Molly Carlson called early Monday morning and requested that I meet her at a funeral home on Snelling near where it intersected with Randolph, about a mile from where Jamie was killed. I could see a bar at the intersection from where I stood speaking with her in the parking lot and wished I was in it.
“My father died when I was eleven years old,” Molly told me. “That was what? Forty years ago? I thought I was over it but I’m not. Sometimes I’ll hear a laugh that is the same or a song he used to sing or see a man who resembles him and suddenly I’m a child again, holding my mother’s hand, asking her if Daddy’s gone to heaven. That’s what happened just now. The funeral director, he looked like my father, the same height, the same color hair, and when he came close I could smell his aftershave. It was Old Spice just like Daddy used to wear and I started crying and I couldn’t stop. He thought it was because of Jamie.” Molly dabbed her eyes with a wadded-up tissue, not concerned at all that so many strangers could see her tears. “I’m sorry I called you.”
“That’s all right.”
“I wish Daddy were here now.”
“What about your husband?”
The ME hadn’t yet released Jamie’s remains but he promised that he would soon. Molly Carlson had driven the two hundred miles from Grand Rapids to arrange to have them sent home when he did. She didn’t want to use the telephone for this. She had come alone.
“Richard doesn’t understand,” Molly said. “It’s only been a few days since—since the policeman called, and he thinks I should be over it by now. We haven’t seen Jamie for seven years so he says I should be over it by now. Maybe he needs me to be over it so he can get over it, but I can’t get over losing a child in less than a week. And Stacy. Oh, Stacy, Stacy—what about Stacy? We’re going to lose her, too. How can Richard get over that in less than a week? How is that possible?”
“People heal in their own time, you can’t hurry it,” I said, repeating a line that someone once told me. I was trying to be a comfort to her and not doing a very good job of it. That’s why she called. She needed comfort. She had been crying uncontrollably in the funeral director’s office. He asked her if there was anyone he could call. Only she didn’t have family or friends in the Cities. All she had was my business card.
“I’ve been having this dream every night, a recurring dream,” Molly said. “In the dream everything is back to normal and Jamie is seven years old. She’s sitting in the backyard, feeding tea and cookies to her dolls. She’s happy and she’s smiling. Then there’s the sound of heavy footsteps and the footsteps grow louder and louder until Jamie looks up, only it isn’t Jamie, it’s Stacy, and a shadow covers her face and she screams and I wake up and start crying. The first time Richard held me in his arms and told me it was just a bad dream. Now he pretends to be asleep.”
“Maybe the two of you need to see a counselor.”
“Maybe. After Stacy—you will find Jamie’s son, won’t you? Richard said you would.”
Molly unlocked her car door, but she didn’t get in.
“Do you want to hear something funny? The funeral director told me that when you ship a body home by plane or train, you have to purchase a ticket for it just like it was a living person. Can you imagine that?” She started to laugh. The laughter soon turned to more tears, torrents of them.
I took her in my arms and held her tight.
“I wonder if Jamie has ever been on a plane before,” she said, weeping into my shirt collar.
I rocked her gently back and forth and thought about Richard Carlson, that big, proud man. I doubted he could appreciate the dark irony of buying an airline ticket for a dead woman. If the flight was overbooked, could she be bumped? Did she get frequent flyer mileage?
We stood like that for a long time, crying over the ticket that would take Jamie home, the one-way ticket that waits for all of us, like the one that took my mother and father to Turtle Bay, the bay on the lake where I built my lake home. My father had had my mother cremated. He stored her ashes in an urn that he kept in a box on the top shelf of his closet. He never opened the box as far as I knew. When he died, I had him cremated, too, and mixed their ashes together and scattered them on the bay and sat drifting in a canoe until the moon was high and the water was black.