As I stated in Monday’s post, this week I am unplugged and decided to post a little fiction. This weeks posts are excerpts from the novel I wrote titled The Circle Home.
My mother died on January 2, 1979, a few months before I turned four-years-old. She held on long enough to bring in the New Year, but not long enough to celebrate my birthday. Most of the memories I have of her before she died aren’t really mine. They’re stories my dad or grandparents told me so many times I began to feel like I was really there. My first real childhood memory is the day of her funeral.
It was a cold day in January. We rode silently to McEwen’s funeral home. We were in Maw Maw and Papa’s light blue Pontiac. Papa drove with both hands on the steering wheel in a white knuckled death grip. Dad sat beside him, in the passenger seat, running his hands through his red hair the way he always does when he’s nervous. I was in the middle of the back seat between Uncle Brian and Maw Maw, perched on the hump which was as close as you got to a car seat in those days.
“Hey Emily, punch bug!” Uncle Brian gave my arm a little tap. A yellow Volkswagen Bug had just turned at the stoplight in front of us.
“For God’s sake Brian, we’re on the way to Janet’s funeral not an amusement park.” Maw Maw pulled a tissue out from her sleeve and dabbed her eyes. Her hand shook.
“I like to play punch bug, Maw Maw. Why can’t we play?”
“It’s just not a good time for games, that’s all.” Dad spoke from the front seat.
“Daddy, when are they bringing the bed back?” I asked.
“The special one, that Mommy had in the living room.”
“They’re not bringing it back. It’ll stay at the hospital now.”
“So, where’s Mommy gonna sleep when she gets back from Heaven?”
Maw Maw reached over and pulled me to her chest and patted my back. I struggled to get back onto the hump and avoid having my eye poked out by the huge rose brooch she wore on the lapel of her black polyester pantsuit. Dad lowered his head and shook a little. Papa reached over and squeezed his freckled neck. Uncle Brian just stared out the window with his chin resting on his fist and his forehead pressed against the glass.
We got to the funeral home early. There were only a few cars in the parking lot, including Grandma and Grandpa Lohing’s burgundy Oldsmobile. Papa pulled into a spot as close to the door as he could get. Uncle Brian stepped out and reached for me.
“Come on butterfly, let’s dance.” He lifted me over his head and twirled me around.
He had been calling me that since I had dressed up like a butterfly at Halloween. Mommy was really sick that night so Brian and his girlfriend, Jennifer, took me trick-or-treating instead of Daddy. I felt special having a nickname. “Wheeee!” I squealed as he spun me around.
“That’s enough Brian. Put her down and act civilized.” Maw Maw straightened her Dorothy Hamill haircut with one hand and pulled the glass door open with the other. I held onto Daddy’s hand as we followed his parents and brother into the funeral home.
Maw Maw walked straight over to Grandma, who was sitting in a metal chair staring glassy-eyed into space. She was fiddling with the cross around her neck and her mouth was twitching to one side. Grandpa stood behind her with his hands gently resting on her shoulders. He was a really tall man, but on that day without his bright smile he seemed too far away to reach.
“Oh Sylvia, I’m so sorry.” Maw Maw knelt down beside the chair and Grandma fell over into her arms. They both started crying, making sounds that I’d never heard before. I kept my distance from them. I was scared to move closer.
“What’s the matter with them?” I whispered to Dad.
“They just miss Mommy, Sweetie.”
“But Daddy, she told us she was going away. I thought they knew it too.”
“It doesn’t mean they don’t miss her.”
“Am I supposed to miss her too?”
“You can feel whatever you want.”
“Is it okay if I’m not sad?”
“Yes.” Dad replied with tears forming in his eyes.
We stood outside the entrance to the chapel. The smell of flowers filled the space. There were arrangements shaped like horseshoes, hearts, and crosses. I had never seen so many flowers before. Grandma and Maw Maw stepped through the maze of flowers, pressing their noses to each display and carefully reading the cards. I followed behind, mimicking their behavior until my dad called me away.
“Emily, come here, I want to show you something.” He was standing by a portrait.
“That’s your mommy.”
“She looks so pretty! Where am I?”
“That’s our wedding day. You weren’t around yet. You were just a twinkle in her eye. If you look close I think you can see it.” Dad pointed to Mom’s eye in the picture.
As the minutes passed I watched more and more people file into the funeral home and fill up the seats in the small chapel. Dad positioned himself at the door to the chapel. I skipped around the sanctuary, stopping to say hello to Mom lying in the coffin. She looked like Sleeping Beauty; except I’m pretty sure Sleeping Beauty didn’t wear a wig.
I noticed that everyone wore black and carried tissues. There were some kids like me. One boy skipped towards me. He was smiling and I knew he wanted to play, but his mom pulled him back and gave him a spank. No one else came near me, but they all watched me skip, even the grownups. When it was time for the service to begin there were no seats left and all I could hear was sniffling noises.