The place smells like hotel shampoo, a collision of sandalwood and tangerine. She is almost unrecognizable. The mortician had slathered a deep shade of burgundy around her thin lips. It’s inappropriate. Did they glue her mouth, or twist together a wire through her top and bottom gums to keep it from gaping? She is draped in a Sunday church dress and pearls she never wore.
Her naps were longer and more frequent. When she walked, it reminded me of our childhood dog who used to lean against the wall to hide her lame legs. I made her a yellow pine cane with a ceramic handle she said looked like old teacups long broken by time. She hugged me with her weak, veiny arms, and leaned on her new cane like Groucho Marx. For a moment, I saw the vibrant, nimble young woman I remembered growing up.
The powdered lemon squares sit next to the chestnut pie; the chestnut pie next to the white chocolate macadamia cookies, and so on. People aren’t eating the cheese plate. Everyone whirls around me in black and white like sad penguins. I grab a cookie and hold it, crumbling the corners and flicking the waste at the parlor floor.
The young man sits in the back, half-covered by an artificial Ficus tree. He traces the outline of his nose. Same nose. He stares, but not too long, approaching him in his head repeatedly.
She tried to tell me once, over tea in the sitting room. I did not have the heart to tell her I have known all along. It’s a sense you get, one that gets justified over time by side comments at the tail ends of parental arguments. That selfish prick showing up here, like an abandoned puppy thinking he’s lost.
After the funeral, I tell Dad I want some time alone with her, that I’d meet him back at the house. Take your time. He walks through ghosts.
The young man sits in his car parked on the hill above the cascading stones with serpentine tops, exhaust trailing off toward clouds of different substance. He turns off the car in the same breath as he opens the door and walks in a semicircle around a knobbed elm so as not to approach him head-on. He lays a blanket by her headstone.
I recognize the familiar cross-stitch she used to call the intentional tangle.
We sit in silence at the foot of my mother’s grave, long into the afternoon. At some point, I rest my head on the border of disturbed grass and fall asleep. When I wake, I am alone, draped in the intentional tangle. Night falls. The waning moon looks cold and lifeless, and the stars are out of gas. I share the blanket with my mother like we stole the sun. We talk about everything, leaving nothing out. She listens; she always had been a good listener.
David Osgood has been published in OJA&L, Crack the Spine, Firewords, Treehouse, Glassworks, Eastern Iowa Review, Peregrine Journal, tiny journal, X-Ray, and won the Microfiction Honorable Mention Award from San Antonio Writer’s Guild. Visit him at www.davidsosgood.com.