Sandy whistled the simplest of tunes. Ten soft notes again and again, quietly, mindlessly, as she gathered the cups, the glasses, the dessert dishes and began piling them in the sink. Over and over, dee dee dee dum, dee-dum, dee dee dee dum, softly, trying to be quiet, not wanting the clatter and rattling to wake the children, or, God forbid, John himself. She was not a good whistler though; no bright sounds came forth. Just a rhythmic shushing noise like water beginning to boil in a kettle. On this morning, though it was her soundtrack, the music that accompanied the work to be done.
She never liked doing them the morning after, and she had had every intention of doing them when she got back from settling her dad in. Sure, hadn’t she asked him to stay here with them, at least on this first night? There’d be plenty of room; the two young ones could have doubled up—they were rarely in their own bed throughout the night as it was. But no. He was too stubborn and insisted on his own bed in his own house. God knows, it would have been easier on her if he just had spent the night. She wouldn’t have had to go out in the middle of the night, get him settled, and return after everyone had already left. But he insisted, and it was when she returned that the argument began.
It wasn’t even an argument, that’s what was sad. How could she argue? He was just so mule headed. And, to be fair to him, it was a rare thing for him to hit her, thank God. Last night was different though. It was just—she touched her ear and winced—it was just that it was her mother’s funeral. Her own mother’s funeral, of all days, and him getting jealous and accusing her. As if she could control who came to the church and who did not. Did he think she invited him?
The ear was still ringing where he had cuffed her. But it was no matter. It was stupid was what it was. And, it was true, maybe they all had had too much to drink, sitting around afterwards in her living room, everyone telling stories about her mom. It was fun. She sensed that it was important and good, and in a way it was. She had even poured herself a drink, a ginger ale and whiskey. Two, in fact, but she left most of the second. And there had been plenty of everything, cakes, pastries, and cookies, beer, wine, and liquor. Her mother would have been proud, even of John, who truth be said she never had much good to say about. But last night, at least in the beginning, he was good, helpful, getting up to fetch’s Peggy’s husband another beer or talking with LaLa, helping to set up the snack trays. How was she to know he was fuming the whole time? He hadn’t shown it.
She hadn’t seen Charles Spence in nearly a year, not since she had left her job. She didn’t even know he knew about her mother. But that’s the way he was. Decent. He had just slipped in and out. No big deal. No attention to himself. But maybe in this world where everyone wants to be center stage, not drawing attention is the most sure-fire way to attract it. He certainly caught John’s. But then John had always been jealous of him. He just couldn’t fathom that a guy could work with a woman and not be coming on to her. Or be her friend? It was beyond his imagination. Or experience.
But he was a good friend and she enjoyed him. When she was working there, anyway. But he was never anything for anyone to worry about. At times, she even thought he might be gay. But no matter. She was sure she wasn’t his type. He was different than them, than her and John. He even had two college degrees. Ah, maybe that’s what bothered John so much. But no. He fumed when anyone looked at her: the poor mechanic where they took their car or that young boy at the SafeWay. It was always the same. He came out fuming and she didn’t even know.
She’d let him sleep. Get the kids up and go off to mass. God, yesterday, should count enough, but maybe it’d be good. Quiet and restful. She’d swing by her dad’s afterwards, make him some coffee.
She wanted a shower though, before church. Or a long bath. It had been a long four days and she was aching all over. But she didn’t want to run the water, it would wake him. Donna had said they should go over and clean out Mom’s things, but she didn’t think she was up for it today. The sooner the better they all said, because if you put it off, you’ll never get around to it and when you do it’s all the harder. Because it just brings everything up again. But she was drained. Maybe after church, she’d take a nice long bath, pamper herself a little.
She threw a light dress on, then woke the kids, shushing them not to make noise. She noticed that the area around the ear had begun to turn color. Light patches of olive and purple and blue. She grabbed a bandanna out of the top drawer and wrapped it over her hair, tying it under her neck.
“Hurry up you guys, we’ll eat after Mass. At Pop-Pop’s.”
She laughed at herself when she paused in front of the mirror. With her sunglasses on and the scarf over her hair, she looked like some Italian movie star or a grieving widow. And she felt so little like either. She bundled the kids into the car and quietly backed out of the driveway.
At church she realized she should have left John a note. Tell him where she was so he wouldn’t worry. She’d call him from her dad’s. But then, what if he was still sleeping? He’d be furious if the phone woke him. Especially in the mood he went to bed in.
After Mass, outside on the front step, she saw her sister.
“Don’t we look the grieving daughter,” Donna said, arching her eyebrow at her sister.
“My hair was a wreck, so I just threw this over it and rushed out.”
“You should wear it more often. It suits you. You going over Mom’s?”
“I was just going to stop now. Make Dad some breakfast and just chat a while. I’m not staying long. I’m bringing the kids and I don’t know how long they can stay still.”
“Do you want to work on her closets today?”
“Not really. Can’t we do it later?”
“Yeah, that sounds good. I could use a day off myself. It’s been non-stop since she went in.” She closed her eyes and shook her head wearily. “It’ll be nice just to crash.”
“Good. Call me this afternoon. We’ll make definite plans. We got to do it, you know.”
“Yeah. We’ll get it.” Donna turned to walk to her car, and then turned once more to her sister. “Sandy, are you all right?”
“I’m OK.” She unwittingly raised her hand to her ear. “I guess everything is just starting to sink in.”
“We’ll talk this afternoon. Tell Dad I’ll call him.”
Nothing this morning seemed to satisfy her father. The coffee was too weak, the house too hot, the kids too noisy. Sandy recognized early that there was to be no pleasing him.
“So what do you plan to do today, Dad? You can come over and watch the games with John. That might be a good idea.”
“Nah.” The old man shook his head in seeming disgust. “I might walk down to the club. I can watch the games there, see a few people.”
“Well how about afterwards? Dinner? I’ve got a nice roast. The way you like it. And I’ll put it on late so it won’t run into the games.”
Her father looked at her and pointed to the bruising around her ear.
“What happened to your face?”
“What? Oh, this. I knocked it on one of the kid’s drawers, getting them sweaters for mass. It’s nothing. Just gave it a good whack.”
“You should be a little more careful. It looks like hell. But don’t make no dinner for me. I’ll just fix something up here.”
“OK, then. But let me know if you change your mind. Do you need anything before I go? Do you want me to take you anywhere first?”
He shook her off with both his hands and head.
“No. Go home. I’m just going to read the paper and maybe take a nap for a while. You go home.”
John was sitting in the kitchen with a plate of eggs in front of him. The room was filled with the comforting smell of coffee and bacon. And the dishes from last night had been washed and were drying in the rack.
He stood when his wife walked in.
“Hi, Sand. I figured you took the kids to church. You OK?”
“Grab some coffee. There’s plenty of eggs.”
The kids grabbed plates from the cupboard and sat with a clatter on either side of their father. Sandy walked to the refrigerator and got out a carton of juice. She poured them each a glass and set it down softly.
“Now don’t make a mess.” She got herself a cup and poured the coffee.
“Aren’t you eating? I made a lot.”
“I ate at my dad’s. I brought some of the food we had left over. There was a lot left.”
“How’s he doing? He should have stayed here.”
“As stubborn as ever. I invited him over, but I don’t think he’ll come.”
“Ah, give him some room. He might need a little time to himself.
That’s the worse thing he needs, she thought, but she let it go. She was too tired to press the point.
“I’m going up to take a shower. I’m beat. Maybe it’ll wake me up.”
Through the bathroom window, Sandy could hear the raucous cry of two crows. She could see them roosting on the foot pegs that ran up the telephone pole. They were enormous creatures, oily black with mean looking beaks. Sally remembered never seeing crows when she was little, and now, they seemed always to be around, hopping into the roadway to pick at some dead animal smashed by a car. “Aren’t they supposed to eat corn?” she thought to herself. “Don’t farmers make scarecrows to protect the corn?” She pulled down the shade so she couldn’t see them.
John had already showered. So with a patch of toilet paper she pulled out his hair from the screen over the drain. She hung her robe on the hook on the door and stepped into the tub. The crows were still squawking and now their noise was mixed with some lawn mower or blower or some machine from down the street. When she turned the water on, however, all was quiet. A shower is much better than a bath, she thought, for it blocks out the noise. Here in this porcelain tub, shielded by a moldy plastic curtain, Sandy felt most safe. Not just safe from her husband, he didn’t matter anymore, but safe from the world, from the tugging and pulling of so many people, cut off from the squealing kids and the whining adults, from the endless demands and overwhelming responsibility. She thought of her shower as some tropical waterfall, one that she could step behind and escape all that was following her. She stood simply, her face upward, under the spray, feeling the water beat against her face and shoulders, run down between her breasts, down the crevice of her back. For five minutes, she merely stood under the water, before picking up the soap and rag and washing. She would stop now and then and once more allow the water to wipe her away. The combination of water on her face and the roar of the shower in her ears and the shadowy womb of the tub and curtain were more than comforting. It was like death itself, peaceful, safe, welcoming.
As she came downstairs, Sandy heard voices in the kitchen. It was her cousin Tony and John. They were not talking to each other, but just reading aloud snippets from the Sunday paper to each other. It was sports or it was gossip or it was complaining.
“Hey, Sand. How you doing?” He rose from his chair, and Sandy thought how nobody stands to meet you anymore, and twice in the past hour two men have stood up when she entered the room. “That’s a whale of a bang you got there. What happened?”
She felt the side of her head. “Ah, nothing. I whacked it on a top drawer. Getting sweaters out for the kids. I’m not ready for the change of seasons yet. I haven’t even gotten all their summer clothes out.”
“You want a beer, Tone?” asked John. “The game’s on in five minutes. I’ll get you the first, and then you’re on your own.”
“Sounds good.” He gave Sandy a kiss on the cheek. “You hang in there, Sand. Everything’ll be all right.” Then he grabbed the beer her husband was offering.
The men went into the living room and Sandy walked down to the basement. She had let the laundry go over the past week. It had been pure hell with late night vigils at the hospital, then the death itself and then all the arrangements and her father. The laundry would be a respite. A reminder of routine and normalcy. The air was crisp but the sun was strong, so Sandy decided to hang things out in the parcel of ground behind the house. Sara and Johnny were kicking a ball back and forth behind her, and Alphie—named after her father—was pushing toy trucks through the loose dirt.
“Mom?” He waited for her answer, struggling with how to put the words.
“If Jesus lived on our street would he be able to make Mee-Mom come to life?”
She should have expected this. She had spent little time with any of them since her mother’s death, no time explaining, just pushing them through the rituals, shushing them when necessary, trying to keep them looking neat.
“He might,” was all she could answer. “She was a good lady.”
“And would he stop Dad from yelling? Can he do that kind of stuff?”
Her throat constricted. She could explain her mother’s death, roll it around into something that could fit into the boy’s understanding. But his father’s life? How could she make him understand that, or understand her? She looked at the boy with utter sadness, helpless from seeing the grown man in his pursed lips, his searching eyes.
“I’m sure he could, Alph. He can pretty much do anything he wanted. If it were for good.”
“He’s a lot like Superman, isn’t he? Only he’s God.”
“Oh, he can do more than Superman, you just wait and see.”
With four clothespins in her mouth, she moved down the line. To one end of the crisp white sheets of her bed she attached the boy’s multicolored cartoon sheets, filled with puppies and moons and silvery spaceships.
J.P. Bohannon asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work