At exactly nine the next morning, Eleanor picked up the receiver and answered an unexpected telephone call. Janice Farmer was on the other line, sobbing unendingly while trying to make sense of her own words. In between the intermittent static and her sniveling, she managed to tell Eleanor the bad news; her volume rose and fell, which sounded like she was pulling further from and closer to the receiver at the same time, an expression that was neither frantic nor excited, burrowed in a mixture of eagerness and distress—the up and down migration of a weak heart.
Brother Joseph Young had suffered from a sudden heart attack the night before. It had happened while he was taking his shower; his body had slipped onto the wet, tiled floor, his limbs sprawled open, dangling stiffly over the rim of the bathtub until the ambulance came to collect his body five hours later. Had Mrs. Ramirez, his neighbor, not knocked on his door to borrow some sugar, Brother Young would have been left there alone to rot and decompose before anyone would ever discover his inexpedient death.
Upon hearing the news, Eleanor’s hand flew to her mouth, resting on the lower lip; a part of her quivered. It was only a few weeks ago that she’d seen him, dined with him, listened to him chew his food, his dentures clucking quietly inside his mouth; she’d let him drive her home in his brown truck that coughed and choked—though without incident—all the way back to the Cunningham house. Once, between the truck and the front door, Eleanor had thought the night was somewhat magical. Weird as it was, serendipity had played a game on her fragile heart, that maybe Brother Young—the farmer who had only recently lost his dear wife, for which Eleanor had pitied him—could be a good thing in her life, even by the slightest chance. She had managed to steal a smile as she sauntered toward the house with the old farmer pacing beside her, his hands tucked in his pockets. But all that—whatever it was, however it had started—would now be buried deep down a chasm between here and there, never to resurface again. Eleanor would make sure of that. Janice Farmer’s voice continued to squeak in her ear. Without saying goodbye Eleanor put the receiver down quietly until it made a click. She would say her apologies later.
Standing there by the phone, Eleanor stared blankly into the vacant living room as a cone of sunlight beamed from a window, thinking of the fragility of life. You could be enjoying the afternoon breeze one day watching a blazing sunset behind majestic mountains, and come next day, you could very well plop over and die without warning. There was a lesson to be learned here. Eleanor shook her head, pursed her lips, and thought of how she could have made a difference.
“I could’ve made him chicken noodle soup,” Eleanor said to herself. “I could’ve saved a life. What a pity. What a damn, bloody pity.”
(Excerpted from THE HOUSEKEEPER'S SON by Christopher Loke. Copyright © 2012 by Christopher Loke. Excerpted by permission of Jolly Fish Press, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.)