The white open sided tent that housed chairs for the family and other mourners at the cemetery appeared to trap the heat instead of provide shade. Charlotte recalled what her grandmother would say on similar days. Days when a friend or family member was laid to rest and the sun seemed to be measuring its strength against the wail of the mourners.
“My God, ain’t it hot? She must’ve bust hell wide open,” she would say absent-mindedly while fanning herself with a programme booklet.
Surely that was not the case with her grandmother. Charlotte tried to block the thought from her mind. The woman took every word in the Bible as law. Calling the Lord’s name in vain was a sure sin that would guarantee you a seat next to the devil. Not to mention speaking during a thunderstorm.
“Girl shut your mouth? Don’t you hear the Lord speaking?” She would scold.
Grandma was certain that the good word said you hear the voice of the Lord in the thunder and saw him in the lightning. So when that thunder cracked and that lightning flashed, the entire world should be silent before him. Charlotte could actually hear her grandmothers warning like it was just yesterday that it all happened.
She slumped down in the chair and took her own programme booklet and began to fan herself furiously. If they didn’t get on with the “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” custom, they’d be burying her next. She was sure she’d passed out any minute from heat exhaustion. All of the theatrics from her family and her grandmothers friends at the church, mingled with her own downpour of tears had left her spent and emptied out by the time they got to the graveyard. As if reading her mind, her friend Summer handed her a bottle of cold water.
Earlier at the church, it was not until she had left the casket, heading to her seat, through fits of tear jerking sobs and a vision blurred by sheets of tears swinging from her eyelashes, that she noticed her two best friends, Summer Saint-Claire and Mindy Rogers. Summer gave a quick wave of the hand. Mindy displayed one of those, I-wish-there-was-something-I-could-do, smiles. Charlotte admitted to herself that she had the best friends ever. She thought it odd that she felt embarrass that they saw her in this moment of weakness. She surprised herself even.
Charlotte hadn’t cried during any part of the two weeks leading up to her grandmother’s funeral. She had watched Alzheimer’s disease take the woman, who once nursed her bruised knee and walked her to school on her very first day, and turned her into a 5’7” baby. However, when she saw the shell of the woman who acted as mother to her for so many years, lying lifeless in a casket that would close to take her out of sight, leaving behind only memories that she could not touch, it was too much. It was more than she could bear. The weighted emotion in her chest and the pressure of a lump in her throat produced a slow leak. First it began to fill in any space they could get into under her eyelids. She tried to blink them away but they worked their way to the hinges of the door of her tear ducts. Doors that had been rusted shut for years to shut in any sign of weakness. Crying was a sign of weakness and she was raised to be strong.
Against all restraints Charlotte lost it. As far as she could tell she was the only mourner there. Everything else became obscure, a haze. She could barely see her way to the casket on display ahead. Someone held her hand. Then more bursts of sobs, some whom she didn’t recognize. She looked for her mother in the crowd ahead of her but couldn’t make her out.. There was a shriek and what seemed like a howl.
“Oh Lord, Marie gone, Marie gone!” Someone wailed.
A hand was gently rubbing her back. She had no idea who it was. She must’ve arrived at the casket because she had stopped. Wiping her tears away with the back her hands she looked down. In that moment it was evident to Charlotte that things would never be the same again.