The lunch bell rang at 11:30. My fifth-grade teacher dismissed the class. I put my sweater on, picked up my cello and navigated my way through the crowded hallway. As I crossed from the dark interior to the bright sunshine my mind swept through the corners of the morning looking for a scrap of a story to tell my mom. Since Danny had moved up to Jr. High, I had my mom all to myself during lunch.
I moved slowly down the sidewalk, stopping every ten paces to change the clumsy cello to the other arm. A tune went through my head and came out with a hum. Turning left at Elizabeth Street, I looked up and saw my dad a block ahead at the edge of the school property. He stood still as a sentinel, shoulders slumped.
I hitched the cello closer to my body and broke into an exhuberant trot. Never before had I seen my dad in the middle of the school day. One by one he had taken my six older siblings out of their classes, had broken the news to them and had brought them home. For this final breaking, he waited for me to come to him. Out of breath, I set the cello down and gave him a hug.
“How’s Mom? Did you bring her home from the hospital?”
His face was tired granite.
“Honey, I have some bad news.”
It wasn’t his solemnity that struck me; it was the absence of any movement. I looked up with questioning eyes.
“Carol, Mommy is in heaven with Jesus.”
I stared at him, completely stunned.
“She died very early this morning.”
He picked up the cello and we began the two block trek towards home. We had passed two houses on the left when I protested.
“Wait, Daddy. You said it was bad news. But if she’s in heaven with Jesus, that’s good news, isn’t it?”
For the first time the muscles in his face moved. He smiled down at me wordlessly. While I couldn’t comprehend that my Mom was dead, I could see the grief that had already moved into his eyes; I could sense him pulling into himself. Flitting back to my own concerns, my mind reminded me of a problem.
“But I wanted to tell Mom that I got an A on my spelling test.”
I didn’t ask for details. There was something in his demeanor which spoke the truth. My next impulse was to lighten his load.
“Daddy, let me carry the cello. Please, Daddy. Please…let me carry the cello for you.”
He shook his head as we continued to walk. We turned right onto Greenfield Avenue in silence. Our heads bowed in surrender to the heavy weight as we trudged the rest of the way home. The house was as quiet and still as my father had been.
As we approached the porch, I bounded up the steps, remembering my news.
“Mom! I got an A………………” My voice broke off as the news dangled in midair.