“Kinsley?” I turned my attention from the spot on the wall, now empty and bare where one of my favorite pictures of my mother once remained. We needed a copy for the funeral program. There were other pictures missing too, gaps along the table. My mother loved pictures. My first recollection of such was the Summer I flew in. I was escorted off the plane by an officer and remembered the blinding light of a flash going off before I felt warm hands gripping my arms, drawing me in close. I was startled and dazed, the sounds of the airport much too loud and once my vision returned, I was overwhelmed by the many people passing us by. The only thing that had grounded me at the moment was the feeling of my mother’s hands along my cheeks, cradling them to meet my eyes which I had always been told were similar to hers: dark pools of chocolate brown. Unfortunately, let anyone else tell it, in all other aspects I resembled my father a great deal more. I can still remember the way she smiled at me, her eyes shiny and glassy with tears.
“Welcome home baby girl.”
That felt like an eternity ago and that first year was hard for me to understand, but soon I became comfortable with the sound of the wind chimes that would dance in the window, or how the fifth stair leading to the second floor creaked. There was not one inch of the house that didn’t stir a memory. This was my home and had been for years, but now it felt much more emptier than I would have liked.
“I’m sorry,” I said, chuckling a little. I directed my attention to Mrs. Riley. She was sent over by the funeral home to help with any final touches for the ceremony. We’d spent all morning going over everything I had finished in a span of two days. That wouldn’t have been made possible without my mother’s best friend Lesa. She knew just as much about the woman if not more than I did: her favorite flowers, the lavender colored dress she would want to be buried in, etc. I wondered if I made it too simple; I kept the invite list small for a more intimate setting, despite the fact my mother was quite well known and well liked in Bethalto. That wasn’t particularly surprising for such a small town. That didn’t mean it didn’t have its share of bad or annoyances. I had every bit of mind to believe Margie would still show her face and under the requirements of being respectful to ones elders, I was to take her actions as kind and her emotions genuine and accept her presence even if I knew my mother would cluck her tongue in disappointment if she could. “Everything looks great. I think we’ve all about set everything up.” Mrs. Riley gave me a small smile, reaching over to pat my hand gently. I could only smile back, everyone had been so nice and I feared this would’ve been much tougher if everyone wasn’t trying to lend a hand.
“Perfect. Well then I will make sure to get this over to the printer.” The wooden chair scratched the floors; what would’ve been a jarring sound dulled by the crazy printed rug beneath their feet. A secondhand find; we use to go shopping for cheap and odd home décor. That was when she was in good health, when she had just enough energy to laugh at a corny joke or hum along to a song in the car.
“If you want, I can send Edna’s son to drive you to the home.” I had been pretty calm for the most part and I think a lot of people were worried that I wasn’t [I really] taking my mother’s passing well. Though, some part of me knew why: my father. Often people wondered if there was a switch in me ready to be flicked at any moment, unleashing that unbalanced and unhinged part of me that lied within my father. We were walking through the archway of the dining room, her black kitten heels clicking against dark stained hardwood floors as we made our way to the front door.
“That’s not necessary. Truly, you’ve already been such a big help.” I leaned against the open door now, the sun warm on my skin, but there was still a subtle chill that caused for me to wrap my arms around myself, my hands disappearing in the sleeves of the red knitted cardigan I wore.
“With us having the repass here, I figured I would clean up a little more before I left.” Honestly I just wanted to enjoy the drive alone. I’d even gone as far as to deny a ride from Lesa and her husband. I know this was just as hard for her as it was for me. Wrinkled hands. Reached out to pat against my shoulder.
“Alright dear, but if you change your mind you know who to call.”
“Definitely. Take care!” I called as she slowly made her way down the three steps, pass my mother’s roses that bordered the walkway until the gate closed behind her and she was getting into the tan Chevrolet Impala. It wasn’t until the car disappeared I finally sighed out in relief.
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[I “C’mon Kinsley be still.” I squirmed in between my mother’s legs, trying to focus on the cartoons playing instead of the tugging my mother was doing to the winded black locks. When I was younger the curls had been much harder to tame, but my mother loved them and refused to straighten my hair. She had a skill my father lacked, as a Black woman, there were no locks she couldn’t tame. Though, I seemed to have been her biggest threat. My father didn’t bother combing them, and so I was used to my curls locking up at times. Ma was not having this though and took bride in parting my hair, running her fingers slathered in sweet coconut smelling cream until the curls were defined and soft, manageable. ]
I thought about that as I straightened my hair. Normally I would let them roam free, but figured I would go for something more polished. After finishing the last strand, I worked carefully brushing the smooth tresses into a low bun, two small strands out in the front, slightly curled, to frame my face. I didn’t look terrible, but maybe that was because I had already used as much concealer to hide my darkened eyes. I reached for the necklace my mother gave me, a gold cross. Hers sat now in a black box in the closet safe with other valuables. I thought about burying her in it, but some part of me thought about why we wore them in. the first place: to match. Someday I would have a daughter or granddaughter to pass mine on to, taking on my mother’s as my own then.
I nibbled on my bottom lip, focusing on the tiny latch between long manicured nails before sighing in relief when I got it opened. After a little fiddling it finally rested around my neck. I came to a stand and finished getting dressed.
[I Heels], I rolled my eyes as I stared at them in my closet I hadn’t had a chance to wear them in a long time, then again it had been ages since my last date. Still, after slipping into the black mid dress, I sat on the edge of my bed and strapped the heels on, my hands brushing against my ankles as though comforting them for a tortuous day. I stared at myself in the full length mirror, adjusting the sleeves of the off the shoulder dress until I felt they sat perfectly. The last few years I had put on a few extra pounds, but fortunately in the right places thanks to genetics. That said, seeing myself in anything other than scrubs or some jeans and a loose shirt felt different. I could hear my phone going off , muffled in my bag where I had tossed it in an effort not to be distracted by any more messages. After a spritz of lilac scented perfume, I grabbed the black leather bag and was soon making my way out of the house.
I’d pushed the table father back for when the food arrived and adjusted the couch in the living room to aid in more space to walk around. My hands itched to move them back, but it did open the home up a bit more. To some it could come off a little cluttered in the beginning, pictures everywhere, little knickknacks spread throughout and of course the cuckoo clock that hung on the wall – a gift from my father that my mother still kept around. I made sure to open the windows, ivory curtains pulled aside to let In as much light the day would allow. Satisfied after my once over, I finally walked out.
I slid into the front seat of the black BMW, an older model but I kept it in good condition and I had to admit, it was rare you saw one driving around. Honestly, it had been a gift to myself in college and at that time, I felt like [I that] girl, especially considering how much I worked just to purchase it. after fiddling with my phone, I found a station I liked and pulled away.
I wasn’t surprised to find that many had already shown up, some lingering outside to get in that last smoke before the service started and as I made my rounds through the crowd into the funeral home, I was greeted by familiar faces. There was still some time before the service, though soon I noticed people starting to take their seats. I made sure of curse to have Lesa and her husband sitting next to me in the front row. I searched for her face in the crowd. “Lesa,” I said as I noticed her, unsure of who the gentleman beside her was until he turned to face me. My heart stopped for a second, the heels of my shoes catching a snag on the rug, though by the [I grace of God], I didn’t lose my footing. It had been some years, but there was no way I could forget a face like that, even if the facial hair was a new edition.
“Oh dear, you look so beautiful,” Lesa said, embracing me then. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him, though realized how strange it was to stare and opted to close my eyes for a second and hug Lesa back. Could she feel how fast my heart was beating? “And of course you know who this is,” she said as she gently patted Lucas’ arm. I looked up at him, walking a little closer, a sheepish smile on my face.
“Of course.” My voice was soft and for the first time that day I felt it crack. I cleared my throat a little, giving him a one armed hug from the side. It was quick, too quick and that brief moment made me want to lean into him. I hadn’t thought to invite him. That didn’t mean he didn’t cross my mind on occasion, just this seemed a little out of the ways for such a successful person like himself. I always got tidbits of information when I could, but I tried to brush them away. I didn’t need them crowding my mind like boxes in an attic; old, dusty, and yet precious and priceless. “It’s really nice to see you.” I tucked the strand of hair behind my ear then, a friendly pat on my shoulder by the minister distracting me as the service was starting.
I breathed in relief, satisfied for an escape from any further awkward conversation. Though my eyes bounced to him just one final time before we headed to our seats. I knew wit wouldn’t be long before I started to cry, my hands gripping the handkerchief in my lap tightly as the tears streamed down my face. It made it hard to get through my speech. I bounced from strong too weak as I made eye contact with friends, though each time my eyes found his and it would get me started all over again. Come the end of the service, I eagerly took the hand offered by Lesa as a means of stability as we made our way to the plot.
It seemed strange, watching as they lowered the casket into the ground and knowing that would be the last time I saw my mother. As everyone made their way to the cars, I stuck close to the Rowe family. Lesa was going on about how it had been a lovely service. It had been and despite the surprise appearance, it had gone as smooth as I expected. I tried to focus on successfully walking across the grass in heels, like a magnet closer to Lucas who I hadn’t said a word to since before the funeral.
“I really want to thank you for coming. I – I admit I was a bit surprised.” An out of place chuckle fell from my lips. I knew Lesa wouldn’t let him get out of coming to the repass, to be surrounded by everyone for a nice meal in honor of my mother. That said, I couldn’t not talk to him. That was scary thought and already I could feel the tingle of anxiety as I thought about all that could be said, and what had yet to be said between the two of us.