April watched the two men from her bedroom window.
She was folding laundry by the bed when she noticed them out of the corner of her hazel eyes. They had parked on the curb and were walking up the immaculate driveway. One was tall with noteworthy good looks, the other not so fortunate. They wore ironed khakis and button-ups with their company’s logo. Cradled under the second man’s forearm was a mining helmet that looked identical to her son Daniel’s, only there was a long crack splitting down the right side. They maneuvered around her beat up chevy toward the front door in silence.
When they made it to the porch she stepped away from the window, clutching her own anxious hands for comfort as she let them ring the doorbell twice. She knew that they had seen her as they parked the company jeep in front of her house. There really wasn’t any point in hiding from the truth, April knew they had to be here because of Daniel.
“Is this it, Lord?” she whispered as she stroked the little gold cross around her neck, “first you take John and then you steal our son, now you send men to rub it in?” She contemplated letting them wait. Maybe they’ll give up, go away. Bother some other lonely widow.
There had to be some other explanation for why Daniel hadn’t called since her forty-fourth birthday back in June. April sighed, it’s been fifteen days. What did they talk about? The call was all over the place. Oh right, orange tea biscuits and their past summer vacations in Toronto. She had wanted to drive up to his studio in the coal mining town up north Wednesday, but it was an hour long, back road drive that the truck could hardly handle.
“Time to face the music,” she mumbled as she left her bedroom, the laundry would have to wait. April took her time making it down the stairs, listening carefully to each creak while her eyes glazed over the portraits on the wall. There goes John and April on their wedding day. There’s Daniel being brought home from the hospital. His first day of school. Their favorite trip abroad, then their last Christmas before John’s death. He was a miner too, even worked for the same company, but it was a midnight stroke that had seized his life at thirty-two.
Finally downstairs, with a weak smile, April opened the door with an unrelenting grip on the brass handle, “may I help you?”
The handsome one cleared his throat, “My name is Jack Coleman and this is Seth Denson.”
“We work with human resources for the coal company Pacific Rock,” Seth Denson added.
“A-alright,” her voice shook as she absentmindedly pushed a few loose strands of hairs from her face before gripping the knob again to steady her demeanor, “my son works for you… Is everything alright?”
“We would have contacted you sooner, but there were many, uhm, details to sort through. We at Pacific Rock think of our employees as family and have brought it upon ourselves to deliver the news personally to many loved ones such as yourself, we’re sorry it’s taken so long.”
Seth cleared his throat, “Mrs. Clemens, we’re sorry to meet you on these terms but there was an incident last week involving a few collapsed shafts in one of our mines. Unfortunately, your son has suffered terrible head trauma.”
April’s hand fell from the door as she tried to take in the moment. “Excuse me?” Something he had said almost slipped past her, but she was quick to catch the error.
“We’re so sorry, Mrs. Clemens, but Jacob is in critical care,” answered Seth.
Her heart fluttered, “Mrs. Clemens? Jacob?” she blinked twice as it sunk in, they weren’t here because of Daniel. Realizing what this meant for her neighbor and the boy who had grown up with her own son, she continued slowly with her eyes lowered and a heavy heart, “Bless your hearts, you have the wrong house. Mrs. Clemens is across the street in the yellow house. Someone must’ve confused the 1 for a 7, it happens a lot.” Her words carried the guilt and grief she felt in her chest. “Jacob was so young and full of life, I think he was even engaged. I cannot believe it.”
“I’m sorry for the mistake,” Seth looked into her eyes apologetic, “and for sharing the news, it seems that you were close with your neighbors.”
“We are, sorta. It was really our boys who were close. Was…is that Jacob’s helmet?” she asked as she finally took in the severity of the accident, “oh my god, that poor boy.”
“We’re sorry for the mix up, ma’am,” Jack looked uncomfortable, perhaps he was the one who confused the 1 for a 7. “Have a good rest of your day.” They began to turn. The sun glinting off Jacob’s helmet seemed to snap something inside her.
April called out, “wait, hold on please.”
“Ma’am?” Seth looked back as Jack continued on more slowly.
“Like I said, my son works with your company. I know for sure that he schedules almost all the same shifts as Jacob, they’ve always been like that since junior high. So he must’ve been there that day. You see, I haven’t heard from him in a long time and -” She had to catch her breath.
He looked at her sympathetically, “there were many brave men and women there. What’s his name?”
“Daniel, Daniel Edwin Thompson. Did he make it? Where is he now?”
Seth readjusted the helmet between his arms, “I’d have to check with some other people. Many of the survivors have been sent to the local hospital for urgent care, other’s are still unaccounted for. We’ve only made it halfway through the rubble.”
Jack, who was still within earshot, called back, “Mrs. Clemens was the only visit we needed to make in this neighborhood if I can recall.”
She sighed in relief, “well, I guess that has to mean something.”
“It can mean many things, Ma’am. I’ll personally return when I find anything if you want.”
She straightened her blouse, “Thank you, Mr. Denson and to you too Mr. Coleman. I’ll let you go now, send condolences to Mrs. Clemens from April, that’s me.”
Seth nodded as he turned and continued with Jack on their way to the little yellow house across Knott street. April watched them walking away before stepping back into her home with more hope than when she woke up that morning. She also found that a new sense of dread had settled in as well as she finished her chores for the afternoon. Laundry. Reading. Gardening. It all felt like busy work.
Two hours later April found herself in her sunflower and rooster themed kitchen over a sink of soaking dishes. “Ruby’s son may not make it,” April reasoned with the portrait of Jesus. She was trying to talk herself out of checking on the Clemens. “A visit from me wouldn’t do her any good. I’m sure I’m the last person she’d want to see after the spectacle I made at her last dinner party. How was I supposed to know that her husband’s surgery was a touchy subject? At least she still has a husband.”
Jesus stared back with nothing to say.
“You know I didn’t mean it like that,” she huffed as she whipped her dish towel his way. April pulled the plug and watched the water drain before sighing, “I’ll bake the Clemens a pie. Nothing says condolences like a good ole fashioned blueberry pie.”
That evening April found herself surrounded by nearly half a dozen pies, and it wasn’t just blueberry. Blueberry and vanilla. Blueberry and raspberry. Apple and cinnamon. Peach and cinnamon. Pecan. Chicken and pea with gravy. After a while as she became more desperate to stay occupied the pies no longer looked edible, but it was comforting to see them all there along the counter and on the oak table.
She picked up number four, which appeared to be pure perfection by her standards, and held it up towards Jesus, “I told you a pie would be perfect.” The criss-cross pattern was on point and the ratio of blueberry to pie was ideal. She slid the delicacy, which was still in the pie pan, into a small wicker basket. She folded a blue and white plaid cloth over the top to protect it from unwanted critters.
April, who was not necessarily vain about her appearance, checked herself in the hall mirror. Her purple blouse had wrinkled creases from trimming the rose bushes on the right side of the house. Her faded jeans and white slip-on shoes showed no signs of kneeling by her tulips, even her greying auburn hair was still held in a bun. With her inspection complete, she looped her arm with the basket handle and walked out the door. She briefly contemplated locking it, but she felt the visit across the street would be short enough to not mind such a trivial thing at a time like this. Her flats pitter-pattered against the warm pavement. The west mountains basked in the glow of the setting sun, another summer day was ending without a word from Daniel. She crossed Knott street in a hurry.
They never fixed that, April noted the faded blue blotches along the Clemens’s driveway. It must have been the spring of the boys’ Sophomore year and they were goofing with water balloons, which to the parents’ dismay had secretly been filled with sky blue paint. Neither Jacob, nor Daniel, had confessed to the mischief. Paint was everywhere, no one could tell the boys apart at first. The memory, though it was an irritating day, was bittersweet now.
When April made it to the front door, which she noticed was beginning to chip, she held her breath and rang the doorbell. She slowly exhaled as if to calm herself before an important presentation.
Bob Clemens answered the door in nothing but a stained white shirt, striped boxers, and his bathrobe, “what is it, April?” His five o’clock shadow looked sharp enough to kill.
She looked away modestly, “may I come in? I’ve brought a pie.”
“I’ll go get Ruby,” he said as he stepped aside to let her in, “she’s upstairs napping. It’s been a rough day.”
“I’m so sorry to hear. Anything I can do?”
“No, but at least there’s pie,” he politely remarked, he motioned for her to sit on the floral patterned couch as he climbed up the stairs, “Ruby? Ruby dear, we have company.”
From upstairs there was some shuffling and what could only be muffled shouts. April cleared her throat awkwardly as she placed the basket on the scratched up coffee table. What’s a mother supposed to say to another in a time like this? He’ll pull through and everything will be fine? I’m sure he can still find work with a handicap? April bit down on her lower lip to keep from speaking at all, maybe pie and silence would do the trick. She never really had the social skills required for touchy situations, it had always been John who spoke. April just did the baking.
“Thank you so much, April,” a Ruby-free Bob said with a forced smile as he came back down, “I’m afraid there’s been an accident at the mine and my Ruby isn’t taking it so well.”
“I know, Bob. I’ve heard. I am so sorry about Jacob.”
He sighed before continuing, “Daniel worked there too, how is he?”
She stood while shrugging, “nobody seems to know.”
“That can be just as bad as knowing,” Bob opened the door, “I don’t mean to be a rude host, but our family would like some alone time right now. I hope you can understand.”
“I do, Bob. I’ll check back in a few days, okay?” April hugged Bob for the first time in twenty years since they moved in, gave him a sympathetic look, and left the Clemens house.
And even though it was barely seven at night, April went straight to bed.
That following afternoon in the kitchen, in the chair that squeaked when moved, she stared at a mug of coffee in her hands. It warmed her palms and sent tingles towards her fingertips. The aroma of French Vanilla and instant coffee mix filled her nostrils, it calmed her nerves. April brought the purple polka dot mug to her lips and drew a long, slow sip. The simple taste was satisfying, though it wasn’t enough to raise her spirits. She had been on edge all morning as April contemplated the visitors. From across the kitchen the portrait of Jesus smiled from under a golden halo.
“This could mean he’s fine. He’s alive, otherwise they would’ve meant to come to my house. Although he could be dead, squashed, horribly mangled under rock and not even found yet. But he could be perfectly okay. Daniel will call when he can,” she said to the son of God with a rising voice, “he may be hospitalized, he may not even be hurt, he could be busy helping nurses or cleaning up. He just might not have access to a phone.”
Her words came out flat as if her own mouth did not believe her. This only riled up her soul more as it left her with a queasy feeling. It was like butterflies fluttering in her stomach, except it was a lot less pleasant than when she first fell for John or was pregnant with Daniel.
April jolted from surprise. There was a shrill, almost unfamiliar sound coming from the living room. Her heart palpitated, could it be? April jumped from the chair, knocking it over in the process, and dashed for the phone as quick as she could manage. She picked up the receiver with clammy, shaky fingers. She didn’t want to get her hopes up, but that didn’t stop her from wishing.
Her words came out rushed, almost frantic, “h-hello, hello? Who is it?”
A feminine voice spoke softly, “Hi. I’m sorry to bother you, I know it’s Sunday, but…is this Mrs.Thompson?”
April carried the cordless phone to the couch where she situated herself with a fluffy pillow on her lap, she needed to compose herself, “yes, this is she. Who is calling?”
“Uhm. This is Valerie, and…” she paused, April was not sure if she had left the phone, but eventually the young woman spoke again. “And are you Daniel’s mom?”
At the sound of her twenty-three year old’s name caused April to let the phone slide out of her hand and onto the fluffy pillow with an oof. She felt that this was it. Now someone will finally shed light on her son’s silence, she feared for the worst.
“Hello? Are you still there?” the woman’s voice was muffled and far away now.
She hesitantly picked up the phone again, “I’m still here. Tell me how you know my son, please. And you’re talking about Daniel Edwin Thompson, right? He’s tall and lanky with blue eyes.”
The caller sighed, “yes, that’s my Daniel.”
April scoffed, she felt out of her body, “Your Daniel?” Till now she had never thought about sharing Daniel. He was always by her side, helping her cope through life, at least up until five years ago when he decided to work for Pacific Rock instead of going to college. Perhaps she had scared him too much out of becoming a photographer.
“He wanted to wait till you were ready, but -”
April snapped, “what are you talking about? Daniel would never keep secrets from me.”
“Don’t be mad, I really want you to like me. But I’m his wife. I hadn’t seen him since Monday afternoon and there was this accident but,” Valerie’s voice trembled as if she was ready to burst into tears, “oh crap, I’m messing this up. Dammit.”
April truly thought she was about to stroke, “I’m gonna have to call you back. Later. Tomorrow. Let me see.”
“No,” interjected Valerie, “Daniel told me what you’re like, I get it. But right now this is about Daniel, he’s in the hospital. I just found out the other day from men who came to our apartment. He was in one of the shafts that collapsed.”
She gripped the phone, “is he alright?”
“He’s suffering more mental trauma than physical, though his leg is broken. I’m just glad he wasn’t found dead. I was so worried when he didn’t come home after his shift. But he’s alive, that’s all that matters.”
“All that matters?” she snapped, even though she wasn’t actually as angry as she sounded she continued on, “I’ve been worried sick for weeks! Just the other day I heard word about the collapse, from strangers nonetheless and they weren’t even supposed to tell me. If you’re his wife, why didn’t you call me sooner? Or is there a second one who I also don’t know about that does all the calling for him?”
Valerie was at a loss for words.
“That’s what I thought,” April jabbed at the END button twice in anger and tossed the phone to the other side of the couch. No sooner than it was done that she felt regret. This wasn’t what she wanted at all. She wanted to know that he was okay, not hospitalized and married.
“Oh my god, oh my god. What have I done?” she felt a tingle in her nose as her eyes began to water. Her chest was tight with pain as she realized what she had done. There was only one way to fix it, so she declared quietly with confidence, “I have to go.”