I buried my husband today.
The thought tumbled through Jessi’s mind over and over like clothes in a dryer. Voices around her sounded oddly muted, as though she were underwater. Occasionally, someone would touch her, a simple grasping of her hand, a gentle pat on her shoulder, and the sensation felt like burning embers showering down over her.
Following the graveside service, mourners had gathered at her home. Hers and Graham’s. Only Graham isn’t here. We left him at the cemetery. I buried my husband today.
Food had appeared in her kitchen. Casseroles, desserts, salads. There was even a brisket. An army of women had set up a command post and were making sure guests had plenty to eat and drink. Jessi wondered briefly if there was enough ice for the drinks. Maybe she should ask Graham run to out and get some more. I buried my husband today.
Since that day, her phone hadn’t stopped ringing. Friends and neighbors hadn’t stopped calling and dropping by. “How are you?” “What can we do?” “What do you need?”
Her business partner, Sarah Reid, had been a rock, taking over the events they had scheduled this week, returning calls Jessi didn’t have the strength to deal with. “You take all the time you need, hon,” Sarah had told her. “We’ve got it under control.”
Since that day. “Sparrow, I need to get the oil changed in my car. Why don’t you drive to the mechanic’s and I’ll meet you there? I’ll drop you off at your office and then we can do the reverse this afternoon.”
Jessi had waited at the mechanic’s shop. When an hour had passed, she tried his phone. A stranger answered. “This is Officer Brooks. The owner of this phone has been in an accident. Are you the wife of Graham Crenshaw?”
A police car picked her up and drove her to the hospital. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Crenshaw. It appears your husband suffered a fatal heart attack behind the wheel of his car. When the car hit the utility pole, he was most likely already deceased.” The doctor had an air of resigned sympathy. Jessi wondered how many people he pronounced dead on an average day.
Sarah had met her at the hospital and driven her home. Jessi wasn’t sure how her own car got back to the house. She’d somehow made the calls to Cara and Adam. “Something has happened. Your dad died.”
Cara, age twenty-five, had made her excuses at her job with the Weather Channel and taken the first available flight from Atlanta to West Palm Beach. Adam, age twenty-two, had driven from Orlando where he worked as a video game animator.
Jessi and the kids had gone to the funeral home the following day to make arrangements. “Mrs. Crenshaw, your husband has everything prearranged. You don’t need to worry about a thing, it’s all taken care of. He has requested that he be buried in a navy suit with a white shirt and a blue and red paisley tie. Do you know the things he means?”
Jessi nodded dumbly. What he described was her favorite suit of Graham’s. He always looked so handsome, he’d even worn it when they’d celebrated their anniversary a few months back. He had it all planned out. Why didn’t he mention it?
“We’re just so sorry for your loss.” The statement shook Jessi from her thoughts. It was a neighbor couple from down the street.
“Thank you,” she murmured, not meeting their eyes. She sipped her wine to have something to do and wandered into the kitchen.
“Hey, hon, how are you holding up?” Sarah asked.
Jessi shrugged and gave a weak smile. “I’m okay.”
“Can we get you something to eat?”
Jessi shook her head and headed back to the living room. I buried my husband today.
“Jessica. I was just chatting with your lovely daughter and son,” said Rev. Lyman. “Graham was a good man, taken before his time.” He looked at Jessi with slight reproof. “I hope we’ll be seeing you and your family on Sunday.”
“Maybe, Reverend,” Jessi replied softly. “If you’ll excuse me and my children.”
“Of course. Family has to pull together at a time like this.”
They watched him work his way across the room. “I’m not lovely?” quipped Adam.
Jessi smiled at her son. “You’re lovely to me. And you’re welcome.”
“Do you love the way Rev. Lyman tried to get in a plug for going to church?” commented Cara.
“My personal relationship with God is exactly that. Personal,” replied Jessi. “How are you two doing?”
“It’s hard,” said Adam, his voice breaking.
“I know. You don’t have to stay for all of this. I have no idea when people will decide to leave.”
“I’m here until Friday,” Cara said. “I don’t want to leave you alone to deal.”
Jessi kissed her cheek and then Adam’s. “Thank you both. I love you so much. Your dad loved you, too.” She felt tears forming again. She felt as though she’d cried out her very soul, and yet tears were always near. Cara’s here until Friday. What day is it again?
Cara and Adam moved out to find their friends. Jessi turned to look for a place to sit. She was so weary. She was stopped by a woman she vaguely recognized. “Jessica, I’m Harriet, from church?”
“Oh, yes, Harriet. It was good of you to come.”
“Sweetie, I just want to remind you that Graham is in a better place.” She beamed at Jessi as though her words conferred onto her some sort of miracle.
Jessi felt a twitch begin at the corner of her eye. If I don’t get out of here right now, I’m going to scream. “If you’ll excuse me, please,” she murmured, pushing past the woman. She hurried through the kitchen, ignoring Sarah as she called to her, and slipped out the back door.
The lanai and pool deck were blissfully quiet. The sun had set and the lights had come on automatically. She crossed to the far side of the pool and sat on the edge of the spa with her back to the house. Finally alone, she leaned forward with her elbows on her thighs and let the tears flow.
She’d only been there a few minutes when she heard a sound, the scuff of a shoe. She sat up abruptly and whirled around.
“I’m so sorry. I don’t mean to bother you.” The man was tall and muscular, his dark hair cut severely, almost military style, his dark suit cut slim. His brown eyes were soft and sympathetic.
Jessi sniffed and stood, swiping at the tears on her cheeks. “I just needed some air. I buried my husband today.” She looked up at him, shocked. “That’s the first time I said that out loud.”
The man smiled kindly. “I’ll leave you alone. I just wanted to say that Graham was a good man. He was my friend and I’ll miss him.”
“Thank you. Did you work with him?”
“No. We were friends. I’m Judd, by the way.”
Jessi nodded. “Thank you for coming, Judd. I’m sure he would have appreciated it.” She began walking back towards the house. Judd fell into step beside her.
“I thought maybe I could come back on Saturday, maybe help you with the lawn,” he said.
Jessi was only half-listening, wondering if Harriet had gotten the hell out of her house yet. “Mm-hmm,” she murmured.
“Alright, Jessi,” he said. “Take care, now.”
She nodded and went to find her children.