It wasn’t a huge funeral. Grandpa hadn’t had many close friends. All the immediate family members showed up. A few neighbours. Some grey-heads from his church. Great Aunty April had not, but had sent a bouquet of daffodils. Sara sat between her mom and Tiffany. Mom had cried softly while holding Sara’s hand. Tiffany’s mom, Linda, had brought her new husband, more to annoy Ned than out of respect. Aunty Kat wailed throughout the service, clutching Selina’s fattest and youngest child to her chest. Sara didn’t know anyone who spoke during the service, and barely listened to the words anyway. Her mind was so intently on who was seated behind her that she couldn’t even concentrate on what was happening around her.
She’d strolled in behind Herb wearing a dark grey pantsuit and an ivory blouse. Her hair was pulled back into a bun, making her look even more elegant than usual. She’d obviously done some shopping for dad as well. He was wearing a dark brown, wool suit with a mustard tie. He even seemed to have lost some weight. He looked good…well, better than his normal, dumpy self. She felt Herb’s hand squeeze her shoulder, and then he had whispered something into mom’s ear. They then sat down behind them. Sara could smell the Angel’s perfume. It smelled like lilacs and was suffocating. She could hear dad’s familiar, heavy breathing…almost like a person taking a deep breath before speaking, but without the words, and the same deep breath every time.
A grey-haired woman stood up and sang a mournful tune. Everyone started tearing up. Kat’s wail became thunderous. Two men in dark suits came forward and removed the bouquet of tulips from the top of the coffin. Who had chosen tulips? Grandpa would have hated them. Everyone knew he loved roses. Common sense…a man who tended a rose garden in his spare time would want God damned roses at his funeral. Then one man opened the lid. Kat started screaming and a glum looking Selina led her from the chapel through the side door. Her wails could still be heard clearly through the walls. An usher came to the first pew and Sara helped her mom to her feet. Maybe she didn’t look as grand as “the angel,” but mom really looked smart in a simple black dress, cardigan, and red-wine scarf. Ryan and Ned came up behind them and they walked to the front of the small chapel. Sob-inducing organ music started to play.
Sara had seen a dead person before, so there really was nothing to be shocked about. Grandpa looked pretty much the same as always. He was in his army uniform. Colleen quickly looked down then turned away quickly. She grabbed for Ryan’s arm and whispered “I need to get out of here.” Ryan escorted her to the same side door that Kat and Selina had used. Sara followed, but walked down the hall toward the exit. Aunty Kat’s sobbing could still be faintly heard, coming out of a room probably built for such purposes. Sara spotted an exit and headed outside. The weather was still beautiful. Strange for Victoria. A small garden stood off to the side of the funeral home and Sara went over there and lit up a smoke.
“Excuse me! Please don’t smoke in the garden! There’s an area in the back!” An old crow had poked her head out of a side window and stared scornfully. Sara headed towards the rear of the building. As she turned a corner, she spied an old granny smoking one of those skinny “cigarettes for ladies” near an aluminum trashcan.
“The fools. One would think we’re criminals these days! Relegated to alleyways and the backs of buildings,” the old woman complained.
“You’re telling me. It’s not even enough that you smoke outdoors anymore.”
“Yes, quite ridiculous. Cars drive down the street producing bucketfuls of fumes, and yet it is the smoker that is the bane of existence.”
The old woman looked up at her face and smiled. Sara quickly gave the woman a “once-over.” A thousand ancient lines hid what was once a beautiful face. Yet the checks were still blushed and the lipstick applied immaculately.
“Why, you must be Sara. You look a lot like your Aunty Kathleen. Well, back when she was about 100 pounds lighter.”
Sara looked at the woman for a moment, and caught a scent of familiarity.
“Yes, I’m Sara. Sorry, but I don’t…”
“Of course you don’t,” the woman extended a skeletal hand wearing three, huge rings. “I’m your Great Aunt April. We’ve never met.”
Sara shook her hand, scared she would snap it like a wishbone.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I uh…why aren’t you inside?”
The old woman shook her head. It was hard to tell if it was voluntarily. “No, no. He wouldn’t want me in there.”
“I’m sure he, uh…”
“No, that much I am certain of. We are too much alike. I know I wouldn’t want him at mine. Well, I take that back. I wouldn’t mind so much anymore.”
“But I’m sure everyone else would be happy to see you.”
“Oh, it’s enough for me just to see you. What a pretty thing you are too!”
“Thank you. You should come to the reception though.”
“Reception? Back in my day they called it a ‘wake.’ Oh no. I just wanted to come and make sure the old fool was actually dead.” she smiled.
There was a short pause while both women took deep drags off their cigarettes.
“May I ask…uh, well nobody ever really says, so I was just wondering…”
“You sound just like your father!”
“Yes, a lot of people tell me that.”
“What did you want to ask me?”
“Uh, never mind. It wasn’t important.”
“I think you wanted to ask me why your grandfather and I are estranged.” The old woman’s face crinkled up into a smile.
“I know, it’s none of my…”
“Oh, don’t worry about it. Well. Oh my. Well, it had something to do with a piano that belonged to our brother. Your grandfather wanted it for your mom, but Roland had left it to me in the will. I said I wasn’t giving it up. So, that’s the official story. The unofficial story is that I also went off to Korea during the war. That’s right, an army nurse. I was hotter than Hot Lips Hoolihan in those days! We both survived, but then Roland died less than a year later. Your grandfather was close to his brother. He was so angry after Roland died. So angry. I think he resented me for living. He was a very cruel man back then. Was just awful to your grandmother and Kathleen. I think he saw a lot of his brother in Colleen though. She never got much of his ire. And l was never around when Joseph was born, so I don’t know about him at all. Anyway, after Roland died I never really saw anyone again. He totally cut me off. I got married and had my own children.”
“Did they come with you today?”
“No. Edward passed away about ten years ago. Lung cancer. Evelyn lives in Calgary. My Fiona lives in town and she brought me here. I told her to pick me up in half an hour.”
Sara lit up a second cigarette then offered one to the old woman. The skeletal claw reached out again and accepted it.
“So, do you live in town?”
“Well, up in Sidney. Not far away. I have a cottage there.”
“You really should stay for a bit. I know people would be really happy that you came.”
“This is your grandfather’s day. Another time perhaps. I hadn’t planned on coming at all. I sent some flowers.”
“What changed your mind?”
“Oh, who really knows? Last night I was walking down by the waterfront and I just remembered your grandfather and I beachcombing for bits of glass. You can still find pieces of glass that have, at some point, been tossed into the ocean. Their sharpness gets worn down with the passage of time until they resemble a polished jewel. We collected them. Greens and browns were easy to find…and we always got excited when we found a cobalt piece or violet. Our mother kept a basket in the front room full of the stuff. That’s all. Just some foolish memory. So I called Fiona and asked her to bring me down.”
“You’re very poetic. It’s actually a really beautiful metaphor.”
“Ha-ha. Aren’t we humans a strange breed? We hold on to a grudge for years. Over nothing. I’m not blaming your grandfather. I could just as easily picked up the phone or written him a letter. Such pride. We were both so proud. I suppose that comes from the old country. Our mother was a very proud woman. Anyway, I’ve chewed on your ear enough. You had better get back inside. It sounds like things are coming to a close.”
The faint organ music had gotten a bit loader. Sara reached out to shake the old woman’s hand. Instead, the two claws grasped her body and held her in a quick embrace.
“It was so lovely to see you. I truly mean that. Perhaps we shall meet again?” The old woman smiled. “Now get going! People will wonder where you are.” Sara walked back around the corner. A few guests had already exited the chapel. She felt the moisture welling up around her eyes. Finally.
There was no graveside ceremony. The family came back to the old house. The kitchen table was filled with egg salad sandwiches, strawberries and cream, some squares and tarts. Some wine, whisky, and juice were arranged on the kitchen counter along with glasses and an ice bucket. Tiffany and Tak-Sin had discovered grandma’s old hats from the back room and were trying them on. Mom busied herself in the kitchen…in spite of there being nothing else to prepare or clean up. Kat sat at the kitchen table not caring if anyone noticed that she had already eaten half of the sandwiches. Joe and Wes sat in the front room chattering about something political. Ned, Ryan, and Rupa had all gone off for afternoon naps. Landon had taken Selina and the girls to the airport. Sara found it difficult to sit still. She kept walking into the different rooms, checked out the attic guest room…nosed around in the basement…poked her head out into the garden. It was raining lightly.
The phone had rung about 30 minutes ago. Joe had answered. Dad and Joanne were on their way. They asked if they should bring anything. Sara had started her pacing.
“Would you just sit down please? You’re making everyone uncomfortable,” Colleen finally snapped at her.
Sara sat across from Fat Aunty Kat, and absently picked up a strawberry.
“Did you have a sandwich? They’re real good,” Kat said with her mouth full.
“I’m not really hungry.”
“Well, you should eat something.”
Tiffany snuck up behind Sara and plopped a pink pillbox onto her head, then squealed with glee.
Aunty Kat laughed too…but much too loud for it to be authentic.
“Jackie O! Look Colleen! She looks just like Jackie O!”
Mom turned, and gave Kat a forced smile.
“Who’s Jackie O?” Tiffany inquired.
“Onassis!” Kat replied.
“I don’t know who that is either.”
“You know, the first lady.”
“What’s a first lady?”
“The president’s wife! Like Michelle Obama.”
“So, she’s American?”
“Well, she’s dead now.”
“Was she black too?”
“No! She was…uh, WESLEY! What was Jackie Kennedy?”
“I thought you said her name was Jackie Onassis,” Tiffany said with a scrunched up face.
“Whadda ya mean ‘what was she’? She was another damn woman!”
‘You KNOW what I mean, Wesley! She was Greek, wasn’t she?”
“Aunty! You said she was American!” Tiffany again interrupted.
“She wasn’t a damn Greek! Remember, her name was ‘Bouvier.’ That’s French!”
“Oh. So, she was French, Tiffany.”
“Well, I still don’t know who she was.” Tiffany snatched the hat back off Sara’s head and went back to Tak-Sin who was now sporting a lovely, green, feathered number.
“You guys be careful with those! Colleen is going to put them on E-Bay!” Kat scolded. Mom finally discovered that there was nothing more she could possibly tidy up in the kitchen, and sat down at the kitchen table. She looked to her sister.
“I’m really surprised Aunty April didn’t show up. I thought after all these years they would have been able to put that business behind them,” Kat mentioned absently.
“Well, you know how ornery some old folks are. She did send those pretty daffodils though.” Colleen gave Sara a quick, strange glance.
Sara nibbled on the strawberry and kept silent.
“It was a nice service though,” Kat mumbled, absently toying with another sandwich.
“Looks like Herb is here,” Joe called out. They listened to the footsteps coming up toward the front door. There was a light knock and the door opened. Dad walked in with the Angel close behind him wearing a London Fog overcoat.
Nobody shouted out “hey” or “hello” this time. Wes jumped up to take Joanne’s coat. Sara stayed planted at the kitchen table. Colleen went to put on the kettle for some tea while Kat thrust plates of food into Herb and Joanne’s hands before they’d even managed to sit on one of the aging couches.
“Grandpa! Look at all of Nana’s old hats! Joanne, did you see this one?” Tiffany put on a bright yellow sunhat.
“Oh! Aren’t they lovely! That looks like an Easter bonnet!” Joanne exclaimed with a bright smile.
Sara stared at them quizzically. Obviously the Angel had managed to integrate herself more into the family since she’d last been home.
“Sara, we. uh, I got you, uh something. Picked em up at a yard-sale…” Herb tossed her a plastic sack across the room. It landed with a ‘thud’ at her feet. She picked it up and opened it. Romance Novels…and the really trashy ones with shirtless dullards clutching massive amounts of female cleavage to their perfectly sculpted torsos.
“Yeah, uh, thought you’d like those! I know how much you like to read!”
“Yeah. Thanks.” She set the bag onto the floor.
“Did your mom tell you about our business, uh our thing we got going?”
“Yeah, she did.”
“Yeah, it’s uh, workin’ out real good.”
“Colleen? Got some real good Sharon Rose salt and peppers on the way down. Stopped by that, uh, thrift store in Abbotsford.”
“Oh, that’s good,” mom replied rather cheerily.
“Don’t forget about the Aynsley!” Joanne whispered.
“Oh yeah! And a couple of those Aynsley salad plates! Joanne found those on Sunday at this church rummage sale.”
“Really? Great! How much did you pay for the salt and pepper?”
“Eight dollars. But you sold a pair before for nearly fifty, didn’t you?” The Angel was now speaking directly to mom. Yes. A lot of things had changed. Another thirty minutes of chatter about old dolls, vintage purses, and Nana’s old hats followed. Landon’s return from the airport woke Ned up from his nap, with Ryan and Rupa following soon after. Damn…Landon looked even hotter in a suit and tie.
During a lull in the conversation Joe suddenly walked over to the China cabinet and opened a drawer. He pulled out a large envelope.
“Well, guess now is as good a time as any to get this done. Dad gave me a copy of his will before he was admitted. Guess he knew what was coming.”
Everyone became quiet. Kat started crying, but tried to keep the tears to a low blubber. Uncle Joe opened the envelope and pulled out some papers. He put on his reading glasses and scanned through the first few pages.
“Well, it’s all pretty normal. The house is to be sold off. He’s got some bonds as well. Still has about ninety grand in savings. The house and property was appraised at about $540,000. He’s left 30 percent each to Kat, and I. Colleen? I guess you’ve made some arrangement with him with your house. Six percent each to Sara, Ryan, and Landon. Eleven percent each to Ned and Selina, with the additional funds to be used for your kids’ education. Let’s see…jewellery to be divided between Colleen, Kat, Sara, and Selina. Oh. Mother’s pearls go to Aunty April. Wow. Didn’t see that one coming.”
Sara’s ears suddenly perked up.
“Also, he’s asked that Uncle Roland’s piano go to her as well.” Uncle Joe shook his head, then took his glasses off and looked toward his sisters. “All these years. I really don’t understand why he just wouldn’t extend an olive branch. Honestly!”
He looked back down at grandpa’s will. “Instructions are that we can select what of the furniture and knick knacks we want to keep. The rest will be sold. Total value of the estate is about 900 grand or so. Half of that will go for taxes. Anyway, that’s about it.”
“Lucky! Come back here with that you damn mutt!” Wes shouted and chased the dog down the hallway, who’d managed to grab the Jackie O hat. The rat, who had been hiding for a nap under the coffee table, started to yap.
The rain finally let up. The ladies cleared up the luncheon and chatted in the kitchen…Joanne and Tak-Sin included. Herb held court with Joe and Wes in the living room. The young folks went out back into the garden for some smokes, fresh air, and “herbal” refreshment. Tiffany stormed off in a pout when she was told she had to stay inside.
Landon pulled out a couple joints and leant up against the rear of the house. He’d taken his jacket off and unbuttoned his shirt. His trousers were tightly fitted and Sara could see the faint outline of his…”Ack! Gross, gross, gross! Stop it!” she again screamed in her mind. Soon the joints were lit and being passed around. Rupa didn’t take it when Sara passed it to her.
“What? You’re not having any?”
“Yeah, I haven’t being doing that for a while.”
“What, are you pregnant?” Sara joked.
There was a pause and Rupa quickly looked over to Ryan. “Yeah, but we don’t want to say anything yet. I mean, I lost the other one so we just want to wait and, uh…”
Sara hadn’t heard about the miscarriage. Not a word. “Well, uh, OK. Hope for the best, I guess.”
Ryan stepped in and quickly changed the topic. “So when are you headed back?”
“In two days. Can’t stay long. Couldn’t get any more time off work. Deadlines.”
“Oh yeah. You gonna come up to the valley?”
“No. Probably just stay here and head over to Vancouver.”
Landon stretched, making the outline of his abs even more visible through his shirt. Sara couldn’t bring herself to look away. “So, how much money do you think we’ll end up getting?” Landon asked, letting his muscular arms fall to his sides.
“Fucking government will take most of it,” Ned mumbled. “Be lucky if we get a couple thousand bucks each.”
“Better than nothing. That fucking Sherry took everything I had,” Landon whined.
Sara melted into the bench and put her feet up on the low, patio table.
“So what’s the deal with dad’s girlfriend?” she asked to nobody in particular.
“Whaddya mean?” Ryan responded.
“Well, seems like she fits right in now. Amazing what can happen in a couple months.”
“She’s not so bad,” Ned mumbled.
“Well, that’s a real change of tune.”
“Actually, I think she’s been really good for your dad,” Rupa added. “She just adores Tiffany. And I think this E-Bay thing has really been good for all of them. I mean, your mom and him still argue like cats and dogs over that shit…but at the end of the day they both seem pretty happy. Dad even went over there when it snowed and kept the driveway ploughed. Did your mom tell you about Harold?”
“No. Who’s that?”
Ryan chuckled, and Ned smirked.
“Your mom has an admirer!” Rupa laughed. “He’s a young guy too!”
“Well, he’s not YOUNG,” Ryan explained. “In his mid-fifties. You probably remember him. Used to run that fruit stand over on Swan Lake? Well, him and mom have been going out.”
“Come on, Sara. It’s all good fun. I think she’s having the time of her life!” Ryan poked his sister under her arm.
“Don’t you think it’s all a bit too fast?”
“Ah, who cares? Let her have her fun. Don’t be so judgmental.”
The joint had been passed back to Sara.
“She’s probably jealous cuz mom is gettin’ more than her!” Ned pointed at her and laughed loudly. Everyone started to chuckle.
“You can all just fuck right off!” Sara responded half-jokingly.
The back door opened and the Angel stood on the top step. She’d changed from her funeral gear to some jeans and a comfortable turtleneck of Avatar blue.
“Oh, don’t mind me. I just came out for a smoke.” She walked gingerly down the steps and seated herself next to Landon on the bench opposite the girls. There was an uncomfortable silence, as Sara self-consciously removed her feet from the table.
“Why so quiet? Were you talking about me?” Joanne smiled.
“No, no. Just talking about how Sara doesn’t have sex anymore!” Ned cackled.
“Oh shut up!” Sara barked.
“Well, nothing wrong with that. Although, don’t wait for too long. You don’t want to turn into your grandfather who became a pussy-hound at the ripe age of 90.” Joanne smiled at her kindly.
“Did you hear about that?” Rupa suddenly sat straight up and grabbed Sara’s leg.
“Your mom caught grandpa having sex! Guess she came to the island for a visit. Knocks on the door and there’s no answer. So your mom goes on in. There’s grandpa and some old, redhead goin’ at it on the couch.”
“Ah, Ruby.” Sara replied, nodding her head knowingly, then wondered to herself why she hadn’t seen an old redhead at the funeral.
Everyone turned and looked at Sara. “What? Grandpa told me about her at Christmas.”
“Grandpa TOLD you he was shackin’ up?” Ryan asked.
“Yes. Basically said grandma was frigid and that he wanted to have a lot of sex before he died.”
They all burst out laughing. Ned had a coughing fit. The laughter brought the two dogs to the back door and they started barking. Wes started shouting from inside the house.
The boys decided to go rustle up some drinks, and Rupa left to use the bathroom. Sara started to stand up and follow the boys, when the Angel caught her arm.
“Stay out here a bit. We can finish off that roach. Besides, you and I haven’t really had a chance to talk.”
Sara wanted to make a run for it, but the strength of the Angel’s grip informed her that she wasn’t being asked to stay, so much as commanded. Sara sat back down. Joanne picked up what was left of the second joint from the ashtray and lit it. She inhaled deeply, closed her eyes. She looked like one of those yoga women. A stream of smoke came out from between her immaculately painted lips, and she then passed the roach to Sara.
“Don’t be scared. I’m not the Wicked Witch of the East.”
“Oh, I’m, uh…I’m fine.”
“Don’t worry. I don’t blame you for hating me. And I certainly don’t blame you for being angry with your father.”
Sara blew out a puff of smoke. “Look. It’s not about you. I mean, I don’t approve of your going after a married man. I actually find it disgusting. But that’s your business. And as far as my dad goes, well, he’s done a LOT worse. Trust me. I’m sorry if I cannot just accept all of this as easily as everyone else. But I just can’t. Maybe everyone is right and it all HAS turned out for the better. I don’t know. But I couldn’t really care less about you. Sorry if that sounds callous…but I am much more concerned about my mom. You don’t understand our family’s history.”
“Fair enough. As cliché as this might sound, I really just want your father to be happy.”
“And maybe that’s the thing, Mrs. Lowry. I really DON’T want him to be happy. Why should he find happiness? He caused so much misery for others…why should I jump for joy now that he’s happy? He could have been happy with my mom if he had treated her with any respect.”
“I know, this all probably sounds really awful to you. You probably think I’m a royal bitch.”
“No, no I don’t. But I think you spend a lot of time upstairs in your own head. Sometimes it’s just good to get out of there for some fresh air. Leave the past in the past once in a while. Gosh, I don’t mean to lecture. That’s neither my forte nor my place.”
“You’re right. It’s not your place.” Sara stubbed out the miniscule remainder of the roach on the armrest of the bench. “Look, I can see you are a really nice person and that everything seems to be working out for the better for everyone. And, ya know, I can treat you with civility. I’m sorry again for what happened at Christmas. But we are never going to be buddies. I just don’t have it in me. I don’t hate you. Really, I don’t. That’s such a strong word anyway. I don’t even know you. And I don’t think we need to get to know each other better. I’m fine if you’re around, and am not going to bite your head off, but I’m not going to run to you with hugs and kisses either. That’s I’ll I can offer at this point, eh?”
“There’s no rush Sara.”
“But ya know? I may never change. I’ve got a lot of that stubborn Bell blood in me. And you will just have to accept that. Things don’t change overnight for me.”
“Where are those drinks?”