The Funeral

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.

In The Mirror

Charlotte stood in front of the floor length mirror lying slanted against the wall instead of hanging from it like it should be. She fussed with her once wooly hair, which were now limp brown strands on her head from years of straightening. It never looked right to her and seemed to look thinner after each chemical process. She was in 7th grade when she begged to have it relaxed. All the kids would tease her for having “baby hair” and she didn’t realize how much she needed to fit in. Her grandmother was a stickler for presentation. She always made sure all of the kids were clean and well dressed before they left the house. Even now that she was no longer with her, Charlotte felt the need to be just right at her funeral. Impeccable.

However, some things could not be changed. Like the cocoa bean shade of her skin, which always seemed to work against her. It was the first thing all of the other kids pointed out to make her feel small in an argument. It was the last thing all of the boys looked for when they chose a girlfriend. Here now, standing in the mirror, it was the one thing overpowering the thin image, adorning a white, jeweled Ann Taylor shift dress. Choosing pearl earrings from the green mosaic jewelry box her mom had passed down to her, Charlotte watched herself in motion as long, bony arms reached up to touch her ears like a tree branch void of life, but still moved by the wind. Sitting down on the bed, she slid her feet into a pair of black Nine West sling backs.

She stood to inspect herself. I love my legs, she accepted of herself in thought. They were skinny like the rest of her but long, falling down like waterfalls from under the dress, which highlighted them by stopping short of her knees. Weren’t men supposed to love long legs, she mused, and wondering why no one seemed to like hers? Her grandmother thought she was too skinny also. However, she never made her feel ugly for it. She especially loved Charlotte’s smile.

“Oh child, you have a pretty smile. You’re a beautiful dark skinned girl,” she would say with tenderness in her eyes whenever she caught Charlotte in a wide grin. She always wondered if grandma only said that to make her feel better about herself. How could anyone love her smile? She’d always have to be careful not to show her crooked bottom teeth when she smiled, to avoid giving anyone another imperfection to use as a dart.

“Char! It’s time to go! Her mom yelled. “The limousine’s here!”

“I’ll be right out! She yelled back. Her mom had a way of making her anxious. Everything always seemed to be hurried with her mom and meticulously planned out.

She took one last glance in the mirror. She felt like screaming. “Why can’t I look like, like…someone else?” She said through gritted teeth. Sighing, she left her room and headed outside to join the rest of her family who had now assembled at her house before heading to the church.

Charlotte

Water is a sign of life. It is just one of the reasons why Charlotte Robb love rainy days. She pulled the blanket closer and listened to the rain falling lightly outside her window. Charlotte was jealous of its fluidity and freedom. It fell and landed wherever it pleased, leaving not a trace of wetness after a couple of days of sunshine. Yet it’s presence was everywhere. It left its mark on every living thing. The green of the leaves, the strength of a tree trunk, the musky smell of the earth, the brow of a man…it was everywhere. It could change the world and that’s what she wanted to do. Or at least change lives, just like her grandmother.

Marie Bond was undoubtedly one to be admired. She was certainly admirable in Charlotte’s eyes. Some may say differently. Hopefully out of my ear shot, she thought. All some people saw in her grandmother was a farmer raising nine children without a husband. They never saw how she taught her how to fight with her words and not her hands. Or how she would give her last to a stranger in need. They didn’t see her fight through arthritis, waking up before the sun showed its face, to till the soil all day to feed her family. Neither did they see the loneliness behind her smile, but Charlotte did. She would miss that smile. A wet lump began to birth in her throat, nourished by her memories of her grandmother. She shook her head as if to empty it and prevent the lump from giving life to a downpour of tears.

Charlotte groaned as she rolled onto her back, stretching her body to its limit. Her arms outstretched across the bed, legs spread wide until her toes peeked their head out from under the sheets. She wiggled them until they cracked. It felt good. She felt awake. Staring up at the ceiling, she could still hear the rain tapping on her windowpane. Her mind began to drift again. There were times that she couldn’t help but wonder if her leaving led to her grandma developing Alzheimer’s. She had overheard her Uncle Ted talking with her mom once.

“Since the first day you took Char away from Marie, she began to lose her mind. She lived for that child. She had nothing left after she was gone so she gave up.” He pointed out with certainty.

Her mom had said nothing. Charlotte remembered every detail of the day her mother said she could not live with her grandma anymore because she wanted her to go to a private school. The school would be closer to where her mom lived. At first she thought it would be exciting to move to a new place and go to a new school. However, she was sure that the emptiness she felt being away from her grandma and her friends those first few months was her first true heartbreak. She had cried and begged her mom to let her move back to her grandma’,s but she said she’d get over it. She did…eventually.

Nonetheless, she always wondered how her grandma truly felt. She would call her often. Sure she told Charlotte she missed her but mostly gave words of encouragement and reminded her not to keep bad company. Now she could hear her grand mother in the fall of the rain, her voice strong with wisdom and sure of herself. Suddenly this was a rainy day Charlotte had no love for.

Just as she glanced at the clock there was a knock on her bedroom door.

“Char, it’s time to get ready for the funeral. You’ll want to get something to eat first.” Her mom suggested.