Copyright is held by the author.
THANKFULLY, THEY were moving and not stopped at a light because the sudden roar of laughter from the limousine was completely inappropriate. Sophie was grateful for the tinted windows but when her best friend later pointed out that she could see their heads bobbing up and down as she drove behind them in the procession she flushed a little. Sophie’s mother, had she already been in her grave, would have rolled for sure.
It all started after the service when they crammed everyone who mattered into one limo. Sophie knew she should have ordered another car but each limo held six people and there were only seven of them and she couldn’t bring herself to separate anyone. Three sisters, one husband and three teenage kids, all totalled. She needed everyone close by, where she could keep an eye on them. Her own personal security blanket, everyone safe and accounted for.
Sophie had no idea how she would make it through the day.
The driver idled in park and waited for the other cars to start the slow business of filing in behind them. For the first few minutes, before the limo pulled away, Sophie and her family simply sat staring forward, letting the gravity of the moment hold them mute.
Perhaps mute is too strong a word.
“Excuse me,” Sophie said to the driver, “are we ready to go yet?”
“Almost ready, Ma’am.”
She let out a sigh and started tapping the top of her purse with a finger.
“Can you please chill?” scolded Tara, her older sister. “Take a pill or something.”
“I don’t need a pill,” replied Sophie. “I just need to get this over with.”
“Trust me, you need a pill. And your tapping is bugging me so stop it or I’ll slap you bowlegged.”
Humour had always been the family’s ammo of choice. Even their mother had been hilarious at times, though more by accident than on purpose.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Sophie. “I don’t have any pills.” The fact that she suddenly switched to a thick Scottish brogue fazed no one but the driver.
“What happened to the little white pills from the last two funerals?” asked her younger sister, Beth, who was far too observant for Sophie’s liking.
“Fine,” she said, making a grand show of opening her purse. “If it’ll shut you two up I’ll try and find…oh, look, here they are.”
“Good. Pop the top and fill me up,” said Beth.
Sophie nudged Tara and smiled. “You in?”
Tara rolled her eyes and held out her hand. “Mom always knew you were a bad influence.”
Sophie secretly cringed at the mention of their mother. She had no idea what she was going to do without her.
“I’m sure Nana would be thrilled to know you’re dealing drugs on her account,” said Megan, Sophie’s 17-year-old daughter. “Careful, they might be gateway drugs,” she added, rolling her eyes.
Sophie hated when her kids used her words against her. Her daughter’s fake accent sounded more Jamaican than Scottish but, again, only the driver blinked.
Sophie’s husband, Richard, reached over and took the pill bottle out of his wife’s hands and slipped it into his jacket pocket. “I think I’ll hold on to these for now.”
“Hey!” said Sophie, but her husband gave her a look that suggested she dial it down a notch so she decided to let it go. “Changing the subject,” she said. “Did everyone hear what Aunt Bethy did to Nana?”
Beth narrowed her eyes, “You promised not to tell.”
“Sorry,” Sophie shrugged, “I lied.”
“What’d Mom do?” asked Ethan, Beth’s 13-year-old son, as he turned around from the middle row, wide-eyed and eager for some dirt on his mom.
“Well,” Sophie said, “remember I told you the nursing home had to get Nana a special heated air mattress that kept the air flowing to take the pressure off her bones?”
Richard groaned and brought a hand to his face but the driver perked up.
“It had a loud motor that kept pissing off Nana’s roommate,” said Sophie.
“The kinda deaf one?” asked Ethan.
“Yeah,” mumbled Tara. “You’d think that would’ve mattered.”
“Anyway,” Sophie said. “Your Mom, Aunt Tara and I were exhausted. It was just before midnight and all the other residents were asleep. The three of us were huddled around Nana’s bed, waiting. She wasn’t moving at all and only a breath or two away from passing.”
Sophie started to get lost in the memory. “Actually, it was weirdly interesting.”
“No, it wasn’t,” said Beth.
“Yes it was. I mean, we were watching Mom die, I know, but I also remember hearing the clock ticking and looking out the window to see cars still stopping at the red light like nothing was wrong. Then Mom was gone and everything seemed to go quiet.”
“Except for that goddamn motor,” said Tara. “I’m with the deaf lady. It was enough to drive you nuts.”
“Right,” said Sophie. “That’s when Bethy got up, walked over, and cut the power.”
“No way!” said Ethan, gasping and clutching the back of the seat.
Sophie figured that’s how she must have looked the second before the motor died. She remembers hearing Tara ask if someone could stop that fucking noise and wanting to yell NO! as Beth made her way over to the end of the bed and flipped the switch to off.
Sophie could still see the three of them trapped in a slow motion mix of confusion and horror as the motor died and the air mattress deflated, sending their mother’s frail body sinking slowly to the bottom of the bed, even though Tara worked frantically to turn the power back on. The three sisters stood there watching their newly perished mother disappearing into the billowing folds of the mattress as it slowly swallowed her whole.
“Oh my God, that sucks,” said Ethan, trying hard to stifle a grin. “Poor Nana.”
It shouldn’t have been funny, but suddenly laughter spread through the limo like wildfire through brush. Even Richard let a small smile slip through his lips.
But just as quickly as it came the laughter died out, leaving only an awkward silence and a few tears. Tissues were passed, throats were cleared. The three sisters held hands.
“Nice limo,” said Sophie, trying once again to change the subject. “I could get used to this,” she said, running her hand along the black leather seat.
“No way, I don’t want another funeral for a long time,” said Beth, leaning back on the headrest.
“Yeah, normally when you see people in a long black limo you think they’re totally ballin’,” said Alex, Sophie’s 15-year-old son, leaning over his sister to see if there was any booze in the pullout bar.
“Yeah, but not during a funeral,” said Megan, elbowing her brother for more room.
Sophie knew her older sister would be the first to get it wrong.
“Well, we are definitely bawling back here,” said Tara, cracking a window. “Is it just me or is it hot in here?”
The kids snickered at their aunt.
“What?” asked Tara, looking out over the rim of her glasses.
“What do you mean what,” asked Sophie. “Are you new? He doesn’t mean bawlin’ ballin’, he means ballin’ ballin’!” Sophie shook her head and hoped she wouldn’t actually have to spell out the words for Tara to spot her mistake.
Suddenly everyone was looking at Sophie. Her mistake was in taking their silence as understanding.
“Really?” asked Megan, shaking her head at her mother. “Do you even hear yourself?”
“Yeah,” said Alex, laughing. “That made no sense. You really shit the bed on that one.”
“Wait,” said Tara, looking completely confused. “What the hell’s the difference?”
“No one wants to be b-a-w-l-i-n-g in the limo, that’s bad,” explained Alex. “But b-a-l-l-i-n’ is good. Ballin’s like having lots of money and shit.”
Tara shook her head and mumbled something about the problem with youth.
“Speaking of problems,” Sophie said. “I hope the pall bearers will be okay on the ice. Some of them are in their 70s.”
“You should have asked me,” said Alex. “I would have totally done it.”
“Me too,” said Ethan, sitting up straighter to try and look as tall as his cousins.
“Yeah,” said Megan. “We can still do it if you want.”
“No, you can’t,” said Sophie. “You’re the grandchildren.”
“No, seriously, I can do it,” said Megan, always looking for a gender challenge.
“Not in those shoes,” Sophie said, pointing to Megan’s five-inch black leather pumps.
“Maybe if you were wearing some flat, ugly lesbo shoes like your Aunt Tara.”
“Hey!” said Tara. “Leave my lesbo shoes out of it. I happen to like them.” Tara looked down and brushed imaginary dirt off one of her loafers. “And technically, since I am a lesbo, any shoes I wear are lesbo shoes, flat or ugly or not. As a matter of fact I have a cool pair of red ones just like these at home.”
“Mom did call you sir a lot near the end,” Sophie reminded her.
“She had Alzheimer’s, you ass.”
“Still,” said Sophie, with a wink. “Your hair is pretty short.”
Tara shook her head and tried to hide her smile. “I hope Mom’s taking all this in, wherever she is. I’d be her favourite now for sure.”
By the time they pulled into the cemetery everyone was back to silence. Sophie sat quietly replaying the memory of her mother’s last few minutes, not really knowing what else to do with it. The driver slowed to a stop in front of a tattered piece of carpet that led to a whole in the ground next to a large, covered mound of dirt flanked by several small piles of freshly thrown snow. The wind gusted and the driver asked them to wait inside the limo until everyone was in place. Sophie leaned her forehead against the car window, letting herself feel the cold. In two days it would be Christmas.
Like Sophie, Alex often felt compelled to fill in the hard silences so in his best monster truck announcer voice he said, “Not a good time to die, Nana, not a good time to die.” There was a final rupture of laughter and Sophie smiled sadly at the last bit of ammo in his clip.
The driver finally turned off the engine and stepped out of the limo. Sophie took a deep breath as he came around to her side and swung open the heavy door.
Sophie swallowed hard and nodded as she carefully stepped out of the limo. She felt a weakness in her legs and a stinging in her eyes as her family filed out behind her. “Wait,” she said, with her heart beating in her chest. “I don’t think I can do this.”
Everyone stopped and turned to look at Sophie.
“Of course you can’t,” said Tara, gently taking her sister’s hand. “None of us can. Not alone, anyway.” Tara held out her other hand to Beth. “That’s why Mom made three of us.”
The sisters walked hand-in-hand toward their mother’s final resting place, with Richard and the children close behind. Sophie took a deep breath and looked around at the large gathering of friends and family who had come to pay their last respects, and then at Richard and the kids and her two crazy sisters. She couldn’t help but smile when she realized her mother wasn’t really gone at all. Sophie could see her everywhere she looked.