With the view sweeping down to Long Island Sound, Mother had a fine resting spot. Veneered in ice, weeping beeches dotted the hillside, never to grow high enough to block the views of the dead. Only the yellow backhoe, snow-dusted from last night, marred the expanse of white.
Prime real estate in Larchmont, New York.
Wind blew off the water. Behind me, the soft slaps of car doors echoed. Bundled under my right arm, I pulled my sister closer. Most people thought Izzy and I were twins, but they never looked close enough; they only saw the same slight build, the same green eyes, but her father’s blue blood pulsed under her skin while I possessed our Mother’s more feral darkness and, perhaps, my father’s. But only Mother knew those details and she was dead, felled by a final cataclysmic stroke.
Her casket stood between the freshly dug ten by six hole and her husband’s white marble headstone. His memorial reached my shoulders, engraved for posterity: Benjamin Michael Taylor, III. 1956 – 2001. Husband, Father, Provider, Friend. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Right. Then my namesake sure wasn’t shaking hands with Peter at the pearly gate.
Izzy’s eyes narrowed at my snort. I turned my gaze to the gathering. Neighbors, her artist friends, his former business acquaintances – familiar faces though I didn’t remember names - murmured to each other behind polarized lenses.
“Ben.” Izzy tugged at my sleeve. “Who is that?”
I followed her eyes. A man stood behind the covey of mourners. Unhatted, ungloved, he leaned on a cane. His eyes had the tired look of someone who has lived life too hard. Even under cold-reddened cheeks, his skin looked yellow. He stared at me. I looked to the still water and imagined flying away.
The circle parted for the priest, black vestments flapping in the breeze. There was a sudden hush, broken by a seagull’s cry high above. A jet flume trailed across the indigo sky.
The priest cleared his throat and stepped before the casket, obscuring the jaundiced stranger. His voice shook through the homily. His hands trembled, too, reminding me of my own when the lithium went too high, but his tremor was a courser one. Parkinson’s disease, I finally deduced. Droplets of spittle crystallized on his beard. While he droned on, I contemplated other deaths, my cannibalized mice, the tedium associated with the business of dying.
Believe me, I wanted I could mourn my mother – she’d brought me into the world, after all - but she’d been dead to me for so long the burial felt parenthetical, an unread epilogue. I wanted to feel – sadness, hurt, some sputter of grief. Anything. But I didn’t. I blamed the antipsychotic for my reluctant apathy. A small price for a functional life.
The priest folded his palsied hands over his leather-bound Bible and looked at me expectantly. “Does the family have any final words to share in remembrance of Ariana Carandini Taylor?”
I was the son, the oldest, expected to say something. The prepared notes lay folded in my jacket. Izzy squeezed my fingertips. I withdrew my hand from hers, fumbled for the papers, then let my hand drop; from me, the words would sound false.
The priest nodded and four workers grasped the casket’s handles. Smooth straps slipped between eight hands that lowered five hundred pounds with synchronous precision. The casket disappeared, carrying her cells, blood, and bones.
The gathering circled closer. Isabel knelt beside me, fingers curled around a clump of earth. I screwed my eyes tight. Cry. Cry. Just cry. But I couldn’t. All I saw were my mice, their bloody body parts poking out of shavings.
I turned away, to the waiting limousine. Behind me, clods of frozen earth shattered against the casket like the sound of paint smacking newly-stretched canvas. I leaned against the passenger door, the engine idling under me faster than my pulse. Shivering in the bitter air felt cleansing, like penance.
The small throng dispersed. The priest escorted Izzy to the car. I slipped beside my sister. When we pulled away, I stared back at the gravesite. Only the man without a hat remained, clutching a hydrangea, lush and top-heavy. Where did he find that beauty in December? He dropped the flower into the silence of the hole, consummating her life and death.
My head sank against the leather. The image of the blue lace-cap teased of summers impossibly distant, of Mother arranging pink and purple stems in cut-glass vases. I wondered how he knew hydrangeas were her favorite flower.
Happy New Year! The above is excerpted from PURE, a novel under reconstruction. For the next few months, PURE is where I will devote my writing energies, and hence my flashes will largely follow the adventures of Ben, my ethically-challenged, lithium-dropping post-doc, Kevin, my pill-popping anesthesiologist, and Phoebe, the medical fellow torn between the two of them. To 'catch up' on Ben, the primary protagonist, read here: In The Name of Science
Other PURE fridayflashes here:
End of the Line
Happy reading! Peace, Linda