Message three: Hi, Nancy. Rick. I’m going to Jake’s memorial service. Pick you up at nine-thirty.’
‘How dare he!’
Barrow meowed at the door and twined around Nancy’s ankles when she opened it. ‘No, I don’t want to go out. Yes, I know the honeysuckle vine’s overtaken the whole yard.’
Nancy closed the door quietly behind Barrow and deleted Rick’s message.
If Jake hadn’t gone to Rick’s and helped him install sky lights, he would be alive today. It was Rick’s roof. Rick should have been up there taking the risks. But Jake would do anything for Rick. His own house could be falling down around him and Jake would be on his way, driving the hour across town in fair or foul weather, as soon as Rick sent up a distress flare. What did Rick ever do for Jake? Nothing but rip him off.
Message two: Pick up the phone mum, I know you’re home. We’ve spoken to the pastor. He says we gotta stop bringing you groceries. That way you’ll hafta come out of the house. He calls it tough love.
Tough love! What would they know about tough love? Had they tried to raise four pre-schoolers on a pittance while their dad got his hardware business started? Had they been reduced to collecting scraps of soap and rendering them into bigger bars so the kids could be clean? Which one of them had sweated all through church in a coat because she was ashamed of the tattered skirt and blouse she wore underneath? What did they know of sacrifice? Of love? They knew nothing!
‘I don’t need them, Barrow. When I run out I’ll get the store to deliver.’
Nancy deleted the message.
On Tuesday morning, Nancy refused to answer the door.
She watched Rick’s bowed back as he walked down the path to the gate, where he broke off a sprig of honeysuckle from the front hedge, popped it into his buttonhole, straightened his shoulders and closed the gate.
On Wednesday a video cassette was pushed through her letterbox, landing on the plush green carpet. Nancy almost placed it with the other six, unwatched videos, neatly stacked by the front door. On impulse, she decided to watch it.
As soon as she’d sat in her favourite chair Barrow jumped onto her lap, curled up and immediately fell asleep.
Nancy pointed the remote at the TV.
Peter Ledgers was handing the ‘roving mike’ to Rick.
‘Took his time, Barrow. In thirty seven years, only time Rick came to church was for our wedding.’
She increased the volume.
Rick plucked the spray of honeysuckle out of his buttonhole. ‘Jake ‘n’ me, we’ve been mates since we was kids. We lived next door. Even after ‘e got religion, ‘e was the best mate a bloke could ‘ave. When I was paroled, no one else gave me work. Jake could ‘ardly afford to feed ‘is own family but ‘e gave me a job.’
Rick held the spray of honeysuckle up. ‘Yous all know how much Jake loved gardening. Honeysuckle was ‘is favourite. ‘Ard to grow in this area but it’d go wild in ‘is garden.’
Rick replaced the spray and held onto the microphone with both hands.
‘It starts off a tiny plant. It puts out these skinny viney bits that wrap around anything within reach. And then these bunches of sweet smelling flowers open. Jake was like that honeysuckle. Over the years ‘is love got wrapped around me heart and now, like that honeysuckle, it’s flowered. It took ‘is falling off my roof an’ dying….’
Nancy frowned as Rick struggled to control himself.
‘Everyfink he did for me, ‘e did ‘cos ‘e belonged to Jesus. It took ‘is dying to get me to come to church. And it took ‘is dying to make me realize all along that I need Jesus.’
Tears filled his eyes as he looked directly at the camera. ‘Nancy, if I’d….’ He sniffed. ‘I wanted to tell you face to face. When ‘e lay dying in me arms, Jake said, “Tell Nancy I love ‘er. Say thank you for being a wonderful friend, the best wife a man could want. Say I’m sorry.”’
Message one: Nancy, I’m gonna be late. Rick’s skylights. Pray for him, love. I feel he’s so close to the Kingdom. Don’t wait up for me.
Nancy was grateful her car started first time. She just hoped she didn’t meet anyone she knew at the mall. Not today, anyway.
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