Excerpt from The Lemonade Year, finished novel seeking representation)
After the typical church service, back at Mom’s house, I watch the men pass around photos and talk about their families. One story from one man leads into the story from another, like a thin rope made of strong sinew, a wisp of something deeper than bone. I forget how hard a man can love. How desperate and irrational the heart can be. My father had been that quiet type of man whose issue of sincere emotion was a surprise. He was a jokester, a kid at heart, showing us his affection through play. But words often failed him. I had known that he loved us, of course, but hearing the stories told by other fathers around the mourning room brought the truth home to me. In the nursing home, how much had my father wanted to reach beyond the restraints of his own malfunctioning body to tell me himself? I tried to recall the small handful of times he had found words while he was there.
I see my brother, Ray, with his close cut, dark hair and three-day stubble, sitting in a folding chair in the corner by the back door. His ill-fitting, dark gray suit and starched white shirt hang on him like a costume. This is the suit he wore to court to cover his arms so thick with tattoos they appear as painted sleeves; the suit that attempted to make him look respectable and repentant. The suit that instead, especially today, makes him look like a book stuck on the wrong shelf.
What if all the restraint he had has been exhausted? What if this time, jail and the pain of a tattoo needle and his general helping of self loathing and beer can’t keep him from splitting down the middle?
I see Aunt Rose sauntering over to him and I try to push my way through the crowd. She’s talking loud enough to be heard halfway across the room and I know that she knows this.
Is it ok to back hand your at aunt at a funeral?
“Well, Ray,” Aunt Rose says, her hands on her hips. “I almost didn’t recognize you. What did you think of the service or were you there?”
Damn her. I step over some kids coloring—all their little hues spread out around them.
“I sat in the back,” I hear Ray say.
Someone stops me to talk about something, but I’m listening to Ray. I’m so close, but stalled just feet away from him.
“I suppose you’re happy that your mother had him cremated,” Rose says.
“Why would that make me happy?” Ray asks and I can almost see what he wants to say forming in a cartoon thought bubble over his head. Fuck off, bitch. I loved my father.
You don’t have to get along with someone to love them. Love or the lack of it was never the issue between Ray and Dad. Love is the easy part. The life that surrounds it is was makes things hard.
“I guess you would have seen him off in a pine box anyway,” Rose says. “I wanted your mother to get one of the nice caskets. The kind with the plush felt. Stylish. But she decided to have him burned him up like a pile of old leaves that you want off your yard before they kill the grass.”
This is why no one likes her.
“Coffins are tacky,” Ray says. “They look like my sixth grade saxophone case.”
I think about the bright blue, plush lining where the instrument fits in—a perfect cut out to keep it snug in place for safe travel. I hope Dad has made it safe to where he's going.