"Oh, come on!" I grumbled aloud, "I was outside for five minutes." It was, of course, during those five minutes without my phone, however, that Rick had chosen to call me from work. I came in from refilling the bird feeder and saw the missed call and voicemail alert on my cell.
"Hey. Give me a call when you get a minute....Um...something in the paper...I want to tell you about."
When Rick says "the paper", I know he's talking about our local newspaper, to which we no longer subscribe. We gave it up in favor of The Cleveland Plain Dealer, a publication I feel isn't so negative, political, and amateurish. And honestly, I got tired of the delivery person dragging her dog right across my lawn every day, ignoring my walk and my wishes to the contrary. The Paper is available for free online, so Rick catches up with the town news that way and passes on information I'll find interesting. Usually, he tells me which of my former students has been indicted or arrested.
I sat down on the couch and called him back. "Nance," he said, "Tish's obituary was in the paper today. She died several days ago. It just says 'surrounded by family and friends' and that arrangements are private. She was ninety-three, did you know that? I wanted to tell you, to make sure you knew about it."
Instinctively, I turned to look over at her house right across the street. It has a For Sale sign in its yard now: that was one of the things to appear over the summer after the parade of workmen finally left. I'd only seen a realtor show the house a few times, and there's never been an open house there.
"Nance? Are you there?" I suddenly realized that I hadn't responded to the news that Rick had told me. Still looking at Tish's house, I spoke. "Yes. I'm sorry. Thanks for telling me. Oh, Rick, it's just sad, isn't it?" There wasn't time for anything more, and I had to let him hang up.
I stood up and went to my front door, opened it, and looked out to Tish's lonely, dead-eyed house. In a final eradication of her, the real estate company had placed a ridiculous plastic panda head about the size of a softball on the top step, clearly a key safe. Tish would have kicked that thing off, with the toe of her designer pumps, in the utmost disdain.
With tears in my eyes, I read her online obituary. It was, thankfully, lovely and fitting. It said that she married her highschool sweetheart when she married Barrington, and that she was a wonderful teacher and played golf wherever and whenever she could. When I clicked over to leave my condolences, I was the first one, and that made me sad. Two weeks later, there are still only five, but I considered the fact that many people may have chosen to or have been able to send theirs directly to her family.
I briefly considered placing a pot of yellow mums on the steps of her house as a tribute and remembrance. Tish always had two pots of yellow mums and marigolds there. But I decided that it would make me feel worse to watch them die and decay as November became more cruel and inhospitable.
Tish and Barrington always used to leave for Florida as soon as the weather got too cold for golf. Sometimes it was late October and sometimes it was early or mid-November. We would suddenly become aware that they were simply not there anymore. It became so routine that we stopped noticing after a while.
I know someday this will be true about the house across the street. That one day, after it is sold and lived in for many years by someone else, the story of Tish will not feel so poignant. That, perhaps, I might only think of it for a moment when I see, somewhere, a pot of yellow marigolds.