After a long and purposely drawn out bath, I towel dried my hair, pulled the black dress over my head, and headed downstairs to greet our visitors. Anna caught a glimpse of me as I descended the grand staircase and shook her head. I knew she didn’t approve of what little effort I had put into my appearance, but I also knew that she wasn’t feeling nearly the pain that I was over Mama’s death. How could she possibly understand? Mama had been my rock and I had been hers. Not a day went by, even after I moved to Boston to pursue my dreams, that we didn’t talk on the phone. My Mama was my very best friend.
“Addy,” I could still hear her voice, calling to tell me goodnight. “I love you baby girl. I don’t care how old you get, you’ll always be my Addy.” About halfway through my college career I had decided that I wanted to be called Adeline instead of Addy, and everyone but Mama complied. I protested and insisted that she let me grow up and choose my own name, but part of me was glad that she still called me my childhood nickname. Part of me was thankful that was the one person besides me in our family that had a mind of her own.
“You could have at least fixed your hair.” Anna gave me the once over as I took my place by her side.
“Thanks for the compliments, sis.” I reached up and messed my hair up more, just for her. The line of well-wishers stretched farther than I could see. Out the door, down the steps, and off into the distance past Mama‘s prize azalea bushes. Many of them were people that I hadn’t seen in years, and many of them I had forgotten even existed. “Where is your father?” I asked out of the side of my mouth.
“At the funeral home. He won’t be long.” She smiled at her third grade teacher and thanked her for coming. I envied my sister, standing there calm and collected, making our family look good. I hadn’t even looked in the mirror, but knew that I was surely a sight to be seen. Why should I have to fix up and put on a good face when I was the one who had lost her Mama? “He’s your father too.”
“Hardly.” I laughed sarcastically. “Hello Hank.” Our gardener had made his way up to the front of the line. I had never seen him so cleaned up and knew that Mama would have loved to see him this way. He nodded in my direction with a slight smile and told me how sorry he was to hear about my loss.
When you lose someone who you have known from the first moment that you were conceived, you lose a huge piece of yourself. Standing in that line was torture to me. I felt like I was put on display and expected to perform. Anna was good at it. She had the fake smile, the seemingly genuine thank you for coming, and the perfect composure that everyone wanted to see. She might look exactly like my Mama, but she sure as hell acted just like her Daddy.
“Good morning, girls.” My father came and stood between us. Anna greeted him with a warm hug and kiss on the cheek. I made sure not to look his way and instead turned my attention to the line of people that I had resented only moments before. “Addy, I mean Adeline, you are looking well.”
“No need to lie, Father.” I suddenly hated him even more than I had on that first day when I caught him in his study. How could he have done those things to a woman as wonderful as Mama? Why could he not see that he had the most beautiful woman that ever graced the earth with her presence instead of chasing average looking women like a wolf? Did he feel guilty now that she was gone?
“Be nice.” Anna warned, embarrassed that people were witnessing the exchange. “Just put your differences, whatever they are, aside for now. It can’t be that hard.”
“She’s right.” I realized that it didn’t matter how much I hated him today, because this was for Mama. She always wished we could get along and even though that was impossible, I was going to pretend for her. “I’ll be nice.”
The end of the line eventually came into sight and soon I could retreat to my bedroom and cry the tears that had been stinging the backs of my eyes all day. I glanced back at the casket behind me and suddenly wished that I could see her one last time. I hadn’t been ready for Mama’s passing. I knew good and well that she was fighting a losing battle from the moment that I heard the news of her illness, but I just couldn’t fathom the world without her and didn’t even bother to try.
“Hello Penny.” Mama’s lifelong friend was standing before my father with tears streaming down her face. I watched as they consoled one another and realized that she looked more upset than he did. They embraced and she sobbed on his shoulder. Suddenly the question entered my mind, had he ever slept with Penny? Would Penny have fallen for his one-liners? I immediately decided that the answer was no.
“Adeline,” Penny wrapped her arms around me and I smelled a hint of the same perfume that Mama always wore on her dress and fell to pieces. She rocked back and forth and smoothed my hair down as I cried. She understood. I could tell that she too had lost her best friend and confidant. I felt a little safer in her arms.
“Oh Penny!” I sobbed. I hadn’t seen her in years and she had aged well. Her once long hair was now a smooth bob around her chin, still as blonde as it had ever been. The lines around her face were graceful reminders that she had lived a life and had smiled a lot in the process. I had never been more thankful to see Penny in my entire life.