Phone Calls on New Year's Day
Jim and Joe had something in common.
They died at 80 going to the bathroom in
the middle of the night, as Walt discovered
when he tried to call them on New Year's Day.
Jim's widow said Jim had died from a stroke.
Joe's widow said Joe had tripped on a rug,
banged his head on the commode,
died in intensive care a week later.
Jim and Joe had been mentors to Walt,
more like uncles really, after his dad died in Korea.
The next 50 years Walt stayed in touch with both men,
calling them on New Year's Day from different cities.
Their advice helped Walt survive three job losses,
a foreclosure, two car wrecks and four divorces.
Last year Jim warned Walt growing old meant not
being able to put your underwear on standing up.
"I have to sit on the bed now," Jim said.
That New Year's Day, Walt called Joe and asked
if Jim was right and Joe confirmed that he too
had to sit on the bed to get his underwear on.
He told Walt every man has to sit at some point.
At 60, Walt could still put his underwear on
standing up but he had to hop on one leg
pogo-stick style to get the job done.
One time he almost fell but landed in a chair.
His fourth wife Belinda still laughs about it
even though they're no longer married.
After hearing his mentors had died
going to the bathroom in the middle of the night,
Walt decided to take some precautions.
He installed night lights along the baseboards
going from the bedroom to the bathroom, began
eating salads and fruit instead of cheeseburgers,
browsed the Bible occasionally in the morning,
stopped drinking beer late into the night, now
sips wine coolers from jelly jars instead.
They're getting older,
five brothers and sisters,
all with degrees, jobs, families,
nice homes, good lives, happier
than most except when they must
fly to the home of their childhood
and settle their mother's estate.
They gather in the old stucco
none of them is willing to sell.
They drink bourbon and scotch
and tell each other everything again
that happened when they were young,
what made them take planes anywhere
trying to escape and forget.
A few more drinks and they see the bees
swarming the day Mom knocked the hive
out of the willow with her clothesline pole.
They were young, not yet in school,
happy and laughing, clapping but not
understanding why Father was gone,
why he would call but never come home.
All summer they rode tricycles
into each other, yelling and screaming,
ringing the bells on the handlebars,
trying to figure out what had happened.
Another few drinks and they agree
it's time to go out in the yard and look up
in the tree where the hive used to be.
Once again they hear children
yelling and screaming,
riding into each other, ringing bells,
looking everywhere for answers,
not knowing the questions.
In minutes they realize the reunion's over
and there may never be another.
It's time to pack, get on planes, escape
before someone puts a match to the stucco.
The hive's on the ground bouncing
and they're all bees, swarming again.
Donal Mahoney lives in St. Louis, Missouri.