Bewildering Stories

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by Kenneth James Crist

“Ah, Little Chickadee...Daddy’s coming home now...” The voice, Roger’s voice, oozed dreamily and almost sensually from the cell phone and into Cecily’s ear, as she stood at the kitchen counter in her cheap, short cotton print dress and her plastic shoes, hugging herself with delight. One pretty, bare leg turned just so, the knees touching together as she all but simpered in expectation of his homecoming and the delights they would share upon his arrival. Roger did such a great W. C. Fields. Within her small bra, her nipples rubbed the fabric almost painfully. He only did that when he was hot for her, randy, her mother would have called it...

“Daddy’s truly missed his little crumpet today...” She was giggling now, holding the tiny flip phone to her ear and flipping her hair, too, to get it out of her face. That pug face that Roger loved to touch and kiss. No high cheekbones here, no bright Nordic blue eyes, no Ice Princess. Cecily was dark eyes, broad nose, lips just thick enough to be sensuous, especially when aroused, then her somewhat longish neck would become flushed and her limbs almost loosely disjointed in her lust for her man.

Roger. The golf pro who loved the lady who’d never held a club in her life. Roger, who, at six-four stood only four inches above her, for she was a tall treasure. He was dark too, with unruly “bed hair” and the blue eyes she had missed out on.

Now he was coming to her, already arousing her with this sex play they had almost daily on the cell phones. When he arrived, he would take the house-and his lady-by storm and supper might be late, indeed.

They were late newlyweds-married a year and a half, but still acting like it was only ten days. May it always be so, he’d said to her one night as they lay together in their big bed, a fat harvest moon smiling in through the glass slider on the balcony, the sweet sweat of lovemaking cooling on their bodies as the ceiling fan turned lazily overhead.

When she heard the shriek of tires through the cell phone, Cecily stiffened and held a sharply drawn breath. The horrendous crash came a split second later, so loud that the sound overtaxed the capabilities of the cell phone and distorted into more of a pop than a crash, much the way the sound of gunshots do not reproduce well on recording equipment. They have to enhance them for the movies... Cecily had no idea why at that exact moment such trivia had to sneak through her mind.

“Roger...” she spoke tentatively, but there was no answer. Then she was suddenly off into that blackness of despair and she was calling his name, screaming into the phone, “Roger! Roger? Talk to me, Babe!”

On the phone, static for a time and she was preparing to hang up and call 911, to try and convince someone, anyone that her husband was out there somewhere, in trouble...but they would have to check the whole of his route...and then she heard something. Was it Roger? Was it his voice? She now stood at the front door, with no memory of walking through the house, (I just got here somehow, Babe, she’d tell him later, as soon as he got here, and they’d have a good laugh. Yeah, that wreck was right beside me in traffic, I mean I was sitting at the light and BOOM, this whacked out drunk just rear-ends this lady about three feet from my door...)

Then she did hear him and, in the distance, sirens, so there had been a wreck and help was on the way. She heard Roger’s voice — the cell phone was still working, then — and somehow that meant he was still there, still alive, still okay, and... then she heard him again. She pressed the phone so tightly to her ear that it would show an actual bruise at Roger’s funeral three days hence, but for now she felt it not at all. But she heard. Oh, yes. As the sirens grew louder she heard Roger gasping. She heard his moans of pain and she heard him mumbling incoherently and once she was pretty sure she heard her name. Then she heard a sound no one should ever have to listen to, especially if it comes from the throat of someone they love. Death rattle, her screaming mind said coldly, that’s what that’s called. It’s caused by the final exhalation coming through the muscles of the larynx and past the tongue, which are totally relaxed in death.

That damned trivia again, she thought dimly, as she slid to the carpet in a dead faint.

* * *

Cecily wore black for Roger. There was no one else in the world she would have done that for, but for him she wore it, though not gladly. The grieving process was not going well for her. It seemed incredible that he was gone, incredible that her emotions could swing so radically from a broken heart and sadness and sympathy for the pain he endured in his last moments to rage and anger that he had been so careless and that he had been taken from her. What the hell was she supposed to do with her life, now?

Her family was being supportive, of course, even her father, who’d never had much use for Roger, had ponied up over four thousand dollars to cover the funeral expenses of the son-in-law he could barely stand.

She wore low heels, not just because high heels would show off her legs too much and seem cheap, but because she wasn’t at all sure she could balance well enough to navigate in anything taller than two inches. Wouldn’t want anyone to think the widow was drunk or stoned. But she was. Drunk on grief. Stoned with loss. The very word “Widow” was abhorrent to her. She was no more in control than if she’d just chugged a pint of Weller’s before she left the house.

The smell of the flowers in the chapel at Resthaven almost made her sick. They were too cloyingly sweet and there were so many of them.

At the grave site, where the raw earth was covered with screaming green fake grass, where the Kansas prairie wind whipped the decorative edges of the canvas canopy, making popping noises that reminded her of that sound that came through the cell phone that day, she listened listlessly to the words of the preacher, a man who’d never known Roger, never met him, never touched him in the night, never... a tear slid down one cheek, cutting a shiny line in her face powder. She’d thought she was all cried out, but found she was just getting started.

* * *

The first call came two nights later. She was all slept out, but still exhausted. She was already beginning to form new habits. Late night TV watching, it appeared, would be one of those. The cheerful chirp of the cellular phone made her cringe just a bit. Most likely another well wisher or someone who just heard about Roger and felt she really needed to relive the whole tragedy again.

She automatically glanced at the caller ID panel on the front of the tiny phone before she picked up. She froze and her heart stuttered, like it sometimes did when she’d had too much caffeine. She felt a prickle start up her neck, then a flush of blood. The call was coming from Roger’s cell phone. It had never been located at the scene and the investigators had theorized that maybe when the SUV rolled, it was thrown out and lost. Cecily knew better. Hadn’t she heard Roger’s last, dying breath come over that phone? No, some punk had probably found it and was now running through the “dialed calls” directory...

On the fourth ring, Cecily picked up. “Hello? “ she responded.

Heavy breathing. “Hello?” Still trying to sound cheerful, as if she didn’t know what was going on here. Most likely, the caller didn’t know, either.

The breathing continued and she had decided to just hang it up, when another sound came through. Once again, she heard sirens. Gooseflesh scattered like quail up her arms and then she again heard Roger, her Roger as he moaned in pain, heard his voice mumbling, heard him speak her name — she was sure this time, then, as the death rattle started again, she disconnected, sobbing, and she threw the vile instrument away from her. It bounced off the sofa and landed harmlessly on the carpet, sliding under the coffee table.

Cecily stood staring at it as if it was some venomous serpent that might attack at any moment, her arms crossed, hugging herself and shuddering. What kind of sick, crazy bastard...? The magnitude of what had just happened began to sink in. The unlikelihood of receiving such a call. She thought about how such a thing could happen. What if some asshole had been listening on some kind of receiver, picked up the conversation, taped it and then got his hands on Roger’s phone? Far-fetched, Cecily. Come on, how likely was that?

As likely as, say for instance, the phone rang, you answered it, there was no one there and your mind took over and manufactured what you heard? As likely as maybe the stress is getting to be too much and you’re losing your damned mind?

She didn’t believe it for a minute. No, somebody, some sick bastard was messing with her. Easy to fix. She went into Roger’s office and rooted through his file cabinet until she found the brochure from the cellular company. In the morning, she’d just call and have his service cut off. She would solve that shit right quick.

And she did. At eight in the morning on the sixth day after Roger’s death, she had his cellular service disconnected. She listened to the call taker’s spiel about “your final billing will come by regular mail and will include yadda-yadda...” Yeah, whatever. Just get it disconnected.

Another four days and she was actually starting to feel somewhat human. She was back to work at the Book Nook, where she had been employed since high school. It had been a little tense at first, as everyone was being too nice to her, but it was coming around.

When she got home that day, the final bill from the cellular company was there. It supposedly showed all calls to and from Roger’s phone, but of course it didn’t show the call she’d received on the fifth night after the accident. In fact, it showed no activity after the call at 4:46 PM on the day he died. The call that broke her heart. The call that more or less ended her life, or at least life as she had known it.

She thought about calling the cellular company and having it checked, then decided the hell with it. Get on with your life, Cecily, he’s not coming back.

While she was fixing supper, her phone twittered and she picked it up almost absently. She’d been absorbed in an article in People Magazine and waiting for the pasta to cook.


Silence. Then, a hollowness to the sound, or non-sound that seemed to draw her in, and again, she found that phone pressed tightly to her ear, tightly enough to bruise.

Then, Roger’s voice. There was no mistake. It was definitely him. He said one word and one word only at that time, and he sounded like shit, but she would know the voice even if it was recorded, which this had to be, and played backward. Even if it was under water. Even if it was bubbled through honey. The word was, “Cecily”.

“Roger?” She paused, her heart now slamming in her chest, but there was nothing else, just the hollowness on the line, then that too faded. She clutched the phone to her breast and relived it all one more time. Like a summer rerun of The Young and The Restless or some such crap. When she finally hung up, the pasta was burned and she was sobbing.

Later, she called the cops. After she got over the shock, the anger set in and she wanted someone’s ass for this. The patrolman was nice, but he was young. He still retained the arrogance and close-mindedness of the newly sworn. In a few years, he’d begin to learn that there weren’t always easy explanations for everything that happened. Cecily thought he was just a bit glib and full of himself when he promised they’d look into it. Sure they would. Right.

At 4:46 in the morning the phone again summoned her to be tortured. She came out of a deep sleep and her ears were actually ringing with it when she answered, looking automatically at the clock, seeing the time and realizing, just as she again heard Roger’s voice, that it was the same time as his last call, the one from the wreck, but twelve hours out of phase... “My Little Chickadee...” he began, and Cecily felt her heart break in two.

“Stop...stop this...can’t you please, just...stop...this...” she sobbed into the phone, then Roger’s voice again, only this time with concern, “Cecily, what’s wrong? Are you all right...?” The signal was fading, but she could still hear him faintly as he said, “Cecily, talk to me, Babe. I’m losin’ ya...” Then, he was gone. And so was she. For the second time in eleven days, she had fainted.

* * *

Dr. Clyde Wilcox was the coroner and the man who had performed Roger’s autopsy. He wasn’t happy about this whole deal. For one thing, he didn’t like snooty lawyers telling him what to do. That’s what it amounted to, though. The wife of Roger Talmage had gotten herself a lawyer.

To her credit, she had approached him first with her request to see the autopsy report and he had turned down her request as a matter of course. Then she got her lawyer. Now, there was a court order, not only to view the transcript of the post mortem examination of Mr. Talmage’s remains, but if necessary to exhume the body.

She sat across from his desk, with her skinny, oily-ass attorney, her suit just a little too severe for her good looks. She looked, though, like she hadn’t slept in a week.

“Let me get this straight, Mrs. Talmage,” Dr. Wilcox said, “you’ve been getting these phone calls and you want to look for his cellular phone?”

“You make it sound ridiculous...” she said, a tear standing out on the dark, thick lashes of one eye.

“I understand that you’re under some stress here, and if someone’s playing some kind of grotesque joke on you, I’m very sorry, but I assure you, I saw no cell phone here.”

“Why was the casket closed?” Cecily asked.

“We, that is our office and the police and...also the, uh...mortuary felt it would be best...”


“Uh...due to the condition of the remains...” he was clearly uncomfortable with this and the attorney, Marvin Gamer, moved right in.

“What was the condition, Doctor, precisely?” he asked, arching one furry little eyebrow.

Oh, you officious little prick, the Doctor thought, then he said, “His skull was crushed... his chest also. He had not been restrained, you see, and the truck rolled over him...”

“And what was done to determine the cause of death?”

“All the standard tests, uh, you know, blood alcohol, drug and tox screen, uh...”

“Was a gross examination performed? Heart, lungs, liver, etcetera?” Cecily cringed beside her lawyer at the mention of Roger’s internal organs. She knew a little about autopsies.

“Yes... a full post mortem exam was completed...”

“And the cranium?”

“Well, um... I didn’t see any need...”

“You didn’t do the skull?”

“I... well... no.”

“Why not, Doctor? I mean it is your job to rule out all other causes of death...” the attorney was almost smirking now.

“Yes, and I’m prepared to testify as to cause of death, if that becomes necessary.”

“And what, Doctor, was that cause of death?”

“Massive head trauma-I mean it was very evident...”

Marvin Gamer turned to his client and said quietly, “I think we’d better go have a look at Roger ourselves.”

* * *

It was not the best day to exhume a body. The rain had started while they were on their way to Resthaven, following the detective and police patrol cars. It had been overcast for two days, contributing to the gloomy mood Cecily was in and now a cold, heartless rain was falling steadily.

“We can do this on a nicer day, you know,” Marvin Gamer told his client, sneaking yet another peek at her legs and then rapidly, her cleavage and last of all, her face, “he’s not going anywhere...”

“We’ll do it now,” Cecily replied. What an offensive little man. But necessary to her cause. “We’ll do it now, and get it over with. I have to confirm that it’s really my husband who’s buried there.”

“I’m sure we’ll find it is...” he began, but she cut him off with a wave of her hand.

“I’m not sure at all, Counselor. If you’d been getting these cell phone calls, you wouldn’t be sure either.”

Marvin clammed up for the rest of the ride. The detectives had called ahead and told the Resthaven people to open the grave and the equipment was there, but work had not yet begun. The mortuary had wisely decided they’d wait to see the court order.

After the mortician had seen and read the judge’s order, another man in a yellow rain slicker crawled onto the tractor with the backhoe attachment and went to work. Even with a high powered piece of machinery like the backhoe, it still took a half hour before the sick, sucking sounds of the saturated ground stopped and at last Roger’s coffin sat poised once again on the stand above the grave, much as it had on the day of his funeral. But now there was no fake screaming green grass, no tent over the grave-only the incessant rain.

The mortician took from his pocket a small device that looked like a chrome plated crank and inserted it into one of several recessed latch releases on the casket. Cecily looked around for the coroner, but now he was strangely absent.

The mortician released all the locks-there were four-and slowly and reverently raised the lid of the coffin. Inside, at least from where Cecily stood, Roger looked almost normal. Almost as if he was merely asleep. Then, she found herself stepping closer and closer to the expensive, elaborate oak box, with its white satin lining. And as she got closer, she could begin to see the damage to her sweet Roger’s head.

Oh, God, Babe, I’m so sorry... her mind, already stressed these last few days, seemed to teeter on the slippery edge of madness and then she was there, right there, where she could see everything, where she could smell the formalin they’d used to preserve Roger’s corpse. And then she was sure she would surely go mad, for she had at last found Roger’s cellular phone. The impact of the collision had smashed it, splintered it, but it was still recognizable, there where it was imbedded in the side of his head. No wonder the coroner said massive head trauma... this time she didn’t quite faint, but it was close.

* * * * *

“I came to see you the other day.” Cecily said. Once again she was standing by the kitchen counter, talking on her cellular phone. On the other end, Roger’s voice, sometimes quite clear, sometimes choppy and confused with static, but always there whenever she wanted to call. Somehow the phone continued to function, long after its battery should have been as dead as its owner.

“I know,” Roger said, “and I was glad to see my Little Chickadee...”

They had let her keep her phone, even though people in mental healthcare facilities weren’t supposed to have such devices. But without the little flip phone, she tended to get violent.

As Roger whispered to her, she nervously chewed on a knuckle, hugging herself with delight. One pretty, bare leg turned just so, the knees touching together as she all but simpered in expectation of his homecoming and the delights they would share upon his arrival.

“I’ll be home soon, my Little Robin...”

Roger did such a great W. C. Fields...

Copyright © 2002 by Kenneth James Crist