No Such Thing as Goodbye (Between Breath & Suffocation Sec. 10)

Five days after Grandma Betty died, hours after the hearse had driven away the body, hours after Aunt Mary had scolded us for “letting this happen,” and hours after we realized we were stuck in that empty house, Sage remembered the gift. It was still in the foyer, untouched.

“Oh yeah…” Sage said, getting up from the floor. She stepped over loose patches, thread, and piles of clippings. “I guess I can give this to you now.” She moved into the foyer and grabbed a white bag, handing me a shoebox.
“Wow!” I said as I examined each sneaker. They were pink with white laces. “Thank you so much.” I slipped the shoes on and began to prance.
“You’re welcome,” Sage pulled out an identical pair, three sizes bigger. “Steven chipped in.”
“We’re twins,” I said, following her into the kitchen.
“Sure,” she laughed, watching me pace back and forth in the kitchen. With each step I kept my eyes on the shoes, observing how they moved, how they settled on the floor, how they made my feet look.
“We should eat and get ready for bed,” Sage pulled a small pot from the cabinet and poured leftover beans into it. “Tomorrow’s the funeral and Aunt Mary is picking us up…you know how she can be,” she rolled her eyes.

Sage filled two small bowls with red beans and served us each two slices of white bread. All was silent except for the rhythmic and predictable sounds of us dipping small pieces of bread into our bowls, our lips smacking as our tongues and teeth wrapped around the bean and bread sandwich, and the clinking of our spoons on the table. Every few minutes our eyes met. I scanned her face, resting my gaze on the blackened half-circle below her right eye.
“You don’t have to keep looking at it,” she said.
“Sorry.”

I didn’t sleep well that night or any other night for that matter. After Grandma Betty died, sleep became tricky, always fleeting, dark. We tried our best to avoid it. Each time my body calmed and sleep was just a blink away, my mind erupted replaying the same scene over and over: Grandma Betty lay dead on the chair, the unfinished quilt covering her. Aunt Mary arrived the next morning; she drove into the yard, her car skidding as she slammed on the brakes. A cloud of dirt rose around her car. She stepped out, wild and accusing.

“What in god’s name happened?” she yelled, her feet sinking into the dirt as she stomped towards us.
“We didn’t do nothing,” I said.
“Where were you?” Aunt Mary pushed past me so that she was now face to face with Sage. “With that stupid boy?”
“He’s not stupid,” I said, trying to push Aunt Mary away.
“Move out of the way you little bastard.” Aunt Mary shoved me into the porch rail.
“Don’t touch her,” Sage pulled me to her side.
Aunt Mary stormed into the house, the screen door slamming behind her. Once in the living room she let out a loud, tear-filled cry. She cursed and praised god over and over.
“Should we go inside?” I asked Sage.
“No. Let’s wait for her to come back out.”
I didn’t argue. Instead, I followed her into the yard, out to the perimeter where we threw rocks and loose branches into the thick maze of trees.
“I don’t ever want to go back in there,” I confessed.
“We’re already on our way…Aunt Mary will make sure of that.”
Aunt Mary, unwed and childless was the only one willing to watch over us. She arrived and we began spiraling towards death, disappearing into life’s gritty background, spectators of our own apocalypse.

By the time we got back to the house and stepped inside, her cries had shortened to a heavy whimper. We listened to her quivering, throaty profession of unending love for her mother. And we wondered for a moment if Grandma Betty’s death would soften her somehow, but this notion was quickly extinguished.

“You did this,” Aunt Mary lunged at Sage, punching, scratching and screaming as loud and frantic as she could.

Sage got her arm around Aunt Mary’s neck and squeezed hard. Aunt Mary started making choking noises, wailing her arms. She wiggled and bucked until Sage loosened her grip and fell to the side. She got on top of Sage and started hitting her face.

“Stop it,” I yelled.

Sage raised her hips and sent Aunt Mary flying off of her. Both were out of breath as anger waned. Aunt Mary sat on the floor hunched over. Sage stood up, her expression confused. She looked around the room, paced, and started to cry before running out the door. I raced after her.

***

The morning of Grandma Betty’s funeral Sage and I sat on the porch, dressed and ready to go. She wore a black dress and black heels. I wore a navy blue dress with white tights and navy blue dress shoes. We each had on one of Grandma Betty’s pearl necklaces. Our hair lay flat on our heads, freshly combed, parted, held in place with silver clips. We stared out, waiting for Aunt Mary’s Buick to come humming down the street.

“What time is it?” I grumbled, trying to wipe the sweat sliding down my spine. “She should be here already.”
“She’ll be here,” Sage paced.
Our dirt street stayed empty. Side brush, thick and leafy, grew towards the edge but there were no cars.
“When?” I huffed.
“When she gets here.”

I slumped on the top step watching time pass. Sounds of scurrying rodents whispered in the air. I looked out into the yard, catching glimpses of lizard tails as they disappeared in the grass. Baby birds rustled in their nest, long and short twigs protruding from the eave.

“How many baby birds do you think are up there?” I asked Sage.
She shrugged. I kept looking as one tiny beak poked through.
“I’m hungry.”

The mid-afternoon sun now beamed on us. I moved to the side of the house in search of shade. My head itched from the heat, and I did my best to keep from scratching, but once I was out of Sage’s sight I dug my nails into my scalp. I squatted, letting my back rest against the side of the house, and watched butterflies flutter through the air, pausing to suckle nectar from flowers. I remembered one year, I must have been about five, when Mother hid Easter eggs in the yard. I carried a yellow basket on my arm.

“You’re getting close, little one,” she sang.
I kept looking, parting grass with my feet in search of the pink, purple, green, blue, and yellow eggs.
“Look over there,” Sage directed. “By the side of the house…”
It was there that I found three eggs hidden among the grey-colored rocks. Now the same rocks decorated the side of the house, weeds interspersed.

“I don’t think she’s coming,” Sage said. “But we can have our own funeral.”
“Our own funeral?”
“Let’ call it a celebration.” She bent down so our eyes were level. “We have to get some things ready though…come on.”
We grabbed candles, pictures, her favorite housedress, and her bible. Outside, after cutting a piece of her housedress for the quilt, we placed her things in a box and buried them in a shallow grave next to the clover Mother had planted for Basil years earlier.
“I don’t want to say goodbye,” I told Sage.
“We’re not saying goodbye…”
“We’re not?”
“No, it’s like saying ‘see you later’.” Sage picked white clover blooms, creating mini bouquets she stuck on top of Grandma Betty’s grave. “We can’t see her, but she’s watching over us…so you better be good,” Sage shook her finger at me.
“I will,” I promised. Sage took my hand and we went inside.
“Let’s eat the rest of that cake,” she laughed.

I smiled, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the same scars that felt so real now would stretch into the future, suspending us inside the parts of pain exempt from time.

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2 Responses to No Such Thing as Goodbye (Between Breath & Suffocation Sec. 10)

  1. Shafali says:

    Writing blissfully but emotionally. The way children handle death is very different from the way adults do. For children the finality of death is a concept learned gradually…from gone to gone forever. For adults death is final and they know it. Despite Aunt Mary’s callous handling of the situation, I have sympathy for her…and for the children too – but for different reasons.

    Like

    • Shafali,

      Thanks for your comment! I agree 100% Writing about death from the narrator’s perspective shows her youth and her need to make sense of things the best way she knows how. There will be more on Aunt Mary’s history that may help explain her coldness towards the narrator. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

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