A funeral; people dressed in black, shifting awkward looks. They surrounded me. They encircle me, gazing at me with expectant eyes.
It was a cloudy day with a high expectancy of rain; I could practically feel it gathering up in the air. If life were a movie, this day would have been the perfect set for a funeral. I saw my grandmother clench her umbrella hesitantly. She was waiting for the rain as well. I suppose we were all waiting for something to relieve us from this suffocating moment.
I, my younger brother, and my father stood next to the casket opposite from the pastor. Everyone was looking at us or blowing into their handkerchiefs, which I was sure they would use later to dry their tears. I looked down. I was looking at my black heels that were digging into the soft grass. They were brand new and uncomfortable. They chafed my feet, making them bleed. I frowned, realizing they’d be stained.
I distantly registered the pastor speaking. I’m sure he was telling everyone present how good of a person my mother was. Had been. He went through the typical stuff people get graced with when they die. I thought it was nonsensical. Everyone here loved my mother, that’s the reason they were here mourning her in the first place. I stopped listening and concentrated on the grass that grew among the headstones with admirable persistence.
The casket was lowered, prayers were said, and I, I was still looking at the grass as I felt the first drop of rain fall into my court shoes. It sank through my stockings and wet my toes. I felt my little brother, Nick, squeeze my hand. I raised my chin to look at him. His round face looked devoid of color, practically lifeless.
“Everything is alright,” I whispered.
“I know,” Nick said, “But you’re crying.”
I put my fingers to my cheeks in confusion. They were sticky with tear stains. I wished that the droplets falling out of the corners of my eyes had been water, but the bitter salty taste they brought to my lips made me think otherwise. Crying was the last thing I wanted to do. I had no idea why I was crying. All day I had adventured inside my numb mind and I wasn’t nearly ready to step out from its protective nooks. It was rather amusing; it was as if my mind was completely isolated from my body, as if my body was just doing what it had been programmed to do.
Walk. I walk.
Speak. I speak.
Sit. I sit.
Cry. I cry.
But I could feel it disappearing. The shelter I had so gratefully accepted was falling apart. Little by little I began to hear people speaking more clearly. Little by little I started to feel the chill of the crispy autumn air sink into my bones. Little by little my feelings began to resurface. For weeks I had kept them to myself, buried somewhere deep inside my mind. I wanted to walk through them blindfolded in the dark. Unfortunately, now they started to wake. I quickly pushed them back before they made it all the way to the surface. I forced my gaze back to the grass. By now the small blades of grass were carrying the weight of huge water droplets. I had never identified with a blade of grass like I did just in that moment.
My grandmother opened her umbrella. People calmly made their way to their cars. They locked out the gloomy autumn day and drove off safe from the rain. I, my father, Nick, and grandmother stayed for a while, standing in the empty cemetery. Father didn’t say a word nor did he open his umbrella even though the stubborn gusts of wind and rain wet his best suit and tossed his blonde hair. His mouth was a tight line and his dark eyes were somewhere far away.
Nick and I gathered under grandmother’s big black umbrella. It wasn’t of much use considering that we were already soaked through, but it seemed like the proper thing to do.
“It really is terrible,” grandmother mumbled. I raised my brow.
“To go and tragically die like that,” she continued in an accusing tone.
I had learned not to let grandmother’s comments bother me. She had never had much discretion and wasn’t the most delicate person to begin with. It was no secret she’d never liked my mother. As far as she was concerned, father had been incredibly stupid and childlike to marry someone as reckless as mom. I didn’t know quite how I felt about it.
“What difference does it make how she died? You didn’t even like her,” I stated.
Grandmother frowned and crinkled her nose in disapproval. She grabbed Nick by the hand and told me to go wait in the car.
I sat in the backseat and stared out through the tinted window. Everything looked so much more depressing though it. Mom had always hated tinted windows. She always used to say that even the prettiest day looked like funeral party through them. I couldn’t appreciate the irony. We always fought about those tinted windows, every single time we got in the car. This morning, however, no one had mentioned them. Was a car ride even a car ride if we didn’t argue about the tinted windows? I didn’t know, but what I did know was that this morning had felt particularly empty.
My thoughts were disrupted as Nick opened the door, sliding into the seat next to me. “We’re leaving now,” he said, looking beyond relieved. He wanted to get out of here possibly more than I did. Grandmother sat next to dad in the front, getting ready to navigate. Dad turned the key in the ignition and the car purred into life. We drove away from sacred land, the gates closing behind us.
“Hey Bree,” Nick began.
“Yeah?” I wondered if he would bring up the tinted windows.
“My shoes got all dirty. Do you think mom would mind if I walked around the house with them?” He cocked his head to the side, waiting for an answer. Honestly, I didn’t understand why he would ask such a dumb question. He should’ve been more concerned with what grandma would say about the dirty shoes. I shrugged my shoulders. “You know, I’m not sure. I’m gonna have to think about it.”
I watched the corners of his mouth tug down, his entire being seemed to deflate. “You’re gonna tell me when you figure out, right?”
“Of course,” I replied, even though I didn’t want to spend another minute thinking about the dumb question. I leaned back and watched dad and grandma through the rear view mirror. Exhaustion shone on both of their faces, but they looked so very different. It was hard for me to recognize dad through the mirror. He looked so lost. All day he’d been wandering around like a puppy, having grandma order him around.
“Nick?” I tried. “Do you think we should get a new car? One without tinted windows.”
I saw the smallest smile flash across his face before he became very serious. “I think it’d be a really good idea,” he said and looked out the window.
“Dad.” I waited a bit to get his attention.
“What?” He answered in a monotone voice.
“Nick and I think we should buy a new car, one without tinted windows.” I watched his every move, through the mirror I saw his eyes sparkle a bit.
“That is not funny,” Grandmother snapped sharply and took a calming breath. I stared at her in awe. Why couldn’t she leave it be? Why was no one allowed to laugh? I crossed my arms, closed my eyes and leaned against the window.
“I thought it was funny,” Nick whispered.
“It was goddamn hilarious,” I muttered under my breath.
We had and old Victorian house. It was the American dream house with the white picketed fence and perfectly cut grass. Actually, right now the lawn was a muddy mess. As I stepped through our familiar front door, nothing seemed familiar to me. The bright colorful walls contrasted wildly with all the people dressed in black. My house looked like a bad music video. I walked into the living room full of people I was sure I knew but couldn’t recognize. We served coffee, cakes, cookies, pastries and everything grandma knew how to make. A constant hum of voices filled every room. I sat on the couch among familiar strangers and tried to make proper conversation. In no time I just began listening to others while untangling my long messy hair. I came to the conclusion that people talked about the weirdest things at funeral receptions. Almost no one mentioned mom. It almost felt like they were avoiding talking about her. When they talked about the food or décor they all wondered how my father had managed to make such a lovely home. The truth was that dad had nothing to do with our food or décor. Mom had painted the walls. Mom had mowed the lawn and picked out the decorative pillows. It was no wonder things felt odd, she had been gone forever, or so it seemed.
“Bree! Honey!” I heard a familiar voice exclaim. Looking up I saw mom’s sister, Elizabeth. She walked over to me and hugged me in the middle of the living room. It felt uncomfortable. People were looking at us; looking and judging everything I did.
We moved into the kitchen where grandma was busy trying to find space for all the food people had brought over. That too, I thought was nonsensical. We put out food for the guests and they lugged their own bodyweight’s worth of food over to our house. It was absurd. Mom never understood the custom either, but still she brought a casserole to every funeral reception we ever attended, because it was just what you were supposed to do.
“Were you there today?” I asked.
“Of course we were. Peter just got lost on the way there. I told him to bring the GPS but you know how stubborn he is,” Elizabeth said and smiled gently. I nodded, because I really did know what Peter was like. He was someone who danced between fine lines, someone you never quite managed to figure out, and someone who would definitely not listen to a GPS.
“Oh honey,” Elizabeth sighed, “I’m so sorry, I still can’t believe that Mary is gone. I feel like I haven’t grasped it yet. I keep waiting for her to walk through the door and give me some of her famous unsolicited advice. You do understand, don’t you?”
I nodded. I knew.
“She was always making the oddest remarks,” Elizabeth continued. She seemed to thinking back, almost nostalgically. She made it seem like she’d last seen mother years ago, even though we all visited grandmother for her birthday a few months ago.
“Do you remember how she always said I order Peter around too much?” Elizabeth asked, narrowing her eyes. She picked up a strawberry covered pastry and bit into it. “You know, Bree, I never understood that thing of theirs. You know, the one that made it seem like they had some kind of agreement that the two of them would stick up for each other till the end.” Elizabeth shook her head. “Like last week, I told Peter to get a haircut, because he looks so shaggy when his hair grows too long. And guess what he said to me?” Elizabeth crossed her arms. She was getting herself upset with her own words. She seemed to be inventing pain as if the pain that already existed wasn’t enough.
“Well?” I asked, not really caring about the answer. I glanced at the clock hanging on the bright yellow wall. Again the wall contrasted Elizabeth’s two sizes too small black dress strictly. Others didn’t really fit into our house.
“Well, he said that he wants to grow his hair out, like he had it back in college,” Elizabeth said, sighing dramatically, “You know, sometimes I feel like I have three kids instead of two.”
I nodded and tried to look like I understood even though I had no idea how we’d gotten from my dead mother to Peter not wanting to cut his hair. On the other hand, I understood it completely.
“He went to college with mom,” I stated as nonchalantly as I could. “Maybe he’s going through a mid-life-crisis or something. You’re lucky he’s not buying a Porsche.”
“That, Bree, my dearest, I don’t think I could handle.” She sighed again. She did that a lot.
I pursed my lips and looked out to the backyard where Peter sat on the wet grass next to the flowerbeds. He was speaking with Nick. Nick was smiling. I smiled. I wondered if Elizabeth would smile if she knew.
“Lizzie,” I began, “I think I need some fresh air. I feel like I’m suffocating in here.”
Elizabeth gave me a bland smile, not looking pleased at all. “Well, do put on a cardigan, I wouldn’t want you to get cold.”
I nodded once again and marched out without a second thought about the cardigan. As soon as I stepped out the cold hit my bones and I sort of liked it. A bunch of people stood next to our backdoor, lighting their cigarettes. The gray smoke slithering in the air, forming strange shapes didn’t bother me in the slightest. Not even the toxic smell made me go back inside. Instead it woke me up. I took off my shoes and walked across the grass, the mud and humidity soaking through my stockings. I sat next to Peter and Nick, cross legged, it wasn’t very ladylike. A small ray of late autumn sunshine reached my face as I took a deep breath.
“Nick, Lizzie wants to talk to you,” I said, lying blatantly.
“About what?” He asked. Again, it was a rather useless question. I would have told him had I known. “She said something about muddy shoes.”
Nick looked terrified for a moment. “Do you think mom saw the muddy prints on the carpet?” He looked at me first, then at Peter.
“Angels see everything,” Peter replied, smiling, “But I doubt she’d care about things like that.”
Nick seemed to calm down for a bit. Peter sighed,” Elizabeth on the other hand…Well she’s never been a fan of muddy footprints.”
“Oh man,” Nick sighed, copying Peter, and started his way back to the house.
As soon as he was in through the door I turned to look at Peter. He looked different from what I remembered. The Peter I knew was always smiling, and when he wasn’t, you could tell would have liked to smile. Now he was smiling, but I could tell it was the last thing he wanted to do.
“Do you have to feed Nick bullshit about angels?”
“Do you have to lie to Nick about muddy footprints?” Peter replied his voice gentle as always, calm and composed.
I balled my hands up into fists at my sides. “How’d you know I was lying?”
“I figured you might want to talk to me,” he said sincerely, “but don’t worry. If you hadn’t lied, I probably would have.”
“Figures,” I mumbled and stared at nothing.
We were quiet for a while. I patted the grass and finally spoke. “You know what I wish for?”
Peter gave me a quizzical look.
“I wish I was like Nick. I wish I could just feel sad and mourn my mother in peace, but I don’t think I can do that.”
Peter gave me a knowing look. “You’re mad.”
“Yeah, but it doesn’t matter, because she’s dead. And I can’t be mad at a dead person, because it doesn’t make any sense.”
“Not everything makes sense,” Peter stated and handed me a white tissue.
I stared at it in confusion for a while before I felt the familiar taste of tears again. I was crying again. I could hear myself gasping for air as I grabbed the tissue and dried my eyes. “Y-you know, I don’t even f-feel like crying.”
“There’s nothing to be ashamed about,” Peter said and placed his hand on my shoulder. “If you need someone to be mad at, you can be mad at me. I’m alive. It makes more sense that way, doesn’t it?”
“I-I don’t really want to be mad at anyone.” I couldn’t stop the sobs now.
“Lizzie knows,” Peter said. He looked down at the grass, studying it carefully.
I wiped my eyes and tried to focus on him. “Um, Lizzie…She wants you to, um, cut your hair.” I watched as a raindrop slid down a blade of grass, releasing it from under its weight.
“I probably won’t.” Peter smiled to himself.
“I kind of thought so.”