Anne got the call around 11 am on a muggy, late August morning. She immediately walked out of Starbucks, the barista calling her name as he held a latte.
Anne tried to breath deeply, but the humid air made my lungs feel like she was swimming underwater. The air conditioner in the car was blowing frigid air; and her began teeth to chatter from the cold or the shock. She wasn’t sure.
Anne pulled up to the house. Her childhood home. A house filled with memories, of the happy fairy tale life that turned into a sad story after her mother left.
The paramedics and a police officer were standing with their backs to Anne, blocking something covered with an bright orange tarp. A lawn chair lay tipped on its side. Anne saw the neighbors peeking out their front windows, as others stopped on the sidewalk and stared at the strange tableau.
She slowly climbed the stairs to the front lawn as the policeman broke away and stepped towards her.
“Yes, I’m Anne. Where is my father?”
The policeman looked surprised and uncomfortable.
“Well, ma’am, your father is here, under this tarp. The paramedics were called immediately, when his neighbor, Mrs. Chang noticed he was lying on his side with the chair tipped over. She and her husband came out and found him unresponsive. The paramedics arrived within six minutes, and established that your father had no vitals. They attempted to revive him, but he was still unresponsive. Ma’m your father died very quickly. There was nothing anyone could do.”
Anne stood there without emotion. This all felt like a dream. Her Dad was going to come out on the stoop at any moment, beer in hand, and look around asking her what the hell was going on?
The cop stepped aside silently and as Anne walked forward towards the paramedics who glanced at her, then went back to filling out their forms and packing their gear. Anne stopped in front of the orange bump in front of her. The cop, she noticed, was standing at her side.
“Ma’m would you make a positive identification for us?” the cop asked.
Anne nodded, and swallowed hard. She wished, for the thousandth time, that she was not an only child. She needed a brother or a sister standing with her right now.
The cop squatted down and slowly lifted one corner of the tarp up, revealing her father’s face. His mouth was open, and his face was already pale and fading, like an old photograph.
“Yes,” she whispered. Then clearing her throat she spoke again, “Yes, it’s my father.”
“Thank you, Ms. McGarvey. I know this is difficult. Would you like to sit down while I ask you a couple of questions?”
“I’ll stand, ” Anne answered. She wanted to protect her father from the prying eyes of the neighbors; the curious stares of the passersby.
“Ma’m do you have a funeral home or prior arrangements for your father’s remains?
“No, we never talked about it.”
Ann thought of when her Grandpa had died, and how her Daddy had told her that all the arrangements had been taken care of by the MacArthur funeral home.
“MacArhur’s,” she said. “We use MacArthur’s funeral home.”
“Yes, ma’m I will call them for you if you’d like.”
The cop stepped away to make the call, and Anne looked around at the house. It was still in good repair. Her Daddy liked to keep the house painted and the lawn in perfect condition. The only thing missing from her childhood was the shed. Daddy tore it down after her mother left, and put a metal shed up in the corner of the backyard. He told her the shed was filled with termites and field mice. They never spoke of what memories they both had of that shed.
The cop returned, and told her the funeral home was on their way. He asked her Daddy’s birthdate, his occupation, and other pertinent information for his report. The paramedics came over and told the cop they were finished. They each shook her hand and offered their sympathies. She looked at each one, but did not see them as she murmured her thanks.
The neighbors began to disperse, going back to their television shows, breakfast dishes, and house work. The cop and Anne were left holding vigil until the funeral home showed up in their black van.
The men came over, shook her hand, and offered their condolences. They gave her a packet of papers and told her that her Daddy had made arrangements with them years before.
She was not surprised. Her Daddy had many faults, but leaving things to chance was not one of them.
The pre-paid funeral plan was his gift to Anne. He knew the burden of being an only child, he too, had been an only. He knew better than anyone how lonely it was to share grief alone.
For the first time since she got the phone call, Anne felt grief welling up inside her, choking her as she tried to breathe.
“Miss are you alright?” the funeral guy looked at her with concern.
“Yes, I’m just touched by my father’s thoughtfulness,” she said.
“Here is a copy of all of his preparations, although I’m sure he left you the details among his things. This way you won’t have to go searching. We can meet tomorrow to go over the service and other arrangements.”
“Yes, that would be fine.”
Yes, I will see you at 10.”
“Thank you Miss. And again, I’m so sorry for your loss. Don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions between now and tomorrow morning.”
Anne nodded. She glanced down and saw her father’s handwriting on an envelope among the papers. She was having trouble breathing again.
Soon they had her father loaded in the black van, taking him to the funeral home. Anne stood staring at the flipped lawn chair; the bent grass where his body had flattened it.
When her mother left, some of the neighbors had whispered the word, “orphan.” Anne did not understand the word, and asked her Daddy. He was washing her hair in the tub, his strong fingers rubbing and creating suds that fell around her like snow melting off the roof.
“Daddy, what’s an or-pan?” she asked.
Daddy’s hands stopped scrubbing for a moment and then resumed.
“Where’d you pick up that word? I didn’t see it on your weekly spelling list.”
“It’s not a spelling word, I heard Mrs. Noreski tell Mrs. Bangor that I was an or- pan.”
“It’s orphan, Peanut, and they used the word incorrectly. An orphan means you have no mother or father or family.”
“Like Anne Shirley?” Daddy had been reading her Anne of Green Gables, since she discovered the book with her name on the bookshelf in the living room.
“Yes, exactly. You are such a smart girl. Now tip your head back so I can rinse.”
Daddy never rushed to rinse her hair, because he knew how much she hated water and shampoo in her eyes.
The memory of her Daddy carefully rinsing her hair, and then later using the wide tooth comb to gently comb out her tangles, brought her to her knees. She knelt down in the bent grass and sobbed. She was truly an orphan now.