Oh Goodness I’m late, but here it is.
October 12, 2011 § 1 Comment
No seriously, but here it is. Unsure of the ending, but I have a schedule to keep, dammit!
Let me know what you think!
“Mel?” Her dad called up the stairs. She really didn’t want him to, because that it was finally time to go. She sat in her room, listlessly staring at her laptop’s screen. She didn’t even want to muster the energy to do something on the computer. It was easier that way. That now she didn’t need to see the dozens of facebook updates or emails wishing her the best.
They’d already set up a tribute page for her mom. It wasn’t much, just a place for people who never talked to her and didn’t care enough to call to say something they thought was pretty. That, Mel thought, was the biggest problem with facebook. They may have been saying something pleasant and reassuring but all they ending up doing was preening their feathers in public. “Look at me!” Cindy Margolis said, “I’m so much more humble than Louise Kennedy! Look, I’ll even quote Joyce!” Mel’s mom didn’t even matter anymore; it was all just one more way to be noticed. It made her sick.
“Mel, honey? Tony’s here. Time to go.”
She heard her uncle whispering. The house wasn’t all that big, and Mel knew voices carried really easily. She found that little tidbit out when her friends stayed over for her seventeenth birthday. They thought they were being quiet, but her mom came down at 4, calmly suggesting that they go to bed before there was a mass-murder event. That was mom: she might love you, but she was never above a little mass murder. Especially now, Melissa supposed.
“They’re waiting, Al. We should get going.” Tony whispered.
“Maybe. But you should shut up and let her come down when she’s ready.” Her dad whispered back. Mel loved her dad.
“The Wardens don’t mess around, Al. If we’re not there in time, they’ll start without us.”
“Tony, think about her for a goddamned second! My wife might have died, but Mel lost her mom! We’ll go when she’s ready and not a minute before.”
Her dad’s voice was strained and tired. Melissa heard it more and more these days. He wasn’t so good at hiding it, and since the accident receded further and further into the past, he had to try harder and harder to stay normal. Sighing, Melissa realized that it would be easier on her dad if she came now.
Melissa walked out of her room and down to her father. He used to be a big man, but age and grief had reduced him almost to Melissa’s height. Melissa was so small that for a long time she referred to her height as her “short”. It used to make her feel clever to have a joke only she knew. But that was a long time ago, even before the funeral. They’d all grown up a lot since then.
She hugged her dad fiercely, but only shook Tony’s hand. He was a tall fellow who would have been weedy if he wasn’t fat. Melissa didn’t actually blame him for being wealthy and for living in Canada, but it would have made her family’s situation a lot easier if they had been too. She shook his hand.
“Anthony. Thank you for arranging this.”
“Please, Melissa. Call me Tony.”
He smiled. Melissa hated it when he smiled. His face broke into a broad line, like a peach turned sideways, and it just reminded her of how fat he was. Which, in turn, reminded her of what hunger used to feel like. Her rickets had been so bad that the doctors weren’t sure whether she’d be able to have kids later. She knew she shouldn’t blame him. For the last few years, Canada might as well have been on the moon as far as Chicago was concerned. It wasn’t like you could just pop up on the plane, cross some magical border where everything was peaceful and wonderful and just like before. Those were the magic words: just like before.
Melissa was too young to know what just like before was like. But she was old enough to know that Tony hadn’t lifted a damn finger to help his sister.
“Anthony is fine.”
His smile stayed steady, but a look of pain flickered across his features. Melissa didn’t care. He doesn’t even know what real pain feels like, she thought, what going without really feels inside.
Her dad draped his arm around her shoulders. “Let’s just be a family for one day, alright? This is about her. Not us.”
Melissa smiled bitterly, her mouth a crooked slash. “Mom wouldn’t have wanted her funeral to be the day about her. Funerals aren’t happy. She was, no matter what it was like outside.”
A tear threatened, and Melissa quickly brushed it away. She tried to hide it by brushing her hair behind her ear, but she knew her dad saw it. I can’t cry yet. They’ll all be there. I can’t look like I’ve been crying before they even see me! What if Tom’s there? There were worse things than death in this world, Melissa knew. Crying in front of Tom Widdersmith was one of them.
So she bit it down and followed them to the waiting car. It was a fancy black car, her uncle’s, and she’d only been in it once, when they first came to Winnipeg. She still wasn’t used to the cold. It was April and the wind howled so loud she heard it in her bones. Hell, there had been snow a few days ago! Her parents had never minded the cold. It might have burnt, and it might have frozen you solid if you stood still for too long, but it was reassuring. It made you feel alive. The wet, muggy summers in Manitoba just made her feel gross.
The car rolled through the mostly empty streets. It was a hot Sunday in August. No-one was ever on the street then. Melissa couldn’t help but let a few tears slip. She hid a handkerchief in her hand and dabbed at her eyes when she could without being obvious. It was real now. Even the day before she had been able to push it away and feel that her mom was dead somewhere else, some other time. Now that she was actually going to the funeral, now that there actually was a body…it was suddenly too real. Too soon. She wasn’t ready at all.
They pulled in front of St. Ansgar Lutheran and stepped out into the muggy heat.
“She wasn’t a damn Lutheran, Al.”
“Come on, Tony. The Catholics won’t let anyone like her in their cemeteries, At least the Lutherans don’t mind so long as you were baptized somewhere.”
“All the same. Her dad would be spitting right now.”
“Let him. I always liked your dad, but I’ll let Sarah handle him now.”
Al chuckled. “I don’t think we can be sure he’s in heaven now.”
Melissa followed quietly. It was a habit of hers. If there was nothing to say, then she didn’t say it. Melissa forced herself not to look at Tom, even though she felt his eyes on the back of her head. She waved back at Louise, the only friend that actually came out to see the funeral. But they sat apart. Melissa wasn’t ready to leave her dad’s side right now. The casket stood at the front of the church, closed. It was in her will, but not even her dad wanted to see Sarah now.
The rest of the family, Tony’s wife Francis and son, Joe, and her dad’s sister Jennifer, gathered around. Not everyone made it up to Winnipeg in time, but Melissa was happy to see those who made it. She squeezed Jennifer’s hand tightly and suffered a peck on the cheek from Francis. They didn’t talk. There wasn’t much to be said.
The priest, a young guy, got up and started leading the service. Melissa didn’t pay attention. Religion wasn’t a big thing on her radar. It never helped when she was cold or hungry, and she didn’t particularly care if there was nothing waiting for her after she was dead. She tuned it out and just remembered her mom while he talked about “God” and love, and all that.
After an hour or so, the Warden stepped forward and motioned to her father. Melissa hated this part. She understood why they did this, that wasn’t the problem. But it was her mom, dammit.
Her dad stepped up as the Warden popped the casket. He ducked his head quickly in and out.
The Warden nodded. Two white-coated men rolled the casket away to the door behind the altar.
Jennifer sniffed. “Damn shame about that. I know she was sick, but that just ain’t right. Should have given us at least a few minutes with her.”
Tony shook his head sadly. “No, it’s too risky. The government’s firm about this, but it’s helped us immensely here. New cases have been reduced by fifty percent in the last two years. That’s worth a little bit of institutional cruelty.”
“Still a shame, taking away a girl’s mother without a good-bye.” Said Jennifer.
“Don’t blame us. Blame it.” Tony said sadly.
As the casket rolled out the organist played “Nearer my God to Thee”. Melissa sat through it all, steadily getting more and more uncomfortable. Tom was still watching her.
An hour or two later, they sat around the church basement drinking tepid coffee and eating stale doughnuts. Most of the people had left as soon as the funeral was over, not willing to hang around for long. At the end, Melissa drifted off with Louise. They sat at the creek bed by the road, not talking. Just sitting.
A shadow fell across them.
“Uh, Melissa? Can I talk to you?”
She stiffened. It was Tom.
Louise got in his face. “She doesn’t want to talk right now, Tom.”
“No, it’s ok Louise. Can…I have a minute alone. Please?”
Louise gave Tom a death glare and walked back to the church. Tom was tall and healthy. He was from Winnipeg, so Melissa didn’t feel bad at how tall and healthy he looked. It was a lie, though. A sick green patch covered the right side of his face and she could smell his cologne from where she stood. It was too strong, but he needed it to cover the slight smell that emanated from the dead skin. He wore a high collar and combed his hair over to cover the worst of it.
“I’m sorry about your Mom.”
“Thanks.” They stood awkwardly for a moment, two teenagers trying to decipher their feelings. Melissa tried to change the subject. “Uhh, so is…your…y’know…what did the doctors say?”
Tom shrugged. “They aren’t sure. I’m responding to the drugs, but not as quickly as they expected. They think it might have something to do with puberty, or something. It should be fine, hopefully.”
Melissa pushed back his hair and looked into his eyes. “Well, if the drugs are working, that’s not too bad. It’s something, at least.”
He pushed away her hand. “Don’t look at me, please. I know how bad I look.”
Melissa put her hands on her hips. “Tom, don’t be like that. Yes, you have the virus, but you don’t look that bad.”
He cocked his eyebrow at her.
“Well, ok,” she conceded, “you don’t look that bad for a zombie.”
“Zombie to be,” he corrected her, “zombie to be.” He repeated, mostly to himself.
“Alright then. You don’t look that bad for a zombie to be.”