The sun beat down upon us, it’s rays glossing over the black casket. I stood a few feet away, back straight, hands clasped together. My hair fell over my face, covering me as I stared straight down at the freshly cut grass. A sheen of sweat covered my skin, the evidence of the hot Arizona summer. I couldn’t hear anything but the rush of blood inside my head, a strong steady thumping. Without even looking back, I could draw the scene perfectly.
My dad had stood directly behind me, waiting for my next move. His eyes bore into my back, right through where my sweaty shirt stuck to my back. His arms were crossed and his feet stood apart. His mouth was set in a grim line, his grey eyes covered in dark brown glass. His face remained straight, but you could tell he was calculating all the different ways the situation could go south in a matter of seconds. A few feet away stood my grandmother, Grandma Ann. She was in her favorite black dress, the one she had paired with her cherry blossom brooch. Her face was brightly pale, with slight wrinkles etched along the sides. On one hand she held her handkerchief, lifting it ever so slightly as a sob broke through but a tear never showed. On the other hand, she clutched a rosary, it’d edges digging into her calloused hands. On the other side of my dad stood Aunt Tam and Fiance Number Three. She lay her head on the man’s shoulder, one hand resting lightly on his chest. A single tear ran down her left cheek, which was quickly brushed by the other perfectly manicured hand.
Aunt Tam stepped forward and placed her hand on my shoulder blade. Her touch felt like ice, her fingers biting into my skin. She began to speak, but not loud enough to hear over my own empty thoughts. I shut my eyes and squeezed them tight, willing once more for all this to go away. Tam must’ve seen this, as she soon pulled me into a hug. Time froze as she leaned in, lips near my ear.
“We’ll get through this together, Charles” she said.
A wave rushed through me, finally chasing the thoughts away. The sound of silence reached my ears. Before I even knew what was happening, Tam was on the floor. She looked up, shock written all over her face. Fiance Number Three and my and my dad ran to her side, grabbing her arms.
“ Charles! What the hell do you think you’re doing?” my dad yelled.
I looked up at the brown glass, trying to find his eyes. He grabbed my shoulders, face pulled in close.
“ Charles! Can you hear me? You need to apologize to Tam! Now!”
I pressed my hands against his chest, pushing as hard as I could. I slowly took a few steps back before turning around and running away.
At night, as my mom made dinner, she used to play jazz
“ A night without jazz is food without salt” she used to say. She’d turn on the kitchen radio even before she turned on the stove. The sound of the sax soon filled our home, the trumpet sounding in the background. She’d float across the tile floor, feet barely grazing the floor as she danced around the kitchen. Sometimes, she’d make her way towards me, hips swaying, hands slightly in the air. She’s stop right in front of where I was sitting on the couch. She’s use her finger to gently tilt my chin up, forcing me to look into her warm eyes. She’d smile a dazzling smile, the low light of the living room illuminating her face.
“ Come, dance with me Charles,” she’d say right before slipping her hand through mine, pulling me behind her. We’d stand on the worn out rug right in front of the couch, below the dingy chandelier. She would guide my hands onto her waist, and then place her own on my shoulders. She would close her eyes and hum along, letting me guide her across the living room floor.
Her favorite song was “Autumn in New York”. It usually came on the radio late at night.and we heard it everytime we stayed up, waiting for my dad.
“Oh, Charles, I feel like I’m in New York. Can you feel it?” she’s ask, eyes shining bright. She was Ella, and I was her Louis, and we were dancing beneath the falling leaves and twinkling lights of the city. Time didn't exist in these moments. Some nights, my dad never came home at all. Those nights her smile became dimmer, but she still danced with me, the leaves falling all night long.
I was in my friend Toby’s car when it happened. I could hear the shouting from where I sat in the backseat, my dad’s voice booming throughout the neighborhood. The front door suddenly burst open and my dad stomped down the steps. He took long strides until he reached the bright blue car in front of. He got into the passenger seat, slamming the door behind him. The car drove off, dust flying behind it. My mom leaned on the doorway, hands folded. Her cheeks were tear stained and eyes were half mast. Toby put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed.
The cold wind blew past my face, biting my cheeks. I readjusted my backpack on my shoulder, pulling my jacket closer around me. Leaves crunched beneath my boots as I got closer and closer to home. Soon, I stood in front my door.I reached back and pulled the key out from my back pocket. I unlocked the door and went inside, shutting it slowly behind me.
The first thing I saw were the glass bottles scattered across the living room rug. They were strewed across the floor, all the way up to the kitchen. The room was dark, with all the shades down and all the lights off. The only light came from the muted television, its shadows dancing on the back wall.
My mom lay on the couch, head back, hair splayed around her. Her eyes were closed and her mouth slightly open. Her hands lay clasped underneath one ear, her cheek nestled on top. Her legs were pulled into her chest, and her feet lay bare. Her face was pale, with dark circles underneath her eyes.Visible veins were seen through her translucent skin, drawing a map across the skin.
Sighing, I went into her room and picked up the torn blanket she slept with every night. I went back to where she lay and wrapped her in her blanket. I tugged the blanket under her so she was covered from her shoulders to her toes. I pushed her hair to one side slowly, pushed it back so she wasn’t so close to the edge of the couch.
I turned the TV off before making my way to the bathroom. As I enter, the acrid smell of vomit assaults me. Wrinkling my nose, I walk back out and head towards my room. I open the bottom drawer, taking out my work clothes, before heading back out. Suddenly, I hear the honk of Toby’s car outside and I make my way towards the door, However, my feet stop moving and I end up right in front of the couch.
I bend down and place a light kiss on my mom’s forehead. I cradle her cheek, wiping away a tear I hadn’t seen before. Toby’s honk sounds again, so I get up and run outside, shutting the door behind me.
When my dad left, he seemed to take the rest of the family with him. We hadn’t heard from them since the day my dad got into Her car, so I wasn’t surprised when they didn’t invite us over for Christmas. My mom, on the other hand, was devastated. She didn’t show it, though. Instead, she smiled as bright as her smile could be nowadays. But, despite her best efforts, I knew the truth.
“Who wants a drunk like me at a party anyway? Boo hoo! We’ll have our own Christmas bash!” she exclaimed, words slightly slurred. She ordered me to get the fake tree we had in our garage, while she went into her room and got the three ornaments she had laying around. I managed to borrow some string lights from Toby, and pretty soon, our tree began to actually look presentable.
That night, we turned all the lights off. The lights from the tree shone on the ceiling, a myriad of colors. We sat on the couch, blankets wrapped around us. Her head lay on my shoulder, her breathing slow and steady.
“Isn’t this nice Charles? It’s like any other Christmas if you ask me,” she murmured. Her breath smelled of rum, the bittersweet smell slowly surrounding her words.
“It’s a shame we don’t have presents this year. I mean I didn’t want anything, but I sure would like to have given something to you. Oh, well. I promise next year, it’ll better.Mmm, Charles, it’ll be better,” she whispered, her shoulder burrowing further into my shoulder. I looked down and saw her eyes slowly close. I tilted my head so it rested on hers, watching the lights dance above me.
I ran and ran, past the park and the library, taking a left at small corner store. I ran, a blur of houses zooming past me. Without thinking, my legs had taken control, and they led me back to the familiar faded white door to my house. I open the door, and stand there. My eyes skim the inside of the house, slowly taking it all in.
Soon I begin to walk, taking small steps. I stop right in front of the couch, before turning around and sitting down. I bring my knees up to my chest, staring at the turned off TV. I put my arms around my legs, and cry.