We all laughed at her detailed description of their trip to China several years back. “She didn’t put that translation guide down the whole trip! You would have thought she could actually read those crazy symbols!”
I imagined Mama in a foreign country and smiled. She had always wanted to travel the world and finally after much convincing on Penny’s part spent the last several years exploring unknown lands. She had a collection of tea pots that she had gathered from all corners of the earth, and it was the only thing of Mama’s that Penny had asked for. None of us protested.
“I’m going to miss that beautiful smile.” Remarked my father looking down at his glass of tea. He swallowed hard and I could tell that he really meant it, no matter what he had done to her in the past.
Anna nodded her head, her mouth quivering as she thought of Mama’s radiance. I wondered if she realized that she was the spitting image of Mama. I wanted to make a rude remark to both of them, but held it in. It would only make things worse. I glanced over at Penny, she was the only other person on the porch who could understand the depth of despair that filled me. I knew she understood because she had been there for
Mama even when I was away at college, and even after I had moved my life up to Boston to write.
After sitting for as long as I could in such company, I headed inside of the house to be alone. Standing for a moment, I took in the feel of the house without Mama. She had loved the house more than anywhere in the world. She decorated it herself and had a hand in every single items placement, from the books on the shelf in my father’s study to the antique four poster bed in the guest room upstairs. The house lived and breathed her presence, and I realized that this house was all I had left of her.
Penny opened the screen door and stood by my side. “Feels different, doesn’t it?”
“Very.” I didn’t have any other words.
“I’m staying the night. Want to help me unpack my things?” Penny headed toward the staircase, not waiting for my reply. We headed upstairs and I plopped down on her bed as she unzipped the toile suitcase and sifted through a sea of black clothes. “You holding up okay, honey?”
I pondered the question for a moment before answering. Was I holding up okay? How could I be? My mama was dead and the only people I had left in the world were the father I had spent my life villainizing and the sister who I had never liked. Fighting back tears I assured her that I was holding up just fine.
“Well, you know your Mama loved you, Addy.” Penny looked like she was going to cry too, but somehow neither of us shed a single tear.
“I’m glad you’re staying, Penny.”
“Me too, sweetie. We’ll both make it through this, and it won’t be long until you are back in Boston with your friends.” She sat down on the edge of the bed and sighed.
Friends? I didn’t have any friends in Boston. I was for all practical purposes completely alone in the world now. Why did she have to die?
The funeral the next day was low key and nice. It was dark and gloomy outside, the threat of rain setting the perfect tone for the saddest day of my life. Aunt Elise sang Mama’s favorite hymn, Penny read Mama’s favorite poem, and I was sure that Mama would have approved. I had succumbed to the pressure of Anna’s judgment and had put more time in my appearance-- pulling my hair back in a bun, having Maria iron my dress, and smearing lip stick across my mouth. The pew around me was scattered with crumpled wet tissues, and I was thankful that I hadn’t put on mascara.
As the family filed out behind the casket, I spotted Maria on the back row with tears streaming down her chubby cheeks. I couldn’t help but hope that she felt guilty about the secrets that she had kept for all of these years. She had single handedly lured my father into what I assumed was his first affair. I looked away and turned my gaze to back of my father’s head. I felt myself getting more and more bitter by the second. Just a little bit longer and I could leave and never look back. I knew good and well that I couldn’t take much more.
I watched somberly as Mama’s casket was lowered into the ground. Anna linked her arm through mine as we stood in disbelief. “Goodbye, Mama. I love you.” I whispered, the same words that I had said so many other times in my life. Every time I left for school, every time I hung up the phone, every time I got out of her car to head into my piano lessons. I had spent a lifetime uttering those words without much thought, but now I was retiring the phrase from my vocabulary completely. I would never again have a chance.
I looked over at my little sister, black streams of tears rolling from her ice blue eyes. I had been selfish not to realize that she too had lost the only mother that she would ever have and suddenly felt sorry for her. She was only twenty seven, was in the midst of a grueling schedule at med school, and was motherless like me. I leaned my head on hers and cried. It was one of the only times that she and I would genuinely bond with each other and it was long overdue.