General Fiction posted August 2, 2017


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A daughter and her aunt meet at a funeral

Death in the family

by E J Howell

"I always felt bad about your poor mother. Nellie Harris was so mean to her, brutal, really."

"What are you talking about?"

"Oh, like that time we were supposed to go out to the Elks Club meeting. We were supposed to pick your mother up on our way out, but then Nellie decided we wouldn't go, and I told her I'd call your mother to let her know, and Nellie said not to bother, that she'd take care of it. But then I found out later she never called. Just left her waiting."

"What are you talking about?"

"I keep forgetting. You were so young, a toddler, really. Of course you wouldn't remember. But I always felt bad for your mother. They were so deliberately mean to her. And then when she... well, you know."

"No, I don't know."

"Well, she killed herself. You knew that, didn't you?"

"Yes. I knew that. Now if you'll excuse me..."

"No. Please don't turn away. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you."

"This is my father's funeral. Your brother's."

"Not my brother. I married into this family."

"Your husband's brother."

"They were all mean to her, including my husband. Nellie and her two boys, a united front. And I always felt like I should have done something, stuck up for her. But I was so young. Barely twenty. And pregnant myself, and then, well, it was too late."

"Why are you telling me all this?"

"I just wanted you to know. Her situation was intolerable. She was so isolated, and she had three babies in four years. And the last one, your brother, was such a difficult pregnancy and labor, and they were so mean to her. There wasn't anything genetic about it. I heard your father tell you that, once. But he had it all wrong. It was her situation. In case you ever worried, you know. I thought maybe that was why you never had children of your own. It wasn't anything genetic; it was her situation. You look so much like her..."

"Don't touch me."

"I'm sorry. Maybe I shouldn't have said anything, but I wanted you to know."

"And now you've let me know."

"Her old dog, gone when she got back from the hospital. Nellie had it put to sleep. Said it was unsanitary with a new baby. Oh the things they did to her."

"And not that it's any of your business, but I decided long ago that I wasn't interested in motherhood. It had nothing to do with my mother's genetic make-up."

"She brought a couple of cheesecakes once to Thanksgiving dinner, and Nellie started in right away about how decadent and frivolous and completely thoughtless your mother was, bringing that pie with enough cholesterol to kill a cow. Knowing full well that all three men in the family, including her own husband, suffered from high blood pressure, and it was just cruel to bring something like that. Like bringing poison to the thanksgiving table. On and on in front of a roomful of aunts and uncles and cousins. And your mother finally walked over to the kitchen counter and picked up the cheese cakes and dumped them both into the trash."

"I don't know what this has to do with me. Or with my father. This is his funeral. Remember?"

"I'm so sorry, dear. I guess it wasn't the best time..."

"You know, when I saw you and realized who you were, I was happy. Finally some family. And I had fond memories of you, when you'd come to visit, you'd play with me, brush my hair. I remember once you braided my hair, and tied them up with red lace bows. Once you gave me a very pretty green velveteen dress. I loved that dress."

"I remember that dress."

"My father didn't approve of you. Said it was your fault that his brother started drinking, started wandering around the world, not focusing on his career. It was one of the few times when I ever questioned his opinion. But now I can see that he was right. You are a silly old cow. You don't have any kind of self-discipline. You did lead his brother down a path of degeneracy. Which is probably what killed him at such an early age."

"He was hit by a teenage drunk driver."

"But why was he there?"

"I'm not sure I understand. Are you saying that your father told you it was my fault that my husband was crossing the street when that boy came speeding by?"

"You're screeching. People are staring at you."

"Is that what you're implying?"

"I'm not implying anything. I'm trying to be a gracious hostess for my father's funeral, for his family and colleagues, for this final tribute to a devoted father and a brilliant scholar..."

"Family? What family? I don't see anyone here but me. No sister, no brother? Neither of them could make it to their devoted father's funeral?"

"No, neither one of them could be bothered. My father understood them a decade ago. That's why he disowned them."

"And that's why you were happy to see me. Because I was a family member. But I didn't come for your father. I came for you. And for your mother. I wanted you to know the truth about her."

"Why did it take you so long?"

"Like everyone else, I was afraid of your father."

"Don't be ridiculous. My father was not an ogre. There was nothing scary about him."

"She would have been so proud of you. She loved you so much."

"This is my father's funeral."

"Yes. Your father."

"And if you'll excuse me now, I have duties to attend."

"Yes. Of course."


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© Copyright 2018. E J Howell All rights reserved.
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