner that night, and that was highly irregular. Hesse was desperately agitated and kept jumping onto the window ledge perusing the street, but of course, there was no sign of her. I, on the other hand, was waiting patiently, as usual, amusing myself by observing the changing patterns of light cascading onto the living room floor as the afternoon sun began to sink lower and lower on the horizon. Hesse, of course, would not leave me to my reveries for long but insisted on making loud, mournful wails, and when that had no effect, she jumped and tackled me to get my attention. “Herman, Herman, this is highly irregular,” she wailed. “Where is Carol, and why isn’t she giving us dinner?”

I must admit I was beginning to get somewhat concerned myself – after all, our routines were pretty regular, weren’t they? However, it was quite a lot later, after all the streetlights had come on and the little boy with the scooter from the second floor came bumping up the stairs with his father and after the blonde woman from the third floor came stomping down the stairs in her high heeled boots and then everything was too quiet for far too long that we realized that we may well be in a pickle. No dinner? Unheard of!

***

Shit, my throat is parched, and I could kill a cold crisp glass of Chardonnay right now with maybe a dozen or so Malpeque oysters on the side with lots of lemon and freshly grated horseradish. But I just can’t seem to sit up or roll over or move my mouth or even open my eyes. But like I said, I’ve been working out, riding my bike a lot all through the streets of Brooklyn and I love discovering new neighbourhoods. For years I subscribed to Joan Rivers’ advice on exercise: I don’t exercise. If God had wanted me to bend over, he would have put diamonds on the floor. Only in my case, it would have been a cappuccino from Gorilla Coffee or possibly a Krispy Kreme donut on the floor.

***

Carol’s sense of humour cracked me up. While on vacation together in Newfoundland, she found a store that sold beaver hats, the likes of which Davey Crocket would have been proud to wear and almost bought it just for the sheer fun of imagining wearing it in trendy Brooklyn.

She also longed for adventure; walking the salty shores of Labrador was on her bucket list. We never made it there, but travelling together in California, Carol came alive by the sea and voiced the romantic fantasy of chucking it all in and starting a new life on the coast. She imagined getting a job at the Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes and selling fine artisan cheeses.

When I die, I’ll miss walking through a Japanese garden and becoming as still as the stones. I’ll miss a light rain at midnight on a hot August night. I’ll miss sinking my teeth into fresh feta cheese and the soft earthy smell of baby goats.

I’ll miss laughing in that out-of-control way we used to when we couldn’t catch our breath and almost pissed our pants. I’ll miss watching Netflix, eating popcorn smothered in butter and talking about our sex lives. I’ll miss losing control to Afro Techno and dancing until the sweat pours off our bodies.

***

If this is the hereafter or heaven or worse, why am I not seeing any bright light, soft music, pearly gates, or anything that looks vaguely like what I imagine death to be like? And where are all the dead people that you’re supposed to meet after you die? I don’t see Lou, my dearest, kindest dad whom we lost 15 years ago. I always looked forward to playing backgammon with you on the other side, dad. But  no Lou and definitely no David Bowie or Heath Ledger are here to greet me so does that mean I’m still alive? Even though I can’t move any of my limbs, open my eyes or speak, I think I can still hear. I’m pretty sure that I’m actually dead, but if I can still hear, that’s a good sign, isn’t it? What are they saying now?

“Asystole. I think we lost her. Time of death – 14:45”

***

The following day, just as the sun was coming up, we heard a noise and went rushing to the door; we were so excited that one of us knocked over the little table by the fireplace, and that coconut-scented candle came crashing to the floor. Hesse started to cry quite pathetically, although I maintained my decorum. But it wasn’t Carol; it was Lizzie, Carol’s best friend, who was standing at the door making shushing sounds. Where was Carol? Nevertheless, Lizzie cared for us and gave us our dinner, which had now become breakfast, of course, but we didn’t care; we were famished.

I must admit we were delighted to see Lizzie. She is a kind and generous soul, and we were relieved to have someone provide for us in Carol’s absence. We were willing to forgive the transgression of having our needs overlooked the night before and start with a clean slate. But then one day turned into a week, and Lizzie kept coming to feed us and freshen our water bowls and, of course, the litter. Finally, we learned the awful truth, Carol was never coming home, and we were orphans. What a sad and terrible truth to be alone in the world; thank goodness Hess and I have each other.

I don’t understand what happens when you die, but I imagine that it’s something like that story that Carol would read aloud to her nephews when they came to visit, now what was it called? Anyway, at the end, one of the main characters, Aslan, a very large and majestic cat, leads the humans from the dead world and into his own country, the Garden within the Western Wild of the Narnia (oh, that’s the name of the books). Maybe death is like that, just another different but magical world. In the meantime, Hess and I sincerely hope that Lizzie will take us home to live with her permanently next time she comes. We’d love to purr at her feet in the mornings, and in my estimation, I believe she is rather taken by us.

***

Sometimes when I see something funny or go through a rough patch, I’ll reach for the phone to give Carol a call. Then, when I remember that she’s dead, the pain pulsates through my whole body. It’s like phantom limb syndrome; it continues to ache long after it’s been severed.

Carol never had children, but she loved her cats like they were family. So I think she’ll be very pleased to know that they are purring on the couch beside me. Whenever one of them curls up beside me like this, it’s like I still have a piece of Carol to love. That’s something, isn’t it?

***

Well, it’s not like everything completely stops, is it? I can still see the nurses scurrying around even though I can’t make out what they’re saying. And that doctor with her hair all piled up on top of her head, she looks pretty worn out. I don’t have a clue what comes next, but I’m already feeling a little lost here. It feels utterly unfamiliar, although not that terrible. At least my head doesn’t hurt anymore, and I’m glad to be feeling less pain, no, make that no pain. There is a feeling of relaxation; yes, that’s it, like deep relaxation. Like Savasana at the end of yoga class, that was always my favourite part of the class anyway. Corpse pose. Like my yoga teacher always says, just let go.  I guess that’s kind of what it’s all about. I may not be the best yogi on the planet, I was never all that flexible, but I think I’m getting pretty good at this letting go business.

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Julia Abelsohn has spent over 25 years as a journalist, editor and corporate writer and is now enjoying creative writing pursuits. She has been published in The Raven’s Perch, The Mindful Word, The Globe and Mail, Flash Fiction Magazine, Pigeon Review and Retreat West.

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Published by darcie friesen hossack

Darcie Friesen Hossack is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers. Her short story collection, Mennonites Don’t Dance, was a runner-up for the Danuta Gleed Award, shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading Evergreen Award for Adult Fiction. Citing irreverence, the book was banned by the LaCrete Public Library in Northern Alberta. Having mentored with Giller finalists Sandra Birdsell (The Russlander) and Gail Anderson Dargatz (Spawning Grounds, The Cure for Death by Lightening), Darcie is now completing her first novel where, for a family with a Seventh-day Adventist father and a Mennonite mother, the End Times are just around the corner. Darcie is also a four time judge of the Whistler Independent Book Awards, and a career food writer. She lives in Northern Alberta, Canada, with her husband, international award-winning chef, Dean Hossack.

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