Ernestine is like the guardian angel of the cul-de-sac. But after Jillian is hospitalized, her thoughts turn melancholy, as she thinks about the ramifications. Then some phone calls change everything. An excerpt from Defining Moments.
Ernestine woke up the following morning with a heavy heart. She thought about poor Jillian and everything she was going through, not to mention her daughter and how this was affecting her.
Megan had called her last night to fill her in on the situation and the doctor’s plans. She’d been so grateful to hear from her, and had apologized profusely for not being more alert.
“This is most definitely not your fault,” Megan had reassured her. “Without your assistance, we wouldn’t have gotten her help so quickly. Thank you!”
“You’re too kind,” Ernestine had murmured.
And now, in the light of a new day, she pondered the words and wondered. Could she have done more?
She stayed in the kitchen with her tea and scone today. Somehow it didn’t seem right to sit by the bay windows looking toward Jillian’s house when she wasn’t even there. And it sounded like she wouldn’t be there for quite awhile.
Next she wondered about who would look after things. Actually, she didn’t know if Jillian had plants to water. She had noticed over the years that a gardener came regularly to take care of the outdoors. But come to think of it, maybe he hadn’t been there in awhile, since yesterday she’d noticed that the lawn was a bit wild and weeds bordered the walkways. The other day she’d seen all those envelopes with “past due” stamped on them. Probably Jillian’s neglect of those routine matters had been more far-reaching than any of them had realized.
When she’d spoken to Megan, she had offered to help with anything that might be needed.
Now she laughed out loud at the thought. She was getting up there in years, and probably Megan didn’t think she could be of any help. She certainly hadn’t done much lately.
When the phone rang, she startled. Who could be calling at this hour?
“Hello, Nana,” Fiona’s voice cheered her with its usual enthusiasm and good spirits. “I know I didn’t wake you, since you almost always arise with the birds. So what are you up to lately?”
“Oh, I’m so glad to hear from you. Your voice is just the antidote I need for my mood today.” And she updated her granddaughter on Jillian’s situation. “Megan, her daughter, came home to help out. I’m not sure for how long, but I know that Jillian will be facing quite an ordeal for some time to come.”
They chatted about Fiona’s work, a recent conversation with her father, and then with her uncle, whom she planned to visit in London in a couple of months.
“Oh, my, that sounds wonderful,” Ernestine murmured. “How I would love to go to London.”
“Well, why don’t you? There’s no reason on earth why you can’t. I know you got a passport a few years ago— just in case, that’s what you told me—and I’m sure it’s still good. What are you waiting for? I mean, we could go together and I would be there to help you navigate anything tricky.”
What neither of them would say out loud was that they didn’t know just how much longer Ernestine had to live.
Sitting quietly and considering Fiona’s idea, Ernestine felt like going for it. Why not indeed? So she said: “I will think about it, dear.”
Soon they exchanged good-byes, and after she hung up, Ernestine felt energized just thinking about the possibilities. But when she turned her thoughts to her age and the strain on her body, she told herself that she could just as easily take her last breath right here, doing nothing at all. So why not take a leap of faith and go for the adventure?
Excited by the idea of the trip, she moved slowly toward the kitchen where she poured another cup of tea.
She considered calling Betsy and asking her what she thought. Without even waiting to contemplate it further, she punched in her old friend’s number. She was ecstatic as she thought about going to London. She had never even been out of the country, which seemed like such a shame, considering all the years that her oldest son had lived in Europe. He had come back to visit a few times, but not for a very long time. She realized that he hadn’t come home at all since Winston’s funeral a few years ago.
The phone rang several times, with no answer. Ernestine waited for an answering machine to pick up—or voice mail, which was what most people seemed to have—but neither event happened. That’s strange, she thought, and hung up the phone slowly.
Maybe Betsy had unplugged the phone. That could explain it. But why would she do that?
And then Ernestine realized that she had nobody else she could call to find out what was happening with Betsy. Well, that wasn’t completely true. Bethany had been in touch with Betsy. That’s how Betsy had gotten her address. And they both lived in LA. Bethany would know where Betsy lived and could probably stop by and check.
She had almost convinced herself that having Bethany check on her old friend would be a good idea, but then stopped herself. No, LA was a huge city. What were the odds of Bethany living anywhere near Betsy?
Now she felt restless and a bit agitated. Well, even if she couldn’t have Bethany check on Betsy, she could still call her and talk about the idea of visiting Jeff in London. Maybe Bethany would like to come, too.
So she ended up calling Bethany after all.