I’ve said before that I’m hard at work on my first novel (it will be my thesis for my Master’s degree in Creative Writing). Well I recently wrote a short story that I’m about 90% certain will be the first chapter of that mythical first novel (after revisions, expansions, and other changes of course). Please enjoy!
After the funeral I floated through the chaos. I let my aunt Joanne take charge and usher Dad and the rest of us to the graveside service and then back to the house. I let my uncle Bobby man the front door, greeting all the people who came to bring food and to express their sorrow. I spoke when spoken to, did what was asked of me, and moved through the day in a trance. It didn’t seem real. This new world where I had no mother, the kitchen that had been her private domain, the house she had filled with her special touches, it was all wrong and unsteady. Without her here I was on new ground, trying to steady myself on the still shifting sands.
My parents’ home, now my father’s home, was crammed with people who came to pay their respects and then had stayed, unsure when it was proper to leave. Every room was filled with people. Many of them were strangers to me as I had successfully removed myself from the daily life in this small town years before. I wandered through the house, watching the people as if they were a movie that I was moving within. It was strange and mildly interesting, this world without Tess Andrews in it. It had to be fiction because my mother couldn’t possibly be dead.
I soon found my way to the kitchen only to discover that the blue hairs from the church had invaded it. Each little old lady, prim and proper in funeral blacks and grays, had come armed with an apron and at least one casserole or salad. Baptists always come with food, Mom used to say. Food was love to them. From the doorway I watched the women hurry around the kitchen, filling plates and then passing them through the door to the line of people slowly wandering past. They were black and white dolls floating around the room. I wanted to scream at them, at everyone in the house. You’re wrong! You’re all wrong. Mom is still here; we just have to find her!
Instead I just stared, frozen in place, occasionally glancing longingly at the door leading to the shady back porch. I found the need to get out of the house was stronger than the need to scream and throw a fit. I wanted to be away from all the people who kept telling me that my mother was in a better place. I didn’t want them to pray for me and my family. I didn’t want to hear stories about my dead mother. I wanted out.
I jumped when one lady shoved a plate of food into my hands, saying, “Go eat, Mallie Jo, you’re too thin.” She patted my arm twice then pushed me out of the room, making it clear that I was not to come back.
“She goes by Mallory now Bess, remember?” I tried to see who had whispered at her, but they were all a blur of monochromatic figures in garish bright colored aprons.
“Oh pish,” the first women said, “She’ll always be little Mallie Jo to me.”
“Yes ma’am,” I muttered, unable to defy these women for I knew they meant well. In the coming weeks they’d take care of the family, mostly my dad and my brother who was just 20 and still living at home. They’d keep them both fed, clean the house, and probably even do the laundry. They’d go over to my sister’s house and check on her and her husband. They’d call me and send me cards, some probably even making the trip to Denver to check on me. It was how this place worked and for the first time in my life I was grateful. They were doing a lot of the things that should have fallen to me as the oldest. Instead of being helpful I was a mute in a black suit and heels, prone to staring off into space while silent tears slipped down my face.
I resumed my wandering, leaving the plate of food in the hall bathroom and slipped toward the front door, trying to make a break for freedom. Instead I was stopped mere feet from my goal by the Martinez family as they entered the house. They blew past my uncle and swarmed me, smothering me with hugs and kisses. They all smelled like their diner, a perfume of fries, chocolate shakes, and hamburgers that brought tears to my eyes. I had grown up in that place, spending hours there with my mother and my siblings, meeting Dad for lunch, sneaking a shake after school, and having a huge lunch each Sunday after church.
I heard their chatter and questions and heard myself answer them robotically with phrases I’d been using on everyone. Doing fine. She will be very missed. Yes, still living in Denver. No, not married. The longer they questioned me the more desperate I became to escape. When my uncle stepped in, my chance came and I slipped through the dining room, past the people clustered there, and up the hidden back stairs.
A breeze whispered across my face when I reached the top. Following it to my old bedroom, I found the big window wide open, the snowy, sheer curtains waving in the gentle spring breeze. I knew where I needed to be. Out there, beyond that window was the nearly flat roof of the front porch. I was certain that I would find peace, quiet, and my siblings out there.
I slipped off my black heels and shed the black suit jacket, throwing it on the bed, freeing myself from my funeral uniform. For a moment I just scrunched my toes in the soft, cool carpet. Then I unbuttoned the top two buttons of my dress shirt, rolled up the long sleeves and sighed.
Boosting myself through the window I saw Nell and Tyler sitting side by side on the roof directly over the front door. Without a word they scooted apart, making a space for me in the center. Joining them I touched my sister’s belly, smiling at the movement from the baby inside. She grabbed my hand in both of hers, clinging to me. I offered my other hand to Tyler and he laced his fingers with mine, placing our joined hands on his knee.
“After this day, Mom would have been happy to see us leaning on each other like this.” I wanted to say more, to give them some words of wisdom. Instead I was silent again. In my head I heard Mom’s voice. Remember Mallie there is a star in the sky for every single loved one we have lost. That is where they peak through from Heaven.
“She’s a star in the sky now,” Nell whispered, reading my mind. We were quiet again, watching the sunset fade to black.
“Yeah she is,” Tyler whispered as the first stars slowly emerged.
I squeezed both their hands and turned my face up to the sky, wondering which star was our mom.