A Wake

June, 2017

Great-Grandfather is dead and the house will not die with him.

 

Your mother is wearing that frayed gray shawl of hers, the one she pulled out of the chipped box at the back of the closet that you aren't supposed to ask about. Her eyes are red-rimmed and sinking with every sob and sniffle, though she has long ceased playing at tears. The stained handkerchief she'd been dabbing at her eyes lies forgotten by an untouched casserole.

 

The neighbors had delivered the soggy, stinking 'comfort food' with a tight-lipped courtesy that only a Southerner could perfect, and made gratuitous signs of the cross when asked if they would be staying for the wake. No, they would not, they explained as your mother sipped cold tea from a cloudy glass and the walls trembled. They had wished you luck and blessed your home and your heart, and you spat twice off the corner of the porch as they picked their way out of the rustling weeds in the yard.

 

The family trickles in now, two by two, all casting eyes to the ceiling, all casting blessings and well wishes to the locked parlor. They shake hands and trade hugs as though they are truly pleased to see one another, as though they do not dread the living as surely as the dying. Each complains of the creaking and chill as though unaware of the source, but no one mentions the dark red oozing from the faucet.

 

Your mother is nodding and smiling vacantly and you see the skin of her throat shift as she struggles to swallow every syrupy condolence and cough up a ragged thank you. She draws a shaking hand through limp, oily strands of mouse-gray hair when someone ask who will be sitting up with Great-Grandfather.

 

Your eyes meet across the room and the eyes of everyone else join, until you are an insect sweating over a jar of filmy tea that is not nearly sweet enough.

 

You look away first.

 

You regret it.

 

Your third-cousin speaks up when no one else does. Her plump cheeks light up in a blush rather prettily (of course she would blush) and she waves away the relieved protestations. You are ignored for the better part of twelve hours, but you are content to lurk in the gloom of the kitchen with the blackened, groaning tiles while your aunts murmur pointedly behind their fans and Bibles.

 

At five past midnight, she gives an experimental jiggle of the handle of the parlor door. Your mother insists she take the family rifle to Great-Grandfather's side and though your cousin's eyes are apologetic when they catch your own, she does not refuse. The room is silent when she closes the door behind her.

 

For three hours you take up a secondary post beside the door, ignoring the accusatory glares of your kin.

 

For three hours your mother nurses glass after glass of a warm amber tea that is steadily metamorphosing into whiskey.

 

For three hours your relatives wait in silence, fingers whispering upon the hilts of knives and along the triggers of guns. There is a brief metallic tang in the air that coats your teeth and then the sound of a whistling, roaring breath that set the hinges of the parlor doors rattling.

 

When the gunshot settles the frames of the blotchy family portraits in the hall, nobody says a word.

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