by Chelsea Comeau
I brewed drip coffee in the kitchen while he eased himself into a chair at our table. The belt where his gun was holstered sagged heavily around his waist, and the cuffs that were clipped there caught the overhead light a little. They cast something like a prism on the wall behind my mother, who sat clad in her flowered nightgown. She pulled a sweater tightly around her shoulders to cover the obviousness of her breasts.
When the coffee was ready, I poured two cups and brought them to the table. My mother only drank tea, and didn’t want anything at all, then. The cop took the mug I offered him and closed his hands tightly around it. I imagined it had to be burning him a little, but he either didn’t care or didn’t notice.
“How’s everything been?” he asked us. I knew what he meant to say was, how’s everything been since I found Nick hanging in his bedroom closet? And, how have you gathered the pieces of your lives back together?
“Fine,” my mother lied. “We’re almost finished cleaning his apartment.”
I glanced sideways at the clock above the stove. I had to work early in the morning at the elementary school on the far side of Moody Park, only a few blocks away from my uncle’s place. It still felt like his, even though we’d begun packing away the books, and had donated the clothing he left behind. His cupboards, when we opened them, were filled with six packs of Coke
Zero and tins of Chef Boyardee ravioli, which we dropped off at the food bank near Columbia Street.
“Sorry, I know it’s late,” the cop said. “I’m on the night shift this week.”
I realized I didn’t know his name, even though he’d probably introduced himself at some point after I let him in. I guessed it didn’t matter, though, because he hadn’t come to our home for me to really know him.
“I just wanted to see how you were doing. I deal with a lot of people far less friendly than you and your family. I hate having to tell good people such shitty things.”
I wasn’t there when he arrived at the school where my mother taught, but I could imagine how it would’ve happened. He came after the students were dismissed and had my mother called down to the office. He stood beside the secretary’s desk and recited the same speech he delivered every time he broke the news to someone a person they loved was dead. Only this time, he was delivering it to my mother, not someone I would never meet or have to console, and it was my uncle who’d died.
Still gripping the sweater around herself, my mother wondered, “Can we ask you a few questions?”
“Of course. Not sure you really want to know some of the answers, but I won’t lie to you.”
“I just wondered… I mean, I wanted to know what he used. I’m not sure why, but it bothers me that I can’t really envision what happened.”
“It was a grey extension cord,” the cop said, peering down into the darkness of his coffee. He couldn’t look at us when he said it, and I wondered if he’d been able to look at anyone at all, yet, when he explained it out loud. “He dragged the pink armchair into the closet and reclined it with the cord around his neck.”
I felt my voice break a little when I asked, “How long was he there?”
I didn’t want to know much, but I wanted to know that. I wanted to know just how badly we’d failed him.
The cop shifted uncomfortably in his chair, and I was sure he regretted promising us his honesty. “About three weeks.”
Neither my mother nor I said anything for a few moments. I put the mug I held to my mouth and drank, burning my tongue and the back of my throat when I swallowed.
Feeling a silence that wanted to be filled, the cop said, “His landlord said he only ever saw Nick once a month when rent was due. It was just one of those things, y’know?”
“He’d just lost his job,” my mother added. “And he was always in pain, even after his knee surgeries.”
The cop nodded, considering this. It made perfect sense that a person with all these strikes against them would want to die. “There were a few empty bottles of Effexor in his bathroom cabinet. Did you know he was on antidepressants?”
We didn’t. But nearly everyone else in the family was prescribed one thing or another to keep our various sadnesses at bay, so it wasn’t particularly surprising.
The cop drained the rest of his coffee, and I reached across the table between us to take his mug. It was now after eleven o’clock, but he sat there with the posture of someone who didn’t plan on leaving any time soon. I offered him more coffee and he accepted, but asked for a bit of milk, this time.
“If you need help getting rid of the furniture, I can arrange something,” he said to my mother. “It’s probably best if a crew comes to get rid of the chair.” I hadn’t noticed it so much the first time he brought up the armchair, but I saw in his face now the kind of darkness that comes from thinking back on something terrible. Not something you heard or read, but something you saw with your own eyes that left an indelible hurt behind. I started to feel even sorrier for him than I already had. At least we were spared those first few moments, that coming around the corner into the bedroom where Uncle Nick had been for twenty-one days.
“That would be great, actually. I’ve been wondering what to do with the mattress and boxspring, too.”
“Here.” The cop took a business card out of his pocket and slid it with one fingertip towards my mother. “Give me a call tomorrow night. I’ll look into it and figure something out for you.”
I saw for the first time the real camaraderie in grieving, how joint suffering made even strangers accomplices. We meant something to the cop now, and he was willing to pull strings for us because of that. If I’d been younger, I could imagine myself being picked up one Friday night for smoking pot on a street corner and asking for the cop I knew. He would show up and have me immediately released, and this immunity would all be because my uncle had killed himself with a grey extension cord between the plush arms of a chair he’d dragged ceremoniously into his bedroom closet.
Some time around midnight, when my mother and I were emptied of questions that would carry any further weight in our healing, the cop finished his third cup of coffee and climbed up out of his chair.
“Thank you,” he said when I took the mug from him. “I’m glad you both seem to be doing okay, considering.”
“It was very kind of you to stop by,” my mother told him. “We appreciate it.”
I walked him to the front door and unlocked it to let him out. His cruiser was parked at an angle in our narrow driveway so that it was tucked as firmly as it could be against our garage door. He lingered under the porch light and turned to say something about reaching out to someone if I ever needed to. When the yellow lamp caught his face, his eyes looked watery and maybe a little afraid. Of the night, maybe, and that quiet drive back to the station.
I told him I would definitely talk to someone, because there’s no shame in doing that, and he nodded. I didn’t offer him my hand, because we’d already shared an intimacy far more profound, and a handshake didn’t seem like enough. He left me standing there and climbed into his cruiser, thrusting his keys into the ignition. I watched him disappear around the corner of our townhouse complex. If either one of us broke because of what had happened, I thought, at least it would be together.