MONDAY: Second String

BY ERIKA WILLAERT

Copyright is held by the author.

NONE OF THE GUESTS knows who I am. Every single one of them asks me if I’m the actress.

“Not me,” I foolishly apologize, “I’m a teacher.” The distinction between definite and indefinite articles is lost. They smile blankly and quickly find an excuse to move on, looking for Sophie, my sister. I disappear into the background, swallowing my pride whole without choking.

Watching me caress my little girl’s hair and hold my older son’s hand, the woman I have just introduced myself to wonders, “Are these your children? I didn’t realize your mother was a grandmother.” Now I’m bristling. Between clenched teeth, I manage to spit out, “I’m sure it slipped her mind to mention them.”

Sophie wends her way through the crowd, her wide eyes darting from face to face, and the throng of people here to pay their respects parts like the sea, deferring to her just as royal subjects would make way for their sovereign. She has always carried herself in this manner, somehow commanding without demanding attention. It is what I both admire and despise about her the most.

Finding a place at my side, she scoops up her niece and nuzzles her in the ear, while the big brother lobs a gentle right hook into her ribs. Feigning injury, Super Aunt gathers her next of kin into a private circle of warm hugs and wet kisses, leaving splotchy smears of lipstick on the pair of protesting faces, asking why she is leaving when she’s only just arrived.

“I gotta scram, hon,” she whispers to me, “You can take care of the rest, right? Make sure dad doesn’t leave alone, eh?” She squeezes my upper arm, reminding me of how fat I look in this black shroud, my flesh flapping beneath gauze stretched too tight across my skin. She is soon distracted by the cameras flashing in the doorway, alerted to her imminent departure, and suddenly she’s gone, leaving me to pick up the pieces, as usual.

Eventually the room empties, and my father is standing awkwardly in the aisle, his jacket draped carelessly over one arm. He seems slighter, frailer, despite his six foot frame than I remember him being the last time we were together. He catches my eye and grins sheepishly at me, his crooked smile drawing a line through his otherwise sombre expression.

“Looks like everyone’s gone, sweetie,” he observes rhetorically, closing the distance between us in three long strides. “Why don’t we go get one of those hotdogs outside? Your mother never let me eat that crap.” He pauses. “I guess I can eat whatever I want now, eh?”

He helps his grandchildren into their coats and holds the door open for us as we step into the afternoon sun, bright against the winter snow. My kids cannot believe their good fortune at having hotdogs for dinner, and my heart, which had slowly emptied itself of all feeling only moments ago, is filled by their excited chatter.

3 comments

  1. Suzanne Burchell

    How wonderful that you reminded the reader to hang on in some moments and life will spin us back to what is truly important.

  2. Moira Garland

    Wow, you’ve crammed so much information in, in such a short story whilst still letting the reader work. So compact, nothing unnecessary, so satisfying. Thank you.

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