A young woman and her father try to cope with the death of their mother and wife.
|It was cold at the funeral. The leaves dropped like dead flies. A few landed on her coffin. It suddenly looked like Halloween: orange leaves laid against a dark wooden box. My father stood silent beside me. His eyes were red-rimmed, yet I had never seen him cry. He had been in this state of almost-crying for a week now. Good for him; I hadn’t shed a tear, and my eyes were nowhere near red. No, not even pink.
I didn’t feel guilty. Death didn’t scare me; talking about it didn’t bother me. Death wasn’t sad, it was just natural. I was young when I knew that I would never cry at anyone’s funeral. Not a friend’s, not a grandparent’s. Not even my mother’s. And I was right.
It was my mother’s funeral and my second cousin’s sister’s mother-in-law was crying harder than I was. Even the dogs howled their mourning, sniffing forlornly at the edges of the sinking casket as it was lowered into the earth.
I didn’t miss her. I wasn’t sad. All I could feel was a bland acceptance. To be honest, I hardly knew her. All I was sure of was that she loved to talk, and she would never shut up. On long drives, she would keep rambling on and on in the car, not knowing that everyone else had fallen asleep. She’d never notice.
I loved the quiet and she loved to talk. I didn’t miss her.
The soil thudded onto her coffin wetly. It had started to drizzle, and black umbrellas – perfect for solemn times like this – popped open one by one. From the sky, I imagined, it would look like a large black canvas had materialized across the grass.
I gripped my umbrella tightly, studying my dark gloves, shimmering in places where the pale sunlight hit them. I had no other gloves. The ones I was wearing were for dinner parties. They were itchy and I couldn’t wait to take them off.
I was home. And I couldn’t remember what had happened after my gloves. I remembered thinking how pretty the raindrops looked as they made sinewy trails of water on the windows of our black limousine, but that was all.
I stood on my bare feet in the middle of my room. I took my gloves off and threw them in some dark corner in my closet. I scratched furiously up and down my arms, irritated that my father had forced me to wear gloves even if it wasn’t too cold out. He’d insisted. He’d told me my mother had loved it when I wore those gloves. She’d bought them for me from Spain. She had loved Spain. That was another thing I knew about her.
My father said I looked more like her everyday, and that the gloves – elbow-length – made us look like twins if she had been a few decades younger. Because my mother’s favorite accessory had been gloves. It was strange how she loved them so much. I recall a faint memory of her telling me it had made her feel like a movie star when she was little, that she had grown attached to the way they looked, the way they felt, on her pale arms. To me, it felt constricting. As if my arms had been wrapped in gauze.
Dinner that night was quiet. It was to be expected. My father and I had said nothing to each other since we got home. I could hear the dogs in the corner. They whined occasionally. They licked their paws, eating up the mud that had accumulated between their black-padded toes.
A ringing started in my ears, punctured by the sharp sound the forks and spoons made on our plates. Each sound seemed magnified. My ears felt like they were being continuously stabbed.
Finally, my father spoke. The ringing stopped. The clanging stopped.
“You’re not eating much.”
The silence was awkward. I didn’t know what to say.
My father cleared his throat. “You looked nice today. At the funeral.”
“It was kind of warm.”
“Because of the gloves. I know you didn’t want to wear them. I’m glad you did.”
“It was pointless.”
My father drew a deep breath. “I’m sure your mother appreciated it. She loved the way they looked on you.”
“Mom’s dead.” The two words grew huge in the silence. The room seemed to darken, the lights to dim.
My father nudged his temples. I had started a headache in his skull.
“What would you want me to have said?”
“Nothing.” His head shook once, slowly. Left to right.
“Not nothing. Never nothing. What would you want me to have said?” My voice was louder. It was growing, feeding off of what it found inside me. Whatever it could grasp. “It only makes sense. It only – ”
“You are… so stubborn. So insensitive.” From my father, it came out an angry shout. “I ask you this one thing – ”
I was annoyed. That’s all I was, but I was shaking. I looked like I was furious. But I only felt a shallow annoyance. I burst, without warning: “How come something negative about someone only becomes endearing after their dead?”
My father shifted in his chair, blinked, and looked at me. I couldn’t stop. Not now – not anymore.
“Why not just tell them you love their stubbornness, or their hot-headedness while their alive? So they actually know that you love them for who they are. Why is that? Is it just politeness? You don’t want to speak ill of the dead because they might haunt you? Because they’re dead? Is that it?”
“What – what are you saying, sweetheart?” My father was confused, surprised. He had been angry then called me sweetheart. I saw him flinch: he was also hurt. I couldn’t blame him; I was, too. I was all the things my father was. But I had started, and it was too late to stop now. My father wanted – needed – an explanation.
“I heard you at the funeral.” My hands were fists. The utensils dug into my palm, cold and hard and unrelenting. “I heard you say how much you loved how Mom was just so messy, Dad. I heard you, and you said you loved that about her. Well then how come when she was alive you’d yell at her for it, huh? You’d get into fights all the time because she just wouldn’t clean up her crap. Can you tell me why that is, Dad? Were you just faking for the people at the funeral? Were you afraid that Grandpa and Grandma would be horrified that you’d dare to insult their daughter at her own funeral? You were just lying, then, Dad. You were lying to that whole bunch of people.”
I was crying. I could feel it on my face. I could feel the tears and they felt strange. My hand shook when I wiped them away. They had already dried up on my cold skin, a meek straggle of tears.
My father took my hand. I stared at our fingers, the way they were laced: his fingers short and stubby, mine abnormally long – mine like my mother’s. His hand felt familiar. We used to walk like this – fingers laced – when we went to the mall, or the park, or the gas station to fill up the car. Anywhere. It seemed wrong to do it now. It seemed too relaxed. Like we were too calm, acting too normal. I could feel our pulses racing together, neck and neck.
“I’m sorry, Dad.”
“I’m sorry, too. It’s just that… I loved her. Very much.”
“I know. I love her, too – can’t help but.”
That was all I could say. Like at the funeral, I clammed up. I was at a loss. My mother’s was the first funeral I’d gone to. My mother was the first death I’d been alive to go through. I hadn’t cried at the funeral, but I had cried soon after.
I looked up at my father. Looked into his almost-crying eyes. I wondered if he ever did cry. “Can I sleep with you tonight? We could stay up and talk about her if you like.”
My father nodded silently. He almost smiled, but this wasn’t a time for smiling.
I could hear my father breathing. He was awake. His breaths were irregular: sometimes fast, sometimes slow, sometimes not there at all. I knew he was still thinking about her. For him, it would be hard to forget. It would be hard to fall asleep.
I tried to comfort him. I pulled myself next to him, lay my head on his shoulder, and curled my arm across his stomach, the way my mother used to hug him. His belly was soft and fleshy. He had just eaten but it felt like his stomach was empty.
His breathing stopped completely, and he froze. I guess for him it was awkward. I had never been an affectionate daughter. I had never hugged him like this. Or maybe it just reminded him too much of my mother.
I understood where he was coming from. But, all the same, it stung: tonight was when I needed him. I kissed him on the cheek and slowly pulled away. We lay a foot apart on the bed, and the only sounds were the two of us breathing, trying to fall asleep, to escape the awkwardness.
I turned on my side and faced away from him, closing my eyes. I opened them after what felt like hours. I couldn’t sleep. Neither could my father. He usually snored – big, monstrous snores that could keep people in the next room awake. The night was painfully silent. A buzzing began in my ears and it was deafening.
I felt my father stir and the bed shifted. I could feel the heat from his body at my back. He had moved closer. Maybe he would try to make up for his stiffness earlier. I could sense his arm stretching out behind me, to pull me into an embrace.
He stopped. His hand fell heavily on my arm and he gave it a quick squeeze. He wasn’t ready.
I felt tears in my eyes as he pulled away. I didn’t know why I was crying so soon after I had stopped. I tried my best to conceal it. I sniffed as quietly as I could. I pressed my face into the pillow.
My arms were moving. They wrapped themselves across my chest. I felt my cold hands digging into my shoulders. I had no control over my limbs. It felt like my body knew I needed comfort, and was compensating for its absence.
I closed my eyes again. When I opened them, it was morning.
I was in my room. A picture of my mother was in my hands, and a scene was forming in my head. A bright and blinding scene that made my eyes tear and burn.
My mother and father were fighting, and soon we were on the bus – me, my mother, and her pills. The cap went off as soon as we sat down and she downed one, two. I saw her long neck stretch and move as she swallowed. She had taken another two that morning. Before the yelling, before the storming out.
She took my hand in both of hers, pressing it to her forehead. She breathed slowly, and then more slowly.
I didn’t wonder where we were going. I didn’t ask this time, because I knew. It was always the same place: “Asias.” My mother told me, though I didn’t need to know. “Asias Hotel – same place as always, dear.”
I nodded. I didn’t answer. I was mad at her. For taking me with her, for leaving my father, without asking me who I wanted to stay with. I felt my anger boil over and I yanked my hand away from hers.
She sighed: she was used to this. She often brought me with her; I often got angry. “You know I’d never leave you there. With him.”
You don’t know what’s best, I wanted to say. You’re too clouded by your anger to think straight. I remained silent across the narrow aisle. Talking would never work: if I talked, my mother would talk. And she wouldn’t stop. Like water spilling from a broken dam, her words were never ending.
My eyes were closed, my lids pressed against cool window glass. I was soothed. I was calmed. I felt guilty for pulling away – I knew how it hurt to be pulled away from. I turned over to face her, to look in her eyes as I apologized.
A deep-sounding moan, like a deafening foghorn, pierced through the sound of smoothly rotating wheels. Then came the brightness. I saw my mother: her silhouette wrapped in pristine whiteness – heavenly whiteness. Then came the crash. The heat and the fire. I saw her chest jerk forward, her neck jerk back as if she’d been pushed.
My mother lay underneath me. I was suffocating her, my elbow crammed under her chin. When I stood, I was standing on the street: the bus was on its side, all its windows broken. Glass was wedged in my palm, my hair, my burning cheeks.
I saw redness. I saw blood moving with the fluidity of a wave as it eases back into the sea.
I was fine. I didn’t hurt. But my mother’s blood ebbed and flowed out of her, like water spilling from a broken dam.
My mother’s pills were poison. I pictured chemicals binding to proteins. Kidneys destroyed, withering to black. I pictured my mother’s frozen heart. I saw the machines. The whirring machines working to keep my mother from dying. Felt the cold flow in and out of her. To give her more time, more wasted time.
Dialysis wouldn’t work, they said. Living wouldn’t work.
I called my father’s phone and it was busy. He had turned it off. He always did. He never liked to be disturbed after the yelling. He would end up shouting at the person on the other end. He would turn it on later, after his cheeks were less flushed, his skin not buzzing with rage. It would take a long time, and my mother didn’t have that long.
When she woke up it was to say goodbye. For a few moments, a few seconds, I had her. For once she was silent. She was dying and she wasn’t talking. She wasn’t my mother then – she was all that was left, remains. A smile began on her lips, a tiny hint.
Her last words to me, “I don’t want you to see me do it.” And mine to her, nothing. A kiss, I figured – a fragile kiss said more.
She didn’t ask for my father. She was still angry. Her stubbornness was another thing I knew of her.
I stood outside. I waited five minutes. It had only taken a second for my mother to kill herself. To signal the doctors to leave her to die. When I came back inside, the room felt colder. But I had just imagined it to be.
My mother’s arms were sprawled on the bed as if broken. Her head was tilted to one side. Her eyes were shut. She was dying. She looked like she had just fallen asleep.
I called no one. My father was still lost to his anger. The busy signal on the phone was frightening and loud. It gave me a headache – splitting and painful, and so I hid. I hid in slumber, in a tiny corner of the room. I curled on the couch, I shut my eyes. Like my mother, I looked like I had fallen asleep. But I was alive. I was awake to hear them pronounce the time of death.
They didn’t scurry to wake her. I knew that they wouldn’t. That my mother was dead. That she would stay dead. She had wanted to die. And I had let her.
I awoke and it was night. My mother’s picture dug into my rib. I felt a dull pain in my bones. Crust clung to my eyelids and I rubbed them away. My vision became clearer, sharpened. The darkness I could see around me began to consume me.
My father was in his room. The light was on – he was awake. I crept inside and saw him staring. Under the sheets, with his big belly and thin legs, he stared at the ceiling.
“You can sleep here again.” He didn’t move. He continued staring.
I climbed in next to him. The blanket was warm and comforting. I could feel my father’s body heat, we lay so close together.
His head swiveled to look at me. “You look so much like her,” he whispered. His eyes, which had been clean of any sign of tears, returned to almost-crying.
It was sudden when he hugged me. I was surprised, but I relished in his warmth. On cold nights when we were out and the winds decided to be cruel, my father would envelop me in his arms. He never failed to comfort my freezing skin.
He kissed me. Again and again, on my cheeks, my lids. His lips traveled to my neck and his hands began to slide, up and down, on my arms, my waist. His kisses reached my neck, soon traveling to my lips where they lingered, warm and moist.
My father’s hands were warm on my naked back, and he was murmuring her name. Over and over again, he whispered it. I could hear the sadness in his voice. He wasn’t saying it, but I knew he was dying to ask, “Why did you leave me? Why did you go and leave me alone with our child?”
My underwear was gone from my waist. I could feel it wrapped around my ankles, as if they had been placed there to keep me from leaving, from running from my parents’ bedroom and telling myself, “Stop. This isn’t right. You shouldn’t be doing this.”
My father had his hand on my breast; the other was in my hair, gripping it tight, pushing my head so our lips would meet. He was stiff. I could feel his hardness pushing against my legs, coaxing them apart. He was licking my neck. I could feel his breath on my skin, but his lips were chanting my mother’s name.
His sex pressed against mine, wet and urging, begging for entrance. We were both completely naked, on the bed he once shared with his first love. On the bed he now shared with his first – his only – daughter.
I would never have guessed that I would lose my virginity to my own father. In a sense, it was right. He gave me everything he had to give. It seemed only proper that I give him the one thing I had to offer. I had killed my mother. I owed this to him. He had loved her more than anything, and I had taken her away from him.
My father’s waist met mine in one smooth movement. He moaned my mother’s name over and over, his voice broken by tears and crying.
I thought of Spain. I thought of elbow-length gloves and endless chatter. I thought of my mother. I imagined her soul creeping into my body, more of it crammed inside with my every intake of breath. I thought of my mother in my father’s embrace. The two of them moving in this space, in this bed. And as I thought, I ceased to be.
My father wrapped his arms around me, and I let him.