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P-M Terry Lamar

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Waiting for Ray, Chapter Three - There are People on the Roof
By P-M Terry Lamar
Sunday, March 23, 2008

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Chapter three of my novel, Waiting for Ray

“Hello?” though weak and wavering, her voice came through clearly on the line.
“Hello, Grandma?”
“Who’s this? Jan?”  Jan was Kelly’s sister, dead for almost three years now.  Through the years she'd been alive, Jan had rarely called Grandma anyway.  If Grandma mistook Kelly for one of her sisters, it was usually her younger sister, Rachel.  Why had Grandma thought she was Jan?
“No, Grandma.   It’s Kelly.  How are you?  How’s Grandpa?”
“They were on the roof,” Grandma sounded worried.  Even more worried than usual.
Kelly was used to her being slightly confused, but not in this way,  “Who was on the roof, Grandma?”
“Well, I don’t know.  Maybe it’s the same people who have been coming in during the night, but I don’t think so.  I can’t keep them out. They won’t let me sleep, ‘cause I worry that they’ll come in." She paused, her voice a little stronger now, but still sounding confused.  Kelly tried to think of something to say, so Grandma filled the silence.  "I can’t sleep.”  Grandma sounded so helpless.  But, Grandma had always been anything but helpless.
Realization, long in coming, began to sink in.  “Grandma.  How’s Grandpa?  Have you talked to Al?” Al was the neighbor who was sometimes a help, sometimes a hindrance.
“Oooh, Johnny’s worse than usual.  He won’t eat anything but tomato soup and ice cream.  He’s so stubborn, that man.  I told him I wanted to go back home to Scottsdale.  He won’t go.  So I went to the Senior Citizens and they held a meeting.  They held a meeting and said we couldn’t go.”  Her voice got weaker as she moved the mouthpiece away to under her chin.  Kelly could see her doing it, though Grandma would never admit she did anything wrong in handling a telephone.  After all, she always insisted, she’d been a telephone operator for over thirty years.  Now, Kelly’s usual impatience with Grandma's familiar mistake was replaced by a growing dread, a concern for her health; her mental health.  If Grandma had lost her mind or her hold on reality - - whatever it was - - Grandma, and especially Grandpa, might be at risk.
“What do you mean they held a meeting?  Who held a meeting?  Grandma, no one can keep you in Payson if you want to go back down to Scottsdale.”
“Oh, yes they can.  There were dozens of people.  They won’t let us go”
“Grandma, what about Al.  Have you asked him for help.”
“Oh, that old fool.  You know he never helps.  He ignores me.  He won’t answer the door and he never comes over anymore.”
The inconstant friend, Al, had his own problems but had often helped her with hers.  He was the only person Kelly could think of who was close enough to help quickly.  “Grandma, please go over to Al and see if he’ll help.  He’ll make sure no one is on your roof or coming into your house.”  Kelly felt the desperation coming into her voice, desperation that she sincerely wanted to hide from Grandma, maybe from herself.
“Ohh.  No one can stop them.  I think they’re ghosts.  Ghosts in the house, at least.  The ones on the roof are so heavy, they can’t be ghosts.”  Her voice moved away from the phone again.  
“Grandma, can’t you call Marie?”
The response was quick, and firm.  More firm than she’d sounded yet today.  “Oh no.  She was at the meeting.  She wouldn’t let me go.  She made others agree.”
“Grandma, Marie wouldn’t do that.  I can’t believe there was a meeting.  Who would hold a meeting about you going back to Scottsdale?”  But Kelly could tell she’d made a mistake.  She'd admitted to not believing.  That was what Grandma latched onto, withdrawing from the rest of anything Kelly had said.  Grandma didn’t answer.
“Grandma.  How’s Grandpa?  Can he come to the phone?”
Though Grandma again began to talk, the rest of what she said sounded too familiar.  She answered with words which were exactly the same as the answers she’d given during every phone conversation they’d shared for at least a year.  If only Kelly had known that the repetitive responses and discussions were a sign or her grandmother's deteriorating mental health.
“Johnny’s worse.  You know it can’t be long.  He doesn’t  eat.  He hasn’t moved from that bed.  He always complains.  He used to let Al talk to him, but not now.  Al doesn’t come over anymore.  When are you coming to see us?  Kelly, when will you come to see us?  Doesn’t the Air Force ever give you any time off?”  
“Grandma, I think I’m going to come see you soon.  Please, try to go see if Al will help you.”  Placing hope on a man she’d only met briefly a couple times.  Who even then had seemed preoccupied with his own thoughts, but who’d helped Grandma and Grandpa with many things, inconsistently, in the past.
Her thoughts tumbled.  Kelly wasn’t sure the best way to approach this.  She needed to get help there quickly.  She had to help them in Arizona, while she was in Germany, almost half a world away physically, an impossible distance for her grandmother.  The distance seemed suddenly greater than ever for Kelly, too.
“Oh dear.  Kelly, I’ve got to go.  Johnny’s yelling about something, he’s such an old crab. Bye-bye honey.”
“Grandma…” but she’d already hung up, making Kelly's dread grow.  Grandma was never the one to hang-up first.
Kelly panicked, but quickly recovered her composure enough to take the next steps.  It was now evening on a German Sunday - - morning in Arizona and a little later in Syracuse, New York where Rachel lived.   Kelly shouted to Brian that something was wrong with Grandma and she had to call Rachel.  A muffled response floated down the stairs.  As Kelly dialed Rachel’s number, Brian came up behind her, looking frustrated when she didn’t stop to explain to him.  Kelly figured he could listen to her explain it to Rachel.  Explaining it once would be easier, especially since she hadn’t even figured out what she needed to explain.
Rachel said she understood, and no, she couldn’t take time off from work.  However, she could more easily, and more cheaply, make calls to Arizona to get someone out to see their grandparents.  
Kelly phoned Colonel Bates, her supervisor at Ramstein Air Base, to talk about leave.  Colonel Bates, though she seemed unhappy about suddenly losing Kelly for an undetermined period of time, asked several quesitons and then guaranteed Kelly could take leave.
 Leave, Kelly thought.  Kelly had just come off of four days leave.  She'd taken a four-day weekend trip to the Czech Republic with her family.  It had been the first time-off she’d taken in ages.  In fact, it was the first weekend she hadn’t worked in so long she couldn’t remember the last full weekend she’d had away from work.  And now she was going to the States, for an unknown period of time, without her husband or daughter, to figure out what it was that was wrong with her grandparents.  Her father’s parents.  Her mother’s parents had been dead for many years now.  Both her father and mother were gone, too.  Her Grandma and Grandpa were the only living “immediate” older family relatives she had.  Even her older sister was gone, so Kelly was the eldest of her generation, and she had no idea of how to handle this situation.
Kelly's mind raced, thinking of everything done and yet to be done.
Plane reservations made. Rental car waiting at Phoenix airport.  Now all she had to do was pack, sleep, get up early for Brian to drive her in to work for a quick signing of the leave form, then off to Frankfurt Airport.  Mary, only five, was upset that she’s not going to go in a plane with Mommy, so she wasn't sleepy and stayed awake much later than usual.  
Then Kelly couldn’t sleep as her Grandma’s ghosts filled her head.  Even worse, guilt twisted Kelly's stomach.  Guilt for not being closer to Grandma to help her before something like this happened.  She’d considered leaving the Air Force years earlier when Grandpa had gotten so ill.  However, Grandma wouldn’t think of it, and Kelly really couldn’t see giving up the career into which she'd poured so much of her life.
A phone call every couple of weeks wasn’t enough.  Obviously.  To make it even worse, this time it had been three weeks since she’d called.  Kelly suddenly felt as if that one week may have made a difference, a ridiculous thought but real enough as she twisted and sweated her way through the night.
What if there really were some people harassing her grandparents.  It may not have been delusions.  It may have been kids playing jokes on the “old couple in the cul-de-sac”.  But that didn’t make sense, either.  Almost all the people in that residential area of Payson were retired folks who’d ensure no gangs of kids were bothering their neighbors.  Which was worse?  Real gangs, or delusions of ghosts and roof-scraping demons?
Kelly was afraid the delusions were worse.

Copyright P-M Terry Lamar, 2000

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Reviewed by Jean Pike 3/23/2008
I can feel Kelly's worry and helplessness. It hit me right in the gut, since anyone who has ever felt powerless to help another will relate. You have done a fantastic job of making these characters real to your readers. I'm worried sick for her, just as I should be.

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