She Shall Live On
by Eric J. Kregel
|part 1 of 4|
The fuzzy, faded video image of Mari St. John looked deeply into the camera. The pale, balding woman squeezed her bed sheets tightly. Her gasp barked, more than a cough than a breadth. Closing her eyes, she swallowed a few times. She shook off the tears and continued.
“Thandie, my love. I want to be with you always. I want to be there when you marry. I want to be there when you have your first birth. I want to be there when you grow old. Thandie, I can’t be. I just can’t. So the next best thing is that you will have this as a way for me to live on...”
A new voice spoke. It was a deep, television voice droning over the image. “This is a mother’s legacy. A mother, who did not let even cancer stop her love for her daughter.”
Mari’s image changed. She wore a pink shirt, had most of her hair, and was now sitting in her kitchen, staring at the video camera. “I plan to have a library of video messages. You shall watch a video messages of me throughout your life. That way, I can always be there with you. Some messages will be general. Some will be specific. They are here for you, so that your mother, me, will always be with you.”
The image of her seemed stronger, earlier in her stages of cancer. She still had her hair, the glow of her skin, and the energy to deliver her distinct, St. John spunk that landed her the TV anchor job for City News based out of Calgary.
A polite, male voice continued his narration, “Since Mari St. John was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she videotaped herself for the sake of her six-year old daughter, Thandie.”
Another image, this time Mari was outside in the snow. She looked over the snow blanketing their backyard. Mounds tackled the swing set and slide. She wore a wool cap, black jacket, and rubber boots. Face flushed from the cold, she looked deep into the camera, stating, almost on cue, “Thandie, I shall live on.”
The newsman providing the narration now appeared, wandering through the streets of downtown Calgary. He looked into the camera, slowly striding towards the lens with confidence and sobriety. “As it was announced a week ago, Mari St. John passed away. She will be missed, here at City News. We will not forget her, keeping her legacy with us. Her daughter, as well, will never forget her and has a concrete connection to her mother’s legacy. Her daughter, Thandie, has now a videotaped memorial of her mother.”
The scene cut to a small, young girl. Her face red with crying, the camera took up most of her face. “I will watch the tapes a lot because I miss my mother. It’s like she’s here with me.”
The newsman returned, still facing the camera on the streets of Calgary. “A legacy given by a mother whose love would not end. Even in death. For Thandie, her mother lives on. Gerry Theroux, City News Calgary.”
* * *
The image popped out of existence, being replaced by the harsh scream of static. The television muted. The remote control signaled the VCR to rewind the tape.
Randall climbed out of his worn, brown leather chair and lurched to a stand. He reached over to the lamp, turning it on. His living room filled with light, alerting him to the figure of a woman standing in the kitchen. He put on his glasses to find out who was there. Upon seeing the girl, he explained, “I was just...”
“Watching the old news broadcast about mom?” Thandie asked.
“Well, I wanted to see what was on the tape.” Randall looked away from his daughter. “I didn’t want to tape over anything...important.” He laughed quietly to himself.
“Dad,” Thandie eased. “If it’s a videotape in our house, it’s probably one of mom.”
This continued his laughter. “Probably. I guess I don’t want to record something on an important tape.” He drew his robe, tying it up. “When did you get home?”
“Not long.” She walked to the other brown chair in the living room, pointing at the television that centered the room. “Breton walked me to the door and saw me in about five minutes ago.”
Randall scratched the half circle of thinning hair connecting his ears together on top of his head. “Oh, did you have fun?” The click of the VCR sounded, signaling the end of the rewind cycle.
“Yes. We saw that new Space movie.”
“Oh, I’m jealous. I used to be really into Sci-Fi.”
“I know, you used to write it.” His teenage daughter leaned close toward him, beaming, “I could see it again! We could watch it tomorrow, after you watch your church programs.”
“Oh.” He slunk away, moving his head away first and then his whole body. “Oh no. No. I hear its going to be below zero tomorrow. Shouldn’t go outside. Might get cold and that wouldn’t be healthy.”
“Of course it will be below zero tomorrow. It’s Alberta! Have you ever known Alberta to be warm?”
Randall allowed a bit of noise to come from his laugh. He pointed at his daughter. “That’s good. That’s something your mother, Mari, would say.”
Upon hearing her dead mother’s name, she rolled her eyes quickly to herself, as to not be caught by her father. “Dad, I...”
Randall reached for another tape and replaced it with the video in the player. He pressed play. Almost to his daughter, he announced, “Let’s watch another message from your mother.”
Thandie shrugged and let the message begin.
* * *
Breton met his father at church, where he worked. His father wore his collar and suit, just returning from a funeral. Breton sat in his office, going through some of his books.
While he waited for his father, he scanned through the maps of the Holy Lands. Breton loved maps and dictionaries and any sort of reference books. He struggled in school to read actual stories or poems, but loved to research them. This is why he got high marks in school, especially in his English classes: he hated stories, but loved researching them. This love of research came out every time he was in his father’s office, going through all of the Bible helps.
His father, Kendrid, enjoyed watching his son tear through his books. He would joke, “It makes it look as if I actually research my homilies. He clears off all of my dust.” When he entered his office, he found his son in a deep trance over a page concerning ancient Babylon.
“Son!” No response. Breton just stared. “Breton!”
Breton looked up with a sleepy look he wore through most of his adolescence. He mumbled, “Hey dad.”
“So, what do I owe this pleasure?”
“I was nearby. Thought I’d stop by.”
“We live 15 kilometers away and it’s raining. And you don’t drive, so you would have had to ride your bike. I don’t think you were in the neighborhood. Something’s on your mind?”
Breton gazed at his father with the same vigor the outside of a house stares at the neighborhood. He stared at his father until the silence could no longer be endured.
“So, how’s that girl you’ve been seeing. Thandie?”
“Oh yeah. I’ve been meaning to ask you something about her.”
Kendrid sat on the edge of his desk, relaxing. “Oh yes. What about?”
“Can you have dinner with her family tonight? I want to figure out something about her.”
“What needs to be figured out? And why do you need me to be there while you figure it out?”
“I just do. I can’t explain it. And I thought, well, maybe you could pick up what I’m seeing.”
“I don’t know yet.” He looked away from his father, staring at a globe in the corner of his father’s room. “I like this girl. I want to figure out something. Plus, we don’t have any plans tonight.”
Kendrid shrugged and nodded. For the rest of the late afternoon, Breton did his homework while his dad worked on the office. About 5:30, they drove over to Thandie’s house for supper.
* * *
They found the St. John’s home at the end of a cul de sac of one of Calgary’s more wealthy neighborhoods, McKenzie Towne. Kendrid, the moment he saw the neighborhood and remembered the last name, yawped an exclamation of recognition, “Oh! Thandie’s mom is Mari’s daughter, the newscaster!”
Before they got any closer, Breton mumbled out of the corner of his mouth, “Was, dad. Was her mother. She died about seven years ago.”
“Oh,” Kendrid said, to no one in particular, “Another widowed husband, eh? We make great meals and lousy after-dinner chats. This should be, well, familiar.”
They knocked at the door, waiting until the door swung open. Thandie greeted them. She giggled and bounced, full of raw, 17-year old energy. Her laughter infectious, Kendrid couldn’t help smiling back and giggling along with the girl.
She boomed, “Well, hello! Welcome to our home!”
Breton mumbled, while looking away from everyone, “This is my dad.”
“Hello, Breton’s father!” She tried sounding official.
“Please, I’m just Kendrid.”
“Not Father Kendrid or Pastor Kendrid?”
Kendrid chuckled, unsure why, but eased, “No. No one calls me those titles. I’m simply Kendrid. Even Breton calls me Kendrid. I’m allergic to titles.”
She motioned for them to enter. They took off their shoes, coats, and hats, entering into the warmth of the home. Entering the large home with high vaulted ceiling and a mammoth great room, Randall waddled out of the kitchen to greet them. A small man, constantly hunched to the right, he trumpeted a greeting from his small voice, “Well, hello there. I see they’ve arrived.” He shook both of their hands. “Dinner is almost ready. Before we begin, we need to watch a video tape.”
Randall led them to the living room, sitting them down in each a chair. The St. John’s television was mounted on a wall full of cabinets. Randall opened the far right cabinet, revealing hundreds of private videotapes, all with the white stickers and words written by a dark pen. He found one and pulled it out delicately.
Kendrid joked, “So, I see you’ve got a lot of tapes. Is that for hockey or football?”
Randall tenderly put the video in the player and answered, “Oh no. I prefer not to watch sports. Mari doesn’t like me to watch sports.” He turned on the TV. The VCR automatically played the tape.
The image blipped to life. Mari St. John sat in a large, white swing chair, overlooking at beautiful spring day. Somehow, background music gently played giving an air of warmth and sincerity. Mari, in clothes she wore while giving a newscast, bounced, “Well, hello! It is so good to meet you! I am Mari St. John, Thandie’s mother. I understand that you are considering taking out my daughter. If this is true, than you are watching the right video section.” The video faded into an image of her standing her garage.
“Here in our garage is our ’96 Porsche. We purchased it when I won an award for excellence in journalism.” She walked by a beautiful, cherry-red Porsche. “This car is worth more than the last three of our previous cars combined. It took me a long time to save and plan for this purchase.”
The camera cut in close to her face. “You would love to drive this car, wouldn’t you? Most young people would. Say I, without much thought, throw you the keys, without ever knowing you or learning to trust you? Foolish? Unwise? Of course. But how much more valuable is my daughter to me than just a sports car that’s cool today and junk tomorrow.”
The scene changed. Mari walked along a hillside, overlooking Olympic Park. “Thandie is very precious to me. I am her mother and a mother’s love is a deep, mystical bond. I’m not there to approve or disapprove of you seeing my daughter, but I am here now, telling you that she must be cherished, honored, and protected. You must be a gentleman, whomever you are. Now I have left a questionnaire for you to fill out, which Randall will score. He’s been coached as to what I look for. Please take this form home and return it the next time you see Thandie. I wish her luck on her new adventure with you.”
The tape ended.
Kendrid looked at his son, hoping to read any expression on his son’s face. The boy sat, staring blankly at the screen.
Randall chimed, “Dinner is ready!”
Randall, after spending most of the meal hunched over his plate, asked Kendrid, “So, you live alone? I mean, you’re not married?”
“Widowed. My wife, Breton’s mother, died during childbirth.” Kendrid was still working on his potatoes. His steak finished and carrots sucked up, his meal was now the starches. “Breton was her only child.”
“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that,” Randall remarked. “It must have been hard for you to raise your son alone.”
Kendrid swallowed his potato, wiped his mouth with a cloth napkin, and smiled at his son. “Immensely. I mean, Breton was an easy baby. But there’s something about grieving the loss of a wife that doesn’t give you much of a drive to change a baby’s diapers.”
Breton and Thandie stared at each other, smiling.
Copyright © 2010 by Eric J. Kregel