"Ashes and Ice will make you laugh, cry, and keep the lights on at night. If you like Marr, Steifvater or Clare, you will love Rochelle Maya Callen." Tiffany Carmouche, The Impostor"
Tears burn. I never realized it before, but they do. Tears reach down my throat and settle in my gut until the pain cripples me. I clutch my stomach as I look into the casket. His face doesn’t even look the same. Bloated like a Mardi Gras float, discolored like a mannequin. This isn’t my father.
But it is.
If I have learned anything in my short life, it is this: funerals are bullshit. People dress in carefully pressed black suits. Parents give me “meaningful” nods as if that could ease the grief. It doesn’t.
Then there are the kids from school, the ones dragged along by their parents. People drag their kids along as if filling the church was a necessary thing. As if the more pews filled somehow expedite the dead’s trip to heaven. I doubt it does. Maybe some of the girls went shopping to buy just the right outfit so their cleavage to respectability ratio was just right, or their ass to waist ratio was cinched properly.
People sit in the pews dressed in their finest let’s-go-pay-our-respects-to-the-dead-guy-we-never-knew wear, smacking the gum in their mouths, cupping cellphones so they can LOL any comment buzzing in, and drumming their fingers because the pastor is going on too long. All they want to do is go home, sneak in a make-out session with their girlfriends, eat their dinners, and maybe catch a 7 o’clock movie.
I hate these kids. The ones who stare at me, roll their eyes, and yawn. The ones who trip me at school and slam me into lockers. The ones who sit in a pew, contributing to the headcount, while I sit up here in front, holding back the tears fighting to make their appearance. I swallow them down. I won’t cry. Not here. Not with these people.
Dad’s funeral should be an empty church with mom, his three brothers, and me. It should be the five of us having a messy, sloppy, sobbing affair where we cling to each other because we are all we have left. The marble floors should be slick with our tears. It isn’t. We sit here, straight backed, completely composed as if death is just a passing expiration date and our small, insignificant world has not been split open and left gaping.
I’m in my room, staring at the ceiling. The funeral service was hours ago.
The house feels empty and cold. I hear a stifled whimper from down the hall.
Probably crying into a pillow so the house can’t hear, but it can. It seems unfair she can’t wail aloud, so loud the house’s hundred-year-old studs tremble.
She doesn’t. I don’t either. We cry in our own rooms, remembering a man who will never be here again.
The house creaks. Maybe it feels the weight of our grief, maybe the floorboards are buckling because the burden is too heavy.
I ache, desperate to forget the long battle with cancer, the blood sputtering out of his mouth with his last words—what where they? I can’t remember because the fear in his eyes overshadowed anything he said. Now the loss. I don’t want to feel this loss. Some divine entity has taken dull scissors and cut out a piece of my life and now I have jagged scars to remind me I lost too much. Too much.
I want to forget, because it hurts to remember.
I bury my head in the pillow, hoping to suffocate the memories, to choke out the pain.
“Have you ever been in love?”
I spill my popcorn on my lap. “I, uh, what?” I say, swiping off the kernels. The question catches me off guard.
“You know, in love.”
“No. No, I haven’t.” I shift on the couch, needing more space between us. “What about you?”
“Nah.” She flicks her hand toward me as if she is brushing away nonsense, but the hard look in her eyes says something different.
She points to the TV screen and the couple making out there. “Figured if you had been, then you could explain that to me.”
The guy sweeps the girl up and carries her into bed before they… you know. “Uh, sex?”
She bursts out laughing. “That too. But I was talking about what it feels like to be, you know, in love. Totally, without question. Like, does that,” she points to the screen again, “exist?”
“Yeah, I think it exists.” I think of mom and dad—the way they kissed every morning, hugged a few moments longer than anyone else, laughed so hard they cried, and cuddled, shutting out the world, looking more content than these fakers on the screen. “It exists. And in real life, it’s better than that crap.” I say, suddenly uncomfortable by the moaning coming from the TV.
“I thought you said you’ve never been in love?”
“I haven’t. But I’ve seen it. And I haven’t ever seen anything come close to that in the movies.”
She opens her mouth as if about to ask a question, but then closes it and smiles, accepting my answer. “Well, it’s good that there may be something in life to look forward to.” She drops a kernel of popcorn in her mouth.
“Well nothing is guaranteed. Who knows, I may die an old spinster.” She’s smiling, but her eyes aren’t.
I think about the movie store guy’s possessive eyes, Jesse’s chair fiasco, and Dominic’s leering, my heart. “I doubt that.”
He smiles a bit wider and hands out the pin.
As, I reach to pluck it from his palm, he snatches my wrist with one hand, my bicep with the other and crushes me against his chest.
His grip is tight—too tight, it hurts—and the bend of him hovers over me, leaning in. I try to shake him off, but he doesn’t let go. I squirm as I feel his thumb trace circles on the inside of my wrist. The touch sends a skitter of sensation over me. Something tinges the air; a sweet, cool feeling brushes over my skin, making my knees want to buckle. He smells like mint, his breath tickles my face. I pull back, hating the sensations that please my skin and curdle my insides. Bile surges in my throat. I tear myself away from him, glaring.
“What?” He says coolly as if he hadn’t just bruised my arms with his clutching fingertips.
“That. Hurt.” I say. I don’t say he smells sweet or his breath is refreshing on my skin or his touch sends chills up my spine, delicious chills. I step away.
His smile is unnerving. “Don’t worry, Jade.” He winks at me. Damn that wink of his. “One day, you’ll like it.”
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