Sara and Tiffany slept on mats and sleeping bags in the front room. They chattered and giggled away until Tiffany finally fell asleep. Sara lay awake. It was creepy knowing that grandpa was no longer in the house. Nobody was sleeping in his room. Rupa and Ryan had taken Joe’s attic room. Mom was in her old bedroom and Ned and Landon were in Kat’s. Uncle Joe and Tak-Sin had decided to get a motel room along with dad and Joanne. Naturally, Kat and Wes were in the motor home. The rat had curled itself up between Sara’s legs. She felt trapped…not wanting to move and wake up the little thing. The pot had worn off and now she felt sensitive to everything once again. A thousand and one questions kept spinning around in her head.
“Is mom really okay, or is this all a big show?”
“Did grandpa really blame his sister for the death of his brother?”
“I wonder if Lucky and the rat have tried to fuck each other.”
“Has Tiffany had her first period yet?”
“Why didn’t anyone tell me about Rupa’s miscarriage?”
“Which couch did grandpa bang Ruby on?”
“When they cremate people, do they burn the casket with the body in it, or do they reuse it?”
“How does dad’s mind even operate? I mean, what is the actual mental function of his…ah, never mind.”
“I wonder how big Landon’s cock is? AAAH!”
“Does Selina even realize she kind of has a moustache?”
“Did I turn the gas off before I left my place in Tokyo?”
“With all the food Kat eats, does she have to take a shit more often than other people?”
“I wonder if I would get in trouble if I took a couple days extra off of work.”
“How can Joanne find dad even remotely sexually attractive?”
“I wonder who will buy this house.”
“Should I ask for that ring of grandma’s with the birthstones? Would it be selfish, since I already got the wedding ring?”
“Whatever happened to that girl Ned was dating…what had Tiffany said her name was?”
“Who the heck is this Harold person mom’s been seeing?”
“Where have I put my passport?”
“How come none of dad’s family came to the funeral?”
“Does mom REALLY like this little rat, or does she just pretend she does?”
“I wonder if Landon’s neck is salty.”
“Should I bring back presents for my coworkers at the office?”
“How much longer should I stay in Japan?”
“Should I go out on a date with that Korean guy from work? He’s got such big hands.”
“Do I really look that much better without short bangs?”
“What colour are Kat’s pubes? Oh, YUCK!”
“How long had those egg salad sandwiches sat out before they were eaten?”
“Was grandma really a frigid, old, shrew?”
“I wonder if you can still find those polished bits of glass on the beach.”
“Has a ferry to Victoria ever sunk?”
“Did the little rat fart, or was that Tiffany?”
She finally gave up. She picked up the little rat, which let out a tiny whimper, and set her on a pillow. The dog hadn’t been woken and curled up into a tight ball. She crept into the kitchen and got a glass, then headed toward the China cabinet. She grabbed a bottle of brandy and poured herself a generous drink. Tiffany turned and mumbled something about “mufflers” in her sleep. It was just loud enough to wake the little rat, who sat up and spied Sara in the kitchen. The tiny thing stood up and stretched, then padded across the floor to Sara. It stopped for a moment and squatted in front of the fridge, letting out a stream of hot pee.
“Geez!” Sara whispered. She grabbed a tea towel and mopped up the mess. Then she scooped up the rat with one hand and tiptoed out the back door.
The moon was bright. It was cool, but not cold. The rosebuds in the garden had closed for a good night’s sleep. And they weren’t the only things sleeping: Aunty Kat sat on one of the benches in her housecoat and slippers. A Bible sat open next to her. She was snoring. Sara went down the steps and set the rat down, who ran over to sniff at Kat’s feet. Sara walked over and lightly shook her aunt’s shoulder.
“Aunty? Aunty Kat? It’s too cold out here.”
“Huh. Uh. Oh. Oh, Sara. I musta…just came out here for…” she yawned loudly. “Just came out here for my devotions. Guess I dozed off! Glad you found me. Coulda caught a cold. Still recovering from my surgery, so that wouldn’t be good. What on Earth is the time?”
“Let’s get you back to the motor home.” Sara reached out to help her up. God, she weighed a tonne! Actually, was it just her imagination or was she now a bit less than a tonne?
“Yeah. I’m fine. I’ll just go back…what are you doing up?”
“I couldn’t sleep.”
“Ah. Just don’t think about it. It’s hard for us all. Just say a little prayer.”
“Actually, I think it’s jetlag.”
“Oh yeah. That too. Well, I’ll say a little prayer for you too.”
Kat wobbled off down the side of the house. Sara grabbed the rat before it could run after her.
“Sara!” a voice loudly whispered from above. Sara looked up and saw her mom’s face peering down at her from a bedroom window.
“Why don’t you come up here?”
“OK.” she whispered back.
She took the dog back into the house and climbed up the rear stairs, then opened the first door on the left. Mom was laying on top of the covers, still wearing the same clothes from the funeral.
“No. Jet lag.”
“Me neither. Too bad your visit isn’t a happier one. Seems every time you come home there’s some sort of disaster.”
Colleen patted the mattress, motioning for Sara to come lay down. She set the dog on the floor then curled up next to her mother. Colleen played with her hair.
“I guess you finally got to meet your Great Aunty April.”
“How do you know?”
“Well, I saw you guys talking behind the chapel. I was in the ladies room and heard the two of you talking. I looked out the window and saw you guys. How come she didn’t come inside?”
“Oh, she thought grandpa wouldn’t have wanted her there.”
“Two peas in a pod.”
“So, how have you been doing?”
“I’m okay. A bit tired.”
“You have a little chat with Joanne?”
“Well, we tried.”
“Good. All we can do is try.”
“The boys say you’re seeing someone.”
“Yeah, right. Harold. Hmm. No, not really. I think he might be gay, actually. Doesn’t that beat all?”
“How do you know?”
“Oh, well, we go to the shows and stuff. That, and the fact that he can’t keep his eyes off of other men. But we have a blast together. His wife left him years ago. Think he’s lonely. He’s a lot of fun.”
“What about you?”
“What about me?”
“You feel lonely?”
“Sometimes. I keep busy. It’s been nice though. Don’t have to worry about doing everything for two people anymore. I can do what I want and when I want. Speaking of which, I AM coming for a visit this summer, so you’d better be prepared for it!”
“Sure, no problem. When?”
“Probably early July. I really miss you sometimes.”
“We girls have to stick together.”
She woke up alone in the bed, covered with an old quilt. Immediately she felt a pain in her gut and then her bladder contracted. She had to pee like nobody’s business. She threw off the covers, flung open the door, ran down the stairs and then the hall, and swung open the bathroom door.
His broad shoulder muscles bulged, while two big hands held a towel drying off a mop of dirty blond hair. The pits had a bushy down of dark brown hair. The chest was wide, and the nipples wet and erect. Drops of water converged in the canyon of his spine and flowed downwards to the lighter coloured skin tone of two, big, firm butt-cheeks. The body was hairless but for a faint moss sprinkled from his navel down to a bush of almost black hair surrounding his penis, uncut, with water dripping off the end. The thighs were bulky and gave way to two round calves, then slim ankles.
She slammed the door shut.
“Um, sorry!” She heard a low chuckle, which almost sounded dirty, coming from the bathroom. “Don’t worry about it.” Landon boomed through the door. Momentarily the urge to pee dissipated.
“Sara, you can use the one in the motor home!” Kat’s cheery voice rang out from the kitchen. Sara rushed out the front door, down the steps and over into the safety of the tiny lavatory in the motor home.
“Shit. shit, shit!” she said out loud, feeling her cheeks burn with shame. Why was God so CRUEL?
She took her time in the bathroom, not looking forward to the walk of shame back to the old house. She finally emerged from the motor home and plodded up the front steps, then walked in through the door.
“Aunty, do you want strawberries on your pancakes or just syrup?” Tiffany had put on one of grandma’s long aprons, which almost looked like a full-length skirt on her. Mom and Kat were busy at the stove while Rupa filled some small glasses with orange juice.
“Oh, nothing for me yet.”
“Your Aunty needs her coffee and a smoke first, Tiffany.” Colleen spoke to her granddaughter then turned to Sara. “I’ll put a pot on.”
As she headed down the hall toward the back door, the bathroom door opened and Landon appeared, still glistening from his shower…but this time fully clothed.
She felt her cheeks flush again. “Uh, sorry about that…actually, lock the fucking door next time!” Sara shouted and stormed out into the back yard.
“What bug crawled up her ass?” She heard Landon mutter behind her.
Outside, her smokes were still on the patio table and she shakily grabbed the pack and threw a cigarette between her lips. The morning dew had made the lighter wet, and it wouldn’t light.
She headed back into the house and climbed the stairs up to the attic. Ryan was still snoring and Rupa was just putting on some socks.
“You have a lighter?”
“Nope. But check Ryan’s jeans.”
She spied a pile of clothing on the floor and grabbed the jeans on top and started going through the pockets. She pulled out a large, circular disk-type thing. Rupa spied it in Sara’s hands, and her eyes widened in horror. She snatched it from Sara.
“Those are MY jeans!”
“What the…why are you…”
Rupa put a finger up to her lips indicating silence and motioned for Sara to follow her downstairs. Sara first grabbed Ryan’s jeans and found a lighter, then followed Rupa downstairs and down the back steps until they were safely in the garden.
“I thought you were pregnant!”
“Shut up! No, I’m not pregnant.”
“You’re on birth control!”
“Lower your voice!”
“Does Ryan know any of this?”
“What the Hell is going on?”
“Look, I’m not ready to go through that again. You have no idea how it feels to lose…or maybe I’m not meant to have kids yet. I just can’t…I don’t want to go through that…”
“But is this really the best way to handle it?”
“He just wants a baby so much.”
“And this is your solution? Just lie about it? What are you going to say when you don’t start showing?”
“That I lost this one too. I just need time, ya know? But he doesn’t get it. That’s all he ever talks about. Kids, kids, kids! At least this shuts him up about it. And you absolutely, CANNOT say a word to anyone!”
“Rupa! You can’t be serious! You guys are grown adults! Talk it through, for Christ’s sake!”
“I can’t. He’d be furious. I mean, how would you feel if someone had lied to you like this?”
“Or I can just wait another week or so and say it was a false alarm.”
“And after that?”
“Gosh, I dunno.”
Sara lit up a cigarette. She inhaled the first breath of toxins. “Shit.”
“I don’t know. I told you before I thought I wasn’t the maternal type. Maybe God knows this and it’s his way of telling me that I shouldn’t be a mother.”
“Come one. It’s got nothing to do with God. Just give it some time. Sometimes I feel that way too.”
“Feel what way?” Uncle Wes appeared from around the corner with the crazy mutt in tow.
“Oh, uh good-morning!” Rupa said brightly.
“What’s with all these secret meetings goin’ on this morning? Good God, you women-folk. I smell coffee. LUCKY! Come on ya damn mutt!” Wes stomped up the back stairs.
“We’re coming too!” Rupa said sweetly. Apparently the pregnancy conversation was OVER. Sara followed her up the steps and then down the hall and into the kitchen. Joe and Tak-Sin were just removing their coats.
“Where are Herb and Joanne?” Wes inquired.
“Uh, they actually took off. They wanted to catch the first ferry. They said to say ‘goodbye’ to everyone and thanks for the hospitality,” Joe answered. Yeah, right. Herb would NEVER use the word “hospitality.”
“Oh, and your dad wanted me to give you this,” Joe handed Sara an envelope.
“What’s that?” Tiffany hollered from across the table.
“Just something for your Aunty Sara.”
“I KNOW that. But what is it?”
“I don’t know,” Sara mumbled, shoving the envelope into her pocket.
“Well, open it up and find out!” Tiffany offered logically.
“Later. I need some coffee first.”
Soon they were all gathered around the table. A silence fell as Kat piped up and said “Who wants to pray?” Nobody responded but Lucky, who barked for another piece of scrambled egg which Wes kept sneaking to him. “No problem. I’ll do it. Let’s bow our heads.” Aunty Kat waited until every head was bowed and every eye was closed.
“Dear Heavenly Father. We thank you for your bounties and all the wondrous gifts you’ve given us. On this beautiful spring morning we see the flowers…”
“Oh good grief…”
“Wesley! Shush! You’re being irreverent! I apologize, dear Lord, for that. And we see all these beautiful things you’ve given us which are but a hint of what you have in preparation for us in Heaven. And speaking of Heaven, please do take care of our dear father who was taken away so quickly from us and hold him close to your bosom…”
“For thine is the kingdom, and power, and glory forever. AMEN! Let’s eat!” Wes interrupted again.
“WESLEY! You are so RUDE!” Kat slammed her fist onto the table.
“Good God woman, you don’t have to rattle off the whole Old Testament! We have young, hungry people here! Pass the blessed pancakes!”
Kat crossed her arms and stared lasers at her husband. Colleen passed him the pancakes. Sara reached towards the eggs, but stopped as she saw Landon’s tanned arm reach in the same direction.
“Oh get over it!” Landon smirked.
‘What? What is it? What happened?” Tiffany asked.
“Nothing,” Sara whispered.
“Why did Landon say you have to get over something?”
“Mind your own business you little snoop!” Sara tried to sound like a tease.
Rupa took one pancake and Ryan added another one to her plate and gave her a wink.
“I just want ONE,” she snapped.
“Yeah, but you’re eating for t…” Ryan caught himself and shut up.
“What’s she eating for?” asked Tiffany again.
“Uh, nothing. Just a little joke.”
“Why won’t anybody tell me anything? Gosh! It must be sex stuff again.”
“Tiffany! Enough!” Ned hollered at her.
“Kat and I were talkin’ last night. After we’re done here we may head on up North. Thought we might even go up to Alaska. You should come along Colleen.” Wes warbled with his mouth half-full of eggs.
“Oh, that sounds nice. I don’t know, though. There’s a lot of loose ends to tie up here.”
“Oh! But we will stay here with you until everything gets done. We could have an estate sale next week and get everything cleared out. It might do us all some good to get away for a bit. You could use the rest, Colleen.” Kat added.
“No, no. I’m just going to go home after this. Lots of stuff waiting for me at home.”
“Suit yourself. I think I’ll have another pancake…just one though. I’m watching my figure.” Kat snatched the largest one off the platter.
“What, are you watching your figure expand?” Wes snarked. Ned sprayed a mouthful of juice across the table, spattering Tak-Sin.
“WESLEY! Why do you have to be so CRUEL? I put up with enough of that from my father…and I am not putting up with it from you!” Kat slammed her fist on the table again…this time the dishes jumped.
“Oh calm yourself woman! You’ll have a stroke! You know I love you!” He planted a big, wet, eggy kiss on his wife’s cheek.
“Oh get off!!” She swatted Wes away…but everyone could see she was secretly loving it.
“Actually, Colleen, I was wonder that I can have one of those hats?” Tak-Sin spoke up.
“Oh, of course! Take a couple if you want.”
“We wasn’t sure, because you say you want to put them on E-Bay.”
“Oh! Take that yellow one Uncle Tak-Sin!” Tiffany rubbed her hands together. “And grandma, do you think I could have the Jack-O one?”
“She means Jackie O, Colleen. She wants the pink one.”
“Of course you can.”
The question of jewellery came up and Sara asked for the ring she wanted. She got it. Kat got the bulk of the jewellery, and nobody argued with her due to the issue of grandma’s wedding ring. Breakfast was finished and Sara started clearing the table.
“Oh,  just leave that for us,” Colleen fussed. “Go get a bath. You look a sight!”
Sara walked down the hall and opened the linen cupboard and took out a towel. She went into the bathroom and made sure the door was tightly locked. She turned on the water in the tub then looked around for an extra toothbrush. There were none. Some of grandpa’s old, partial dentures sat alone on the top shelf of the medicine cabinet. Sara squirted some toothpaste onto her bare finger and tried brushing her teeth without a brush. She suddenly spat everything out. That was grandpa’s toothpaste. She was using the toothpaste of a dead man. Then she felt bad for her reaction, and quickly washed the evidence down the drain. He had always been so nice to her. Why had everyone else thought he was such a tyrant? She got undressed and quickly washed out her panties, then hung them on the towel rack. She climbed into the tub and let the hot steam float up her nostrils. The door to the bathroom was thin, and the wall between the bathroom and the kitchen was even thinner.
“I don’t know. He doesn’t tell me nothin’ about it.”
“But I thought they were really set on that move.”
“I think he wants to be around the kids, ya know? I mean, who’s gonna go visit him all the way down in Mexico? Ryan and Rupa might. I don’t think Ned could ever afford it. You know Sara wouldn’t go down.”
“No, she wouldn’t. She barely even spoke to him this time.”
“Guess her and Joanne had a little chat. Would’ve loved to be a fly on THAT wall!”
“Oh really? What did she say?”
“Wouldn’t tell me much about it. Whatever. That’s her business.”
“Yes, it is.”
“She asked me if Harold and I were dating!” Both women burst into laughter!
“Remember how we used to call him ‘Homold’? Oh, that’s just too much!”
“He wanted to come down for the funeral, but I told him not to.”
“Oh, you shoulda brought him! That’d really have gotten tongues wagging!”
“For sure. Anyway, I hope you know I am not going on that trip to Alaska.”
“Oh, of course not. But Wes suggested it, and it’s not often he tries to be nice. So, I didn’t want him to feel like it was a stupid idea. I don’t wanna go myself, quite frankly. The only moment I get to myself is my devotions!”
“That’s why you spend so much time in prayer.”
“Colleen! That’s not true! And I hope you’ve started reading that book I gave you.”
“Daily Devotions for Women? You know I don’t read those kinds of things, Kat.”
“I know! But it helps me so much.”
“I don’t need a book to help me pray.”
“Each to their own. Oh, why did you let Tak-Sin have mother’s hats?”
“Why not? He likes them. He’s part of the family too.”
“I know that…but you know what those people are like.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, they get dressed up like trampy ladies in their nightclubs. You know, they calling it ‘dragging.’ Mother would roll over in her grave if she knew some homosexual was wearing her hats.”
“Kat, Tak-Sin is not going to be doing drag in mother’s hats! And even if he was, so what? What’s mother going to do about it now? And Tak-Sin is not just ‘some homosexual.’ He’s Joe’s partner, and you need to respect that.”
“I don’t need a sermon from you Colleen! I know that. I just find it weird sometimes.”
“Well, keep those feelings to yourself.”
“I mean, what do they do? I just picture them doing stuff to each other and it almost makes me gag.”
“I’m sure the thought of you mounting Wes makes them gag as well.”
“Colleen! You’re disgusting!” But she laughed as she said it. In fact, they both laughed.
Sara never did understand the closeness of her mother and Aunty Kat. They were both so different, yet there was such a strange bond between the two. Ryan and Ned seemed to have it as well. It was the curse of families with three children…one was always left out. There had only been one person ever that she had that kind of connection with, where you could almost finish each others’ sentences; Blake. But as it turned out, she might have been able to finish his sentences, but was unable to read his mind. She hated to admit it, but there were times when she missed him. Cuddling up in their tiny Vancouver studio with a bottle of wine. It hadn’t been all bad.
She got out of the bath and wrapped herself in a towel. She looked into the mirror. It was all steamed up. She liked it that way…she looked mysterious. And you didn’t see how her tummy had a bit of a paunch, and how the cellulite had started forming just under her bum. And the lines on her forehead were just a fuzzy blur. She didn’t hate her body…they just weren’t buddies.
She sat down on the toilet and reached for her cardigan, pulling the envelope from the pocket. She tore open the end. There was a piece of hotel stationery folded around a fifty dollar bill. A note was written in Herb’s scrawl:
|Sorry I didn’t get to spend more time with you. It was good to see you though. You’re looking good. We’re headed back early. Joanne has a couple cats, so we don’t want to leave them alone for too long. We left extra food for them. I’m real sorry how things ended last time you came home. I feel real bad about that. I know I made a lot of mistakes with you. I regret that every day. And I’m sorry for your mom too. I was never a very good man to you guys. I hope you don’t hate me forever. Maybe someday you can forgive me. I hope so. Anyway, got to go. Money is for you to get something nice for yourself. Love, Dad|