This is the first chapter of my WIP YA contemporary. Traditional comments are closed, but you may leave a comment through the form at the end of the chapter. I hope you enjoy.
Ding Dong the witch is dead!
I yank the rough black lace from my neck before it finds a way to penetrate my skin and make my entire body itch as though it is my purgatory punishment. My mother grips my hand as I fumble with the button on the back of my neck holding the dowdy collar of my funeral dress solidly in place. She glares at me as if to tell me that if I continue fussing with my clothes I won’t see my friends again for the foreseeable future. My hand falls to my lap and I focus on the layer of dust on the counter just below my grandmother’s casket.
The parade of guests make their rounds nodding their grievances. Some with crocodile tears and uncomfortable hugs, others with curt condolences that seem directed at my mom. At least I have the dignity to let my indifference for that insufferable woman show through. Mom just stares blankly with glossy eyes.
Uncle Monty stands when all the guests have finally left. The funeral home creaks with age, or maybe that was just his bad back. I’m not sure.
“You two head back. I’ll tie things up with the administrator,” he says. There is a pep in his step I don’t usually see in him. Maybe now that his sister isn’t around to berate him he feels free.
My mom stands, her mouth open. She would have handled the administrator. I see it in her eyes. The obligation.
I smile, but I wipe it from my face as my mother turns to me. “Let’s go sweetheart.” She drapes her arm over my shoulder and hugs me slightly. She’s pretending we’re best friends, but I feel her leaning on my shoulders. The exhaustion is getting to her. I straighten up, but pretend like I don’t notice I’m the only thing keeping her from collapsing.
The funeral home is so bright it’s unsettling. As though the owners think they can wipe the idea of death from the place by installing industrial grade fluorescents and painting the walls yellow. They probably don’t even realize the place feels anemic and the spotless tile floor makes me aware of how alone we actually are in this room.
Metal crashes into the tile floor halting us in place. My mom’s head springs up as though she found the energy buried deep within her.
“What was that?”
Uncle Monty’s voice booms through the empty building, “I’ll take you to court for this.”
My mom heads to the office, but I grab her arm and drag her away. She doesn’t need to get involved with another one of Uncle Monty’s debt schemes.
“Amber,” my mom says practically pleading.
The fight has gone out of her entirely and she turns from the shouting and exits the building without bothering to wait for me.
The shouting gets louder with more pointless threats and barely audible rebuttals. Then everything goes silent and Uncle Monty storms out of the office. He looks like a half peeled Babybel with his flushed red skin and white hair. He freezes for a moment as he spots me standing in the hall as the funeral owner stands in his office equally enraged.
“Go home Amber,” Uncle Monty says as he hurries out the back door.
My heels clatter against the floor as I chase my mom, glad she didn’t have to see whatever that fight was. A rush of cold air hits my face as I step outside. Tiny snowflakes whip through the air, not sure if it’s time for them to be falling so early. My mother is nowhere in sight, but I see the headlights of her car blaring in the parking lot. It’s the only car there.
Hunching over, I pull my wool coat tight around me. When I reach the car, I yank at the handle, but it’s locked. The windows are grey and completely iced over. My mom’s outline is barely visible as she leans over the steering wheel. I knock on the window, her figure rights itself, and the door clicks open.
Inside is just as freezing as outside. She starts the car and I stare out the window. The car dethaws and I feel my fingers again, but there’s still something cold radiating from my mother. Her hands grip the wheel and her knuckles have turned white, but I’m not sure if it was her grip or the cold. Blond strands of hair hang from what was once a neat ponytail, long since destroyed from her constant finger combing.
My fingers get tangled in her hair. I pull the ponytail free and a cascade of blond falls over her shoulders. Her face is warmer than I expected as I force her to look at me. Tears stream down her face. I couldn’t hear them, but I’m not surprised. How could she cry for that awful woman? Sure, she was her mother, but my grandmother was the definition of awful.
She wipes the tears from her eyes, but refuses to look at me even though we are less than a foot apart.
I’m the reason she didn’t talk to my grandmother. The reason my grandmother never spent more than five minutes with her, even after my dad died. My dark skin and corkscrew curls are what my grandmother hated. My nose, that looked just like my father’s, is what reminds my mother that it was her decision to love a great man that kept her estranged from her mother until the day she died.
I kiss my mother’s cheek. The moisture from her tears still lingers, but I don’t care. She still doesn’t look at me.
No response. The dashboard must be really fascinating.
I snap my fingers and her gaze meets mine. Just one moment is long enough. Her green irises are dull. A twinge fights through the back of my eyes. I can’t cry. I fight back the flood that wants to come out and help protect my mom. Let her know she’s not alone.
“You,” I say, but my voice cracks. Clearly, I’m not holding it together as well as I hoped. I start again, “You can’t check out on me.”
My mom nods. My chest tightens and twists as I watch her run her hands over her face. She purses her lips together and her eyes bulge a bit. The car roars to life and we drive to the hotel without another word.
The grounds men yank at the straps that lowered my grandmother’s casket into the deep hole that will bury whatever lingering hatred emanates from her putrefacting body.
What few guests attended my grandmother’s funeral procession have departed. Even Uncle Monty had already left, leaving me to stand awkwardly watching the gaping hole as my mother conversed with a man in a suit. He looked vaguely familiar, but I’d seen so many people from this town in the last few days they blurred together.
I glance at the limo waiting patiently for my mother and me. Hopefully she won’t be much longer. Our flight home leaves in a few hours and nothing would be worse than being stuck here any longer than necessary.
In the distance, the funeral director lingers, watching us. Maybe they couldn’t leave until everyone had left, which was even more reason for my mom to hurry. The old man looked cold and irritated. Though most of his seething rage was due to the heated words exchanged once again with dear Uncle Monty. Beside him, a young man with bright red hair rocks back and forth in his shabby suit. His eyes flit over the graves as though reading each one tells a story. When he looks up, we stare at each other.
I look away, focusing on anything else. It’s time to get in the limo. I stride over, much faster than my normal gait. I pause and look back at the funeral home men and am shocked that the young one is no where in sight.
The limo door clicks open, startling me. The young man holds it open, a sheepish grin plastered on his face.
“I’m sorry about your grandmother,” his voice is deeper than I expected from such a gangly kid. He’s tall, thin, and hauntingly pale.
I don’t meet his eyes, embarrassed by my lack of care just for a moment. I crawl into the warm limo and the boy peeks in. “Have a safe trip home.”
The door shuts and I’m alone. I feel the tears that have been welling up inside to be begin to unleash when the door opens again. My mother ducks her head and gets in. A big manila envelope is in her hands and seems to have all of her attention.
The limo pulls off and after a few minutes of awkward silence I place my hand on the envelope. My mom looks at me, her eyes wide. For the first time in days, she doesn’t seem sad, but surprised.
“What’s going on mom?” you look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”
She tries to fake a smile. “Your grandmother left me the house.”
The limo pulls off and I stare after it until it’s no more than a tiny spec in the distance. Something about that girl piqued my curiosity. Over the years, I’ve been to my fair share of funerals. Usually people are sad, some shell-shocked, but never had I encountered someone so sad and angry at the same time.
The anger I understood. Old Lady Allen was a nasty piece of work. She had an opinion on everything. Not many were positive. She hated people and she hated people for hating people. She was a bevy of contradictions. I’d half expected for her funeral to be barren, yet there were people. People who mourned a woman so cruel actually existed.
It was the sadness lingering in the back of the girl’s eyes, almost as though she was filled with regrets that I can’t grasp.
Even now, as I pace the carefully groomed graveyard, looking at headstones for clues of their lives, I wish she’d come back. If only so I could pick her brain. But she’s gone. Out of this miserable little town and back to whatever pleasant life she has elsewhere.
One day I’ll get out of this place too. Leave the family business of dealing with the dead behind. Cut my ties, bid Grandpa farewell, and never look back.