Sunday, 9 March 2008

HERE GOES...(sorry about paragraphing. stupid blogger)

Loss (Draft 4)
By Kara Martin

There was a death in the family. Nothing too scary, just cancer. All his children, and their children, waited so long for it to happen, that we eventually forgot it was supposed to happen anymore. That old man really challenged us. He just propped himself up on the porch every day and lived. But he didn’t.
I remember how it went. I came home on Thursday afternoon from violin workshop. It was summer but it was raining heavily.
“Mummy! Mum? Where are you?” I called. I found her on the phone crouched low over the varnished desk in her room. She was talking to someone about floral arrangements. “Mummy? Can I go to the beach with Dominique Lee on Saturday?”
“No. Sorry, you can’t.” She didn’t even look at me.
I paused, “Are we having some sort of huge boring party again? I don’t need to be here, you know. Those people just like telling me how they knew me as a baby and I have no idea who they…”
“You can’t go anywhere, okay? Not this Saturday.”
I began to get desperate. I really wanted to go. Summer was boring. “Is it because Dominique’s dad is a funeral director? I mean, I know some of the kids at school are freaked out by that but…” I stopped because she was staring at me as if about to hypnotize me; stock still with wide focused eyes.
So, that is how I found out. Apparently Lee’s funeral home had been trusted over the years to take care of all the deceased relatives I didn’t know anything about; the ones at those huge boring parties that patted me on the head with vein-strapped feeble arms and told me about my childhood, while I stood quizzically quiet. I managed to get out of workshop practice on the Friday, which was great because I could never talk to Dominique Lee again. I had already ignored several calls from her that afternoon. I figured my mother needed me. Not really. My four aunts and five uncles on her side were having a family meeting in the kitchen. The kettle whistled noisily all day. I hid away in my room so I wouldn’t have to fake emotion, and thought about Dominique popping into the basement to ask her father the square root of one thousand or something, and her seeing my grandfather naked on a cold steel table.

Saturday was the viewing of the body, which I had been dreading all night long the night before. I stood under the modest Lee’s Funeral Home sign. And just above it, I saw drawn purple curtains in a French window and figured it was Dominique’s room. Inside, grey chairs were lined up in a dozen neat rows, on a sea of grey carpeting, all within white walls. The chill of the room had me wondering if the cold was really from the air conditioning or from that other presence old people told you about. I walked up the aisle with my brother, sister and mother, past two dozen or so cousins, aunts and uncles, all dressed in varying shades of black and grey. Some had rushed over from their busy New Yorker and Londoner lives to see him one last time. Soft jazz could be heard from a little green CD player in the corner that one of my cousins had brought. At the front of the room lay my grandfather, the famous jazz pianist; the first person to teach lawn tennis in Trinidad; the ‘Captain Carib’ comic strip artist; the reason I played the violin with a fine-tuned ear and drew brilliant doodles in class that my friends, like Dominique, wanted to keep. Well now we weren’t friends, but…
Up there things were much more cheerful and lively, compared to where we were all sitting. Who was really dead here, and who was alive? He lay in this beautifully varnished open coffin amid fresh flowers and great lighting. But I wouldn’t have called it a coffin. It invited me to lie on its soft cushions, like a bed. The man lying in it looked the same as yesterday, the day before and on my ninth birthday; very dark, bushy eyebrows, short grey curly hair, droopy yet plump cheeks, the constantly creased forehead. He wore a nice bright blue plaid shirt and simple black trousers. Everyone around me conversed very loudly while I mentally picked out who would cry among us. I watched and waited for the afternoon’s sobbing fits to begin.
“He smells a bit funny, don’t you think?” My aunt blurted in her polished British accent, nodding her head incessantly and frowning. She wasn’t too far off, I thought.
One of my older cousins leaned in to me and whispered, “You know, they have to put on adult diapers on them because they’re obviously no longer in control of their bodily functions. Something like that.”
“Mr. Lee did an excellent job with his face. The make-up is subtle yet it makes him look so much healthier,” the sisters chimed.
A little girl in a grey chair placed near the coffin nodded at everyone and their comments. She wore a stunning light blue 60’s knee length dress. She sat small in her chair, her bottom lip hanging low and her eyes glazed and drooping. She looked like a lost whimpering dog, like me. She was probably thinking how unfair the world could, like me. Only then did I realise she had sleek, shiny, grey hair pulled back into a neat bun. And when she looked my way, I saw it was my grandmother.

Finally, the women started rummaging through their bags frantically and pulling out clean tissues that soon became soggy and dirtied brown and black from their heavy powder and eyeliner. My other siblings and relatives my age and younger sat at the back trying to look as sombre as possible, heads down, hands on laps, giving the elders some space. We were all strangers in that room, and did not belong there. I begged myself to cry. I made myself think of all the times I spent with my grandfather but they were all so uneventfully boring, and so few. I knew nothing about this man, and he knew next to nothing about me; not like my friends.
This is what I knew. When my mother parked the car in their drive, behind the run down powder blue Saloon, we were told to greet Grandad warmly and kiss him on the cheek. He would grunt a reply and we would run off to play. All he ever was was worn out and he sat with his eyes closed all day on the porch in the chair that was branded his own (we still have a little trouble deciding whether or not we can sit there). He dozed, listened to tennis and cricket on the radio, or one of his grandchildren read the newspaper to him, and he took medication. The only time he sat somewhere else was when he was in front of the grand piano, revisiting his jazz band solos. And you could tell his band was fantastic and really popular, by the way his fingers weren’t shaking, like they always were, and by the way he got mad when a little kid somewhere in the house was shrieking over his runs. Whether he knew I was there or not, I loved listening to him in the corner, eating sweet bread, which I was told he made, but didn’t believe. He was blind! But then…he was sitting playing “Take Five” in front of me…

I was jolted back to the present by my grandmother’s wailing and shuddering. She moaned and let out enormous sighs with drooping shoulders. She did breathing exercises, she screamed, she spoke to herself and she spoke to him. I was afraid that she was going to collapse, ending her life right there and then. I didn’t realise I was crying until I heard myself heaving great breaths and felt that my face was wet and burning. A few close girl cousins hooked onto me with their red eyes and took me outside.
The sun blazed and we were all choking on our saliva and tears whilst cars hissed past with loud music. And then I noticed Dominique. Two girls I knew from the Viola section were talking in the back seat of her older brother’s idling Honda Civic. I started to cry louder, and turned away. How could you? Betray me like this. How could you be the funeral director’s daughter? I turned back. She walked slower to look at me as she loaded a heavy wicker picnic basket into the trunk of the car. I couldn’t stop staring back at her, blurry-eyed and red-faced in my cousin’s arms. So I gave a crazy frantic wave, with my fingers stiff and splayed, just for the hell of it, to see what she would do. She hesitated, but waved back, quickly looking away again to grab the water floats and beach bags.

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