I wait for Vic to call. I saw him exhale without inhaling again. I washed his body, shrouded it, and zipped him into a body bag. Still I wait.
“May I speak to Vic,” a voice says when his cell phone rings a week after his death. How do I tell her without burning her ears and hurting her? I don’t even try.
“He’s dead,” I say.
I turn Vic’s cell phone off and leave it on his desk, but wonder how he will call me. I turn it back on and charge it. It sits for a month. Occasionally it rings. Occasionally I say, “I’m sorry, but he’s dead.” After two months, I am ready.
“Hello, customer service,” a young woman chirps when I call Verizon. “How may I help you today?”
“I need to cancel my husband’s cell phone.”
“He’s dead,” I say, trying to hide the catch in my voice while I wipe dripping tears with paper towel.
“Oh, oh,” she cries out. “I’m sorry. We’ll need a death certificate. Please hold while I look up the account.”
“It’s in his name,” I tell her, “Victor Mansfield.” I sob out his name. I hear gasps on the other end of the phone, then sniffling mews, then a sob.
“Please,” she says, “let me put you on hold while I compose myself.”
“No, stay, please stay,” I beg. “It’s OK if we cry. It’s good if you cry with me. We can cry while we make the changes. Please stay.” The line is quiet. “Are you there?”
“I’m here. I won’t put you on hold,” she says in a whisper. She blows her nose. We cry as she tells me where to send the death certificate and agrees to send the details by email.
“I can’t remember things,” I tell her. “I’m muddled by grief.”
“I’ll email everything,” she says. “Don’t worry. I’m so sorry. I just lost my mother.”
“Oh, that’s hard,” I say, realizing she’s probably overstepped the boundaries of what she should tell a customer. “I’m glad you told me. It’s not good to hide our grief. Being human hurts.”
By the end of the call, I am the primary and only person on my cell phone account. A few hours later, I put a copy of Vic’s death certificate in an envelope with the forms she emailed and send it off. I hold his cell phone in my palm and press it to my cheek. This phone was our lifeline when I spent a few hours sleeping at the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge while he slept in his hospital room during the stem cell transplant. It kept us connected when I went to town to buy groceries. This magic tool allowed me to sleep upstairs when he coughed all night, knowing he could call me with the push of a button.
A week before he died, my cell phone rang on my bedside table at 3 A.M. It was Vic. I knew things were bad or he wouldn’t disturb my sleep. He was downstairs, but too weak to climb the steps or call my name.
“I can’t breathe, E,” he whispered from the phone. “I need you to help me.”
“I’ll be right down,” I said.
Two months after Vic’s death, I place his canceled phone on my altar near his photo. It will not ring again, but I’m not worried. If he needs to call, he’ll figure out how reach me.