“I never got a chance to say good-bye”, she sobbed, to no one at all.The house was empty now.The ladies from the church were gone; they’d cleaned up the leftovers from yesterday’s wake after the memorial service.
Patty and Jack had never been religious, but they didn’t feel completely devoid of spiritual curiosity. They had found the UnitarianTemple in Oak Park a great comfort.The Unitarians are as non-religious a religious organization as any you could want to encounter, almost like the Buddhists, tolerant of everyone regardless of their beliefs.And the church, the one built by Frank Lloyd Wright when Oak Park was so new, had stood the test of time as beautiful architecture.The recent renovation restored its original splendor, but mostly they went there because of the pastors.They hadn’t had a chance to get to know the fellow, Rev. Alan Taylor, but he performed a nice service just the same, showing a lot of empathy and comfort – as if he had actually known Jack.
Patty was feeling normal anguish, if there is such a thing as anguish being normal.It all happened so fast. Jack had been on a fishing trip on the west coast of Canada – in the Haida Gwaii regions at Englefield Bay – a corporate junket for the top sales people in the company, of which Jack was one.
The news came, in a phone call last Saturday, their last day there - shock has not fully settled in with Patty yet. It was Norm Jepson, Jack’s boss, ‘Hello, Patty.Patty Hornby??”
“Patty, this is Norm Jepson. I work with Jack. We’ve met before at some company functions.Patty, I wish I was calling under different circumstances, but I’m afraid I have some very bad news. Jack was out whale watching this morning with another group staying at the lodge here, when their boat capsized. There were four survivors but three people, including Jack, drowned.The lodge had another whale watching boat close by but they were unable to rescue everyone. When they brought Jack into the boat they detected a pulse, but they were unable to revive him. Patty, I’m very sorry, but Jack is gone”.
Patty didn’t remember the rest of the conversation – numbed completely by those opening lines, she began to shut down emotionally.
She thanked Norm for his call and his offer to take care of arrangements for having Jack’s body flown back. She was curious, “Norm, why was Jack out whale watching?He was petrified of the water. He couldn’t swim, always wore a life jacket.He almost bailed out of the fishing trip because he was so scared of the deep water.”
“Really,” countered Norm; “I had no idea Jack was afraid. He was out fishing every day of the trip. There was another group up here at the same time – marketing folks from Coca-Cola. They were the ones going whale watching. They invited Jack along. I saw him heading down to the dock with them after breakfast. He didn’t appear anything but excited to go.”
Patty was so confused.
Jack’s body was flown back, arrangements were made; cremation, memorial service and a wake at Molly Malone’s Irish Pub in Forest Park.Norm Jepson was there, as were many of Jack’s colleagues – most of whom Patty had never met - relatives and friends were there.And then it was over. It was just a blur now.
Patty came home to an empty house.No Jack. No sounds, no sign of him except for clothes in his closet, his desk and things in the den, and the fish.It arrived yesterday, shipped from EnglefieldBay the day before Jack died.Packed in ice; halibut and salmon. It was wonderful looking fish, but Patty couldn’t think of it.She asked her friend Cheryl to put it in the freezer downstairs, which she did.
Wednesday afternoon. Gray rainy July day in Oak Park, day after Jack’s memorial service – Patty opened his filing cabinet. It wasn’t locked but she’d never looked in it before, just as Jack had never gone through her purse or her desk.These were private places, not for invading or snooping.Places of trust.
She might not have looked there for days, or perhaps weeks, but, when the funeral director gave her the envelope of his personal effects – his glasses, wedding ring and wallet – she was stunned, perhaps more than she was stunned by his untimely death, as she looked through his wallet.Behind the folded bills, and in front of the credit cards, there were two conspicuously out of place pieces of paper.One, a tattered discolored business card – Jill Eastlund, VP for Canada, Coca-Cola Corporation, and the other, a photo of a beautiful woman.The inscription on the back of the photo explained so much; it read, “your friendship has meant so much to me Jack – all my love Jill”.
Her eyes wouldn’t cry any more – she was empty.
She was looking for the file containing Jack’s life insurance policy. As she opened the drawer, one file caught the lip of the cabinet, preventing the door from opening.As she jostled it into place, the drawer was freed and swung open easily.The policy she wanted was easy to find – Jack had always been meticulous in his filing – as the Forest Agency Insurance file slipped out of her hand, spilling its contents of correspondence and the agent’s card. She would call them tomorrow.
Before she closed the drawer to leave all of that for another day when she would have time and emotional energy to begin the process of going through Jack’s papers, she pulled out the bulging file that had blocked the drawer from opening.
Disheveled, bulging, she wondered what it was. It didn’t have a label – but it was filed behind the J tab.
She was dumbstruck – at first in confusion, and then with revulsion.
This file of . . . souvenirs really; cocktail napkins, boarding passes, ticket stubs – the makings of a love affair scrapbook. She threw it in the trash can, but not before she grabbed the bundle of letters.It was coming together for Patty now – the business card, this folder under J, and these letters from Jill.She remembered it now, two years ago, when he got back from that Atlanta trip.
Jack had confessed his flirting-with-having an affair with her, promising that it was not a re-visiting of the Clare affair, that the woman he met on that flight had wanted to start something, to continue something with him but that he had refused. He swore the woman he’d met on the plane was just that – a flirtation on the plane, and nothing more. He had confessed to the flirtation on the plane, and to the invitation to spend the night with her at the Ambassador Hotel.He said that was all there was to it, two frisky seat-mates and a couple of drinks on the plane, full stop.
Now, what the hell was this?
Every ounce of Patty’s body was in rage mode, but her body was still – quiet, brooding.
She debated throwing the letters away, threw them in the trash and then retrieved them again several times through that afternoon and evening.
Friends called, distant cousins called and after a few hours of such comforting, Patty turned off the phone and went to bed.But she couldn’t sleep.She tried reading for a while to no avail.
Finally, about 2AM, she came down the stairs, put on a pot of coffee and stared at that bundle of letters. She didn’t want to know what they said, but she couldn’t sit there not knowing.Thumbing them, she saw they were in sequence by postmark, newest at the top and held together by two rubber bands, one each way, looking like a tied up package.The envelopes were standard white business envelopes.The return address on each one the same, Coca-Cola, Vancouver, BC.
Coffee in hand, box of Kleenex at the ready, she started with the first one.
It was from Jill. They were all from Jill.
That first letter – just a note really – said, “Jack, I’m partly sad you didn’t come to meet me at the hotel last night. I wanted you. I wanted you badly, but when you called, explaining that you were driving around Oak Park, one part of you wanting to drive as fast as you could to be with me, but at the same time explaining you couldn’t betray Patty again, especially so soon after her loss of the twins.Patty has a loving caring husband. I was obviously right in my judgment of your good character but sorry to see the energy we had for each other on the plane will not be continued. Fondly, Jill”.
The second letter, the third, the fourth – each along a similar track, staying in touch, discussing her trips and revealing tidbits of information about her family, her work, her daughter, her travels . . . and of her desire for Jack.That part wouldn’t have been disconcerting but there was, with each letter, reference to Jack’s calls and his emails.She admonished Jack to not send personal emails to her office account, encouraging that he write to her directly or by email to her personal account.Why the letters?She explained she liked old fashioned letter writing, and admitted to a secret wish that somehow Patty might find them some day.
Why the hell did he keep them here?They were sent to him at his office address. He could have kept them there, or destroyed them.
By the time Patty had worked through the pot of coffee, half the Kleenex box and all of the letters, there were several clear elements in Patty’s mind; Jill was in love with Jack and believed Jack was in love with her and they had been together again – in Chicago twice and Atlanta once.
Clearly Jill had acknowledged her understanding of – her acceptance of, Jack’s unwillingness to leave Patty.That, in some perverse sick way, seemed good.Jack had knocked up his mistress yet Patty was OK with that!“Really, what are you thinking Patty”, she muttered. “He remained faithful to me, but he was obviously in love with her. What a coward you were Jack, if you weren’t dead, I’d like to kill you right now”.
There was another element of surprise – shock actually, in a letter in the middle of the pack. A pregnancy. A baby.Jack, according to these letters, was the father of a child that would – by now, be eleven months old.
Patty poured four fingers of scotch in an old fashioned glass and went to bed.
It was well past noon when she woke.
She had to know, she had to know how Jack felt about Jill, if the contents of those letters was true or if Jill was just a woman with an overactive imagination and obsessively persistent in pursuit of Jack as Clare had once been.
“Good morning, thank you for calling Coca Cola Limited, how can I direct your call?” came the answer on the phone when Patty dialed the number on the card from Jack’s wallet.
Patty, calmly, “Good morning?Oh, I guess it is still morning there.Could I speak with Jill Eastlund please?”
“One moment please, I’ll put you through to that area.”
“Leonard Tyson speaking, may I help you?”
“Yes, I was calling to speak with Jill Eastlund please.”
“Ma’am, could I ask who is calling please, and what your relationship is to Ms. Eastlund”, Tyson came back in a softer tone.
“My name is Patty Hornby. Jill Eastlund was an acquaintance of my late husband.”
“Mrs. Hornby, I apologize for screening your call – it is just a very tense time around this office right now.Several employees of this office were killed last week in a boating accident while on a corporate retreat. Jill Eastlund was one of those we lost.Is there anything I can help you with relating to company business or did you want me to connect you with Jill’s family?”
Patty’s arm went limp as she sat back in her chair, gathering her thoughts and catching her breath.
“Mrs. Hornby . . . Mrs. Hornby, are you still there?”
“Yes . . . yes, I am still here.Tell me, please, where was the boating accident?”
“Our advertising team was on a fishing retreat at a fly-in fishing lodge up in the Queen Charlotte Islands, a place called EnglefieldBay.They were out whale watching and one of the boats capsized.”
Patty began to shake. She cradled the phone and sprinted to the bathroom where she started heaving as she came through the doorway, hurling toward the toilet, not realizing the seat was down.
There was vomit everywhere. Patty slumped to the floor in sobs. She sat there for what seemed like hours. It was only twenty minutes but it seemed far longer.
She couldn’t remember ever feeling so alone.
Sleep overwhelmed Patty for the next three days.Friends from her office stopped by to check on her each day because she wasn’t answering the phone. On the third day she loaded Sally and Trish up with bags of halibut and salmon from the freezer, thanked them again, assuring them she was OK, she just needed some more time alone.
It was late in the afternoon, Chicago time. She’d thought it over. She called back, to the Coca-Cola office in Vancouver and was connected again with Leonard Tyson. She explained that her husband had drowned in the same capsized boat as the Coke employees. And she asked to be connected with Jill’s family. She explained that, upon reviewing correspondence, it appeared that Jill and Jack Hornby were quite well acquainted, a side of his life of which she hadn’t been aware, and that she would like to make contact.
“Well, Mrs. Hornby, what I can tell you is that Jill’s husband died six years ago.Her daughter Alexis is in GradSchool at EmilyCarrUniversity here in Vancouver.She lives . . . or rather, she lived with Jill in White Rock.She is perplexed and in shock too.It might be good if you two connect. I think it would be best if I provide your name and phone number to Alexis, and then she can contact you when she feels she is ready. Is that all right with you?”
Patty acknowledged that would be fine, she provided her name, address, phone number and email address, thanked him for his co-operation and ended the call.
Weeks, three or possibly four, went by without any contact from Alexis.Patty had nearly worn out the pages of those letters from re-reading them.She resumed work at the Rubey & Co. accounting office. They were thrilled to have her back. Her desk was piled high with work and a new software package had been installed at the end of tax season.She was swamped with work – and thrilled about it.The days were 10, 12 and sometimes 14 hours long.Nothing could have been better.
It was a Monday evening. Patty had stopped at the market to pick up a few groceries on her way home. Laden with bags, she heard the phone ringing as she came in the door.She couldn’t make it to the phone in time, so the call rang through to the machine.
“Hello, Mrs. Hornby. My name is Alexis Eastlund.You called Mr. Tyson at my mother’s office recently and indicated that you would like to talk with me . . . “
Patty picked up the phone . . . “Alexis, …. Are you still there – this is Patty. Sorry, I couldn’t pick up right away – I just came in the door.”
They talked for hours. Alexis knew Jack.She had met him, along with her mother, in Vancouver, Atlanta and Chicago.Patty had so many questions, and Alexis seemed so eager to talk about her mother with someone.Patty was most of all, anxious to know about the baby and Jack’s relationship to it. Alexis explained that they suspected it was Jack’s, but weren’t sure and hadn’t done any DNA testing.It seems that Jack was not the only friend her mother had in her various ports of call.The child’s name was Derek.In her opinion, Derek looked like Jack – had his hair, his eyes.
Patty explained to Alexis that she and Jack had no children, having lost twins in a failed pregnancy that left Patty unable to conceive again.Alexis told her that she knew that.
“Patty, I was reluctant to call, but I have a problem – and maybe you can help.My father is dead. I am of age and will inherit my mother’s home and assets, but I am told by our lawyer that I have no rights to Derek. I can take care of him. He’s my half-brother, but I am not likely to be successful if I apply to be his legal guardian because of my age, being in school and because he is so young.If he is Jack’s son, and I am sure he is, then maybe you would have some rights, some legal standing, to adopt Derek or become his legal guardian.I don’t know what to do. Would you be willing to discuss it with the lawyer?”
Patty’s brain was set on stun.She had no idea how she felt – too much new information to absorb, yet her revulsion over Jack’s infidelity was overwhelmed by her thoughts about and concern for Derek.The son she could never have.Jack’s son.Maybe.
“Alexis, that is a lot to think about. Can I sleep on it before I answer?Please give me your phone number and the lawyer’s phone number”.
Alexis provided the information. They said goodnight and agreed to talk again soon.
Patty couldn’t sleep.
She spent the next couple of hours online, researching Vancouver, the Emily Carr school, White Rock and websites that offered information on adoption of children with dual citizenship, which Derek would have if he is Jack’s son.
Time flew.Patty asked for time off work, explaining she wasn’t feeling ready – that it was too soon. She was consumed with Derek-think.E-mails and calls to lawyers in Chicago and Vancouver, to government officials in Washington, Ottawa and Vancouver ate up each day.Patty forwarded Jack’s hair brush, his favorite hat and the urn containing his ashes to a lab in Vancouver for DNA testing.Alexis took clippings of Derek’s hair to the lab.She was managing Derek’s care with the help of the live-in nanny, a Filipino gal named Libby.
The message one afternoon on the machine was chilling and exciting, all at the same time. Patty had been out for a walk.It was from the adoption lawyer in Vancouver, Daniel Linden.
She had been mulling her situation – she could liquidate the investments from her mother’s estate, sell the old two-storey house – and she could get a small house in a new neighborhood where there are lots of small children. She would adopt Derek, she would take early retirement.Her 401K plus the investments and house proceeds – she could solve it that way.Her anger for Jack had all but vanished.
“Patty, it’s Dan Linden calling, from Vancouver.Patty, we need to talk. I’ve got good news, bad news and some other news.Please call me ASAP.”
Patty stood, then slumped into a kitchen chair, frozen, “what now!?” she screamed.
The ensuing calls to Linden, Alexis and the U.S. Consulate in Vancouver produced some bizarre legal gymnastics.Linden had obtained a court order confirming that Derek was Jack Hornby’s child, that he would have dual citizenship and that Patty Hornby could be appointed as legal guardian, but there was a catch.The judge ruled, since Patty was not a blood relative, she could only be appointed as the guardian – and with future rights to adopt him – if she was a resident of Canada. That would involve applying for landed immigrant status, applying for Canadian citizenship.Alexis would then, as Derek’s blood relative, make the application to sponsor Patty’s visa.
And the bad news. Patty would have to take up residence in Canada within fifteen days or the provisions of the court order would be void.
Patty made three calls.
“Acorn Travel, this is Rhonda, how may I help you?”
“Rhonda, this is Patty Hornby calling.My husband Jack used to book through you. Can you help me with something urgent?I need to be on a plane to Vancouver, Canada tomorrow. Could you take care of that please?”
“Hello, Mr. Schmidt.My name is Patty Hornby. You did an appraisal on our home last year.Yes, in Oak Park – just two blocks from the Frank Lloyd Wright home and studio.Well, since my husband’s death, this is too much house for me to handle. Could you sell it for me?Great . . could you come over this evening with the listing papers.I am leaving on a trip tomorrow morning and may not be back for quite a while so I want to get the house on the market right away.”
And the third, was a voice mail for Alexis; “Hi, it’s Patty.I’ll be there tomorrow.”
clicking ads you find interesting is appreciated - revenue helps defray costs of running this website
Comments always welcome; please use the FEEDBACK / COMMENTS form at the bottom of this page or send a direct email to Mark Kolke at: email@example.com
FEEDBACK / COMMENTS ← ← ← ← ← ←
If you liked any Musing column, it would mean a lot to me if you would respond. Comments are welcome, so please contribute to the discussion. To reply, use: firstname.lastname@example.org . You can also connect with me on LinkedIn . You can sign up your friends here at MarkMusing.com . This site is updated daily, each column is retained in the archive when the next day's column is loaded ...